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New report highlights Indigenous women do larger amounts of unpaid care than any other group

Dechlan Brennan -

A new report prepared for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner has underlined the importance of a new approach to supporting Indigenous women, revealing the extent of their unpaid care work.

The report out of the Australian National University (ANU) and written to support Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women's Voices) from the Commissioner, analyses how Indigenous women conceptualise, value and experience care work.

Examining ABS data, as well as discussions with over 100 Indigenous women, the report reveals Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women do more unpaid work than non-Indigenous women and Indigenous men.

"This is especially the case for childcare and care of people with disabilities, largely because of the demographic structure and relatively poorer health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples," the report states.

The report noted there is little study in academia to "deeply explore understandings and practices of care by Indigenous women in Australia" and was therefore focussed on understanding the "scope and nature of care work performed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women."

Overall, it states the estimated economic value of the work ranged between $223.01 and $457.39 per day when representing an estimated annual salary between $81,175.64 and $118,921.40. This remains only a conservative estimation, declining to consider actions such as multitasking.

The report makes clear that Indigenous women were often required to clean up the mess of colonisation - through unpaid work - and this raises questions about what is owed to Indigenous women.

This includes the complex realities around decision making concerning unpaid caregiving, as well as the "associated impacts on women and those around them."

Furthermore, it analysed the difference between "mainstream" definitions of care, which regularly do not include the many ways First Nations women offer care - often for many in the community on top of their own family.

Many interviewed saw this unpaid work as part of their commitment to supporting their families and community, as well as advancing First Nations people.

"It is therefore hard to draw a line for these women between paid and unpaid work," the report states.

The authors of the report highlight that the 'white liberal' notion of 'care' is often seen as a burden which is "unrecognised, undervalued, and which women need to seek liberation from."

From conversations with First Nations women, the report made clear whilst "jobs and external accolades are not unimportant," despite care loads often being extremely heavy and demanding, Indigenous women "place great value on family, community, culture, and Country."

"[D]efinitions and understandings of care that guide and shape research, policy, and practice are too often informed by western colonial logics, whereby care is typically viewed as peripheral to the economy, and as a burden that undermines women's economic security," the report states.

"Despite the high workload carried by women, many of the women included in our study are categorised as 'unemployed' and passed off as unproductive by settler policies and measures."

This was expanded when discussing the long-lasting damage, the impacts of colonisation had on Indigenous women and their relationship with the notion of care, including on gender roles, on child removals, incarceration rates, poor health, and racism.

The authors noted many of the women they spoke to said institutions set up to "care" were in fact often "uncaring and may be violent."

"This damage, as well as the ongoing impacts of harmful state responses, requires Indigenous people's care to heal, adding extra demands on existing care loads. As a result, many of the women interviewed in this study were tired and often, carers needed care too."

The report makes seven recommendations from the study.

These includes the federal Government needing to establish a task force - led by and comprised of Indigenous women - to design a national action plan to elevate, centre, and support care; ensuring public policy is anti-racist, decolonial, and upholds Indigenous self-determination; and that governments at all levels needing to fully acknowledge and appreciate the intricate links between paid and unpaid care roles undertaken by Indigenous women.

The report states: "A whole new approach needs to be taken that elevates Indigenous women's voices, and centres and celebrates their care as an essential and crucial expression of culture."

"This is a must if Australia is to take seriously its obligations under several human rights instruments, to which it is a signatory".

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