There’s No Place Like Home Episode Nine: Amani

By Future Women


By Future Women

INTRO: This series comes with a content note for anyone who has been through abuse or knows someone who has. Statistically, that is a lot of us. Some of what you’ll hear in this podcast is distressing. Although we know it’s important to hear directly from victim-survivors about what they’ve been through, this content may be confronting and won’t be suitable for everyone.

Please check the show notes for phone numbers you can contact to receive confidential support.

There’s No Place Like Home is a Future Women podcast supported by our proud partner, Commonwealth Bank; supporting long-term financial independence for victim-survivors through CommBank Next Chapter.

We acknowledge that we produced this series on what always has been, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

AMANI HAYDAR: Obviously, it’s very difficult, I think, to navigate this territory with young children, because on one hand, you do want them to get to know this person and have a memory of them, even though they don’t get to meet them. But on the other hand, I do not want to give my children the impression that death is imminent, I don’t like to make them feel that sense of fear for their lives the same way that I felt.

TARANG CHAWLA: My name is Tarang Chawla, and I am a writer, lawyer and anti-violence advocate. I’m also the host of There’s No Place Like Home, a podcast about family violence that puts the voices of survivors at the centre of the story.

Today, we’ll introduce you to the truly remarkable Amani Haydar.

AMANI HAYDAR: I’m Amani Haydar. And over the past few years, I’ve been making art and writing and working in the advocacy space supporting and advocating for women’s health and safety in my local community.

TARANG CHAWLA: Both Amani and her sister Nour, have joined us for an episode that’s all about healing. Today we ask ‘what’s next’ for survivors of intimate partner violence – and also the loved ones who are left behind.

My own family was impacted by men’s violence in the most extreme way when my sister, Nikita, was murdered by her partner. I know first-hand that the impacts of abuse persist long after the violence has ended; both for victims and their families.

You’ll remember Nicole Yade, the Director of Client Operations at the Women and Girls Emergency Centre, from earlier episodes. A family violence survivor herself, Nicole recognises that healing from trauma is neither straightforward nor a linear process.

NICOLE YADE: I think healing looks different for every woman I meet. Sometimes that’s about you know, just purging emotion and letting it all out. Sometimes that’s about you know, connecting with others and sharing experiences and, and cheering each other on. And all of those things help us heal and it takes a community for, for us to heal.

AMANI HAYDAR: There’s nothing wrong with being that angry victim, you don’t have to be lovely and graceful and gracious all the time. And in relation to that experience, I think we also need to be mindful of the pressure that society puts on victims of crime to also be forgiving. And, you know, conversely, to the anger, you’re encouraged to be really forgiving to be passive to the point of apathy.

TARANG CHAWLA: Anger is an emotion that tends to be derided. But constructive anger has its place and is necessary for early healing. Anger can be a doorway to expressing one’s feelings about the trauma that you’ve experienced. It’s part of building an internal story about what’s happened to you.

AMANI HAYDAR: I grew up in a family of Sikhs in Bexley and St. George area. My parents both came to Australia as migrants from Lebanon.

TARANG CHAWLA: Amani says she and her sisters had a ‘mixed’ upbringing. They were encouraged to do well at school and pursue empowering careers. At the same time, the environment in which they were raised was culturally traditional and quite strict.

AMANI HAYDAR: As a young person, I saw my parents through a really positive lens, even though I didn’t always understand why they were doing things or what they were saying. But I did sense, a lot of conflict between them. And I witnessed a lot of conflict between them. My parents are incompatible individually, they’re fine, but together, they’re not. And I think I accepted a lot of toxic behaviour in my environment from my father as being well, that’s just who he is. And that’s just how men are. And you know, we’ve just got to find a way to sidestep that, and it wasn’t until a lot later that I started to reassess that perspective.

TARANG CHAWLA: Amani was pregnant with her first baby, in 2015, when a cousin called her, panicking and through a jumble of mixed up sentences, told Amani to go to the hospital. It was there that Amani learned her father had murdered her mother, Salwa. He had killed his wife of 28 years by stabbing her repeatedly in a frenzied attack, in which Amani’s younger sister Ola was also injured.

