Abby Butler and Paddy Jow
It’s almost easy to miss Amna Karra-Hassan as she walks down a Strathfield shopping strip. Dressed in jeans and thongs, her hair wrapped in a beige hijab, it isn’t until the self-described “Aussie Arab Muslim” begins to speak that you realise why she has been named as one of Western Sydney’s most influential voices.
“My whole fight has been about creating spaces for people, no matter what they look like, no matter who they are, no matter what they sound like, to be permitted to occupy space and be respected, included and valued. That’s something that’s just in my DNA,” she says casually in between bites of her lunch.
In the last decade, Amna Karra-Hassan has forged an impressive resume and has been pushed into the limelight as a trailblazer, advocating for gender equality and cultural diversity. The 29-year-old founded the first ever AFL Women’s team in Western Sydney, the Auburn Giants – formerly the Auburn Tigers, which has played a vital role in introducing the game to women in her local community. After graduating from university, she applied to work in community engagement in the Australian Federal Police and recently accepted a position in the Reform, Culture and Standards portfolio.
Although her personal and professional career has led her to speak at countless conferences and being awarded accolades such as the AFP’s Commissioners Medal of Excellence and the Greater Western Sydney Giants Woman of the Year, Karra-Hassan is startlingly upfront about her life.
“Women are socialised to be polite, good girls and perfect. We don’t fart, we don’t burp, we never wake up looking ugly or with smelly breath. I mean we are conditioned in every way, shape and form to be this idea of a woman that is not fucking real!”
It wasn’t long before Karra-Hassan’s determination to dissolve the myth of the “good girl” began to clash with the expectations of her traditional Lebanese background, and when asked whether “going against the grain” got her into any trouble, she laughs loudly.
“Has it gotten me into trouble? Are you serious? Of course, it has! I’m a believer in ‘seek[ing] forgiveness, not permission’. If I’ve crossed the line, I’ll figure it out later.”
It was within her own family home that Karra-Hassan first realised how difficult it would be “navigating the gender space as an Aussie, Muslim, Lebanese, Western Sydney-side woman”. Born in Western Sydney as the eldest of six siblings, she recalls her father working several jobs simultaneously, from being a handyman during the week to selling fruit at markets on the weekend. As with many immigrant families, she says “he worked his arse off… just to keep a roof over our heads”.
She would often clash with her father on issues of gender equality, particularly as she approached and surpassed the expected age of marriage in Arab cultures. She describes the discomfort her father felt realising that his eldest daughter would not be growing up to be the traditional image of a Lebanese woman. Whilst she recognised the significance of this cultural shift on her father, Karra-Hassan barely batted an eyelid at the potential perceived criticism.
“He was like, ‘People are going to think something’s wrong with you’ and I’m like ‘What are they going to think is wrong with me? That my ovaries don’t work or that no man likes me? Oh woe is me! Who cares?’”
As well as her own background, witnessing the pressure many women feel to live up to the infamous “fantasy wedding” portrayed by social media stars like Kim Kardashian drove Karra-Hassan’s passion for female empowerment. The issue was a perfect intersection between the trend of women being married young in Arab culture and the West’s obsession with the “Beyonce and Jay Z” experience.
“What it looks like in an Arab community might be different to what it looks like in Western society, but we’re still dealing with the same institution which is fucking patriarchy.”
Grappling with the unwanted identity politics that went with being an outspoken young Aussie Arab woman from Western Sydney led to Karra-Hassan founding the Auburn Giants and dedicating her life to a sport she had not only never played before, but never even heard of.
“I had no idea what AFL was. Picking AFL over any other code was about building that bridge between my Australian identity and my other identities both in Western Sydney and as an Arab and as a Muslim and saying “if this is Australia’s greatest game – and cricket will argue passionately – it’s an Australian game and this is how I’m going to connect and celebrate who I am.”
From losing her first ever game by over a hundred points in 2011 to now being an ambassador for the Greater Western Sydney Giant’s national women’s team, Karra-Hassan has learnt more than just the rules of the game in the past seven years of her time with the AFL. From communication to the ability to negotiate and influence people to leadership skills, Karra-Hassan’s experience in sport complements her role at the AFP.
Being one of the only women of colour within the traditionally masculine industry of policing came with its own challenges, with Karra-Hassan finding that “in the absence of diversity in a workplace, there’s a diversity of thought.” She was, however, able to find role models, such as Harvey Norman CEO Katie Page, who provided the “woman solidarity” she craved.
Last year, just as Karra-Hassan’s name was becoming a fixture in the AFLW and her career in the AFP went from strength to strength, her life was brought to a sudden, and tragic, halt with the death of her brother, Fathi. The loss triggered Karra-Hassan to take twelve months unpaid leave from work, and take one of the first career breaks in her life.
“Nobody teaches you when you’re an adult things will go wrong, you will be sad, you will feel rejected, you will feel dejected and that is okay.”
Whilst Karra-Hassan is still unsure as to which direction life will take her next, what she is sure about is sticking to her underlying philosophy: “If you see an injustice, then stop it with your tongue, and if you can’t stop it with your tongue, stop it with your hands, and if you can’t stop it with your hands, stop it with your heart.”