RECOGNISING THE POWER AND PRIVILEGE OF RESEARCH TO ADDRESS VIOLENCE EXPERIENCED BY INDIGENOUS WOMEN: REFLECTIONS FROM THE SVRI FORUM 2017
BY SARAH MCCOOK, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE AT THE EQUALITY INSTITUTE
Family violence is a prevalent and pervasive issue with far-reaching impact and consequences for many people around the world. While family violence takes many different forms globally, our understanding of the patterns, prevalence and drivers of family violence among diverse populations, including Indigenous peoples, remains under-researched and often overlooked.
In 2016, The Equality Institute was commissioned by the Victorian State Government to conduct a comprehensive literature review on different manifestations of family violence, and on proven and emerging practices for prevention with different communities. The research provided a key evidence base to inform the development of the Victorian State Government’s Primary Prevention Strategy, and the future work of The Equality Institute.
Our analysis found that across different population groups, societal-level factors such as structural discrimination and inequality set the underlying social context for family violence.
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in Australia, this includes the history of colonial violence, forced assimilation, criminalisation and endemic racism. These factors marginalise Indigenous Australians, and intersect with factors at other levels to increase the risk, severity and frequency of violence. They also contribute to the exclusion of Indigenous Australians from our response services and prevention initiatives, and with ongoing discrimination by police and justice services, survivors experience stigma, silence and social isolation. For insight into the inadequacy of mainstream approaches to provide culturally sensitive and competent services, read our interview with Shona Chapman and Lee-Anne Daley here.
These factors have perpetuated a situation that has been described as a “national emergency” by CEO of the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service, Antionette Braybrook. While available statistics do not adequately capture the patterns or prevalence of family violence experienced by Indigenous women in Australia, they do paint a fairly devastating picture that supports Antionette’s claim. For example, in rural and remote areas of Australia, Indigenous women are reported to be up to 45 times more likely to experience family violence compared with non-Indigenous women living in similar areas.[i]
Despite jarring statistics such as these, which clearly illustrate the severity of the issue, Indigenous women’s voices and their rights are largely absent from discussions on violence against women. For example, there were few planned panels or presentations on or by Indigenous women as part of this year’s Sexual Violence Research Initiative Forum in Brazil. This is concerning and we need to start grappling more with the complexities related to the intersections of race, gender and colonialism at such leading international forums on violence against women. This invisibility of the interpersonal and structural violence experienced by Indigenous women reflects societal racial inequalities, and reinforces the “ivory” tower of researchers over their subjects.
As feminist researchers, practitioners and activists, we have a responsibility to ensure that we do not exclude the voice of Indigenous women, and that we do not reinforce inequalities through shortcomings in representation. Our work should address gaps in the evidence, but it also needs to recognise and challenge the intersections of gender, race, and other forms of power and oppression. We should be actively trying to address our own privilege as researchers who claim to speak for others, by explicitly privileging the voices of marginalised women.
We should be working to support Indigenous women to take action on their own terms, and to create inclusive spaces for self-representation, so that at the next Forum as well as in our ongoing work, this discussion is being led by Aboriginal women.
You can access the full report by The Equality Institute and the Victorian State Government (including all references) here.
[i] Blagg, H., Bluett-Boyd, N. and Williams, E. 2015. Innovative models in addressing violence against Indigenous women: State of knowledge paper. Issue 08. Sydney: ANROWS.