Many left the Summit with a renewed sense of belonging and pride in our community and the role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women play in mobilizing, supporting and leading our families and wider communities. The Summit was a culmination of a five year national project, led by our first female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, the inspirational June Oscar AO. June and many other notable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women travelled the nation and gathered the perspectives of more than 2,000 women of all ages, with over 100 submissions and 300 survey responses also being received. This information fed into the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices): Securing our Rights, Securing our Future 2020 Report.
I recall five years ago, in 2018, being in Sydney for work and my daughter Serena who was only 16 at the time was with me also, as it was school holidays. It was NAIDOC week, and the theme was ‘Because of her, we can’. I attended the National NAIDOC Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Conference, again, led by June Oscar AO and many other notable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women. I remember feeling overwhelmed with emotions not ever having been at such a gathering before – and in hearing women’s stories of struggle, misrepresentation, trauma and discrimination – but that was soon replaced with a sense of belonging and pride in our ability to rise up and be strong for our mob. Not dissimilar to the Wiyi Yani U Thangani Summit, however this recent Summit had a strong sense of change in the air. It provided the opportunity to envisage the future and build our vision for change. Women, in all our forms (youth, elders, mixed abilities, LGBTQIA+SB and spanning the width and breadth of Australia), were sharing stories of strength, resilience, experiences, and power – ready to step forward and be the voice of our mob. A momentous gathering at a pivotal time (which is a culmination of pivotal moments leading to this one) as we head towards a Referendum to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia’s constitution. History is calling and it is time for all Australians to make a conscious decision on where they stand.
So, back to my daughter Serena, who I dragged along to the NAIDOC Conference dinner in 2018, well she was also at this National Summit, on her own accord this time. Serena was one of the many amazingly brilliant youth delegates and it was so exhilarating to not only be in the company of our young women but to also see my daughter thrive in this context was again overwhelming, but in the most special way – definitely a proud Mum moment. I know I have achieved a lot in my life but for me, knowing I have raised a beautiful young woman who will be successful in whatever she chooses to do, was just such a special and rewarding moment that will inspire me forever.
The Summit produced a Communique and a Youth Statement, both with calls to action and recommendations for the Australian government and other stakeholders to work with us to realise our vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s gender justice and equality. This includes ensuring we are heard, we are a part of the solutions and – a significant change – to place care at the heart of policy design.
The Summit also provided the opportunity for the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian National University to announce the establishment of a First Nations Gender Justice and Equality Institute (and development of a Framework for Action). Summit participants were and are still able to contribute to these initiatives through the workshops held and the feedback mechanism (QR Code) provided. In the theme of Wiyi Yani U Thangani – we are the voices, we are the change and we have the power to build a better future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s gender justice and equality. We too accept the call to action.
The power and the passion of Indigenous women – our optimism and our determination – have been on full display here at the Summit over the last four days and this has shown what we have always known – that First Nations women have the knowledge, the wisdom and the spirit to design our future and drive social and economic change in our communities.
June Oscar AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner