Commissioner’s introduction to the community guide
As the first woman to be appointed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, I began my term wanting to champion the needs and aspirations of First Nations women and girls.
I want to promote the importance of strengths-based, community-driven approaches to addressing the inequalities experienced by First Nations peoples.
Wiyi Yani U Thangani, meaning Women’s Voices in my Bunuba language, is a multi-year project which aims to elevate the voices of First Nations women and girls. It is the first engagement project of its kind since the Women’s Business Report in 1986.
Throughout 2018, my team and I travelled to 50 locations in urban, regional and remote areas across every state and territory. We conducted 106 engagements and met with 2,294 women of all ages, including our senior elders, girls from 12 to 17 years of age, women in prison and our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Sistergirl and Brotherboy (LGBTQIA+SB) communities. We also received over 100 submissions and 300 survey responses.
I approached each engagement with no set agenda or imposed framework. A central aim was to look beyond cycles of crisis that have come to characterise First Nations lives, and to make the space for our women and girls to determine the conversation and define their lives in their own terms. I asked women and girls about their strengths, the challenges they face and their solutions.
The Wiyi Yani U Thangani report holds the voices of our women and girls on every page.
Their stories taken together paint the big picture of history—of a remarkable cultural vibrancy spanning millennia that has been heavily impacted by colonisation and an ongoing growth in inequalities which has caused our women and girls to be one of the most vulnerable groups in contemporary Australian society.
Against this backdrop, the report tells of the extraordinary ability of our women and girls to survive and triumph despite persistent trauma and marginalisation.
This report and community guide reflects their fierce resilience and has been shaped by their unyielding determination and their belief that who they are, and what they know, will pave the way towards a better future.
This community guide sets out the major findings and cross-cutting themes that are explored in detail in the Wiyi Yani U Thangani report. It also presents the ‘Way Forward’—a comprehensive plan for structural reform. It includes principles, overarching recommendations, and pathways forward which correspond with the four thematic areas of the report.
In this community guide are voices full of hope and possibility. Listen to them. Read them. First Nations peoples and non-Indigenous people working together can use this guide as a tool to support our women and girls as agents of change and to advocate for the enabling conditions needed for all Australian society to thrive.