Hana Assafiri

Full name: Hana Assafiri
Age: 56
Nationality: Australian
Job title: Agitator for Social justice
Job description: Founder of moroccan soup bar, worked in many incarnations - woman centred response to all issues , inequality, justice, human rights, social change wherever it is

Defining career moment?
When I learnt and came to the realisation that your sense of self and your barometer is internal and not external - we don’t as women, need to look outward in terms of status and celebrity and external social measures for our own sense of success and who we are. When we look internally, that becomes a defining moment and frees you to be more authentic in what you do professionally, personally, politically. 

What part of your work are you most proud of?  
Whenever I can in a tangible way recognise the measurable impact on women. When any woman comes in at a social disadvantage, or at a point of crisis and through walking alongside her, we can make a difference in a tangible positive way. That when she leaves us, she is in less of a disadvantage or less of a crisis. I am also in awe of so many women and just inspired by their bravery in the face of adversity. 

Who is your career role model and why? 
Women who have existed on the margins for most of their lives. Especially those who have experienced  trying to fit in in their developmental years - society keeps pushing you to the margins. I really found solace, role models and mentors in books. Books written by african american women - Audrey Lorde, Angela Davis, Arundhati Roy, Bell Hooks, Toni Morrison, Gayatri Spivak. African American women who were part of the civil rights movement who spoke about being on the margins, and the intersections of gender, race and class and how they define us. They spoke about things that weren’t really on offer [in Australia] when I was growing up. These women spoke to my reality and my truth, and I sat and lived in that world until I was strong enough to express that world outwards. I moved to Melbourne when I was 12, didn’t speak much english. We were different, different in the way we spoke, ate, dressed. Still people will ask me, have you been home recently - where is that? Until I realised it is internal, home is where you are and your internal world, and learning to stand in that dislocation and stand inside that world and not want to conform is the most liberating and freeing thing you can do.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most? 
It is almost always when you’re engaging with someone and you see that penny drop, when you see you’ve engaged the curiosity of somebody and that experience resonates. Whether it be on the topic of first nations, islam, women, when you find that you can engage people’s curiosity not their ignorance, that is most rewarding for me. That is the only way the world is going to  change - by inviting people to re-engage with being curious. The ‘speed date a muslim’ initiative we set up was about community engagement on islamophobia but  you find that these ideas, no matter the topic, these aren’t just conceptual, theoretical ideas - they translate to putting women in harms way. We engage communities, try to build bridges rather than to succumb to attack and division. At ‘speed date a muslim’ you can ask any question of a muslim woman as long as it was a question and not a judgement. This was so well received, for the women it was validating and for the community it was a refreshing platform for engagement rather than the polarising way of talking about these issues that is so common. The initiative was founded and run by women and I’ve found that there is an appetite for humanity, justice and for responsibility and when we’ve been driven by these values there hasn’t been a time people haven’t responded well. 

The key to success is …
Transparent honesty. Whatever your intention is, your convictions, if you can find a way to make them transparent, ultimately people, in my experience, even if you fumble your way through, people will be forgiving and get behind you if your journey is about common good. Finding a way to convey and relay that, not political polish, not spin, just honest expression is key.

What do you say to those who ask you how to balance family and business?
That is such a privileged concept, this idea of balancing. This is our normal and when your normal has been shaped by adversity, it is what it is and we live in this reality that is sometimes hostile and sometimes abusive. So it is a daily balance and struggle but it’s not between family and work. Often the more marginalised you are the less available that conversation is for you. 

What inspires you most about your job…….
Best piece of advice to yourself/your child/to someone launching in your field? Look inward. Find that thing in you that makes you tick. Find that space in you that you where you lose all sense of time and that is who you are. That is your thing and you need to be able to do it. You need to be able to believe, respect, support and trust yourself before you offer yourself to anybody else. 

What do you still want to learn and why?
Everything! There is so much to learn. Every day you learn something new and every day we challenge what we think we know. You really do realise how little you know about life and the world, never stop learning!

What life-defining moment changed the way you think about everything?
When I kept looking to be rescued by somebody who could see me and understand my pain and experience of trauma. I was just hiding in my room, looking for somebody to know and validate my world. A defining moment was when I had two children and was married at a very young age, it was so palpable that in that moment I opened the door and it was almost an active decision, I spoke to myself and said Get up, Get up. Experiencing these emotions and feelings and realising I have to hold my own hand. Literally learning to hold my own hand and just speaking to myself and saying getup. I’ve never looked back really. Conventions have never served me well in life. All these things have been a source of violation and abuse rather than support. In a sense I’ve been lucky - I haven’t needed to rely on those systems, instead, I could go by my internal sense of right and wrong. 

