The deaths of Aboriginal women should spark outrage – and change

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The lack of coverage and community outrage over violence against Aboriginal women in Australia speaks 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 the mainstream media reported the basic facts, coverage was minimal – as was the public conversation. Aboriginal women do not receive 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.

Following the announcement, Green Senator Lidia Thorpe said: “When a black woman is murdered, you don’t know. 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, hospitalization, and significant health impacts from intimate partner violence.

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

Related: ‘Horrible’ cases of missing and murdered First Nations will be focus of investigation across Australia

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

A 2017 report that analyzed how the media reported violence against Aboriginal women in Victoria found that the lack of coverage “makes Aboriginal women invisible, further marginalizing women who are disproportionately impacted by partner violence.”

When the problems faced by Aboriginal women are reported or discussed, stereotypes are often rife and framing the deficit is favored. We cannot ignore the fact that the media inform and respond to the attitudes of the general public and vice versa – and that is what we must deal with.

The prevention of violence against Aboriginal women must be a national priority, and Aboriginal women, communities and community-led organizations must lead the way.

The media and the public can and should play a significant role in this; amplifying the voices and experience of Aboriginal women, drawing attention to the places where sexism and racism intersect, and uncovering the ways in which colonization continues to harm us all.

Aboriginal women are stepping forward and demanding change: influencing legal and political reform, championing communities and calling for an end to the colonial and patriarchal structures that still underpin the way 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, advocating for women like Apryl Day, and the tireless advocacy of Aboriginal-led organizations, including Djirra across the country, as a illustration of Aboriginal women’s power and resilience.

If we look at the federal government, we also see signs of hope when it comes to self-determination, with the commitment to the Uluru declaration and the abolition of the cashless debit card – which disproportionately discriminated against Aboriginal families – and the Aboriginal women survey. murdered and disappeared. But there is much more to be done.

Related: Is an indigenous voice in parliament achievable? – with Lenore Taylor

Violence against Aboriginal women is preventable, but only if we all decide to make it visible and 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 of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group said: “Our hearts are aching…but our voices say ‘enough is enough’. The violence must stop.”

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

  • Emily Maguire is the chief executive of Respect Victoria and an expert on family violence and violence against women.

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

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