On learning from setbacks – Celebrating International Women’s Day with Mannie Kaur Verma

SAARI Collective invites you to join our International Women's Day series - every day, women of colour are blazing trails in their fields and leading their communities, but their achievements aren’t always recognised. Valuing their contributions and achievements is vital to advancing gender and racial equality and to showcasing the voices of women of colour all around.

We invite you to join us in recognising and celebrating their efforts, achievements and immense contributions - follow along as we profile some resilient and inspiring women of colour over the coming days.

Today, we celebrate Mannie Kaur Varma.

“What’s really important is we accept that at some point we will fail, but that doesn’t matter, [failure] has to happen. But how are we preparing ourselves to be able to get up at that?”

 

For 28-year-old Naarm (Melbourne) based lawyer, Mannie Kaur Verma, who calls herself an intersectional feminist, International Women’s Day is a reminder of the importance of role models for young women.

On a given day, Mannie is advising clients on disputes, working on the board of not-for-profits including Refuge Victoria and YWCA Victoria, or building her organisation, Veera to support migrant women who are victims of gendered abuse. 

For Mannie, International Women’s Day is about more than just celebrating women, it’s about the importance of strong role models for women to look up to in all aspects of their lives. “You see a lot of diverse women at the bottom layers or organisations and you don’t see them at the top. So then that makes people believe that yes, I can get into one of these good organisations, but only at the lower levels. But the minute you encourage and put them at the top, in the hierarchy, there’s this perception that yes, I can see myself there too.”

When asked who her own role models were growing up, Mannie reflected on her childhood love of Bollywood. “I used to love Bollywood movies, so growing up I used to love Sushmita Sen. She was an actor and she was the first Indian woman who won Miss Universe in 1994. I felt that she was someone that didn’t follow the traditional path and was very much bent on creating her own path.”

“She went and adopted a girl even though with Indian law at the time, you couldn’t adopt a girl without being married. And then she adopted a second girl, which the legislation also didn’t allow. She challenged the law and she won those battles. So I think she was quite inspiring for me.”

 

Mannie has been widely recognised for her work as a commercial lawyer as well as for her pro-bono work supporting victims of domestic violence and gendered abuse. She has won several awards including Australiasian Lawyer - Rising Star 2022, Women’s Weekly Women of the Future Finalist 2021, Women in Law Awards Thought Leader of the Year 2021 Finalise and 7News Young Achievers Leadership Award Semi-Finalist 2021. 

As a young South Asian leader, her advice to aspiring female leaders “really would be to back yourself and say that, no, I’m good enough and I can do this and give it a shot. Because, what’s the worst that’ll happen? You’ll fail. But that’s alright - you’ll learn from the experience and you’ll use that the next time around.”

When it comes to breaking the bias, Mannie wants to see women of colour and their allies come together in solidarity. “I think we just sometimes think that hopefully over the years things will get better. But I don’t think so. It’s not just going to get better on its own, it takes a lot of collective effort. If you look at the women’s suffrage movements, that didn’t just end up in parliament house because the men said, ‘oh yeah, let’s make some room for these girls.’”

Reflecting on her thesis with Deakin University, A Colourful Woman’s Place in Politics, which found that “women of colour are in the same position white women were in during the late 80s and 90s,” Mannie emphasises “what it means to be Australian as an identity has changed. And it’s about time we embrace that and embrace it at higher levels because people that are making the decisions about us, if they don’t look like us, they’ve got no idea about our lived experiences.”

Looking into 2022, Mannie is looking forward to launching her own impact venture, Veera, focusing on domestic violence within migrant women. “I’m really looking forward to the impact that Veera can create and we’ve already spoken to a few women!”


Harshdeep Kaur is the Editorial Team Leader at SAARI Collective. Based in Naarm (Melbourne), she has a background in marketing and business operations. You can connect with Harshdeep via LinkedIn.