Aboriginal women’s lives matter

Thursday 8 March 2018

Celeste Liddle, Eureka Street 
For two years, following the work undertaken by Destroy the Joint and Real for Women in identifying victims of femicide, I combed the lists to ascertain what percentage of these victims were Aboriginal women.

It was hard going, not just because Aboriginal women made up approximately 20 per cent of the women who had died as a result of violence enacted upon them, but also because the identification process was not simple.
In so many cases, there was little beyond the initial police report. Often the biggest hint I had that the victim was an Aboriginal woman came from the fact that the media never expanded upon these initial police reports. One case took more than 12 months to confirm due to the media having reported only on the court case of the perpetrator. So many of these women would also go unnamed.
When I would bring this up I'd often be met with the response 'maybe it's for cultural reasons' by non-Indigenous people. Many Aboriginal communities though have linguistic ways to refer to those who've passed while also adhering to cultural practices. In reality then, the lack of naming the victim has more to do with media and mainstream disinterest in these victims than it does traditional protocol.
It wasn't just these statistics though. Our Watch, for example, continued to report the significantly higher rates of family and domestic violence Aboriginal women are exposed to — they are 34 times more likely to be victims. Other reports detailed Aboriginal women being 70 times more likely to be hospitalised for brain injuries as a result of domestic and family violence. The statistics keep coming, women would keep suffering, yet little has changed.

I have to wonder whether a lot of this comes down to governmental approaches being punitive. The violence suffered by Aboriginal women was part of the reasoning given for the Howard government's decision to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act and introduce the Northern Territory Intervention.
Apparently, the answer to reducing violence in communities was to sign over traditional lands to governments, control the spending of individuals via the BasicsCard, and install massive signs outside communities stating that alcohol and pornography were banned. Yet following the Intervention, rates of violence actually increased.

Of course, the Gillard government was not much better. It reinstalled the Racial Discrimination Act by rolling this program out to a few non-Indigenous people as well, but then notoriously demonised these same communities by stating that 'rivers of grog' were flowing through them.

‘Far from fixing the issue, punitive governmental solutions have tended to exacerbate it while silencing the very voices they should be listening to by removing every bit of autonomy and self-determination those women have.’
Since then, subsequent governments have maintained the trend of punishment as opposed to progress. Welfare quarantining has been rolled out to many more communities across the country, and the racist Community Development Program has been installed, forcing welfare recipients in mainly Aboriginal communities to work for 25 hours per week with no pay or protections. Meanwhile the statistics on Aboriginal women victims stay the same.
After so many years, it appears that the sole purpose of bringing up Aboriginal women who are victims of abuse in political discussions is to further oppress our populations. It's certainly not to give those women a voice, empower them to build solutions and ensure that these solutions are funded adequately. Continual cuts to budgets leading to a depletion of services, while governments wring their hands every time a Closing the Gap Report is handed down, is evidence of the lack of real care.
Even worse is when the abuse Aboriginal women suffer from is used by our own conservatives as a mere trump card to throw down in order to discredit activism other Aboriginal community members engage in. Most recently, CLP hopeful Jacinta Price, a woman who has argued that Aboriginal activism such as Invasion Day ralliesand marches against forced community closures will do nothing to tackle disadvantage and violence, collaborated with Mark Latham — a man known for relentlessly harassing violence against women crusader Rosie Batty — to release an ad to Save Australia Day.

Anthony Dillon described the push for treaty as being a 'sad distraction' from addressing family violence, insinuating that both issues cannot be addressed at the same time, while also making the erroneous assumption that treaty pushes are not being led by people who work in, or are survivors of, family and domestic violence. One need not look much further than new Victorian MP Lidia Thorpe for evidence of this dual activism.

The UN has declared the theme for International Women's Day 2018 as being 'Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women's lives'. When it comes to Aboriginal women and family and domestic violence, there has never been a better time to amplify the voices of our survivors, to acknowledge and properly fund the work our grassroots activists have been doing on this front, and to embrace community-based solutions as being key to both tackling the issue and raising esteem for those who need it most. It's time to acknowledge that far from fixing the issue, punitive governmental solutions have tended to exacerbate it while silencing the very voices they should be listening to by removing every bit of autonomy and self-determination those women may have.

It's time to stop seeing Aboriginal women as disposable. Aboriginal women's lives matter and Aboriginal women have been at the forefront calling for change. We have names, we have value and we have solutions. The time is now.
Celeste Liddle is an Arrernte woman living in Melbourne, the National Indigenous Organiser of the NTEU, and a freelance opinion writer and social commentator. She blogs at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist.

Thursday 8 March is International Women's Day.
Original article can be found here.
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