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Aboriginal women face triple jeopardy

  • 19 July 2019


Intersectionality is the buzzword of western feminists everywhere. Whether it's thrown around to impress progressive friends or upset a racist uncle at Christmas, it is on the tips of everyone's tongues. Yet few seem to understand the origin and purpose of the word, using it as a shallow throwaway to gain social capital rather than working to understand the real-life effects of intersectional oppression on those around them. 

Intersectionality is a concept coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, describing the unique experience of overlapping oppression faced by black women in the United States. Criminologist Chris Cuneen discusses such intersections within so-called Australia* describing the double jeopardy faced by Indigenous women who live under both colonialism and the patriarchy. Throw in capitalism for good measure and you get a sometimes-lethal triple threat.

This concept of triple oppression was developed by black American socialists looking at the ways class, gender, and race intersected during the fight for black suffrage. Since then, while bla(c)k women in both the United States and Australia have been 'given' the right to vote, triple oppression has mutated and evolved to maintain its grip on us even in the modern day.  

One of the clearest examples of intersectional oppression within Australia plays out in the cycle of domestic violence, incarceration, and deaths during and post custodial sentence. Indigenous women are 35 times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be hospitalised for domestic violence in their lifetime. Importantly, this is not because Indigenous men are 35 times more violent, with the statistic referencing interracial relationships, including the all too familiar story of young Indigenous women with older non-Indigenous men.

These women often realise too late, after having children and becoming financially dependent, that their partners are both misogynistic and anti-Indigenous and had targeted them as young vulnerable teens. So goes the cycle of abuse where children grow up under the weight of a combination of intergenerational trauma and bearing witness to sexist and racialised abuse in their homes, increasing the likelihood they'll become victims and/or abusers in adulthood.

The abuse to prison pipeline provides a direct pathway from domestic violence to incarceration, with an estimated 90 per cent of Indigenous women in prison the victims of domestic violence. Based on this it is unsurprising — yet just as horrifying — that Indigenous women are the most incarcerated group within Australia comprising 34 per cent of the women's prison population despite making up three per