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June Oscar's IWD Speech for Children's Ground

Aboriginal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice

Yaningi warangira ngindaji yuwa muwayi ingirranggu, Bunuba yani U.

I acknowledge all the traditional countries that we gather on today, and pay my respects to our elders everywhere, past, present and emerging.

Happy International Women’s Week 2021!

I really thank Jane and all the team, children and families of Children’s Ground for designing this event, and recognising the vital importance of keeping Wiyi Yani U Thangani, our Women’s Voices, on our minds, in our hearts and on everyone’s agenda! And it’s fantastic that Brooke and Miriam-Rose can join us in considering how to do that today and I want to say a huge congratulations to Miriam for winning Australian elder of the year. Your voices and the backgrounds you come from are so important to this conversation. Thank you all.

It is through gatherings, ongoing conversations and making ‘noise’ as our great Australian of the year, Grace Tame, said last week, that change will come, and, I believe with enough noise and energy, we can achieve an intersectional gender equality in Australia—and I’ll come back to how we bring on that change in a moment.

Firstly, let me say, what a year it has been. I can’t believe the global shockwaves since the last International Women’s Day. You know, as First Nations women, we do always say—it has been a big year—really for our women, it’s been a big few centuries! And through all the ups and downs of history we have survived, and in so many ways, we thrive.

But the last year, and the last few weeks, have brought unexpected hurdles and new forms of pain, anger and tiredness for so many of us. I want to acknowledge that today, that when we celebrate who we are and reflect on all our triumphs, as we should, we also know we still have so much further to go.

So, on this international women’s week in particular, I want us to take a deep breath and recognise our power and potential as First Nations women, and as women and girls from all cultures, backgrounds and heritages. And remember that it is when we are in solidarity—in sisterhood—that we are an unstoppable force and we can bring about large-scale change.

The Wiyi Yani U Thangani report—a once in a generation report—holds all of this power and potential. It is no ordinary document. It charts the diverse landscape of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls’ lives, depicting what we have achieved, all of who we are and laying out our aspirations for who we can become, and it talks about this across every sector and aspect of life from community safety, to housing, health and education.

For the first time in 36 years this report has brought our voices together, as a collective, from hundreds of traditional countries. It holds the strengths of our ancestral mothers, the enthusiasm and hope of our girls and young women. And it depicts our ongoing legacy of female leadership, where our women everywhere occupy diverse and multiple roles.

Wiyi Yani U Thangani shows this clearly, that our women keep the home-fires burning, and communities functioning, they take kids and elders out onto country, they keep businesses and offices ticking over, they constantly challenge and disrupt the biased and privileged assumptions of the mainstream, and they never fail to take to the stage and streets to fight against injustice and for the realisation of our rights. 

We know our women—'we’—do the lions-share of all forms of paid and unpaid work and we do it all with care, compassion and determination, with barely any compensation and renumeration.

We do it because we believe that within our actions, we make the type of society that’s worth living in for us and our children, for generations to come. We don’t just do it because of duty. We are driven by the fact that we are constantly forming the social, political, and economic reality that we want, a reality centred on values of belonging, connectedness, love and interdependence.

Our work, underpinned by immense knowledge, which women throughout Wiyi Yani U Thangani called the ‘glue’ of existence, is undervalued and overlooked by the mainstream, as if it is inconsequential to the current economic and social structures that govern this nation.

 Gender inequality, which disproportionately impacts Black, Brown, Indigenous women the world-over, takes root because structures, that are not of our own making, have forced us to the margins, and shut us out from forming the policies and legislation that impacts our lives.

Wiyi Yani U Thangani catalogues across every chapter the real life harmful consequences of structural inequalities. Too often it causes a cycle of poverty, where women and children are living in overcrowded housing, with nowhere to go and inadequate income support, struggling to put food on the table, unable to find work, and constantly fearful of the interventions of a punitive child protection and justice system.

I have heard countless stories like this. Alongside this lack of any meaningful supports, the absence of our voices in spaces of power means that stereotypes fuelled by racism, sexism and misogyny take hold and go unchecked and unchallenged. The last few weeks have been a stark reminder that an all too likely outcome of this is pervasive violence, assault and abuse against all women and girls.  

But, in recent months as we have all watched courageous women and survivors speak-out, I’ve been reminded of the power of speaking truth, and sharing knowledge that comes from lived experience. This was always the purpose of Wiyi Yani U Thangani, for our women and girls everywhere to speak their whole truth, to describe on their own terms, their issues, their solutions and the actions we need to take today to realise the futures they envision.

The result is that Wiyi Yani U Thangani puts on the table, for all to see and read, a First Nations female-led plan for structural change. It is ambitious in scope, and entirely necessary if we are to confront and resolve the crises of our time, all of which are related to entrenched inequalities.  

Women and girls have said it plainly, we need interconnected and joined up systems, designed by us and formed from the ground-up, which reflect and strengthen our holistic realities.

In particular, Wiyi Yani U Thangani, threads together four cross-cutting priorities, captured in the reports overarching recommendations, which if adequately invested in could drive generational change in the lives of our women and girls, and bring about First Nations gender justice and equality in Australia. These priorities are, enhancing our leadership and participation in all decisions that affect our lives; supporting our Law, culture and knowledge systems as key determinants of health and wellbeing; investing in our healing work and initiatives to break cycles of intergenerational trauma and recognising our skills, responsibilities and unpaid labour across all policies.

Women have spoken to how these priorities relate to diverse areas such as developing better care infrastructure, mitigating climate change, embedding truth-telling in education, and enabling the emergence of on country and culture-based industries and economies.   

These are the solutions and approaches that if implemented could once and for all break down the structures of poverty and powerlessness that have held us all back and perpetuated injustices against us for too long.

And the one overarching call for action, sung by all our women and girls across Australia, to drive this agenda, is the need for our self-determination to be guaranteed and backed up by structures of accountability and responsiveness.

That is why the major recommendations of the report is to establish a First Nations women and girls National Action Plan and a First Nations women and girls’ advisory body that can guide, advise and ensure that everything laid out in Wiyi Yani U Thangani is responded to and implemented. Australia currently does not have a national coherent framework to respond to our women and girls, nor does it have the architecture to achieve the many dimensions of gender equality.  

I can feel the restlessness throughout our sisterhood, through all of society that enough is enough. The time has come for change.   

To do this we have to keep Wiyi Yani U Thangani on everyone’s agenda, so all people, organisations, businesses, the media, and governments at every level, are seeing, hearing and responding to our women and girls’ voices. This year, my team and I are doing all we can to pursue the implementation of Wiyi Yani U Thangani. And I want all of you listening today, to own this report, and to have conversations with other women about how you can implement this report in your own lives.

Ultimately, we must refuse for our First Nations women and girls’ voices to be shelved. After this week I want all our listeners to keep up the mantra, ‘I hear you, I see you and we will walk together to deliver the change that must and will come’. 

Thank you

Yaninyja

Speech as delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO at the Children's Ground IWD Webinar on 10 March 2021.

You can read the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women's Voices) report and community guide here: https://wiyiyaniuthangani.humanrights.gov.au/ 

Ms June Oscar AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner