Aboriginal women's lives matter



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.

Aboriginal women danceIt 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 rallies and 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 LiddleCeleste 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.

Topic tags: Celeste Liddle, International Women's Day, Aboriginal women, John Howard, Mark Latham, The Intervention


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Existing comments

Yes Celeste. Aboriginal women's lives do matter. They are precious and essential as the progenitors and nurturers of the Aboriginal people. Without them there is no Aboriginal hope for the future. Despite genuine intent and vast sums of money over many years you say governments have failed and conclude your article by saying Aboriginal women have the solution. Please tell us what the solution is. Does it involve removing all the welfare which you say has failed? Does it involve getting Aboriginal men to stop drinking alcohol which is a major contributor to the problem of domestic violence? Does it involve educational rehab programs for Aboriginal men where they can learn to understand and respect the preciousness of Aboriginal women? Does it mean all Aboriginal children should attend the schools provided free for them throughout the whole country? Sadly, the Aboriginal people have suffered from the introduction of the European culture to their land which brought disease and alcohol with devastating effects. Sadly it also brought the victim mentality practised as an art form in Europe. But let us not forget that Aboriginal culture before the arrival of Europeans already had a culture which involved raids on other tribes to steal women as possessions and violence against women. Clearly if governments have failed it is time to act. 'The time is now" you conclude. It is indeed. Time for Aboriginal men to stand up, be responsible for their actions and stop abusing their precious women.
john frawley | 06 March 2018

Thanks Celeste. Pulling apart the stated aim & the totally irrelevant devised strategies around violence against First Nations women, throws into high relief the cynicism/idiocy/maliciousness/colonising mentality of the decision-makers in these situations. No pretence at consultation, simple knee-jerk pat answers. "Rural and urban activists transforming women's lives." What possibilities open up under such a proposal: bringing women together to consult in both homogenous and diverse groups to discover points of common cause, nominate strategies that work, actually participate in decisions that will impact on them. I always think of the Caring for Country programme at moments like this. People with millennia of slowly grown deep understanding of the Land, engaged in meaningful, constructive & life-enhancing work. Enter the cynic....what are the chances....
bev henwood | 07 March 2018

Excellent, much-needed article - hits the spot. Thank you Celeste.
Christine Judith Nicholls | 07 March 2018

This is a superb article. Much appreciated Celeste and Eureka Street. It seems so hard for people to get beyond the effects to analyse the causes for behaviour such as you have outlined here: '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.' Why wouldn't they increase when the sums referred to by your correspondent are spent in further harassment of an already harassed and made poverty stricken group. Surely one of Australia's greatest shames is the NT Intervention introduced by the Coalition and legislated for a further 10 years by Labor - and still continuing. Such oppressive tools have been evolved- as it was obvious they would - into the Cashless Card system extended to high areas of Aboriginal population- at the initial cost to the taxpayer of $10,000 per person! Where are the rehabilitation services? All this on a group from whom the rest of us 'obtained' the vast lands of this country in the first place.
Michele Madigan | 07 March 2018

Thank you Celeste for this insightful article. I am afraid I have to object to the comment of John Frawley. To attempt to summarise the current situation of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples attitudes and practices, after the multitude of government mistreatment over the past 230 years as a 'victim mentality practised as an art form' seems to fly in the face of any understanding of the issues and only adds to the pain.
Tom Kingston | 07 March 2018

I am all in favour of our Aboriginal citizens taking more responsibility for themselves and the huge mount of tax-payer money being spent on their issues. I have no problem continuing to pay, as long as it will do some good in a reasonable time scale. But what are these hard plans and strategies, Celeste?
Eugene | 07 March 2018

Are some of you missing the point? All women's lives matter - all the time. Justice is supposed to be blind/non-discriminatory. Print/digital media; real/social media; all media - be responsible & credible. The fact that as a white woman, my black sisters are treated differently or less than me is appalling. It is simply wrong. Women (men & children) who are victims of violence - domestic or otherwise deserve to have the right to be treated fairly/equally. Ultimately not to be abused in the first place (by those who are white &/or black). You want results? Enter the arena; unfortunately it takes time & money - you know what it also takes? Never giving up - change attitudes; restore faith & hope for future generations. Where does it start? Right here & now, with Celeste opening a conversation. Know better, do better & get involved. There is no end date for acknowledging the past & creating a better future. It's called hope & it's not unrealistic to expect better from ourselves.
Trish Mc | 08 March 2018

Reported in Sky News today. Aboriginal leaders in the Northern Territory have called for abused children with sexually transmitted diseases to be removed from their parents and child protection to be prioritised. These calls have come after a two year old girl was raped and a thirteen year old, removed from her family because of pregnancy, became pregnant a second time presumably in the care of a foster family or government agency (not specified in the report). The time is indeed now, Celeste - time for the Aboriginal people to face the truth of those things that only they can correct and get on with correcting them. Clearly, the non-aboriginal community has proved itself incapable of fixing the problems our Aboriginal people suffer if the many public commentators and social justice gurus are to be believed.
john frawley | 09 March 2018

The risk factor doesn't inhere in a woman's Aboriginality, or a 2 year old girl's in a recent rape case, or a 6 year old boy sodomy and murder victim's in Roebourne, but in that of male partners, relatives, neighbours, patients (see raped and murdered white Remote Area Nurses) The problem is exacerbated by scared communities' cover-ups and metropolitan bourgeois political correctness like the author's.
james marchment | 09 March 2018

If an Aboriginal man has agency, he has accountability. Celeste Liddle might be saying that governments are at fault for not doing more to empower Aboriginal women, and that such things as quarantining benefits is disempowering everybody rather than, in particular, affirming women. OK, but talking about Aboriginal femicide without mentioning what to do about Aboriginal men is somewhat like talking about US school shootings without talking about the likes of Nikolas Cruz. In fact, that’s what the NRA recommends: all news of school shootings should omit almost everything about the shooters. This article is about Aboriginal women being murdered but it omits everything about the Aboriginal men who comprise the vast majority, if not all, of the murderers.
Roy Chen Yee | 09 March 2018

Well just for the record, at this late stage of the conversation, I agree with the other blokes. We know instinctively that black or white, we must be held accountable for our actions, especially if it involves harm to women and children. I don't understand Celeste why you avoid acknowledging the harm that men do, and don't unpack this in terms of what can be done in the here and now. Truth telling works both ways. I feel that it doesn't help move things on when we project blame in every historical, structural and systemic direction, but turn a blind eye, especially to the targeting of programs with men who are most at risk of inflicting harm on others.
Mike | 14 March 2018

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