Forging a safe space for women to thrive
26 October 2021 at 8:11 am
Priyanka Bromhead is the CEO and founder of we are the mainstream, an organisation celebrating and advocating for First Nations, women and gender diverse people of colour. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
Growing up in Australia as the daughter of refugees, Priyanka Bromhead found it difficult to flourish in the white, male dominated spaces she seemed to exist in.
It’s why in 2019, she created we are the mainstream (WATM), a space for First Nations, women and gender diverse people of colour to have challenging conversations, incubate ideas, advocate for each others’ struggles and build sustainable cross-community solidarity.
The collective is actively building sustainable and meaningful relationships with First Nations led collectives such as Scarred Tree Indigneous Ministries, Mudgin-Gal and others to ensure the right communities are in the driving seat.
Since its inception during the pandemic, WATM has already had a number of achievements.
These include facilitating in-school workshops that build literacy and wellbeing outcomes, and corporate cultural awareness training.
Bronhead also hosted several events, including an event exclusively held for and run by women of colour as part of this year’s International Women’s Day.
The organisation’s ultimate aim is to re-claim, re-name, re-write and re-right so that First Nations and women of colour are not just subjects of history, but agents of it.
In this week’s Changemaker, Bromhead discusses the challenge of starting her own organisation, her achievements and managing the challenges.
What led you to starting WATM?
So initially, WATM was formed to celebrate an International Women’s Day event. My best friend, who lives in Melbourne, was telling me about an event set up exclusively for First Nations and women of colour, and I was amazed because it was the first time I realised that something like that could actually happen.
The more I looked into it and read about it, the more I realised that it was really important for women of colour and First Nations women to come together and celebrate together, so that we’re not being watched by the mainstream. If we have our own space to be in, we can behave a little bit more authentically and be our real selves. So we started as just an event space in Sydney, and then before we knew it, we were more of a movement and a collective. We are community funded and community led, and really create our programs and initiatives based on what our community needs and wants.
What are some of your biggest achievements being while you’ve been leading WATM?
The biggest achievement for me happened really recently actually. We were in a community meeting when a First Nations team member said that he had never been a part of anything like WATM that was actively looking to bridge the gap between First Nations and women of colour, to lead initiatives together and build cross-community solidarity. So I think to me, that’s an achievement. It’s always been one of our values to build cross community solidarity, challenging the status quo of patriarchal and colonial ideals. So yeah, that was music to my ears and a really huge achievement.
What is the impact of the events and programs that you’re running at WATM?
We realise the impact that intergenerational trauma has. So we’re really about intergenerational healing through building relationships, forming peer networks between cis women and trans women, and getting to know each other better and understanding our challenges and our lived experiences. We do this so as black and brown women, we can leverage our privilege so that we are supporting those within our communities. Everything we do comes back to amplifying the voices, the experiences, the stories, being told by First Nations women and women and gender diverse people of colour.
I guess that’s the overarching explanation, but then we put all that into practice by going into schools and workplaces and working with people to spread these ideas and perspectives that might not be shown otherwise.
How do you overcome the challenging parts of your work and remain grounded?
It’s a good question, because leading WATM is definitely not what pays my bills because it’s a volunteer run organisation, but it’s what takes up most of my time. But, you know, doing work that is so human centred is very emotionally laborious and burnout is something that is quite common. I manage this by really making sure our work is about collective growth and healing as opposed to popularity and increasing numbers. It’s so important that we are always coming back to our ethos and I also make sure that I have really good, solid community support. My own community is where I draw from and it’s there and aware of me when I need support and backing.
And when you’re not leading WATM, what do you like to do with your spare time?
I’m based in Sydney so I have been in lockdown where I managed to collect and look after a few indoor plants. I’ve also set up an outdoor veggie patch. I’ve also set up an outdoor veggie patch, which the kids really enjoy pottering around as well. Doing these things has really helped me slow down which is good. I’m also a writer, so I try to pursue as many creative projects as possible and disconnect from social media to keep my mind healthy.