Strong Women we Know
Because of her we can …. is the NAIDOC theme for 2018. On the NAIDOC website it states: “As pillars of our society, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have played – and continue to play - active and significant roles at the community, local, state and national levels.” I agree. I further believe that the NAIDOC committee have chosen a great theme for 2018. There are many great Aboriginal women who have achieved much for Aboriginal people, and by doing so, have achieved much for all Australians. Such women, like Bess Price, Faith Thomas, Marcia Langton, and Cathy Freeman, to name but a few, have achieved greatness in their own ways and have inspired millions of Australians. They are not just seen as great Aboriginal women, but great Australian women. These women are all well known. They weren’t always well known, but they were making a difference even before they were well known.
I don’t wish to detract from what NAIDOC is doing this year, but I am going to discuss some issues related to this important theme that are sometimes overlooked. There remain many other great Aboriginal woman who aren’t that well known but their achievements are still great. The ones I am going to talk about in this article are those whom we may not know as individuals, but we know their stories.
Strong Women we Don’t Know
Consider these women who commit crimes to escape violent partners. We generally don’t hear about these women. When that news story broke, I don’t recall hearing about any protests. Did they not matter? Were they simply seen as criminals who deserved to be in jail? Or consider these statistics discussed by Marcia Langton. I am grateful that a strong woman like Marcia has gathered these statistics. As shocking as they are, let’s not forget that behind them there are many broken bones, missing teeth, bleeding wounds, broken lives, and lost lives. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, neighbours, and perhaps most importantly, they are Australian women. I mention this because, to frame this tragedy of violence primarily as an Aboriginal issue allows it to be hidden as ‘secret Aboriginal business.’ It also allows perpetrators (and their defenders and apologists) to hide behind the cultural curtain where white Australia are apparently forbidden from accessing. Nonsense; as I have said before, Aboriginal business is everyone’s business.
Now before anyone tells me that women can also dish out violence against men, I am not denying that. But let’s be realistic and acknowledge that women are many more times likely the victim. A male victim of violence is no less important than a female victim of violence, but I am simply writing this article to complement the NAIDOC theme for 2018
What to Do?
In looking for a solution to the violence facing Aboriginal women it’s easy to get all sophisticated in our explanations. With limited space, I’m simply going to say that the major cause of Aboriginals being hurt, abused, and killed, is ‘men’ behaving badly. Certainly conditions like poverty, joblessness, and alcohol make men vulnerable, but these factors do not cause the violent behaviours, they are contributors only. There are many men, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who have suffered much hardship over the years, but their response was never to exert control and power over women.
So what to do? Certainly provide men with the support they need but also hold them accountable. Stop making excuses and telling them that they are victims of racism, colonisation, and ‘lateral violence.’ Concurrent with this, we need to change the culture such that when the women themselves speak out, or witnesses speak out, they will be taken seriously and protected.
Again, I applaud the NAIDOC committee for selecting such an excellent theme for 2018. But while we take the time to appreciate and admire the many fine Aboriginal women (and if it wasn’t for them, the Aboriginal community would have imploded by now) who are making this a better country, let’s also think about those Aboriginal women who we don’t hear about. Those ones who are almost invisible. To complement the NAIDOC 2018 theme of ‘Because of her we can …” we should also remember that in relation to the downtrodden and silenced Aboriginal women: “Because of them, we cannot sit back and do nothing.”
Very Finally and on a Personal Note
Here is a photo of my Aboriginal grandmother.
I hold her in the same regard as my
non-Aboriginal grandmother, but for this article, it is appropriate that I speak about her. She was a woman who had an incredible sense of peace about her. She never had to set rules for her family as she set examples. As someone who was born in the early 1900s, as an Aboriginal child growing up she certainly would have experienced discrimination and tough times. However, she never spoke to me about those times. She never spoke to me about how she was suffering from colonisation or ‘institutional racism.’ Nor did she tell me that her ‘sovereignty was never ceded’ or that she or I needed a treaty. Her smile clearly communicated that happiness, true happiness, comes from within.