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World's first justice institute for First Nations women opens at ANU

Dechlan Brennan -

A new institute in Canberra will advance the voices of First Nations women and girls to help improve the policies shaping the lives of Indigenous people. 

The Wiyi Yani U Thangani Institute for First Nations Gender Justice at the Australian National University (ANU) is the first of its kind and brings together First Nations researchers to help develop initiatives to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls.

Chaired by ANU Honorary Professor and outgoing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Dr June Oscar, the new institute will build on the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) Project led by the Australian Human Rights Commission for the last seven years.

Dr Oscar said the institute was the first of its kind in Australia.

“No other dedicated space like this exists for First Nations women and girls and gender diverse mob, where they determine the collaborations and the research approaches, on their own terms,” Dr Oscar said.

“The institute is the vehicle for governments to act on the findings of the multi-year systemic change Wiyi Yani U Thangani project. It will work to overcome disadvantage in First Nations communities through developing holistic partnership processes.”

Dr Oscar, who will move on from her Social Justice Commissioner post on April 3, said Wiyi Yani U Thangani showed that women were the “backbone of our communities".

“Our women are the custodians of vital wisdom in sustaining life and are the cornerstone of our communities; nurturing children, families, kin, and Country,” she said. 

The Project has engaged with over 2,000 women and girls, and ANU said the results show Indigenous women are “key to holding society together, healing, reducing harms and violence, and guaranteeing cohesion and healthy environments for everyone".

Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney said the institute would carry forward the work of Dr Oscar and the voices of First Nations women and girls.

“The Institute will harness the aspirations and strengths of First Nations women and girls and ensure they form the foundations of initiatives that respond to their needs and ambitions,” Minister Burney said. 

The federal government announced $3 million worth of funding over four years for the institute, which will provide a dedicated space for First Nations research on issues as varied as health, family violence, housing, child removal and environmental conservation.

The launch last week saw Minister Burney joined by Dr Oscar, ANU chancellor Julie Bishop, and former PM Julia Gillard.

The next day the institute hosted a summit for over 80 women from Aboriginal community-controlled organisations from across Australia on how to best ensure the institute makes meaningful change in the communities, as well as being evidence based and informed by lived experience. 

Ms Bishop said: “In the wake of the Voice to Parliament referendum, it is urgent that we listen to First Nations women and work with them to address inequalities, and help design the path towards a better, brighter and more inclusive future.”

She said ANU was launching the institute because for too long, “First Nations women and girls have been underrepresented in decision-making spaces.”

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