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Justice on the gender agenda for First Nations women

Rudi Maxwell -

The First Nations Gender Justice Institute embodies what can happen when Indigenous women and girls aim high, talk about their dreams and work together, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar says.

After leading seven years of conversations through the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women's Voices in the Bunuba language of the Kimberley) project, Ms Oscar launched the Institute on Tuesday evening.

The Wiyi Yani U Thangani Institute will find its home at the ANU, on Ngunnawal and Ngambri country (Canberra).

"Equality is fundamental, we should have equal opportunities to be all of who we are in this world," Ms Oscar said.

During her term as commissioner, Ms Oscar travelled around the nation listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls, finding out about their aspirations, hardships, challenges and dreams for the future.

In May 2023, the Wiyi Yani U Thangani National Summit in Canberra brought First Nations women together into an arena of decision-making with a diverse range of private and public stakeholders.

And on Tuesday night Ms Oscar, along with former prime minister Julia Gillard, Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney and Australian National University chancellor Julie Bishop, launched the Institute, the culmination of those conversations and aspirations.

"Justice is ... about how we self-determine our lives and encompasses living a full and just life across every aspect of existence, including work, education, health, housing, academia, everywhere," Ms Oscar said.

"It's also about our knowledge systems, and our cultural practices.

"For First Nations peoples it's how we have formed and sustained societies since time immemorial."

Ms Gillard, who now chairs the Global Institute for Women's Leadership, said it was important to understand the women's movement had not always been inclusive, either in Australia or other places around the world.

"We want to leave that past behind and to have a present day feminism and women's movement that understands intersectionality, that embraces all voices, that knows that systems of racism and exclusion compound with gender inequality, sexism and misogyny," she said.

"For too many generations and for too long First Nations Australians and particularly women have been required to tolerate the decision-making of others when their voices haven't been heard, and they haven't been included.

"And the Institute is here to help us change that for the future and that will make everything we want to do for gender equality more effective."

The Institute will work alongside First Nations women, girls, gender-diverse people, researchers, practitioners and non-Indigenous collaborators to develop the Wiyi Yani U Thangani Change Agenda, an overarching generational roadmap for transformation.

Ms Oscar said the Gender Justice Institute would help foster the understanding of First Nations knowledge and practices.

"So we can create movements, so we can create the structures, so we can create the economies and institutions to heal from trauma, to be empowered and regenerate our societal frameworks," she said.

"This includes things like delivering our maternal health practices, the songs, the practice, the foods, the protocols, the naming.

"All of these ancient knowledge systems that live within women and families and communities and language groups and cultural groups that have sustained lineages from the creation of time to become the world's oldest continuous civilisation on Earth has to represent something."

Rudi Maxwell - AAP

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