From Psychiatry to Politics

Marie Bashir

Grandmother, psychiatry professor, fighter for indigenous rights—to these accomplishments, Marie Bashir now adds the title of politician. Sworn in on March 1 as the first female governor of Australia’s New South Wales state, the 70-year-old Bashir said she would use her new role to bring ethnic groups closer together and reduce poverty in the state.

“We are fortunate and privileged to have a woman of such quality,” said New South Wales Premier Bob Carr at Bashir’s inauguration. In terms of experience and understanding, said Carr, “there has never been a more highly qualified governor of New South Wales.”

Bashir, who grew up in the town of Narrandera, said she was always instructed by her Lebanese-born parents to help those less fortunate than herself. She gravitated to psychiatry as a way of addressing social issues.

Her work in that field has focused largely on the underprivileged. In the 1970s, she was part of a team that helped Cambodian child refugees integrate into Australian society. In 1997, she helped found the group Women for Wik, a grassroots organization that supported the Aboriginal Wik group in its struggle to gain land rights.

As governor, said Bashir, she will work to promote “a cultured, informed society where everyone has a seat at the table.” Her appointment, she told Beirut’s Daily Star, was “symbolic of the way our country is advancing … that it could consider not only asking a woman … from a non-English-speaking background, but a woman whose work was in a field that is not always popular.”

—Sarah Coleman