AMANI HAYDAR: It was a massive shock, it was very difficult to just process mentally, I wasn’t feeling well at all physically. I was just ill at the whole thought of it, and really struggling to accept or understand what had happened and just feeling totally numb at the same time. And really, what do you do you know, you don’t really expect people from your life or from your family unit to be capable of that kind of violence. And my biggest concern then became, how do I protect my sisters? What do we do tomorrow? How do I sort out a living situation? My mom’s Villa is a crime scene. How do we even organise a funeral?

NOUR HAYDAR: So my name is Nour Haydar, I’m a journalist with the ABC I cover federal politics at Parliament House. And I am Amani Haydar’s younger sister. Amani and I were in different phases of our lives. Back in 2015, when my mom was murdered, and Amani was pregnant for the first time, she was married, she’s moved out of the family home by that stage, I was still living with my mom and my dad prior to that with my youngest sister. And so I think, strangely, the dynamic shifted again, where Amani and my brother in law, Moi invited both Ola and I, to live with them.

AMANI HAYDAR: So now it was myself, my husband, my two sisters, and a baby on the way. And obviously that was something that we never anticipated. And you know, my husband might laugh about it now that we’ve raised teenagers already.

TARANG CHAWLA: Lula Dembele is a passionate advocate for survivors of abuse. In 2018 she established the Accountability Matters Project to reframe domestic violence away from being a “women’s issue.” A survivor herself, Lula understands the complexity of healing from trauma.

LULA DEMBELE: Recovery is critical, because it affects how our brain interprets the world and affects our behavior. And it’s an injury that occurs because abuse, it also helps if we can do trauma recovery, that helps women’s, anyone who’s experienced trauma function properly, realise their own safety. And recovery, I think should be included to, you know, obviously help a woman, find financial stability, find access to those resources, gain, employment, do all these other things. But all of her ability to do that, usually, or any victims ability to do that, relies on our trauma and our triggers, and all of that being effectively supported and managed.

TARANG CHAWLA: As Lula explains, recovery is about more than the fading of physical – or even emotional – scars. In the aftermath of family violence, survivors need access to the resources that will help keep them safe. Financial security is often a prerequisite for psychological healing. Here’s Claire Dawson from CommBank’s Next Chapter program, again.

CLAIRE DAWSON: Financial security is critical to helping someone heal after trauma. Really, financial independence gives a person choices. It helps them decide where they want to live, what they want to do, and really who they want to be. So having that stability and security in your finances, it can give someone confidence, it may be confidence they’ve never had or they’ve lost because they’ve been with an abusive partner.

AMANI HAYDAR: I remember really getting to work when we got home that evening, and sorting out my sister’s pillows and blankets so that she could sleep and cleaning up the kitchen so that there weren’t any knives lying around. And just these really small details. And I remember people speaking to us at the hospital, giving us information about social support and psychologists and counselling and things like that, and me trying to sort of store all this information for later, because I knew we were going to need it. But I wasn’t quite I didn’t have the headspace at that point to really understand what I needed to do beyond those small practical steps, that will get us through that line.

NOUR HAYDAR: We were all so consumed in our own grief, that we weren’t necessarily seeing how the grief was perhaps amplified for somebody else at different times, or was, you know, compounded with other things as well. But the reason I don’t think I realised that was because Amani didn’t make an issue of, you know, the, the various struggles that she was having, as well, becoming a new mom, it’s such a difficult time, because that’s just the person she sort of is. So you know, I, I really admire her for that, you know, opening her home, and having two big kids there before she’s able to bring, her baby into this world.

TARANG CHAWLA: Nicole Yade says that healing is at the core of everything she and her colleagues do and should be front of mind for anyone working in the sector.

NICOLE YADE: What we’ve got to do is make sure that we’re offering people the support and services and care and love and time, to make sure that they’re healing from those experiences and, you know, learning new skills and being supported in how they have to navigate all of these huge complex systems that exist in our community, you know, like, going to court and navigating the police, and social security and housing, you know, housing is such a massive issue for women who are leaving violence. And, you know, it’s just not possible usually, to do it by yourself.

