PEOPLE | 'People don't expect me -- they expect a guy in a suit'

Charishma Kaliyanda says being a politician is challenging enough. Being a woman and one of colour adds to it.

She's a Liverpool councillor (Labor) for South Ward and a registered occupational nurse, specialising in STEM and working with Headspace to improve people's wellbeing.

"I'm not your traditional, well, I'm not your stereotype in many ways," she said. "People just don't expect me. They expect the politician to be the guy in the suit."

But not fitting the stereotype works for her. "The combination of different things and being someone unexpected is a blessing. Sometimes it's a curse.

"Sometimes you do get a bit frustrated, but when people don't expect you they tell you things perhaps they otherwise wouldn't. A bit more open, more honest."

Liverpool MP Paul Lynch encouraged her in the early days of becoming councillor, believing she should take action into her own hands rather than just complain about infrastructure, services access and workers' rights.

"OK, I'll take that chance," she said after he pushed her. In 2015, she contested to be a Labor councillor. Her significant defeat didn't faze her and she made councillor the next year.

I'm not your traditional, well, I'm not your stereotype in many ways. People just don't expect me. They expect the politician to be the guy in the suit.

CHARISHMA KALIYANDA, Liverpool councillor

Charishma was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in her early teens which had an impact on her physical health and also her mental health. It was a hard time for her and her family but it encouraged her to work in mental health and help others.

"It was a really awful year. My health was all over the place, I was settling into uni that year, there was an issue with everything. There was a real sense of feeling lost."

At the time of her diagnosis she had to see a specialist but it took a month to get in, increasing her anxiety. She saw first-hand the need for accessible healthcare. "I'm passionate about access, whether it's mental health or physical health -- not everyone can access the system."

Headspace targets individuals going through a tough time and unsure of where to go next. It focuses on renewing wellbeing and Charishma says it provides access for those who don't fit certain categories.

"I fit into the category of not quite diagnosis but I've definitely had points in my life of juggling different things and stresses."

Headspace says: "More than 75 per cent of mental-health issues develop before a person turns 25." Hence their focus on early intervention in people's mental-health journeys.

Lynch, her mentor, describes Charishma as impressive and passionate, after experiencing her fair share of struggles. "It's rare in my experience to find someone who so unerringly makes the correct political and personal decisions," he said.

"Hers is actually a pretty good positive story -- someone born overseas who's democratically elected to represent her community."

Charishma said: "A lot of people have lost trust and faith in politics and in politicians and the system. I see that and I understand it but at the same time I think it's still a massive shame because when people feel disillusioned by the system, they disengage. When we get poor decisions, we get poor results overall.

"It makes me want to kind of hold true to my values even more because the last thing I want is to further disillusion people about the system."

Colleague and Liverpool councillor Nathan Hagarty said she's determined and passionate -- qualities which should be common in politicians but more often missing. "I had the pleasure of attending an event earlier this year where a young girl of South Asian origin asked Charishma if she was the politician on all the posters, to which Charisma replied yes, then the girl excitedly told her mother.

"Representation matters and is important, especially in a city as diverse as ours," he said.


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