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For us, they are not just numbers, they are real women who matter

20 Feb 2019

My name is Shirleen Campbell. I’m a mum, a grandmother, an aunty, a daughter, a sister, a wife and a proud Warlpiri and Arrernte woman who is a third generation resident of an Alice Springs Town Camp, Lhenpe Artnwe, better known as Hoppy’s Camp.

My name is Shirleen Campbell.

I’m a mum, a grandmother, an aunty, a daughter, a sister, a wife and a proud Warlpiri and Arrernte woman who is a third generation resident of an Alice Springs Town Camp, Lhenpe Artnwe, better known as Hoppy’s Camp.

I’m also the co-coordinator of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group, a group of women from our Town Camps who work to make our families and communities safer.

Our core work is in the area of early intervention and primary prevention of family and domestic violence.

We train women in areas of family and domestic violence, in recognising early indicators and in supporting those who may be experiencing violence in their family or community.

We support Aboriginal women’s voices and views through advocacy, activism, publicity, promotion and networking.

And we develop resources focusing on early intervention and primary prevention messages of non-violence.

The core members of the TWFSG are all Aboriginal women and have been or still do live in one of the 16 Town Camps in Alice Springs.

We come from many different language groups and have family links to communities in the NT, South Australia and Western Australia. But we don’t presume to speak for anyone else, anywhere else.

We are the experts of Town Camp history, relationships, knowledge and experience, best and worst practice. We are the influencers in our community and the broader Alice Springs community in the area of family safety.

Our lived experience of family and domestic violence on Town Camps informs the knowledge we share. We are invested in finding long term systemic solutions to the issues that family and domestic violence bring.

We train women in areas of family and domestic violence, in recognising early indicators and in supporting those who may be experiencing violence in their family or community.

And we are committed to the program because this is our home, our country, our family, our future.

The Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group grew out of the Tangentyere Women’s Committee. Tangentyere is the representative and main service delivery organisation for Alice Springs Town Campers, run by and for us.

We all know the statistics around violence and how Aboriginal women are impacted at much higher rates than non Indigenous women. For us, they are not just numbers, they are real women who matter.

Every woman I know has been impacted in some way by family and domestic violence. Every single one of us has a personal experience of family violence, witnessing it or surviving it. We have lost mums and sisters and aunties and grandmothers and we still mourn them.

Nearly two years ago our local newspaper ran a headline on the front page saying something like ‘stop the tragedy in the Todd River’.

A few days prior a woman we all knew had been found badly beaten near the river.

When we saw the headline we thought the local paper was launching a campaign to end violence against women, to support the work we and others are doing in Alice Springs.

But the story was actually about a weed growing in the river. This grass was the tragedy the local media headlined, not women dying, being hurt, families and kids suffering.

We felt hurt, then we got angry. As Aboriginal women we deserve to be taken seriously, to be heard and recognised.

We decided to do something about it and a few months after the Stuart Highway assault, TWFSG led a 300-strong, anti-violence march through the streets of Alice Springs, the largest women’s action in Central Australia.

We don’t pretend to know what’s best for other Aboriginal communities but we are very happy to share the Tangentyere approach.

Our message of ‘Stand With Us Women” was supported by prominent women from all over Australia including National Congress co-chair Dr Jacquie Huggins, family violence advocate Rosie Batty and Northern Territory Senator Malarndirri McCarthy.

Senator McCarthy suggested the women’s safety group come to Canberra. So we created artwork for auction and set up a successful crowdfunding campaign to send a dozen women to Parliament House.

We spoke to politicians from all sectors of politics and held a ceremony at Parliament House to remember our loved ones and to draw attention not only to the violence but importantly to say we have the voices, we have the experience, we are a large part of the solutions.

We were heard and we continue to be heard. Sometimes, we still have to battle to be heard above the voices of those who believe they speak for us.

But we are strong. We are resilient.

We are now working with the Tangentyere Men’s Four Corners group on family and community programs.

We don’t pretend to know what’s best for other Aboriginal communities but we are very happy to share the Tangentyere approach.

All we ask in return is that you hear our voices, stand with us women, and support Aboriginal women’s efforts to say no more to family violence.

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