TARANG CHAWLA: In Australia, 62 percent of women who experience intimate partner violence are in the paid workforce. A study by KPMG estimates that domestic abuse costs the economy at least $22 billion a year – and so it’s very much a workplace issue, as well as a legal one.

In 2021 the Fair Work Commission amended the Fair Work Act. As a result, all Australian employees – including part time or casual employees – are now entitled to five unpaid days of family and domestic violence leave each year. This is obviously good news, but does the change go far enough?

MICHELLE O’NEILL: I’m Michelle O’Neill, and I’m the president of the ACTU, the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

TARANG CHAWLA: Michelle O’Neill and the Australian unions want employees who experience domestic violence to have access to paid leave. They don’t want time off work prompted by violence to cause financial hardship for victim survivors as well.

MICHELLE O’NEILL: We work with people first, and of course, our work life and our private life, interconnect all the time. And we see that family and domestic violence, the impact of that is dramatic in terms of working women predominantly, but that also some men, and it impacts in all sorts of ways. It impacts on their capacity to go to work, their ability to do the job. And importantly, it also impacts on their ability to be able to escape and survive violence.

Because if you have to take time off work, and we know to be able to leave is a really timely and costly exercise. You just think of moving house when you’re not escaping violence. But if you’re escaping violence, there’s all the additional measures likely to be involved. Things like dealing with the police dealing with the court system, dealing with lawyers dealing with you, your children’s school, your housing, any if you’re trying to do that and you need time off to get that happening, and your partner is monitoring your finances, then you are actually at increased risk of being killed.

TARANG CHAWLA: Data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows that two-thirds of large corporate employers have a strategy in place to support employees who experience family violence. But only 35 percent offered paid leave and even fewer made additional financial support available.

Many larger organisations, like CommBank our partner for this podcast, are leading the way and now offer unlimited paid domestic violence leave. But there are also millions of Australians who work for a small or medium-sized businesses who just don’t have the financial capability to offer this kind of support. This means the vast majority of working survivors have to relinquish a week or more of paid employment if family violence and its ramifications prevents them from participating.

MICHELLE O’NEILL: A decade ago, unions in a world leading effort started to advocate and campaign for paid family and domestic violence leave. And it’s now over 10 years since we won our first rights for paid family and domestic violence leave in agreements for workers. And over the last decade, that’s now extended to like one in three workers now have access to some form of paid family and domestic violence leave. But it’s a campaign that we’re not giving up on, we want to make sure that it’s a right for every single worker.

TARANG CHAWLA: While the campaign continues for Michelle O’Neill, Amani and others like her are just trying to get through each day. Amani is incredibly eloquent. She speaks beautifully and painfully about the practical tasks which have became her responsibility in the aftermath of her mother’s murder.

AMANI HAYDAR: When we cleaned up my mum’s house, I recovered two massive family photo albums that were the ones that we would sit down, flip through have a laugh about. Get to know overseas family members, through it. Look at all these old black and white photos of great grandparents and homeland and things like that. And I brought them home and I was like, “Oh, this is going to be really upsetting to go through for my sisters.” So what I decided to do was go out and I don’t know there’s something a little bit comical about this, but it’s also incredibly sad and frustrating. I went out and bought a new photo album and basically sorted out the whole old album and took out all the photos of my dad.

TARANG CHAWLA: After losing her mother to an act of horrendous family violence, Amani’s relationships with other men were impacted.

AMANI HAYDAR: I struggled to know how to interact with men, because I hadn’t been exposed to any who weren’t sort of figures of authority in my world. And I therefore just protected myself by not being around a lot of masculine energy and had lots of wonderful friendships with lots of girls my age, and then later on with lots of women. And I still at times actually feel that way. But I remember early on in my career, realising that you have to find a way to relate to colleagues, for example, that’s not just the way that you would relate to your dad. And in order to have a voice in your workplace in order to be assertive in order to be respected as a professional, you can’t be sort of a daughter in, in a workspace environment.

