End violence against Aboriginal women

Monday, February 18, 2013
Women join a One Billion Rising event in New Delhi, India.

This was a speech given to a One Billion Rising event in Sydney on February 14.

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I'd like to welcome you all here tonight. I'm a Kairi and Badjula woman, so I can't do a welcome to country, but I can do an acknowledgement. So I'd like to acknowledge that this celebration is taking place on the stolen lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.

The Gadigal people were the first to endure the impact of invasion and as a result their communities were decimated. Invasion was a violent process, though history has tried to cleanse it was with the word colonisation.

Our people suffered and died and our women were used for sexual gratification and servitude. But despite this history of violence we have survived.

Tonight we acknowledge the many who have passed away fighting for their communities and those who continue to fight today.

While yesterday marked the anniversary of the apology to the stolen generation and Aboriginal people, it should also be remembered that there has been no compensation for the many torn from their families as children.

It also has to be recognised that while this government has said sorry, it has done little to enact self determination for Aboriginal people, or provide a fraction of the wealth of the countries resources, that would enable Aboriginal people to overcome the entrenched poverty that‘s a direct result of the theft of their lands.

Addressing inequitable power relations is critical for Aboriginal people, and it is also critical for women. But I’ll speak more on that shortly.

I'd like to welcome you all here tonight, to rise up, to dance and to celebrate, as part of the One Billion Rising Campaign. The event tonight, is just one of more than 5800 events across 160 countries where people are uniting, committed to end the shocking level violence that is inflicted on women and girls around the world.

The V Day campaign was started by Eve Ensler in 1998, after writing the play the "Vagina Monologues", which addressed women’s sexuality and the social stigma of rape and abuse. Frustrated with the number of women approaching her about their experiences she established the "One Billion Rising" campaign to end the violence.

The term "One Billion Rising" refers to the number of women and girls assaulted globally. According to the United Nations one in three women on the planet will be physically or sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

There are consistent factors across all countries that contribute to this level of violence against women. It reflects a systematic power imbalance, an act of domination over women, it reflects an indifference by the authorities that results in most perpetrators either not being charged or being acquitted, it reflects a level of denial by families and communities and if reflects a lack of public outrage.

Held on Valentine’s Day, V Day demands an end to rape, incest, battery, genital mutilation, and sexual slavery. V Day believes women should spend their lives creating and thriving rather than surviving or recovering from atrocities.

To date the V Day Movement has raised over $80 million dollars, funding education campaigns, women’s shelters and over 12,000 community based anti-violence programs and safe houses, in locations from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 180 Congolese women survivors every years will benefit from group therapy, self defence, education on HIV/AIDS and family planning, economic empowerment, horticulture, storytelling, theatre and dance.

Programs are also run in the US, Haiti, Kenya, Egypt, Iraq, and Mexico, where it has held community events on the missing and murdered women of Juarez.

Rape and violence are not just a women’s issue, it is a political issue that impacts on every culture and every level of society. It is a culture of silence and tolerance of violence and low conviction rate that condones the continuing violence perpetrated against women and girls.

Internationally, recently there has been publicity around the public outrage of the horrendous attack on a young Indian student, who was so brutally raped, that she died of her injuries in hospital on the 29 December.

Six men were charged with raping and murdering the 23-year-old student, with the assault occurring on a bus in a relatively affluent and heavily populated part of the city.

The men, from slums in Delhi, claimed they had raped the woman "to teach her a lesson" after she had fought back. While some have called for the introduction of the death penalty for rape, many women feel that it will in fact result in a lower conviction rate.

In 2011, in India, a woman was raped every 22 minutes, and this was a 23 percent increase from 2008. But only one in four of reported rape cases resulted in conviction.

The condoning of rape by Indian authorities is reflected in the current internet campaign calling for the resignation of 260 current Parliamentarians who have been accused of rape or assault. It is also reflected in the heavy handed response to protesters who have faced riot police batons, water cannons and tear gas.

But women are working together to fight back. A prominent leader of India’s ruling Congress Party, Bikram Singh Brahma, was recently attacked by villagers after allegedly breaking into a women’s house at two o'clock in the morning and raping a mother of two.

