It’s time to listen to and value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s voices

This International Women’s Day, #PressforProgress will be the call of millions of women. Across the world today, violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating of all human rights violations. In Australia, family violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women has reached epidemic levels. Our women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence and we are 10 times more likely to die from a violent assault than other women in Australia.

#PressforProgress means listening to and valuing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s voices and perspectives. To us, #PressforProgress means governments across Australia must implement justice targets with a specific focus on family violence as part of a renewed focus on Closing the Gap in life expectancy and health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. This is essential to ensure the true extent of family violence is measured and understood, and that Government leaders are held accountable for working with us to address this national crisis. #PressforProgress means resourcing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Organisations that specialise in supporting survivors of family violence and building the resilience and wellbeing of our women, because we have the solutions.

This week our offices around Victoria have opened their doors as Djirra for the first time. We have celebrated 15 years of surviving and expanding as the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention & Legal Service Victoria and now we are Djirra.

Our vision for Djirra, comes from listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Djirra is a culturally safe place where culture is celebrated and practical support is available. Djirra is a place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to come together, find strength in culture and identity and support each other. Djirra is the Woiwurrung word for the reed traditionally used by Wurundjeri women for weaving: a time of creation and exploration when our women came together to share stories, celebrate culture and find solutions to problems.

The work we do at Djirra is steeped in the grief and sadness of our women, the insidious, dehumanising impacts of family violence. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have allowed us to share their stories of pain, despair, loss, fear and silencing. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women speak the truth despite such overwhelming odds: not being believed, being judged, denigrated, facing the threat of physical violence. There are no overnight solutions. But what we know is that Djirra’s holistic approach, through our frontline legal and support services, our ground-breaking early intervention and prevention programs, and our strong advocacy to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s voices are heard at the highest level, will change the devastating dark reality of family violence that takes our women’s lives, destroys our families and devastates our communities. What we do makes a difference. Our women can always count on us and we are here because of the courage, strength and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

Whenever we are spoken about in the dominant culture or mainstream media, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are always framed as deserving of the violence we experience. We are not the problem. Djirra works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who are failed by the systems that are there to protect. We work with women who are told by police that the violence experienced is “not that bad”, who choose violence over homelessness, whose children are taken by child protection because the system is punitive rather than supportive.

Djirra is committed to breaking down barriers and increasing access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Ensuring our women’s safety is the highest priority in all of the work that we do. And we are witnessing a growing movement for change.

This year’s NAIDOC theme is ‘Because of Her We Can’ – in celebration of the myriad, invaluable contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have made – and continue to make – to our people, our communities and our world. Our women are leaders, trailblazers, nurturers and change-makers. We have the solutions to addressing family violence. We just need to be listened to. Together we stand to #PressForProgress.

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