Mariam Mohammed arrived in Australia with $300. Now she's helping women achieve financial independence

Mariam Mohammed arrived in Australia with $300. Now she’s helping women achieve financial independence

This article contains references to domestic violence and sexual assault.

On days when Mariam Mohammed doesn’t feel like she can get out of bed, when all the work she’s doing feels too draining, she chooses to think of her nieces, who she wants to see live an independent life free from abuse and discrimination.

Having survived an abusive relationship at a young age while living in Pakistan, the country she grew up in, Mariam Mohammed has experienced it all first hand. Now, she is driven by her desire to help women achieve independence, so they can live their best lives.

“My why is that I want my four nieces to have a better life than I did,” Mariam tells Shirley Chowdhary in this week’s episode of The Leadership Lessons.

“I don’t want them to be sexually assaulted. I don’t want them to date abusive partners and stay in abusive relationships. I don’t want them to accept abuse at the hands of their fathers and brothers, because they’ve been taught blood is thicker than water or whatever the fuck women are taught these days.”

Mariam Mohammed is the co-founder of MoneyGirl, a social enterprise delivering financial literacy to women, helping them to take control of their financial situation so they can have a safe and secure future.

“When I am ready to give up, on a day like today, when I have trouble getting out of bed, what eventually gets me out of bed is that I’ve been through it, and I know that I’m strong enough to make it through again,” Mariam says.

“I will do so because one, two or a couple more young women will have it a little bit easier because of the work that I do.”

Mariam Mohammed speaking to Shirley Chowdhary for The Leadership Lessons.

The idea for MoneyGirl was envisaged by Mariam and her co-founder Melissa Ma, and it came from a personal experience of having trouble navigating the world of money and finances, after first moving to Australia. In 2013, Mariam fled her abusive relationship in Pakistan, and arrived in Australia, aged 19, to study at university. She was alone, had $300 in her pocket, and nothing else.

“I was constantly straddling that line between security and going back to a life of violence because I had never learned how the money system works,” she said.

In the podcast, Mariam shares that it was her experience of living with a controlling, patriarchal figure, managing to escape that life, and then learning to live on her own in a new country, that really showed her how important financial independence is.

“I realised personally how important money is when it comes to all kinds of domestic violence and how money is very easily used as a tool to pull strings in controlling relationships.”

Mariam and Melissa were particularly concerned about the impacts of the system on women of colour, and that there were next to no resources out there that weren’t designed by white men.

“How does it impact us as women, who might take years out to care for our family? How does it impact us as women of colour, who will have a higher pay gap than a white woman?” Mariam explains.

“As we were unpacking this for ourselves, we realised there wasn’t necessarily accessible resources like that in Australia.”

Image credit: GRAZIA Magazine.

Mariam has a zest for life that is infectious, and prides herself on her work as a community developer – as someone who works in the grassroots to make change happen. As she shares in the podcast, MoneyGirl was born from the community.

“It’s by the community, for the community,” she said. “When there is a humanitarian crisis, who is leading the work? It’s grassroots organisations. Who’s leading the grassroots organisations? People like us.”

“I grew up seeing that around me. That people took ownership over whatever it was that they wanted to fix and then they fixed it themselves.”

If you need help or advice, call 1800 Respect on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Hear more of Mariam’s inspiring conversation with Shirley Chowdhary on the latest episode of The Leadership Lessons, a Women’s Agenda podcast made possible thanks to the support of Salesforce. You can listen below, or subscribe via iTunes or Spotify.

Hero Image Credit: Salty Dingo

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