What does it mean to be an Aboriginal woman in 2020? What challenges do they face? And what are their views on equality? This International Women's Day we ask six Canberrans just this.
Aunty Matilda House
A Ngambri-Ngunnawal elder and the first person to perform a Welcome to Country ceremony at the opening of Federal Parliament.
I'm not an Indigenous woman, I'm an Aboriginal woman of the nation of Ngambri and Ngunnwal. When people talk about indigenous, you're slotting us in with everyone else around Australia who was born in Australia. They're indigenous as well!
I was born an Aboriginal, and I'll die as an Aboriginal, and what that means to me is that I have generational changes that are coming up behind me which include all my children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren. And lots of nieces and nephews, so that's how I see myself, with my background.
You go to anywhere in Australia and you'll see that both men and women are taking control of what is needed for those generational changes, because Aboriginal people and young kids are traumatised, and that's what's happened to grandparents, the grandparents who were still alive in my time here, people get very traumatised when you weren't allowed to speak your language, and so that's the difference in governments taking control and making it very hard for Aboriginal people to accept themselves in as Aboriginal people.
The most difficult challenge that's being done, or not being done for Aboriginal women, doesn't matter whether you're young, middle-aged or grandmothers, is maintaining the health and wellbeing of your family, but it's very hard when we face all the terrible attitudes that are coming from children being locked up, children being taken away.
An apology was great, but at the end of the day, we need to keep on going in making sure that the system has got to stop locking up young Aboriginal people, whether they're young girls or young boys, or as adults. Nothing's been explained about here in the ACT of the trauma that's been going on with families and their children who were taken and nothing has been explained of how it happened when they passed away. So we're on a very sorry path here in the ACT. A lot of big challenges still wait.
The chief executive of Tjillari Justice Aboriginal Corporation, a not for profit organisation that aims to address the trauma children experience when a parent is involved in the justice system.
I think being an Indigenous woman means that I take the responsibility seriously, because I'm an older woman as well, and it means passing on culture to our young ones, taking care of our young people and helping them grow.
In 2020, there is still a resistance, barriers, to Indigenous women being taken seriously, even though many of the young women that I know have got university qualifications and are highly skilled, being taken seriously for that and their abilities is still quite difficult.
In terms of equality, I find that I am judged as an old black woman, I'm judged as a disabled person, and I'm judged as having no skills and no abilities at all by the wider community, and it has been an uphill battle to get to where we are and to get this organisation to where it is.
Equality is about treating people equally and with respect and dignity, and that is very difficult if you're an older woman, particularly an older Aboriginal woman. And I find that we've got a tremendously long way to go. I negotiate contracts, I negotiate memorandums of understanding and am still treated as if I can't speak English, and I'm spoken to quite disrespectfully. Until that attitude changes and people see us for what we are able to do, I don't think that we will have true equality.
I will go to say a doctor's appointment, and if the doctor doesn't know me, they'll speak very slowly to me, as if I can't understand English because a) I'm old and b) I'm black, and therefore I can't be educated. There are all these assumptions that are about Aboriginal women and in particular that we aren't skilled, that we aren't educated, that we have dropped out of society, basically, and a lot of that's being promoted by the researchers.
And as a Stolen Generation person, I find a lot of the research about Stolen Generations quite offensive, because if I'm Stolen Generation I'm supposed to have addiction problems, I'm supposed to have a low educational attainment rate, I'm supposed to be unemployed and all the negative stereotypes. I had a horrendous Stolen Generation experience, but that didn't stop me from achieving later in life.
Larrakia, Bardi, Wardaman and Yanuwa woman from the Top End of the Northern Territory, who is a senior curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the National Gallery of Australia.
For me, I feel really privileged to be an Aboriginal woman working here in the National Gallery of Australia. I really am very lucky and I often think about the fact that there were a lot of really important people before me and made the opportunity that I was then able to step into, including the women personally in my life - my mum, my grandmothers, my aunties, and my extended family.
The arts is a really exciting and really amazing sector to work in, but I'm equally mindful that society and the way that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island women operate within Australia today is not all roses either. Aboriginal women are the highest incarcerated population in prisons today, in Australia. When you look at the fact that we are two per cent of the population, as Aboriginal people, and yet in terms of women incarcerated at least 30 per cent of that population are Aboriginal women. And you just think, how does that happen? It's obviously a reflection on that Indigenous women, and women of colour, are very much vulnerable in these spaces. Yes, we have remarkable female artists who produce remarkable works of art, and are actively engaged today in working with the art market, but equally those communities are also dealing with domestic violence, incarceration and suicide of our children.
I was brought up by some very strong women in my life. My grandmother, my mum's mum, was part of the stolen generation, and she was taken from her family and community at the age, we guess around seven or eight and she never went back to see her mother again. She grew up in an institution that was teaching her that her culture was not important, her language was not important.
She worked with the National Archive and her story was part of an exhibition called Between Two Worlds and the exhibition toured nationally and at one occasion she was unable to go to the opening and she asked me if I could go and speak at the opening on her behalf. She said "Tell them that I had a happy life. I had a happy life with my mum and my family and my community, and I also had a happy life in the home. The people were nice to me and I was treated with kindness but I had one regret at that was that I never got to see my grandma or my mum again." For me, it was so heartbreaking and confronting that such injustice was perpetrated against her and yet the grace and humility to say "I grew up in a place where people were kind to me". I can't comprehend that.
