SHONA CHAPMAN AND LEE-ANNE DALEY
ABORIGINAL COMMUNITY WORKERS
In Australia, one in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15, an average of one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner, and one in five women has experienced sexual violence. [i]
When we narrow down these numbers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, the story is even more devastating. Women from these communities are five times more likely to experience physical violence and three times more likely to experience sexual violence than other Australian women. They are also five times more likely to be victims of homicide than other Australian women and an incredible 35 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence related assaults.[ii] This violence occurs in a historical context of colonisation, where the destruction of peoples and cultures, dispossession, racism, and government policies of forced removal of children have resulted in significant marginalisation, inequality and significant socioeconomic disadvantage.[iii]
We sat down with two Aboriginal women to talk about their rich careers and to discuss the critical issue of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
Manager Shona Chapman, a Ngiyampaa-Wiradjuri woman, and Child and Family Work Worker Lee-anne Daley, a Wiradjuri woman, both work at the West Belconnen Child and Family Centre, a Child and Youth Protection Service run by the Australian Capital Territory Government.
Shona’s background is in teaching. A thread of education and health is woven throughout her career: she was a school teacher, and worked in community engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents, students and children. She then moved to Canberra in the early 1990’s, working at a response centre for women and children escaping domestic and family violence, and then in a rape crisis centre and in other community development roles.
“A passion for me is community development and playing a part in building strong communities.”
Shona is Manager at the West Belconnen Child and Family Centre. This is a government funded one-stop-shop: it has case workers who do individual case management, care and protection outreach, women's and children's health services as well as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community development program called Growing Healthy Families. The program is now rolled out across three locations across the ACT. In this role, Shona takes every opportunity to support not only those seeking services, but also in building the strength and resilience of her fellow staff members:
“It’s a service for the whole community. We pay particular attention to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and helping them access a holistic service. We also build the capacity of staff and confidence of the community.”
Lee-anne always wanted to be a nurse. As a young woman she moved to Sydney to attend a nursing pre-course for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. She then did her nurses training at Concord Repatriation Hospital. Following this she returned to Wellington, New South Wales, and worked at Wellington Hospital as a nurse and later as a community nurse. She found there was a serious lack of care provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and especially the elderly, living within the region. After taking this issue up with her supervisor, she took on an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander caseload in addition to her own, and eventually turned this into her full-time job, work which won the Hospital awards for its innovative work.
Then in 1994, Lee-anne became the first CEO of the Wellington Aboriginal Corporation Health Service:
“I loved working in community development and building a quality service we could be proud of. We provided a holistic service and responded to community needs.”
Lee-anne then moved to Canberra to work for the peak body for all Aboriginal medical services, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. She then moved into mental health counselling and working with people who were living through domestic violence, substance abuse, and other issues. Now she works with Shona at the West Belconnen Child and Family Centre in responding to community needs:
“We build real resilience through the community. Culture is an important factor in mental health issues and an important part of what we do. We also have a parenting program which focusses on communication. We work to help our mob tell us what’s going on. I think especially the young men struggle to articulate what’s wrong. We then provide access to support services such as counselling, housing, financial help, to help them make better decisions.”
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, gender inequality and racism intersect to make preventing family violence a complex problem.
Growing up, both Shona and Lee-anne were always aware of family violence. It has, perhaps unconsciously, informed the path of both women. As has gender inequality:
“I don’t remember the first time I knew about gender inequality. Just ‘being’ you experience it. But when you look at inequality it’s more than just around gender. Racism comes into that as well. As black fellas you’re taught to sit back, that you weren’t good enough. There was a white fella who was always better. So you didn’t put yourself forward,” says Shona.
For Lee-anne, the experience was very similar:
“And then racial inequality complicates it: you’re woman AND you’re black. So my first experience around inequality was around ‘black or white’,” she says.
A misunderstanding or disregard for cultural differences have historically played a major role in the development and roll out of services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:
“The services aren’t always equitable for Aboriginal people. And they’re not culturally aware enough. You go into services for help and they don’t know how to help you. There’s mistrust of Police. We hear every day of Aboriginal people being mistreated in custody. And there aren’t other strategies in place when people don’t want Police involvement. That’s always a fear. The family members perpetrating violence at home are loved, so people don’t want to hurt them by reporting them to the Police, they just want the violence to stop,” .
Both Shona and Lee-anne agree that what is needed is a holistic approach to family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities:
“I think it’s really important for services to be culturally competent. At the West Belconnen Child and Family Centre we’re looking at the whole family when dealing with family violence," says Shona.
“The real answer is for the community to stand up together. Communities are good at dealing with the problem in their own way. Programs need to focus on that, instead of being so mainstream, which aren’t going to work for us.
We need meaningful Aboriginal consultation where information is taken on board. If you want to come and do stuff in this space you need to come and talk to the people that are supposed to benefit from the work. All our communities are different, and a broad stroke does not work for our communities one little bit.
You also can’t just talk about things in isolation. When you talk about family violence, you need to also look at all the things that go along with that, so that’s the racial violence, the health issues. You need a holistic approach to it,” says Lee-anne.
Our hope for the future is that Aboriginal people are the best and strongest people we can be, that we support each other, that we’re courageous, and that we continue to take a lead in these issues. Not about us without us.”
[i] Our Watch: Facts and Figures: https://www.ourwatch.org.au/Understanding-Violence/Facts-and-figures, Accessed 5/12/2016
[ii] Our Watch: Reporting on Family Violence in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Communities: https://www.ourwatch.org.au/MediaLibraries/OurWatch/Images/ourwatch_reporting_on_a-ts_family_violence_aa_v1.pdf, Accessed 5/12/2016
[iii] Sue Gordon, The Hon Kay Hallahan, Darrell Henry, 2002, Putting the picture together, Inquiry into Response by Government Agencies to Complaints of Family Violence and Child Abuse In Aboriginal Communities, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Western Australia. p.56.