Leading a national body working to prevent violence against women, I talk a lot about inequality. Addressing inequality is at the heart of our mandate. Violence against women is both a symptom and a cause of gender inequality.
For women to be safe, they must be equal.
As we approach January 26, a painful day for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, inequality is squarely on my mind.
The loss of culture and language, the significant family and community dislocation, the negative impacts on health and wellbeing and the ongoing racism and discrimination – the ongoing impact of colonisation and dispossession, the pain within our nation’s history, is still felt today in the present. This cannot be ignored. The evidence shows they are key drivers of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
On the 26 January, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people draw the nation’s attention to these issues.
Currently, in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women report experiencing violence at more than three times the rate of non-Indigenous women. And the physical, verbal, sexual and emotional abuse they suffer is often more severe.
It is abhorrent that 71% of Aboriginal women experience physical violence in their lifetime.
Three times as many Aboriginal women reported sexual violence than non-Indigenous women.
A recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare looked at hospital stays due to family and domestic violence from 2010-11 to 2018-19. Shockingly, 28% of those admitted were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, despite making up only 3.3% of the population.
It feels both shocking and callous to speak about women as numbers. These are women with lives – families and friends that love them, who have been denied the right to live free from violence – a fundamental human right.
Far too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. We pay our respect to all who have lost their lives to men’s violence.
As a nation, these tragedies must stop us in our tracks. In our quest to address gender inequality to prevent violence, we must also address racial inequality.
Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is a widespread and serious Australian problem that has had a detrimental impact on First Nations people, families and communities.
The truth is that violence against all women is preventable, provided we work together – across every part of the community – to address this national emergency.
In doing so, we must also acknowledge that not all women experience the impacts of gender inequality or violence in the same way.
The evidence shows that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women face barriers to reporting violence and getting help.
The unacceptably high rates of incarceration, deaths in custody and removal of children from their families have resulted in a lack of trust in police, justice, government agencies, and authorities.
The violence Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience today can only be addressed if we address a long history of racial inequality alongside gender inequality.
We must all build on, respond to and amplify the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, families and communities who know what needs to be done and who have been calling for collective action on this issue for decades.
In line with the principles of self-determination, these solutions should be owned, developed and led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and wherever possible, implemented by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-controlled organisations.
For non-Indigenous organisations, our role is to lean forward, roll up our sleeves and take meaningful action to advance reconciliation, address inequality, and stop violence before it starts.
This means working to challenge and dismantle both racism and sexism, striving to be genuine allies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations, and supporting those actions everywhere we live, work and socialise.
The high rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is a national problem that requires a national solution; with effective healing and trauma-informed care at its heart.
As we approach the 26 January, Our Watch reaffirms our commitment to stand with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people leading this work and we reaffirm our commitment of allyship and amplification.
We stand in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today, and every day.
And we think of the countless women we have lost that we could, and should, have prevented.
This op-ed was first published on January 25, 2022 in The Age.