Describe yourself in three words:
unconventional, bold, speaks my truth

Favourite adage/motto you live your life by – and who said it? 
Many years ago I lived by this idea, and it is so much more important now than ever. When you lift and enable women and girls you progress the entire society because women raised men,boys, women and girls. It requires courage to recognise our own agency in how we shape the attitudes of society. 

Who or what inspires you?
Inspiration comes from different places, sometimes the youngest of people, sometimes the misfits, sometimes the wisest of people and sometimes it’s a woman in a crisis who makes such brave decisions. Inspiration is everywhere sometimes it’s just nature but overall for me, where I feel a sense of that rejuvenated political drive is when what we’re offering resonantes. That rejuvenates us 10  fold. When the penny drops and when people resonate with what people we are  offering. I hope what I am championing and advocating for always has an audience but that is what gives you the energy to  keep going. The people that are hungry.

The values you most admire in others?
Curiosity, openness, willingness to grow, to  learn, bravery in face of adversity, honesty. Most people have their own version of these and they are always measurable but may just be nuanced expressions in a person. But mostly I admire people who choose to want to make the world a better place. Especially those who have been in incredibly difficult situations and still choose to try and contribute to making the world a better place. Not those who have been in difficult situations and faced adversity and only focus on how difficult it is.

What effect do you have on others?
I hope I have a good sense of humour. If you can embody an example, if you can walk your talk and embody the example of enabling and empowering and you become relatable to women in particular, I hope that is the influence I have and in my experience it has been.

What quality would you most like to have?
I’d like to sing, I can’t sing to save myself.  I’ve been so so so lucky, so privileged, so lucky that whatever it is I’ve been curious about I’ve been able  to find it. I live a life with no regrets and as close as humanly possible to my own sense of  integrity. I’d like to be a bionic woman and to speak every language that  exists - that capacity to communicate in a way that is clear, especially with women would be amazing. But really I am quite  content.

What do you listen to most – your head, heart or gut – and why?
My greatest joy is getting up every day and feeling lucky and grateful, every day, for everything that we have. Optimism and being optimistic, these things make me  happy. Looking around and still being able to engage with those around us and facilitate a slightly better outcome for all the women I come in contact with is my greatest joy.

My greatest fear…
I don’t know that I have that. However, with the rise of social media, what you’ve said can so easily be misconstrued and all of a sudden you have people wanting to jump on it and attack and abuse you. When it is anonymous all that rage and anger becomes everyone around you and it is profoundly triggering. I would much rather know who it is and how to engage them but when it is anonymous and fuelled by something totally inaccurate it is truly hurtful and fearmaking. And these social media platforms can give a sense of connectedness but for women especially,  they are almost like a toxic relationship. There  are good parts but tey come with this toxic baggage. 

If you wrote a book one day, what would it be about?
I’ve written one already but if I were to do it again, it would be all about sharing a little bit of my ideas around meaning for me, where I found meaning and giving voice and legitimacy to those who have been on the margins. It would be about shifting the conversation around victims and abuse  and flipping it on its head. These  things make you stronger and inform you  if you stand in that reality and that shame and humiliation should be shifted onto where it belongs. I would like a social transformation on the way abuse is understood and internalised, especially by women,  and whether its child, marital domestic abuse,  I would  want  to be able to hold up a mirror to those who are the recipients of  abuse where they can look at themselves and feel enabled and empowered.

What would you tell your younger self?
We grew up at a time where your sense of self, however inadequate, came from family and friends and people who cared about you. We are now in a world where this sense comes from anonymous likes on social media and we internalise these conversations. The superficiality and societal pressures are sinister and undermining to your sense of self and all contrary to how we should define it. Connect with your own energy and get your sense of self from people who genuinely love and care about you. I am a big believer in the next generation. I’m their ally, their supporter and I want to give them platforms. Often governments and society see young people as a problem  but I really do see them as the solution. Believe in oneself, your capacity and your bravery - you are the  solution, the change we’re looking for. You’ve got allies, let us walk with you and support you.