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Aboriginal women's lives matter

  • 06 March 2018


For two years, following the work undertaken by Destroy the Joint and Real for Women in identifying victims of femicide, I combed the lists to ascertain what percentage of these victims were Aboriginal women.

It was hard going, not just because Aboriginal women made up approximately 20 per cent of the women who had died as a result of violence enacted upon them, but also because the identification process was not simple.

In so many cases, there was little beyond the initial police report. Often the biggest hint I had that the victim was an Aboriginal woman came from the fact that the media never expanded upon these initial police reports. One case took more than 12 months to confirm due to the media having reported only on the court case of the perpetrator. So many of these women would also go unnamed.

When I would bring this up I'd often be met with the response 'maybe it's for cultural reasons' by non-Indigenous people. Many Aboriginal communities though have linguistic ways to refer to those who've passed while also adhering to cultural practices. In reality then, the lack of naming the victim has more to do with media and mainstream disinterest in these victims than it does traditional protocol.

It wasn't just these statistics though. Our Watch, for example, continued to report the significantly higher rates of family and domestic violence Aboriginal women are exposed to — they are 34 times more likely to be victims. Other reports detailed Aboriginal women being 70 times more likely to be hospitalised for brain injuries as a result of domestic and family violence. The statistics keep coming, women would keep suffering, yet little has changed.

I have to wonder whether a lot of this comes down to governmental approaches being punitive. The violence suffered by Aboriginal women was part of the reasoning given for the Howard government's decision to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act and introduce the Northern Territory Intervention. Apparently, the answer to reducing violence in communities was to sign over traditional lands to governments, control the spending of individuals via the BasicsCard, and install massive signs outside communities stating that alcohol and pornography were banned. Yet following the Intervention, rates of violence actually increased.

Of course, the Gillard government was not much better. It reinstalled the Racial Discrimination Act by rolling this program out to a few non-Indigenous people as well, but then notoriously demonised these same communities by stating