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Don’t you think that there is something drastically wrong when we’re in the year 2018 and the deterioration of our people has just tripled? We're missing something somewhere along the line … [we need to be] putting preventative measures in place and really educating our people with empowerment to be able to lend to their own understanding of directing their own futures.
Chapter 8 Service delivery
Throughout all engagements and submissions for the Wiyi Yani U Thangani project, and across all themes from health, to housing and education, women and girls raised the need for structural reform to the way services are delivered in their communities. Throughout this chapter, women and girls describe a broken system where poorly coordinated mainstream funding bodies cause fractured and duplicated services. Women and girls shared that they often feel abandoned when it comes to accessible and suitable services, particularly in areas of family violence, child removal, homelessness, substance abuse, poor mental health, and suicide. This chapter captures the key concerns raised by women and girls with the current service provision dynamic, including accountability and funding, reform in the most vulnerable sectors, staffing, service transparency and coordination, and accessibility.
Women describe throughout this chapter the need for policies, programs and services to focus on prevention and early intervention. Current responses not only fail to address the root causes of disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, but also fail to aid the symptoms. Community-controlled services are essential to addressing inequality and the needs of communities, as is the inclusion of women and girls in decisions about what investments are made into their communities and how services are designed, delivered and evaluated.
Chapter 9 Housing and homelessness
Safe, secure and stable housing is critical to health, education and employment, and is key to improving outcomes for people in entrenched disadvantage. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women face multiple, intersecting barriers to realising the right to housing, including a greater likelihood of experiencing economic disadvantage, greater responsibility for caring for family, higher levels of gendered violence, stereotyping, racism and discrimination. Throughout this chapter, women and girls highlight housing as a major priority issue and identify the need to address availability, overcrowding, discriminatory housing access, affordability, social housing, and homelessness.
This chapter captures women’s urgent calls to increase housing stocks, ensure affordability of housing, provide culturally appropriate supports to address overcrowding, and prevent housing insecurity and homelessness. Women want a system that is responsive to their unique needs, including higher rates of mobility and significant kinship obligations. They were clear that there needs to be greater investment in community-controlled organisations to ensure the housing sector is better designed to suit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, families and communities.
Chapter 10 Disability
This chapter relays the experiences of women and girls with disability and as carers. The overwhelming message from women and girls was that the Western perspective of disability has created significant barriers impeding the equal participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability in all aspects of life.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disability face the intersection of race, gender and disability, making them one of the most disadvantaged groups in Australia. The marginalisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disability is reflected in their experience of poorer health and social and emotional wellbeing outcomes, substance misuse, suicidal behaviour, lower life expectancy, insecure housing, insecure employment, and intergenerational disengagement with education.
Women and girls, especially those who are carers, emphasised the failures of services and supports for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability, including the NDIS, and the need for significant reforms that recognise our knowledge and expertise and empowers community-control over disability support services.
Chapter 11 Land and country
Country plays a critical role in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls. Country provides women and girls with a sense of identity, a source of strength and a place for healing. Throughout this chapter, women and girls raise their deep concerns about their ongoing connection to country, including contemporary barriers to accessing country such as: financial costs, loss of access due to mining, and living away from country. Women spoke mournfully of a piecemeal yet cumulative loss of cultural knowledge since colonisation, and of the loss of country due to from the impacts of climate change.
This chapter also relays the hopes women and girls have for country, and highlights how innovative and resourceful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are. Women and girls share their aspirations and solutions to reconnect to country, live and work on country—including through heritage and Indigenous ranger programs—and for economic development. Women have varied opinions and perspectives when it comes to land and country. However, they were very clear that they need to be supported to maintain and strengthen their connection to country, in whatever way they chose.
All people have the right to lead fulfilled lives, to participate in decisions affecting their lives, and to non-discrimination and equality. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ identity is inextricably linked to country. For our mob, safety, health, and wellbeing are found at home. Nonetheless, too often, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls who live on country are not provided with readily accessible and suitable services, including services for women and girls with disability. This lack of adequate support is undermining women and girls’ sense of place and belonging and presents an obstacle to the realisation of a range of economic, social, and cultural rights.
The International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)[i] requires states to undertake all appropriate measures to progressively achieve the full realisation of the rights in the ICESCR, and to do so to the maximum of their available resources. This ‘progressive realisation’ principle acknowledges that the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights can only be achieved over time. Accordingly, governments must take positive steps to progressively achieve the full realisation of rights without delay. Steps must be deliberate, concrete and targeted as clearly as possible towards meeting the obligations recognised in the Convention.[ii]
This requires that governments identify indicators, in relation to which they should set ambitious but achievable benchmarks, so that the rate of progress can be monitored. Such benchmarks should be:
- Specific, time bound and verifiable
- Set with the participation of the people whose rights are affected, to agree on what is an adequate rate of progress and to prevent the target from being set too low
- Reassessed independently at their target date, with accountability for performance.[iii]
The right to an adequate standard of living, including housing
ICESCR recognises the ‘right of everyone to an adequate standard of living’, which includes the right to housing (Article 11). Access to safe and secure housing is one of the most basic human rights and is fundamental to the enjoyment of a range of rights, including an adequate standard of living, the right to education, and the right to privacy. The right to housing is more than a right to shelter. It is dependent on a range of elements including:
- Security of tenure: There must be a degree of tenure security to guarantee legal protection.
