On Tuesday 11 July 2017, June Oscar addressed at the #standwithuswomen March Against Violence, in Alice Springs, NT, Australia, highlighting the human rights issues facing communities and elevating their voices.
Thank you for the invitation to speak at such an important gathering today. It is amazing to be amongst such an amazing group of Aboriginal women who share the same fire and vision for a life free from violence and full of great hope and potential for the future for all of our women.
I would like to acknowledge the Arrente people, on whose land we meet today and honour their elders, past, present and those yet to come.
My name is June Oscar, a proud Bunuba woman from the Kimberley and the first Aboriginal woman to be appointed to the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.
It is my role at the Commission to highlight the human rights issues facing our communities and elevate the voices of our peoples – people like the women who are here today – about these concerns.
I too have come from community and know all too well the damage, and havoc that violence wreaks on our lives as Aboriginal women. I have lived with this chaos in the Fitzroy Valley – where alcohol fuelled much of the violence within our community and I am here today to stand alongside you all.
But what we all know as Aboriginal women too is – that we have the solutions to tackle these issues. For my community in the Fitzroy Valley, one of these community led approaches was the MWRC, which placed culture as the basis for healing and driving real change for our women.
Overall, there is a greater sense of peace and order in our communities now, and most people, men as well as women, now accept that control of the grog is essential if we are to build a better future for our children.
I know that in this community there are many people standing up about protecting their rights.
All of you here today represent the resilience of Aboriginal women in so many of our communities.
Our communities are under immense stress from their history of colonisation, and it is women, who so often take on the responsibility of nurturers, healers and stoic, quiet leaders who hold families and communities together. It is so often women who nurture language, traditional activities, worry for children and care for the sick and distressed.
Many of you here today will have similar stories from your own lives about what it means to hold the family together during times of stress and uncertainty.
I want to acknowledge the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group as one of those important initiatives doing the same for our women – for their sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunties and daughters.
Thank you for standing up and for the strength that you show each and every day. Thank you for shaping the voices here in the community and for the standards that you are setting – that violence is simply unacceptable.
I want to acknowledge the young women who are here today – people like Connie and Kitana Shaw – for speaking up and stepping up on such an important issue. I have heard about the great work that you are doing in the community and hope that other young people across the country draw strength from your work and use it to drive their own voices in their communities. You are our future and your voices are absolutely vital to addressing the challenges in our communities.
It is these examples that are fighting against the picture of deficits that so often seek to define our communities.
I know that all of the hardships in community sometimes seem to be a never-ending cycle of trauma and grief, which is unbearable. Sometimes the mountain in front of us seems too hard, too steep to climb.
But I know that many of you here continue to pick yourselves up and help your sisters along the way. I know that despite everything, you continue to climb because you can see what is on the other side for us and you see a future for our peoples that is free of violence.
As Aboriginal women, we know that
- We are the experts
- We are the influencers
- We have the lived experience
- We are truly invested
- And We are committed to seeing change in our communities
It is this vision and the importance of a human rights based approach that I hope drives the change in laws and policy that our communities need.
It has been 30 years this year, since the Commonwealth began to fund Indigenous women’s programs and since the national consultations on Indigenous women took place.
I will be meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls such as yourselves from across the country to find out what the new challenges and priorities are for our women and so that our children can look back on the next 30 years with pride – that our voices have been heard and acted upon.
I encourage all Australians to plant a flower today in solidarity with Indigenous women across Australia who are facing the trauma of violence and abuse.
I want to close by saying that I stand with you. I see you; I hear you and I will make sure in my role that you are not invisible.
Attribution to © Australian Human Rights Commission 2017.
Photo credit: @RosieBatty1, from neveralone.com.au