TARANG CHAWLA: Amani and her sisters have been forced to look back on their childhood and wonder when their mother may have been feeling scared or unsafe. Amani has questioned the male role modelling she grew up with.

NICOLE YADE: But too many of us as little girls have seen relationships modelled to us that haven’t been healthy at all. And if we’re thinking about as we grow, the decisions we make about our own relationships, we’ve got to unpick all of this stuff that has been kind of implanted many years ago. And for many years, as we’ve grown up as children, you know, it kind of takes us back to that whole gender inequality thing.

PATTI KINNERSLEY: How do I speak to my children, if you’re at home? What is the role modelling my partner and I do or the other adults in the house? In my own world, what happens in my partnerships in my relationships?

You just heard from Patty Kinnersley, the CEO at Our Watch.

PATTY KINNERSLY: There hasn’t been an organisation in this country that is focused on primary prevention of violence against women. Our Watch was established eight years ago, to do that role with support from every state and territory government, which is so important, bipartisan, multi partisan, and it’s the only one of its type in the world, actually, it’s a really advanced way of thinking it’s a really important organisation.

TARANG CHAWLA: Our Watch uses a strong base of evidence to guide its policy recommendations. Evidence that tells us – unequivocally – that while domestic abuse can happen to anyone…

PATTY KINNERSLEY: What we’ve understood through really solid research is that it’s gender inequality. playing out in all the places we spend our time that’s driving violence against women, so workplaces, sporting organisations, no interaction with the media or anywhere education settings, and that it’s disrespect towards women, in all of those places, attitudes, behaviors and structures that don’t value women as equals, that set a foundation for violence against women to occur.

TARANG CHAWLA: At the time of recording this episode, Australia’s Fourth National Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children was still in the draft stage, with the government considering feedback from the public and the sector.

And while that plan hasn’t been finalised, the draft draws strongly on Our Watch’s Change the Story framework, which I’ve already mentioned in this series.

PATTY KINNERSLY: So Change the Story, which is a document we developed, which is the National framework for the prevention of violence against women and their children. So we’ve got the evidence base, and then we’ve developed a national framework. So Change the Story, as a national framework, says this is is what we need governments to do. We need governments to make sure their policy is enabling gender equality, we might need to make sure that frameworks and funding and the policy levers are actually promoting gender equality and not inadvertently discriminating against women or, or inadvertently advantaging men.

But it also then says, This is the job of workplaces. This is the job of sporting organisations, actually, communities need to do this. So one of the I think what’s so important about change the story as a national framework is that it outlines that everybody has a role. Every one of us has a sphere of influence. And you don’t have to be the prime minister or CEO. You can be a sports coach or a parent, or just in your own relationship. But every one of us has a little piece of work we can do to promote an environment where women are treated as equal.

TARANG CHAWLA: While Patty makes the point that everyone has a role in preventing and condemning violence – there is no community roadmap for what role to take after horrific violence. How to respond. How to support someone’s healing.

In the intervening years since Amani and Nour lost their mother in the most awful of circumstances, their healing has not been linear. Grief is complex. It looks different on everyone. Nour warns that we shouldn’t assume someone is coping just because they present that way publicly.

NOUR HAYDAR: I think to outsiders, someone who looks entirely composed, doesn’t look like they’re grieving. And so I don’t like to make assumptions.

AMANI HAYDAR: I haven’t really spoken to anyone about it before. But I definitely have the sense of detachment from before, to after. And this like huge gap in the timeline of my life. In that two years between the murder and the trial, where I don’t think I was really processing things that were happening in my world, I was really traumatized. I have almost no memory of things that happened in that two years.

NOUR HAYDAR: It can be exhausting, and it can be really emotionally draining, to have to continually explain and relive what you’ve experienced, and dissect it in order to articulate it to other people so they can get a better understanding of it. I always remind myself that that that may be the case, but I know that it’s one thing to be composed and out there in the world, but privately at home people. You know, grief is not this one sort of linear process.