A Kamilaroi woman, a magistrate court judge and the ACT's first Aboriginal judicial officer.
My Aboriginality is something that brings me enormous pride and joy. It is a source of passion and motivation. I am part of a people who have the oldest surviving culture in the world - a culture that is rich, diverse and dynamic. As a Kamilaroi woman, I have particular pride in the strength, resilience and contribution of Aboriginal to our communities and to the broader fabric of Australian society.
In the pursuit of an Australian society that values equality and diversity, Aboriginal leaders must be seen influencing and participating in all areas across Australian communities so that we are clearly visible as clever and capable operators across professions, in many different types of careers and making the sorts of contributions to community that all Australians might aspire to.
Something particularly close to my heart is the engagement, development and success of Aboriginal girls - it is essential that they see examples of excellence in leadership and success from Aboriginal woman across a range of areas so that they are convinced of their own potential and capacity for accomplishment.
One of the very best things about being appointed as a magistrate was the pride that others took in my appointment. In particular, the Aboriginal community here in the ACT and beyond made it very clear that my appointment was a very big source of pride. That was a truly incredible feeling and one I often reflect upon as something that drives me to continue to make a contribution that makes my community proud.
I see International Women's Day as a time for reflection on the work that must still be done to achieve equality for all women. Part of the challenge of the pursuit of equality is making sure no one gets left behind. As women, as a community, we must ensure that every girl, every woman has the opportunity to get to the top of the ladder. For many women there is still a very long climb and we must not forget that as we celebrate on International Women's Day the great many achievements of individual women.
Former Super W rugby player and Wallaroos squad member.
I feel quite proud of my heritage and my culture. My mum and my nan have made me pretty proud of who I want to be and they're able to set the benchmark pretty high for me. I feel like I'm able to be, due to my culture, a role model for other younger girls, women, boys, in my community which is pretty special too.
I'm not sure if it's a challenge but I feel like sometimes people have a perspective that Indigenous people are handed things. I feel as though when I make an achievement I don't want to be pigeonholed as the Indigenous person. It's cool to be a role model but it's not because I'm Indigenous that I was given that opportunity or I made that team or headline. One of the challenges is managing the stereotype that we're given as Indigenous people.
I think we're definitely closing the gap when it comes to equality. Things like health, education, we're slowly bringing people from rural communities and providing them with education that we weren't able to before. I think that's pretty incredible. The health system has picked up a lot and we're offering services to our Indigenous people to try and close that health gap.
Men and women - I guess that's always going to be a tough one when it comes down to wages and whatnot. But I think respect for each other as individuals, I feel like that's just a given now. I don't think that any man walking through the street thinks more of themselves than the woman next to them.
Things that have been taken massive strides are women who are being paid to play sport, to do what we love to do and I think that's pretty incredible and something that we haven't seen before. We only had the first NRLW comp come to fruition last year and it was incredible to watch. It was so cool to see females doing what they love doing and getting paid to do it on the same screen as the men. It was my dream as a girl growing up, being able to look up to someone and see that what we play on a weekly basis is now a goal that you can achieve and see on the big screen alongside what was once only men doing it.
Dancer and mentor with Wiradjuri Echoes, a consultancy which shares Aboriginal culture through dance, song and storytelling.
Women, our women, have been so oppressed for so long. For so long we've just had to be quiet and for me, it's such a big thing because when I have kids and my nieces get to see that there are strong women out there that will stand their ground on everything thing that they do. Being taught my culture and being taught everything I have been by my dad, has made me who I am today which is a strong woman. I'm so confident in everything that I do because I know I can do it. I know I can do what I need to do because it has been drilled into me that I am strong and that I'm Aboriginal. That's what you have to be when you're an Aboriginal woman. Strong.
I have been dancing since I was in nappies. I just wanted to be out there. I wanted to dance and show that I had culture in me.
With Aboriginal culture, you're not just connected to dance, you're connected to your elders. I don't dance for the people in front of me, I've always been taught to dance for my ancestors. If you dance for your ancestors then you'll dance the strongest. It's an overwhelming feeling of 'this is me. This is my culture and I've connected to it'. I don't own the culture. The culture owns me. It's who I am as a person. It's my identity.
Indigenous women, women, in general, are so oppressed, I think. For a black woman, an Indigenous woman, it's 10 times harder. You've got to work 10 times harder to show who you are. We have been so downplayed for so long. But women are now being like 'No, I'm an Aboriginal woman and I'm going to show it. This is who I am'. The challenges are just so hard for women because it's such a man's world. And Indigenous women coming out now are coming out and saying no, it's equal. It's such a big thing for me. I'm just as equal.
Equality, men have to recognise it as well. Everyone needs to recognise that men and women need to be equal, especially Aboriginal women and men. Who are you without women? They gave birth to you and you are nothing without your mother. We see women not being paid the same as men and just being downplayed in a way. It's time to step up and say this is it. We are women and we're not going to take this any more.