The deaths of Aboriginal women must spark outrage – and change

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP</span>
Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

The lack of coverage and community outrage about violence against Aboriginal women in Australia speaks shameful volumes about our culture.

The bodies of three people – including an Aboriginal woman and her baby – were found last month north of Alice Springs; the case is being investigated as a murder-suicide.

While mainstream media reported the basic facts, coverage has been minimal – as has the public conversation. Aboriginal women are not afforded the respect that many other victims of violence rightly receive.

This week a parliamentary inquiry was announced into the rates of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and children in Australia.

After the announcement, the Greens senator Lidia Thorpe said: “When a black woman is murdered, you don’t hear about it. When a white woman dies, it’s on the front page.”

Aboriginal women are 11 times more likely to die from family violence than non-Aboriginal women. They are more likely to experience sexual violence, hospitalisation and significant health impacts from intimate partner violence.

Violence against Aboriginal women is driven by the ongoing impacts of colonisation, as well as gendered factors including the intersection of racism and sexism. Like all violence against women, it is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men.

Related: ‘Horrific’ First Nations missing and murdered cases to be focus of Australia-wide inquiry

Aboriginal women face racism and sexism at every turn. The implicit messages they receive from the systems that are supposed to keep us all safe and supported, from the media and from the broader community, is that they are not worthy of safety and equality.

A 2017 report that looked at the way that media outlets reported on violence against Aboriginal women in Victoria found the lack of coverage “renders Aboriginal women as invisible, further marginalising women who are disproportionately impacted by partner violence”.

When issues facing Aboriginal women are reported or discussed, stereotypes are often rife and deficit framing is favoured. We cannot ignore the fact that the media both inform and respond to the attitudes of the general public and vice versa – and this is what we must grapple with.

Preventing violence against Aboriginal women should be a national priority, and Aboriginal women, communities and community-led organisations must lead the way.

The media and the public can and must play a significant role in this; amplifying Aboriginal women’s voices and expertise, drawing attention to the places where sexism and racism intersect, and unpacking the ways that colonisation continues to harm us all.

Aboriginal women are charging forward and demanding change: influencing legal and policy reform, advocating for communities and calling for an end to the colonial and patriarchal structures that still underpin the way that many parts of our society operate.

We only need to look to the work of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group, Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, the advocacy of women like Apryl Day, and the tireless advocacy of Aboriginal-led organisations including Djirra across the country as an illustration of the power and resistance of Aboriginal women.

If we look to the federal government, we are also seeing signs of hope when it comes to self-determination, with the commitment to the Uluru statement and the abolition of the cashless debit card – which disproportionately discriminated against Aboriginal families – and the inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women. But there is so much more to be done.

Related: Is an Indigenous voice to parliament achievable? – with Lenore Taylor

Violence against Aboriginal women is preventable but only if we all choose to make it visible and to take action – and the time to do that is now.

At a vigil for the mother and baby who lost their lives last month, Cecily Arabie from Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group said: “Our hearts are hurting … but our voices say ‘enough’. The violence must stop.”

Aboriginal women deserve uproar, outcry and action. Let change come.

  • Emily Maguire is the chief executive of Respect Victoria and a specialist in family violence and violence against women

  • In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123 and the domestic abuse helpline is 0808 2000 247. In the US, the suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org

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