Humanities PhD candidate wins ABC Top 5 Media Residency

ACU PhD candidate Dr Farjana Mahbuba has won a prestigious ABC Top 5 Media Residency.

Dr Mahbuba was one of five early career researchers around the country selected for the two-week media residency at ABC Radio National.

She will work alongside some of the country's best specialist journalists and producers honing the vital skills, knowledge, and confidence to communicate her research with media.

“I was over the moon when I got the call – I was shouting with joy and completely overwhelmed,” she said.

“Seeing the photo of me wearing the hijab amongst all of the other recipients was powerful. We are all from such diverse backgrounds and doing very different research. To me, that’s the strength of Australia – we all have something to bring to the table.”

Farjana's PhD examines the intersection of religious narratives and migration in spousal financial abuse among Bangladeshi migrant Muslim women in Australia.

Working under the supervision of Dr Rachel Busbridge from ACU’s National School of Arts and Humanities and Dr Alda Balthrop-Lewis from the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry, Farjana hopes her work will lead to policy reform. 

“The demographic that my research focuses on - women, migrant and Muslim – is often misrepresented in the media, but media can also be a powerful tool to dismantle negative stereotypes,” she said.

“I’m also hoping the opportunities to share my research will help inform policy. Politicians often don’t move until they are pushed – and media shining a light on these issues can help.”

Spousal financial abuse disproportionately affects women and is particularly prevalent in migrant communities where the husband or male partner is traditionally expected to take charge of family finances. Migrant women often come to Australian on a dependant visa and they may lack English language skills, community networks and an understanding of their rights under Australian law.

After completing her first PhD, which examined the intersection between gender and religion, Dr Mahbuba took a career break, running a clothing business from home while raising her two young daughters. Her customers were mainly women from the local Muslim Bangladeshi community, and it was their stories that inspired her to return to academia.

Dr Mahbuba said her links to the community gave her unique perspective and access, allowing her to reveal the women’s stories.

“The women I have been interviewing often lack knowledge about the Australian legal and welfare system. If just one person from a government department could meet them in person after migration to see how the wife is doing, I think it would make a difference,” she said.

“Some of the stories are distressing – it seems inconceivable that situations like this are possible in Australia, because it’s close to slavery.  I feel like we’re failing women like this – no one knows they exist.”

Dr Mahbuba hopes her research will help bridge the gap between government and marginalised migrant communities.

“There are so many things that aren’t said, or are culturally specific, that a person doing research from outside the community might not understand,” she said.

“These women have opened up in a way I didn't expect. I’ve had women ask me to tell the government what is happening because they don’t want other women to go through the same thing.

“These women tell me they want me to continue with this research, because it is helping change their lives. And I’m hoping my research will eventually inform government policy. We need to make a bridge between the migrant community and the system and I feel like my PhD is actually one step towards building that bridge.”

Read more about the Top 5 Residency here.

You can also read more about Farjana's research and journey to ACU on Impact.

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