At just 27, Fatima Payman secured the sixth and final Senate seat for the Labor Party in Western Australia on June 20, becoming the first hijab-wearing Muslim woman in Parliament.
In response to the Governor-General’s opening speech to Parliament, often used to outline the government’s agenda, Senator Payman reflected on her journey to parliament.
“A hundred years ago, let alone ten years ago, would this parliament accept a woman choosing a hijab to be elected?” she said in the Senate.
The young senator was inspired to join Parlament due to the lack of representation she noticed while growing up in Perth.
“This election has definitely shown that there has been a massive appetite for representation, you can’t be what you can’t see…,” said Payman in an interview.
Although Australia may not seem synonymous with Muslims, there are more than 1,000 people in Australia who identify as Aboriginal Muslims. Afghan cameleers were the first Muslims to settle in the country permanently in the 1800s. In the 2016 the Australian Census showed that 604,200 people identified themselves as Muslims and that number is now more than 800,000.
Senator Payman is the daughter of an Afghan refugee and also used her speech to reflect on the “sacrifices” of her late father.
Her father, Abdul Wakil Payman arrived in Australia by boat as a refugee in 1999 and worked for four years so he could sponsor his family. Senator Payman was able to immigrate to Australia with her mother and three siblings when she was eight years old. To be able to sponsor the family, her father worked as a kitchen hand, security guard, and taxi driver. Payman said her father instilled the values of hard work and perseverance, and she hopes to represent the hard working Australians like her father was.
Australia’s assistant minister to the prime minister, Patrick Gorman took to Twitter writing,
“She worked hard supporting Labor candidates and members across WA. This is a win for our state and a win for the grassroots members of @walabor who helped get our Senate vote to this level.”
Her speech also outlined the priorities of the government including aged care, childcare, climate change, and including Indigenous Voice in their constitution.
Payman is just getting started making speeches and making change. Not only is she the first hijab-wearing member of the Senate, but she’s the youngest serving and first Afghan-Australian to enter federal parliament.
Payman will deliver her official maiden speech in September.