NAIDOC Week – time to celebrate the strong women who have spoken truth to power in Australia

The theme of this year’s NAIDOC Week – Because of her, we can – is timely for all Australians and gives us an opportunity to celebrate the strong women who have spoken truth to power in Australia, writes ANDY HAMILTON SJ.

The origins of NAIDOC Week came out of a Day of Mourning for the destruction and despoliation of Indigenous Australians which followed the arrival of the first fleet. It later became also a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Islander culture. Each year it offers a theme that points to a key part of Indigenous culture. It offers space for reflection not only by Indigenous but by all Australians.

This year the theme proposed for NAIDOC Week is ‘Because of her, we can’. It points to the central role played by women in the nurturing of Indigenous culture and celebrates the strong women who have fought for their people’s rights.  It is timely for all Australians. Recently the #MeToo movement has drawn attention to the ways in which many women have been sexually abused by men in positions of power over them. It has called out disrespect.

In recent years there has also been much needed public focus on domestic violence in Australia, and that it is mostly perpetrated by men against women and children.  This form of disrespect, once wreathed in silence, has been spoken of courageously and effectively. In this area, as in the #MeToo movement, we have been struck, not only by the outrageous treatment of women, but also by their strength and resilience and by the courage of those who have described their experience.

Disrespect for Indigenous women has been part of the national DNA. As part of policy for generations many women’s children were routinely taken away from them. Government policies and administration have consistently ignored women’s part in holding together families and communities often under great pressure.

For these reasons it is the right time to celebrate the strong women who have spoken truth to power in Australia – from Truganini to Evelyn Scott, Mum Shirl and Pat O’Shane, to name some of the best known. Often dismissed because they were female as well as Indigenous, they gave hope to others.

In Jesuit Social Services’ Men’s Project we attempt to address systematic reasons for the injustices suffered both by Indigenous and other Australian women, through our work to heal the male cultures which lies at its root.

Violence to women is rooted in the weakness of men and not in their strength.  The Indigenous women of great strength and commitment to their people whom we meet in our work inspire us.