Content warning: This article contains reference to sexual assault and domestic and family violence. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.

On International Women’s Day National Indigenous Times is spotlighting the stories of strong, powerful Blak women across the country.

 

Dedicated to First Nations women, Sydney-based Aboriginal organisations Mudgin-Gal Aboriginal Corporation and Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre have been supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women through domestic and family violence for decades.

Mudgin-Gal Aboriginal Corporation is a leading organisation in family violence prevention.

Beginning in 1992, the organisation works to empower Aboriginal women and families and provide shelter and support in difficult times.

Wiradjuri and Yuin woman Bronwyn Penrith has been part of Mudgin-Gal’s journey since its inception, and her focus on family violence has remained constant since the beginning.

“I am a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and kinship carer. I have lived almost 50 years in and around Redfern with regular time spent on Country,” she said.

Redfern is a very strong political community, that began back when I first came here. A lot of Aboriginal organisations grew from here and so this community has highlighted the importance of self-determination.”

Penrith began working in family violence through her own lived experience.

“I experienced extreme family violence as a young woman, I saw how that impacted my family. I didn’t recognise it at the time, it was only years later and even recently, in the last 10 years, I could really identify how that has impacted my family,” she said.

“You want to change things, not only for yourself but for others.”

Bundjalung woman Christine Robinson is the Coordinator at Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre.

Born and raised in Sydney, Robinson also has lived experience of domestic and family violence.

“One of the important things for me is to work towards knowing that it doesn’t have to be the norm in our community, and we need to start having unity around working together, men and women,” said Robinson.

“In the past women have always taken a place in being around the table in these conversations, but that is slowly changing.”

Wirringa Baiya began in the 1990s after a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women lobbied the government for funding to set up a culturally safe and gender appropriate legal centre.

“Change starts with a few people coming together, being like-minded and standing up together. The more people that come together, the more likely we are to make change,” said Robinson. 

Robinson noted the power of Aboriginal women in driving action against domestic and family violence.

“Thinking about International Women’s Day, women have been the backbone in our communities for a really long time, and we have been driving the movement against gendered violence,” she said.

“We do need to acknowledge the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women that have come before us and work with us, have gone through this process and that have also been victims.

“Some of them have lived to tell and share their stories and some haven’t. It’s about continuing to try to make a change for those women.” 

Both services, despite the work they do, are starved of resources.

Robinson said the lack of funding contributes to the exclusion of Aboriginal voices in law reform.

“We are set up to fail because there is a lack of support and timeframes are always tight,” said Robinson.

“How can Aboriginal people have a well-informed voice in these matters when they are aren’t resourced well and consulted appropriately?

“Many Aboriginal services and communities do not have the infrastructure to respond to law reform submissions or do that type of work.”

Both women believe a significant commitment to Aboriginal community organisations that combat family violence is the step forward in changing the culture around violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

Despite International Women’s Day celebrations, not many can turn their heads away from the ongoing coverage surrounding allegations of rape and sexual assault in Parliament House and the broader culture for women working in government.

Robinson says a lack of strong leadership or commitment to change sends a concerning message to those who have experienced sexual assault.

“As a woman coming forward talking about sexual assault, and/or historical sexual assault, it doesn’t give you a great deal of confidence if Parliament doesn’t respond or support a victim in coming forward. They are continuing to silence the victim and in many cases not give women a voice,” said Robinson.

“The NRL have been making a stance by suspending or standing down players who have been alleged to be involved in these types of incidents. Strong leadership must come from the top.” 

“I think our Federal Parliament, being a cross-section representative of the people, it is a true reflection of how our society is handling it,” added Penrith.

“Maybe this time, maybe with this, change will come. But there has to be a lot of advocacy, and I think it will be a battle and a lot of work to ensure that change really happens.”

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By Rachael Knowles