In the Banda region of Uttar Pradesh a gang of women activists, called the Gulabi gang or "women in pink", joined forces in response to widespread violence against women. The Gulabi visit abusive husbands and beat them up with bamboo sticks. They have also stopped child marriages and protested dowry and female illiteracy and stormed an electricity office that shut off power trying to extract bribes.

This recent high profile case in India is just one of a billion cases of violence perpetrated against women and girls globally. Violence is occurring all over the world, in every country and at every level of society. Women are raped as a weapon of war, sexual slavery is on the increase and more than 100 premeditated acid attacks occurring every year in Pakistan.

But as many of us know, the rate of violence and sexual assault is also pervasive in Australian society. Australia has the fifth highest level of rapes in the world out of the 20 compared. In 2010, one in five women reported having previously been raped and a third of women have experienced physical violence.

In Australia a women is raped every 2 hours, with 80% of rape victims assaulted by someone they know. But these figures don’t reflect the actual rate, its estimated that 81% of sexual assaults are not reported to police.

The retraumatising of survivors through the criminal justice system, a readiness of communities to blame victims, combined with low conviction rate contribute to the under reporting. In 2002-3 rape defendants were three times more likely to be acquitted than defendants for other crimes.

But studies have show that it is a minority, between 6-13% of men, who commit rape, with almost two thirds of these having committed multiple rapes.

Nor is violence against women in Australia decreasing, with calls to rape crisis centres having increased from 3500 in 2006, to 9000 in 2011.

For Aboriginal women the situation is much worse. According to reported incidences, Indigenous women experience violence at 12 times the rate of non Indigenous people and suffer more serious injuries as a result. While Aboriginal people are only 2% of the population, the rate of Aboriginal women murdered as a result of family violence is ten times the rate of non-Indigenous women.

Sexual assault for Aboriginal women is recorded at 6 times the rate for the rest of the community. In a detailed study of rape among Aboriginal women it found that 42% of the perpetrators were in fact non- Aboriginal, 41% were Aboriginal and 17% were both Aboriginal and non Aboriginal, in instances of pack rapes.

In a study of hospital admissions between 2004 and 2006, Aboriginal women were found to be hospitalised for assault 35 times the rate of those for non-Aboriginal women. Spouse or partners accounted for 69% of assaults.

The rate of non-disclosure is also much higher for Aboriginal women and girls than for the broader community, with an estimated 90% of assaults going unreported.

The historical use of police to enforce occupation and control over Aboriginal people, the forced removal of children and poor experiences of the justice system, with high incarceration rates and high rates of deaths in custody, all contribute to a deep distrust of police and low reporting rates.

Communities and families also often pressure women not to report, blaming them for the imprisonment of men. There is also a real fear that reporting violence may result in the removal of children.

While some on the conservative side of politics try to peddle the theory that violence is a continuation of traditional cultural practice for Aboriginal people, this is used as an ideological argument to abandon policies of self determination and undermine Aboriginal land rights and rights to live on country.

However, independent analysis by Don Weatherburn, proves that if traditional cultural practice was a factor in levels of violence we would expect higher rates in homeland communities where cultural practices was strong. But this is not the case.

Levels of violence increased with the rate of social deprivation, alcohol use, financial stress, over-crowding, and being a member of the stolen generation are all factors.

Violence in Aboriginal communities is an expression of the violence inflicted on recent generations, from invasion, dispossession and the continuing oppression and marginalisation experienced by Aboriginal people. It is the result of trauma experienced, with the breakdown of communities, forced removal of children and resulting alcohol and drug abuse.

This is not to excuse the high rate of violence in Aboriginal communities but to understand it and understand why it has risen significantly since 1980.

What is needed is a change in attitudes in all our communities, what is needed, is to break the silence, what is needed is a demand for justice. What is needed is for the police and judicial system to be responsive to the victims of these crimes and for communities to not tolerate violence in any form directed towards women or children.

It needs us all to rise up, speak out, like the women of the Gulabi gang and the people of India, and demand an end to violence.

I encourage you to dance, enjoy the night and take your outrage back to your communities, back to your workplaces and back to your parliamentary representatives and to keep this commitment we have made tonight alive and active.

Thank-you and enjoy the night!

From GLW issue 954