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Blak women are doing the work, are you listening?

The invisibility of Aboriginal women is finally being noticed. The powerful words Professor Megan Davis shared at the Future Women x Witchery’s International Women’s Day event inspired me to write about my own experiences of invisibility as a Blak woman within the colony, until I reflected on the most important women in my life.

Instead of writing about our shared experiences of invisibility, I want to celebrate the strength, resilience and power of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

Women like my mother, who was stolen and sent to both Parramatta Girls Home and Cootamundra Girls Home before being placed as a “domestic servant” for a white family.

These institutions trained Aboriginal girls as domestic servants and forced them to assimilate into white society by stripping them of their culture, language and family.

My mother epitomised resilience, strength, love and a level of staunchness I aspire to live up to, right until she passed in 2009 aged 62. She taught me to stand up against injustice, use my voice, act with integrity and remain grounded in my identity as an Aboriginal woman.

These lessons were passed on by a Blak woman who endured the pain and trauma inflicted on her by racist institutions and the people who upheld them. Despite all of this, she loved and nurtured me, for which I am eternally grateful.

As Aboriginal women we have to fight tooth and nail to be listened to, even in spaces where we are beyond capable.

Not only are we up against the prejudices of a white, patriarchal society, but we are often locked out of cultural conversations by Blak men and feminist conversations by white women.

Brothers, if we’re your tiddas and you want to demonstrate that you respect the Blak matriarchy, step aside and make space for us.

Prioritise and platform our voices. Show up and stand up by calling out anyone or anything that threatens us as women, especially when it comes to the protection of our bodies.

White women, whether or not you include us in your conversations, Blak women will continue our ongoing fight for equality.

As Amy McQuire discussed in her response to the March 4 Justice conversation on ABC’s The Drum, any change needs to involve the centralisation of Aboriginal women’s experiences, spoken by us, not for us.

I am part of the “sandwich generation”, who are raising children while also caring for our elderly.

We are responsible for healing the trauma of our histories, breaking through today’s barriers for mob, and breaking the cycle of disadvantage to release future generations from our ancestral pain.

This is not an individual responsibility, it is collective, and it is ingrained within us as Aboriginal women.

We are not just mothers, but grandmothers, aunties, cousins and sisters who balance responsibilities to care for our children and Elders. I am constantly inspired by the intelligent, vocal and staunch Blak women who stand tall in the realms that have attempted to exclude us.

I witness Blak female leadership in education, health, justice, business, politics and media.

They do the heavy lifting so that we all benefit from safer access to white spaces and services. We get to feel a sense of collective pride at how they represent us as women and our communities.

These women have overcome an overwhelming number of barriers, such as racism, discrimination and misogyny, to create space for mob. We are all indebted to Blak women in this country, and I have the deepest respect for everyone who has done and is doing the work.

The recent launch of the Wiyi Yani U Thangani Report (2020) showcases the incredible resilience of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls.

Although the women and girls who participated in the consultations came from diverse locations, common issues and experiences came up repeatedly. The critical need for governments to shift to a strengths-based approach and away from deficit models while acknowledging the importance of centralising culture and its impact on our identities and lives is embedded throughout.

One particular quote that stood out to me was:

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls have a strong solidarity towards each other, forged through our heritage, lived experiences and intergenerational responsibilities.”

 

My tiddahood is an integral part of me. It shapes the way I function, evolve and exist. We share physical, spiritual and visceral experiences that cannot be understood by non-Indigenous people.

We must love, support and protect each other at all costs. Not only through encouragement and uplifting words but by holding one another to account to uphold and protect the legacies that our old ones created.

My perspective will always be limited – the responsibility for representing a whole group of people should never rest on one person’s shoulders.

This is why we need to create diverse spaces. Spaces that include Blak women, listen to Blak women and celebrate Blak women. The time for invisibility is over.

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