Farida Sultana

Farida Sultana, founder of the Shakti Community Council New Zealand and Australia.

When Farida Sultana came to New Zealand in 1995 she didn’t intend to set up the Shakti Women’s Network, but she soon saw that there was a desperate need for an agency that could help migrant women. Driven by her own desire for independence and freedom, her struggle became the catalyst for helping women and the beginning of her work as a women’s right activist.

Originally from Bangladesh, Farida endured an extremely controlling and abusive marriage. After many years she escaped and sought refuge with a Shakti women’s organisation in the UK. Just as she was settling into independent life, her family conspired to return Farida to her husband. Trapped in her marriage and unable to make any decisions, Farida and her daughter were forced to come and live in New Zealand. In the following video Farida reflects on her life prior to arriving in New Zealand.

In August 1995 Farida Sultana and seven other women met to discuss setting up a specialist cultural support service for Asian, Middle Eastern and African women. This was the beginning of Shakti New Zealand.

The initial aim was to provide English language lessons and support for those who wanted to learn to drive. It wasn’t long before the group came across their first domestic violence case - a Middle Eastern woman, Mehbooba, who was imprisoned at home and who had suffered torturous abuse. She was eventually freed – her case drove the women to set up a permanent specialist support service dealing with domestic and family violence.

Shakti became a well-established national not-for-profit community organisation with facilities in Auckland, Wellington, Tauranga, Christchurch and Dunedin. It established the first specialist refuge for women of Asian, Middle Eastern and African ethnicities and began offering a 24-hour multilingual crisis call service for women in violent and abusive situations. 

Other services included drop-in centres, outreach, advocacy, counselling, psychoeducational programmes, legal referral, an interpreting service, NZQA life skills programmes that includes road safety and English language lessons, domestic violence intervention and awareness training for communities as well as sustainable development projects. In the following video Farida discusses Shakti and her focus for the future.

In 2018 Farida continued to have a governance role with Shakti but her focus had changed to combating institutionalised patriarchal dominance and discrimination against women. She worked with NGOs in New Zealand and overseas to change legislation, prevent domestic violence and create equal employment opportunities for girls and women. 

Shakti continues to fight for women’s rights on many fronts. A thriving Shakti Youth group focuses on supporting young people, and has led protest marches calling for an end to violence and discrimination in New Zealand. Shakti has also lobbied for legislative change to stop the forced marriage of minors under the age of 16, advocating for the Marriage Amendment Bill 2017.

Further Resources

Farida Sultana with Shila Nair, Purple Dandelion. A Muslim woman’s struggle against violence and oppression. Exisle Publishing Limited, Auckland, 2011

https://shakti-international.org/shakati-new-zealand/

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