An important gathering of First Nations women – including specialist experts, researchers, frontline workers and women with lived experience of violence – has called on governments across Australia to ensure First Nations women lead all future efforts to prevent violence against First Nations women and children.
On Monday the Wiyi Yani U Thangani Women’s Safety Policy Forum was held online, with over 150 participants attending from all around the country, the majority being First Nations women. Wiyi Yani U Thangani, means ‘women’s voices’ in the Bunuba language from Western Australia’s Kimberly region.
Hosted by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO, the forum provided a dedicated space for First Nations women to speak on their own terms to government, policymakers and service providers about addressing violence in First Nations communities.
The Forum coincided with yesterday’s fifteenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration has been endorsed by Australia and Australia has obligations to respond accordingly.
In a statement released today following Monday’s forum, delegates call on the Australian Government “to ensure First Nations women and children are front and centre of the design and delivery of the proposed separate First Nations National Plan to end family violence and violence against women.”
In the statement, delegates call on ‘all Australian governments to take urgent and ongoing action to invest in the solutions of First Nations women to end violence, and ensure commitment to our human rights’.
The statement stresses that First Nations women have always been central to providing care and doing remarkable, and often unrecognised work, to keep family and kin safe, and that they have the knowledge and know what works to end cycles of violence and trauma. This position is documented throughout the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) Report (2020) and was reinforced by Forum delegates.
Speaking at the Forum, Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said, “We have committed to delivering a dedicated National Plan for First Nations people to end family violence and violence against women. There is enormous work to be done, and we will continue to support Commissioner Oscar’s work—the Wiyi Yani U Thangani project. What this offers is 36 years of collective First Nations women voices – it is a seminal report that must be listened to for its wisdom, for its breadth, and what it brings to the public debate.”
Also speaking at the Forum, Federal Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said, ‘The Commission has played an important role in making sure that our Government's ear is turned sharply to the needs of First Nations communities. The Wiyi Yani U Thangani report and this forum puts forward some important information that we do need to look at and do need to work with closely.”
Research shows First Nations women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised and 11 times more likely to die from assault than non-indigenous women in Australia. Delegates also stressed that family violence is a significant contributor to rapidly increasing rates of First Nations women in incarceration and a leading cause of the removal of First Nations children into the out-of-home care system.
Commissioner Oscar said, “The voices we heard at Monday’s Forum have made it clear that First Nations people must have a right to their voices, agency and self-determination and be designing any response to family violence in our communities.
“They spoke powerfully about the forces that continue to prevent us from designing the systems, structures and ways of life that meet our needs and aspirations. These systems do not know us, they are unwilling to learn from us, they perpetuate harm and have formed the conditions for violence to take hold.
“The solutions we need to end violence sit with us. We know what works, and we know what does not. I thank these women for their potent truth-telling and for their insistence that real and lasting change can only happen when First Nations women are leading that change.”
Some of the key themes that emerged from yesterday’s Forum include: guaranteeing First Nations women’s self-determination in leading the development of a national plan to end violence; sustained and targeted investment into women-led and community-controlled organisations responding to family violence; improving the evidence-base and evaluation of violence prevention programs; improving the inclusion of children’s rights in the development of responses; taking a holistic and family-oriented approach that does not exclude and demonise First Nations men; and targeting systemic drivers of violence such as poverty, financial insecurity, racism and gender inequality.
A report on the outcomes of the forum will be released by the Commission in October. The Commission and other stakeholders will use the recommendations in the report to advocate for more effective violence prevention responses across the country.
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