Beyond NAIDOC 2018: Our responsibility to elevate and celebrate the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

In Because Of Her We Can, BlogX by Daniel James

Author: Antoinette Braybrook 

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ANTOINETTE BRAYBROOK IS THE CEO OF DJIRRA (FORMERLY THE ABORIGINAL FAMILY VIOLENCE PREVENTION AND LEGAL SERVICE VICTORIA) AND THE NATIONAL CONVENOR OF THE NATIONAL FAMILY VIOLENCE PREVENTION LEGAL SERVICES FORUM.

This year’s NAIDOC week encourages us to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women all around Australia. ‘Because of Her, We Can!’ conjures up images of the strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have been pioneers, activists, politicians. It makes us think of the few women who have been able to break into the spotlight to make our voices heard. It is a time to reflect on the journey we have taken to get here and to celebrate successes.

But most importantly, it is a time to acknowledge and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who are obscured from public consciousness. For some of our women, this kind of invisibility may be a choice. For many others, it has never been a choice. Systemic barriers and experiences of discrimination all too often silence our women. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women continue to confront racism, violence and poverty on a daily basis.

Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLSs) provide specialist, culturally safe, holistic support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victim/survivors of family violence across Australia. More than 90% of our clients nationally are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children.Through our on the ground experience, we see acts of courage that would not lead to a photo on a NAIDOC Week poster or a write-up in a newspaper.  We see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women commit daily acts of strength and resilience in pursuit of a life that many Australians would take for granted. A life without violence. A life that exists outside of prison walls. A life supporting children to grow up strong in culture and identity.

Recently the Australian Bureau of Statistics released data supporting what we have always known to be true, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are highly engaged in education, support and care for people in their communities and on country. This report also highlighted the role Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have in passing on cultural knowledge. It shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s leadership and power in spite of all the challenges we face – including how frequently we are stereotyped or rendered invisible in public discourse.

Numerous government reports and inquiries have been silent on the particular experiences and perspectives of our women, rendering us invisible to policy makers. Those reports that have directly included the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in their coverage and recommendations, including the Women’s Business Report of 1986, have not been taken up by successive governments. Instead of this injustice being acknowledged and addressed by decision makers, government policies continue to perpetuate the cycle of inequality and silence that has been a part of our experience since colonisation. 

NAIDOC is a time to focus on the power of elevating and celebrating the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women – those who far too often go unseen and unheard.

There are numerous current policy and legislative reforms that are key opportunities for change that should be led by the experiences and perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. One such example is the government’s development of the fourth phase of the National Action Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. We know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 32 times more likely than other women to be hospitalised because of family violence and are 10 times more likely to die from violent assault.

The alarmingly disproportionate rates of family violence experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and the crisis rates of family violence driven child removal, require more urgent, focused action for our women. The statistics present a clear need for a dedicated national plan to address violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Real change is only achievable if our voices and experiences are prioritised.

When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have access to culturally safe services like FVPLSs they are more likely to seek support for their safety.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s voices matter and are key to finding solutions for our safety and that of our children, family and community. 

‘Because of her, we can!’ is an opportunity to celebrate all of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in our lives, but the acknowledgement must extend beyond NAIDOC week. The success of FVPLSs nationally is that we celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s strength, courage and resilience every day of the year. The responsibility lies with all of us to continue to work to keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s voices front and centre – during NAIDOC and beyond. 

It is because of her,

We will.

We do.

We have to.

We must.

Because of her, we can.

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