Friday, January 1, 2016

Aboriginal women in 2015

The clock has chimed 12 times, the calendar has flipped over and suddenly we find ourselves in a brand new year. 2015 was, to put it bluntly, a challenge and I don't feel I am alone in stating I was ready to see the back of it. But it was a significant year in many respects for Aboriginal women and I just want to take the time to recognise some of these moments.

We have had some wonderful women smashing the moulds this year. Worora woman Vinka Barunga is on track to becoming the first Aboriginal doctor in Derby and was featured in this SBS news piece. Millie Telford was named the 2015 Young Conservationist of the Year and went from strength to strength as the CEO of Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Coalition. Amongst so much more, she has done integral work highlighting the specific impacts felt by Indigenous communities due to climate change. I wanted to note the numerous young women who I saw front and centre at the rallies against the Forced Closures of Aboriginal communities who spoke strongly and had to deal with tools like this on occasion yet did not lose heart. Noongar school girl Danikka Calyon not only was commended at the WA Youth Awards for her tireless work empowering young people in a number of arenas but also attended the UN General Assembly and addressed them on the plight of Aboriginal people. There are so many more young women doing extraordinary things, and this is but a small handful.

In NSW, the Grandmothers Against Removals successfully lobbied the NSW government to change their policies regarding at risk Aboriginal children so that elders are consulted and opportunities for children to remain with family and community are properly explored. This prompted similar organising amongst Martu elders in WA and Grandmothers Against Removals is now pretty much a national network. In Mount Isa, women elders devised a mentorship programme for young mothers called "At Nanna's Knee" to assist in the development of parenting skills in culturally-appropriate ways. Aunty Jenny Munro, the spokesperson for the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy was recently shortlisted as one of Daily Life's "Woman of the Year" candidates for her staunch sovereignty activism. Again, there have been so many other women elders who should be recognised.

It was a year not without its trials for Aboriginal women though. Aboriginal women experiencing violence were used as an excuse to shutdown WA communities from a government which continually fails to protect these women anyway and properly fund services to assist. Aboriginal women on welfare were referred to as "cash cows" who were perpetually impregnated. It's fair to say that with much of the year having Tony Abbott as both the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and the Minister for Women, we didn't have much hope. But the continual scape-goating, the lack of consultation and the continual talking for by white men who really need to learn to listen for a change showed this country still considers the voices and experiences of Aboriginal women to be of little worth, and solutions lie in paternalism rather than empowerment and collaboration. This continues to be a nation's shame.

Finally, it has been an incredibly sad year. An estimated 17 Aboriginal women were noted within the Counting Dead Women and the Man Murders Woman tallies, therefore making up over 20% of the overall list despite being 3% of the population. The coronial inquiry into the death in custody of 22yo Ms Dhu (which will continue in March) heard that police "may have been negligent" in their duty of care. Meanwhile the Aboriginal women prison population increased 150% since 2009 proving the WA govt continues to learn nothing. In NT, the death of 20yo Ms Mardigan who suffered from Lupus was also linked to the lack of due care by authorities and systems who could have done so much more. It was a year of loss of so many of our women and with so much of it being preventable, it tells an horrific tale.

As stated earlier in this post, there are so many of our women worthy of acknowledgement, and I urge people to take the time to note these women in the comment section below. As we move into 2016, I wish everyone all the best. Here's to strong, proud Aboriginal women and the contributions they continue to make, often unsung. Here's to less carnage. And here's to a more positive future. Thanks finally to all those who have read my stuff in 2015. I really appreciate it.