Wiyi Yani U Thangani – Securing Our Rights, Securing Our Future Report 2020 marks new beginnings for our First Nations women and girls, and for all Australians.
Wiyi Yani U Thangani means “women’s voices” in my language, Bunuba. It’s a fitting title for a landmark document which holds the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls, on every page.
What this report teaches us— through the lens of our women and girls— is that positive and sustainable transformation is not only possible, it is achievable—provided we have a place at the decision-making table.
First and foremost, Wiyi Yani U Thangani belongs to our First Nations women and girls. This is their report. This report, and the implementation project that we are now commencing, is the culmination of a multi-year partnership between my office, the Australian Human Rights Commission, and the National Indigenous Australians Agency.
It’s also the first time our women and girls have been heard, nationally and as a collective, in 34 years, since the Women’s Business report.
It is the first national engagement project of its kind in 34 years, since the Women’s Business Report in 1986. This was intentionally a project without agenda. It was driven by our women and girls, who set the tone and determined the dialogue. The result is a report shaped by their candid and fearless conversations that is not confined to a single sector or someone else’s interpretation of their lives.
My team and I traveled to over 50 locations, from urban centres to the most remote communities on the map. More than 2,000 First Nations women and girls spoke to us as part of the Wiyi Yani U Thangani project.
Our First Nations women and girls hold remarkable strengths, resilience, knowledge and boundless potential. We are leaders, carers, survivors, teachers, healers, social and economic innovators, and entrepreneurs.
These extensive set of skills derive from our knowledges that have been honed over tens of thousands of years. I heard throughout the engagements that it is this foundation that forms our identities today. Our knowledges are diverse and have adapted to dynamic environments supporting us to survive and thrive even in the most challenging of times.
Throughout my life and as the first Aboriginal woman to hold the position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, I have long witnessed the incredible abilities of our women to lead communities in celebration, in practicing culture, transferring knowledge and helping our families to cope and heal in times of crisis and grief.
As I travelled this vast continent, full of the vibrancy of our First Nations heritage and cultures, I saw how our women and girls constantly succeed. But their triumph too often exists on that hard edge, of being won in the face of adversity.
That has to end.
Our women are the backbone of our communities. But this fundamental truth is so often overlooked and barely recognized by broader Australian society.
Their commitment to continue round-the-clock care for our families, is unwavering. But the supports they need across systems is often completely absent.
Their knowledge of our lands, our physical places, is irreplaceable. They hold the keys to managing and protecting our threatened environment, but lack the opportunity and the resources to do so effectively.
I am nothing, if not inspired by all the women and girls I met with.
Against this dynamic backdrop, in every chapter, Wiyi Yani U Thangani charts the imposition of western systems. Since colonisation, the structures that have come to govern over us are so divorced from our realities that they continuously fragment our lives and relegate us to the margins.
In a system without voice and control, women and girls describe being trapped in intergenerational poverty and powerlessness, increasingly vulnerable to the harms of violence and addictions that manifest from the despair of dispossession; from unresolved trauma.
These structures that are detached are unresponsive. They deepen cycles of crisis and punitive interventions and silence our women even when their pain is deafening.
Women and girls want their voices to be genuinely heard and incorporated, and for a place at the table to be created for us to design the effective policies, programs and services that we need. Without us, nothing will change.
The Wiyi Yani U Thangani report responds to this call with a comprehensive roadmap—seven overarching structural reform recommendations—to fundamentally shift how Australian governments engage with our women and girls. These include the establishment of a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women and Girls Advisory Body to develop, lead and implement a National Action Plan to advance the rights and wellbeing of our women and girls.
Wiyi Yani U Thangani also calls for the enhancement of First Nations women and girls’ self-determination and leadership. We must invest in the skills, knowledge and expertise of our women and girls and support and build their capacity in their critical work at the local and regional level. It is this work that maintains our societal health, safety and cohesiveness.
As a nation, we must build the foundations to empower and support our women and girls. When our women succeed, so do our men, children and families.
To our First Nations women and girls, I want you to know that I have heard you and will continue to listen to your voices and echo them in the corridors of power.
I want you to know that as we move into 2021, I will be pursuing our leaders to take-on our recommendations and findings. If our women and girls’ actions are given proper recognition, and policy and legislation is made to reflect our lived realities, match our needs and meet our aspirations, together we can bring about a shift in systems change.
To reform our systems, we must face one another as a nation and listen to hard truths about the foundations of this country and the ongoing impact of inequality. In hearing these truths, we cannot turn away in anger and resentment, but grasp these truths and respond with a renewed vigor for change.
Women and girls are asking you to read our stories, hear our voices and help us create a system that enables us and all Australians to thrive. They shared candid and fearless views and just like them, the Wiyi Yani U Thangani report is full of lived experiences and solutions.
The result, is a seminal report that each and every Australian should read.
So please, listen to and learn from their calls for change; they are right here, in front of you.
Read the report here.
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