Dolun Teoman was born in Cyprus, and because of the war, she migrated to Australia with her family in 1971. She studied Arts at the University of New South Wales and then was drawn to social work because of the issues she observed in her community.
Among Greek and Turkish women, Dolun witnessed a high incidence of workplace accidents in factories, and comments that many women found factory work degrading. Migrant women face a ‘double oppression’ she says, because they are marginalised as migrants, and oppressed both at work and at home. She self-identifies as a socialist-feminist, and reflects on the uneasy interaction between feminists and migrant women. Teoman discusses racism in her workplace, and the frustration of feeling like the token migrant or the lone migrant voice.
After the interview concludes, the sounds of migrant women having their photos taken can be heard, followed by the sounds of Turkish women reading coffee grounds.
DT: Well, what I did when I first started was because I didn’t know the area, I didn’t know the community living here, I didn’t know where to start from so I thought, “Well I’ll do a door knock and get to know the area who lives in each house” so I did a door knock up and down Abercrombie and identified the Turkish families and the Greek families. These people who live on Abercrombie Street, the Turkish people, are mainly from Cyprus, so they took a liking to me from the very beginning because I was from Cyprus, too. I asked them what they wanted to do and they said they’d be interested in English classes and exercise classes, so did the Greek people and the Greek people – which is a coincidence – are also from Cyprus, so they also took a liking to me.
DT: That’s what I did and then I started getting involved with wider issues, like I connected myself with black immigrant and Third World Alliance, which is an alliance that focuses on major issues concerning the migrant people, which also formalises seminars on these issues.
GW: What are your impressions of the situation for migrant women here at present?
DT: In South Sydney?
DT: Well, I don’t think the situation has changed much for them from the very beginning, from their first settlement.
DT: I’ve been to Women’s Healing Centre just recently, the other day I took a Turkish woman there and the whole setup of the place and the whole approach of women, especially with feminism now, the migrant women think that feminist women dress up quite weirdly and even the hair on the women’s legs are threatening to the migrant women.
DT: When I started workshops for them, like I had to pull aside the person who would be running the workshop and explain to them that they should not be talking about – what they would call ‘living in sin’, they should not be talking about their boyfriends, because that might alienate the women, because they look on that as something not done in their own tradition.
DT: So I had to tell the women to gain the trust of these people first and then gradually talk to them about their own personal lives if they want to.