- Availability of services and infrastructure: This includes safe drinking water, sanitation, energy for cooking, heating, lighting, and food storage.
- Affordability: The cost must not compromise the enjoyment of other rights.
- Habitability: It must guarantee physical safety, provide adequate space, and protect against health and structural hazards.
- Accessibility: The specific needs of peoples experiencing disadvantage and marginalisation must be considered.
- Location: It must not be cut off from employment opportunities, healthcare, schools, childcare centres, and other social facilities.
- Cultural adequacy: Cultural identity must be taken into account.[iv]
Indigenous women are more likely than other groups to live in inadequate housing conditions and to experience systemic discrimination in the housing sector. Frameworks for their protection are found in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)[v] and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).[vi]
The rights of persons with disability
Indigenous women and girls with disability are at the intersection of race, gender, and disability, making them one of the most marginalised groups globally. Alongside CEDAW and UNDRIP, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) provides protection for the economic, social, and cultural rights of persons with disabilities.[vii] These rights are underpinned by eight guiding principles including:
- Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons
- Full and effective participation and inclusion in society
- Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disability as part of human diversity and humanity
- Equality of opportunity
- Equality between men and women.
The right to country, culture, and knowledge
The enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is intimately connected to the rights of Indigenous people to maintain, practise, and teach their culture. These rights are articulated in various international human rights frameworks, including ICCPR Article 27 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Article 30: Indigenous persons are not to be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.[viii]
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) has also indicated that the obligations in the ICERD requiring governments to:
- Recognise and respect indigenous distinct culture, history, language, and way of life as an enrichment of the state’s cultural identity and to promote its preservation
- Ensure that members of indigenous peoples have equal rights in respect of effective participation in public life and that no decisions directly relating to their rights and interests are taken without their informed consent
- Ensure that indigenous communities can exercise their rights to practise and revitalise their cultural traditions and customs and to preserve and to practise their languages
- Recognise and protect the rights of indigenous peoples to own, develop, control, and use their communal lands, territories and resources.[ix]
The UNDRIP also sets out how these rights apply in protecting indigenous peoples’ cultural identity, connection to country, and cultural knowledge:
- Article 10: Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.
- Article 12(1): Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs, and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites.
- Article 25: Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.
- Article 26: Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories, and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired, and to the right to own, use, develop and control the lands.
- Article 27: States shall establish and implement a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process, giving due recognition to indigenous peoples’ laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems, to recognise and adjudicate the rights of indigenous peoples pertaining to their lands, territories and resources, including those which were traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used. Indigenous peoples shall have the right to participate in this process.
- Article 29: Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement assistance programmes for indigenous peoples for such conservation and protection, without discrimination.
- Article 31: Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies, and cultures. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.
[i] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, opened for signature 16 December 1966, 993 UNTS 3 (entered into force 3 January 1976).
[ii] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General comment No. 3: The nature of States parties’ obligations, UN ESCOR, 5th sess, UN Doc E/1991/23 (14 December 1990) para 2 <https://www.refworld.org/docid/4538838e10.html>.
[iii] United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2000 (Oxford University Press, 2000) <http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/reports/261/hdr_2000_en.pdf>, quoted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2002 (Report, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 2002) 101 <https://humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/social_justice/sj_report/sjreport02/Social_Justice_Report02.pdf>.
[iv] UN Habitat and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, The Right to Adequate Housing, UN Doc Fact Sheet No.21/Rev 1 (November 2009) <https://www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/fs21_rev_1_housing_en.pdf>.
[v] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, opened for signature 18 December 1979, 1249 UNTS 13 (entered into force 3 September 1981).
[vi] United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, GA Res 61/295, UN GAOR, 61st sess, 107th plen mtg, Agenda Item 68, UN Doc A/RES/61/295 (13 September 2007) annex, Preamble 16, 17, arts 4, 5 <http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IPeoples/Pages/Declaration.aspx>.
[vii] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, opened for signature 13 December 2006, 2515 UNTS 3 (entered into force 3 May 2008).
[viii] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, opened for signature 16 December 1966, 999 UNTS 171 (entered into force 23 March 1976).
[ix] Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, General Recommendation 23, Rights of Indigenous peoples, 51st sess, 1235th mtg, UN Doc A/52/18 (18 August 1997) annex V at 122, paras 4, 5. See also Article 5, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, opened for signature 21 December 1965, 660 UNTS 195 (entered into force 4 January 1969).