AMANI HAYDAR: How do you reclaim moments from your childhood that were positive? And there were positive moments in my life isn’t sort of just one thing you have good days and how do you kind of hold on to those and treasure them when something has really discoloured or destroyed your connection or your emotional connection to those moments. And for me, it’s been really about focusing on the things that I want to honor and hold on to for the future. And that’s things that involve my mom, my sisters, my grandmother, and my maternal relatives, because unfortunately, my dad’s family sided with him, and to the point where they still to this very day, leave Happy Birthday messages on his Facebook wall, knowing how that makes us feel, to the point that they attended court in solidarity with him.

TARANG CHAWLA: Amani has worked as a commercial lawyer. She knows how a courtroom works. And yet she found the experience of being face to face with her father for the first time since he murdered her mother, deeply distressing. Not least of which because Amani’s father argued that Salwa’s death was unintentional because he had lost control due to his depression. She also felt a deep sense of responsibility to her mother.

AMANI HAYDAR: So, in a homicide the primary victim has passed away, they’re not able to give evidence of their experiences, they’re not able to speak to the character of the person who’s been accused of the murder, they’re not able to talk about all the things that they went through, or all the red flags that they might have seen that might have been hidden from other people.

TARANG CHAWLA: If someone pleads guilty, or is found guilty, of a crime then a victim impact statement gives someone the chance to speak about how the crime has affected them. After Salwa was murdered, Amani took on the responsibility of telling the court what it meant for her and her sisters.

AMANI HAYDAR: I wrote this statement believing that it would allow me to reclaim my power that it would be a moment where I could feel empowered and feel like I’ve had a say and I read it out in court and that was relatively empowering compared to what the rest of the proceedings were like. But afterwards, I was like, you know what, there’s still so much to say.

Even though I had also given a victim impact statement, because I think that’s the most empowering thing that our legal system really offers victims. I still felt that I was a footnote in all of this, and that, even though so much of my life had been damaged and turned upside down by my father’s actions, the remedies available were minimal, and there was nothing the legal system could do for me after that point to resolve all those other problems that had been left in the wake of the murder.

NOUR HAYDAR: I do have optimism, and if I didn’t, I don’t think I’d be able to get up in the morning and go to work and do the small things in life. It’s not always obviously easy because the gravity of what has happened is sometimes incredible. And just overpowering. And yeah, there are some days where it feels like the world, for me at least is pretty bleak.

TARANG CHAWLA: For Amani, peace comes in the form of her children and her artistic expression…

AMANI HAYDAR: I had this desire to paint a self-portrait and enter the Archibald prize and I wanted to do that in 2017 but there was still so much happening with my dad’s trial that I didn’t get to it. It wasn’t until early 2018, I was like, “You know what, I’m gonna do this, I’ll just buy myself a big canvas. Anyone can enter, you don’t need permission, you don’t need to go to arts school, you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Just do it and see what happens.” And I had about two weeks to do it. And I just painted day in day out, the kids were like, just feed them, keep painting. And I got it done on time. And it was just really exciting to just finish it.

TARANG CHAWLA: Nicole Yade says healing looks different for every survivor she meets.

NICOLE YADE: For some women, that’s going to be in a more traditional counseling, setting an appointment once a week, for an hour, a closed door. But for some people, that’s going to be time in nature. For some people, it’s going to be sitting in an art class, you know, having a yarn with other women. For some people, it’s going to be singing or music, you know, we’ve got to think about healing in a really broad way.

There’s lots of different things that people can try, that might help them heal a little bit on the way you know, and sometimes that’s about trying something new and being good at it and having a new experience of confidence or self esteem. Sometimes that’s about you know, just purging emotion and letting it all out. Sometimes that’s about you know, connecting with others and sharing experiences and, and cheering each other on. And all of those things help us heal and it takes a community for us to heal.

TARANG CHAWLA: In 2018, Amani became a finalised in the Archibald Prize, Australia’s most prestigious portraiture competition. Her entry was a self portrait. In the work, Amani is holding a photo of Salwa, who is holding a photo of her own mother, Amani’s grandmother.

Amani has since stretched her creative wings even further. Her book, The Mother Wound was published by Pan MacMillan in 2021 and long listed for the Walkley Book Award. In it, Amani reckons with the personal, cultural and spiritual weight of her mother’s murder.

NOUR HAYDAR: I had no doubt when I saw her scribbling the initial template for her Archibald prize in her living room one evening, as we were sort of snacking on cheese and drinking tea. And she was like, “Do you think this is a good idea? I don’t know”. And I was like, “You’re gonna get in this. This is an incredible, incredible concept.” And I watched that evolve over time. And you know what do you know, she was a finalist, and her piece was hanging there in the gallery. And it was incredible to see.

TARANG CHAWLA: Amani insists that despite the nourishment her art provides, there are some days when she struggles to find light in the dark.

AMANI HAYDAR: I had lost so much confidence I used to have to speak publicly in courtrooms and I used to be a confident, outgoing person and the trauma had taken away so much of that. So it had taken me a long time to begin expressing myself, let alone sharing my work with the public.

I do talk about my mom, my mom’s sort of my muse, she’s part of my art, she’s part of my writing. She was always really motivated and energetic and had this really upbeat energy around her. That’s something that I strongly associate my mom. And after we went to school, she started doing her own courses, she learned how to use a computer, she improved her English skills. And she was such a fast learner and so keen to do things that it kind of came easily to her. And she was a very protective mom, and very attentive to what we looked like and making sure we were clean and well presented and proper and well mannered, mannered.

NOUR HAYDAR: I do look at Amani’s art and I have read her book and I have seen her pursue her activism and her advocacy. And it’s just another facet of her that I watched with great admiration, because I personally feel like perhaps I’m not as further along on that healing journey.

AMANI HAYDAR: I really hope that in doing this work, it isn’t really about my own story alone. It’s about creating space for other women, for other Muslim women, for other women from migrant families. For women of color, to come forward and feel comfortable talking about their very nuanced and complex experiences and they might be different to mine. They might you know, even challenge my own but I think without creating that space, we’re not going to empower women to grow from their experiences or heal from their experiences or even have a say in terms of policy direction and where society goes in the future.

TARANG CHAWLA: Amani is a remarkable woman. Not only has she been forced to comprehend her grief in a very public way, but she has been able to do so while creating some truly beautiful art. Through her work, she gifts our entire community the chance to go inside her world – inside her mother’s world – and better understand the complex realities of family violence.

NOUR HAYDAR: I will be forever grateful to Amani and Moi for no questions asked, bringing us into their home, providing us with all the comfort we needed, at the hardest time of our lives, and then supporting us when we needed to sort of go out there and do our own thing in the sort of years beyond that.

AMANI HAYDAR: Some of the most powerful discoveries that I’ve made through just reading about other women’s experiences and writing about my own have been in relation to the validity of our anger, and how important it is to be allowed to be angry and to express those angry thoughts, and how anger is part of the pursuit of justice. There’s a lot to be angry about and we should be angry about it.

TARANG CHAWLA: Amani, Nour and their family are each processing their feelings in different ways. The reality is that healing looks different on everyone and even rage has its place.

In the final episode of There’s No Place Like Home, you will meet a survivor who walked this path long before. A woman who experienced horrific abuse nearly 20 years ago. A woman who has not only come to terms with what happened to her but dedicated her life to ensuring it never happens to anyone else.

Deborah will show us how she rediscovered and redefined herself in the wake of violence and built a life of purpose and passion.

DEBORAH THOMSON: I’ll never be back to where I was before the abuse. I’ve changed irrevocably. But I’ve also changed for the better.

TARANG CHAWLA: See you then.

OUTRO: There’s No Place Like Home is a Future Women podcast supported by our proud partner, Commonwealth Bank; supporting long-term financial independence for victim-survivors through CommBank Next Chapter. For help or advice, please check the show notes for phone numbers for confidential support.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review. It will help these important stories to reach more people’s ears. For more information about There’s No Place Like Home, or to join the movement, please head to futurewomen.com.

This episode was produced by Jamila Rizvi, Sally Spicer, Tarang Chawla, Fleur Bitcon, Ella Jackson, Ruby Leahy-Gatfield, India Bailey and Kate Leaver. Editing by Bad Producer Productions. Artwork by Patti Andrews.