Victorian women you need to know: Mahshid Babzartabi
Mahshid Babzartabi has become an Iranian community advocate and leader after arriving in Australia in 2013 from Tehran, working as a cooking instructor for Free to Feed.
To celebrate International Women's Day, we spoke to six incredible Victorian women who #ChooseToChallenge every day.
Mahshid Babzartabi came to Australia in 2013. She has become an Iranian community advocate and leader, regularly assisting members through food and facilitating community donations.
Reflecting on her reason to leave Iran, Mahshid says, “I didn’t feel safe as a person and not free as a woman and not valued as a human being,”.
Q: This year we’re focusing on women achieving equal futures in a COVID-19 world. Do you think the past year has helped or hindered our work towards gender equality? If yes/no – why?
A: "In a western country like Australia, where you constantly hear slogans about gender equality, finding inequality can be even harder than in countries where inequality is visible.
In an unexpected, uncertain situation like COVID-19 such hidden inequality increases. All attention and efforts go towards the practical aspects of bringing society back to normal, so in my opinion, any situation like COVID-19 is a hindrance to improving subtle and hidden inequalities."
Q: Who are the women in your community or circle that inspire you?
A: "Fighting for your social rights as a woman is not something new, it’s been happening for many years around the world. We achieved so much and many changes have improved the lives of women around the world.
Always, these efforts are led by small groups of women fighting for larger groups of women.
In countries like Iran, women are still fighting for their basic rights as humans, there are women who have been in jails with their children for many years now, they are there just for being women's rights advocates. Some of their children were born in those jails and in their short lives, they have never experienced the outside world.
These women are mostly political prisoners and have been fighting for human rights, for a choice about their appearance and role in society. Some fight because they didn’t want to feel like slaves obeying their fathers, brothers, or husbands.
Now that I have a chance to live like a human in a country where humiliating women is a crime, my inspiration to continue to live are women who don’t have the same chance. Maybe one day, they will taste this freedom too. My inspiration is these women."
Q: This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. In your own life, how are you challenging the status quo, calling out gender bias and inequality?
A: "Although I’m living in a country where being a woman is not a sin, I’ll always be from a community that has carried such belief for ages. For me, a challenge in this area is to clear up the idea that being a woman is equal to obeying traditional pictures drawn so long ago.
I want to let our small community here know and experience the improvements that can happen in their families if they commit to growth and advocate for equality."
Q: Can you tell us about an empowering moment or achievement you had recently?
A: "During my 7 years of living in limbo in Australia like others on temporary visas, I was made aware of other asylum seekers who arrived around the same time I did. Some of them have been suffering in worse situations.
My group and I stood up for these people, and now we are hearing good news about them every day. Some of these people have been released into the community, this is a recent achievement for me and everyone who has been advocating for them during the past 7 years."
Q: In your career and life, how has connecting with other like-minded women helped or shaped you?
A: "Everyone in life needs to socialise with people who are on the same page as them, this is how we encourage each other to continue with life. Having each other’s back is a must for all human beings and I believe it’s even more vital for women.
As a cooking instructor, I see a large number of women coming to my classes and when they leave the class I may never see them again. Some keep in contact by following my Instagram and others even promoted my page. I’m very thankful for having them in my life not only because they have my back, but because they remind me that it doesn’t matter what your job is, what gender you are, or your social status. What matters is that you have been able to gain hope again.
I used to be an interpreter, never in my life did I think I would earn and support myself financially from cooking or teaching cooking. When I first became an interpreter, I thought my social status depended on the job I had.
These women who happen to be my cooking students remind me: my status in life and in my career comes from my attitude toward life."
Mahshid Babzartabi has a big heart and a cooking prowess to match. She is a living advocate of connecting and healing through food and cooking. Mahshid is one of Free to Feed's longest-running and much-loved cooking instructors , running their Persian cooking class.
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