This week is NAIDOC week in Australia so I thought it only appropriate to write about how important the celebration and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is, and how this year’s theme is a real winner.
A little context – NAIDOC is an acronym for National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee and is celebrated every year in July. NAIDOC has its origins in the 1930s when the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association were preparing for the 1938 Day of Mourning. It has been celebrated officially as NAIDOC week since 1991.
The theme for NAIDOC week this year is “because of her, we can”. How apt! This year’s theme really couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, particularly in light of what has been happening in Australia and around the world in the last twelve months regarding women’s rights and feminism. The ‘Me Too’ movement has swept through the entertainment industry and the world, making it clear that women are no longer tolerating sexual abuse in the workplace. Thousands of women have taken to social media (and the courts) sharing their personal stories that highlight how prevalent sexual assault is against women. Furthermore, the public response to incidents such as the assault and murder of Eurydice Dixon indicate that it’s time more is done to prevent these atrocities happening, not by the women who choose to walk down a certain street or dress in a particular way, but by the perpetrators who hurt them. Unfortunately, Eurydice’s death is not an outlier statistically. Approximately one woman per week is killed in Australia by a current or former partner – that’s not including women who are killed by someone unknown to them (AIHW, 2018). For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women 2 in 5 homicides were perpetrated by current or former partners, twice that of their non-Indigenous counterparts. This year’s NAIDOC week theme is so important because despite the progress women have made in our society, there is more to be done.
The response of the mainstream media to violence perpetrated against women outside of their homes is quite appalling. Suggesting that women shouldn’t dress provocatively, shouldn’t walk alone, shouldn’t drink too much or should always have a man around to protect them is awful advice. No woman, irrespective of how she dresses or where she’s going, leaves the house wanting to be harassed, raped, assaulted or killed. Women wearing particular clothes are not asking for it. Instead of giving out useless advice to women about how to stay safe when leaving the house – which, incidentally may be safer given most violence against women is committed by someone they know – how about media outlets put the onus wholly on the offender rather than the victim. There should be no room for victim blaming.
Throughout history, women have often had their power, voice, autonomy and self-determination suppressed while men have seen dominance in every sphere (except looking after the kids and cooking). Slowly, this dominance is starting to waver and women are beginning to overcome gendered discrimination and inequality. Since the first wave of feminism in the 1970s we’ve come a long way – we can work, earn our own money, be leaders, vote, make decisions about our bodies and live the life we want to (for the most part). However, despite these advances women continue to face challenges in terms of equal pay for equal work, representation in managerial roles, and physical and sexual abuse.
Almost all women have or will experience some form of discrimination or abuse because of their gender. However, as it is NAIDOC week, an important consideration for the feminist movement and society more broadly is the position of women of colour in these conversations. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience discrimination not only because of their gender, but also because of their race. This intersectionality of disadvantage is important to acknowledge because feminism isn’t colourblind. White women do experience disadvantage, there’s no doubt about it. But they also experience privilege because they are white. Author of the book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017) asserts “the only way to foster any shared solidarity is to learn from each other’s struggles, and recognise the various privileges and disadvantages that we all enter the movement with”. If women are to gain true parity, feminism must not ignore the racial element of gender discrimination. Indigenous women are 32 times as likely to be hospitalised due to family violence and twice as likely to experience maternal mortality than their non-Indigenous counterparts (Spinney, 2016). These statistics need to change.
But it’s not all bad…
I am so lucky to have grown up with strong female role models. My mum, my grandmas, aunties, extended family and friends have always been there to show me just how awesome women are, and how much they can achieve. Celebrating the contribution of Aboriginal women to our families, our communities and our country is long overdue. Aboriginal women have, like many non-Indigenous women, often been written out of history. I’m very proud and excited to see that starting to change. NAIDOC Week runs from the 8th to the 15th of July 2018 so if you can make it to an event, spend five minutes increasing your knowledge, or hug a woman you love then please do it!
Women continue to experience sexual and physical violence at the hands of men (oftentimes by men they know and trust). Women continue to be disadvantaged by the criminal justice system as both victims and offenders. Women continue to be harrassed and sexualised. Women continue to be held responsible for the actions of their perpetrators. Women continue to fight for their right to be respected and safe in our society.
Happy NAIDOC Week,