Sehar Moughal came from Pakistan to New Zealand more than a decade ago. A recent graduate with an MSc in Psychology from the University of Auckland, her short-film A Jasmine and the Nightshade addresses the growing problem of domestic violence. She recently presented her thesis at the symposium conducted by YouthShakti and University of Auckland that highlights key findings from three research projects conducted in Auckland between 2013 and 2015. The Indian Weekender spoke to Moughal to find out more about her project.

What was the main idea behind creating A Jasmine and the Nightshade?

My oldest sister, Mehwish, and I want to raise awareness about domestic violence in our communities. We want to highlight the different types of abuse that may occur in a violent relationship. We are hoping that more people would talk about this problem considering the impact it has on our society.

Who is the team behind the short film?

It was my sister’s idea to create this short film. She wrote and directed it. The movie was made on a zero budget, so all involved volunteered their time and skills. It was a difficult film to work on, as the content was dark and heavy (for example, the abuse depicted in the short film was not staged). We appreciate our team’s effort considering that some of them may have had their personal demons to fight while working on this film.

Did you meet/speak to any domestic violence survivors?

While making the movie, we came across many survivors of domestic violence. Initially, I was shocked and sad to hear so many of my friends disclose abuse that they had gone through. Some of them were not even aware that it was abuse until they watched our short film. Some of them felt ashamed and uncomfortable disclosing it to others. That is when I realised how important it is to bring this issue out in the open. We need to have more conversations about domestic violence and how to end it.

What is the main aim of the panel being hosted by ShaktiYouth and University of Auckland?

Despite the rise of vibrant Asian communities in New Zealand’s urban sectors, little research has been conducted to examine intimate partner and family violence that accounts for experiences tied to migration, immigration status, age hierarchies, culture and racism. This symposium will be the first of its kind in New Zealand that highlights key findings from three research projects conducted in Auckland between 2013 and 2015 focussed on intimate partner and family violence with Asian youth. Collectively, the three projects offer approaches to tackling family and intimate partner violence with Auckland’s rich Asian communities.

You are presenting your MSc thesis for Psychology at the panel. Tell us a little about your research.

My MSc thesis was based on an intervention implemented with three young women of migrant backgrounds who were recovering from violent partnerships. Termed ‘video self-modelling’, the intervention entailed research participants viewing themselves (on video) in conversation with the researcher (Sehar). They were then asked to have a conversation with University Psychology students from different ethnic backgrounds. The videos were edited in a way to make it look as if the participants were having a great conversation with the researcher. The rationale behind using this technique was that by watching themselves on video, they would feel more confident and model this behaviour with the people they meet. Results indicated that all three participants were able to learn from their behaviours on video and improve conversational skills over time. At present, two of the three participants are fully employed and the third is pursuing tertiary studies. Results from the study suggest that video self-modelling may be a positive and a cost- and time-effective intervention to teach/improve conversational skills for these young survivors so they find it easier to integrate into the New Zealand community.

How do you think the society can address the problem of domestic violence?

Change our thinking, attitudes and behaviours towards this evil called domestic violence. To give you an example, during the filming, I had make-up on my face that resembled real bruising, and Mehwish and I came to our university to pick up some filming equipment. I was shocked at how others interacted with me. Those who normally said hi, asked how things were or smiled at me, looked away from me. They could not meet my eyes. Such behaviour is hurtful, unacceptable and needs to change.

Men, women and children are often caught up in abusive relationships, and it becomes difficult for the victims to get out of the situation. Is there any message that you would like to give to our society?

Domestic violence is a universal concern that cuts across all ethnic and cultural groups. For our own ethnic and migrant communities, it is important to acknowledge these concerns and confront them. Our community leaders need to preach that culture can never be used as a justification for violence. For the mainstream New Zealand community, it is necessary to acknowledge that inadequate resources are available for intimate partner violence victims within ethnic and migrant communities. Culturally-appropriate resources must be made available to support young migrant women and children. Intimate partner violence among migrant youth is an extremely complex problem. No one intervention can solve it.