June Oscar AO is the first woman to hold the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australia Human Rights Commission. It’s a role she’s held since 2017 that has seen her put the voices of First Nations women and girls high on the agenda – something she’s done through the Wiyi Yani U Thangani report, released in December 2020.
Wiyi Yani U Thangani (or Women’s Voices) is a landmark report that shares insights from First Nations women and girls, and offers a comprehensive plan for structural and systemic change.
As Oscar shared with Women’s Agenda recently, First Nations women and girls are the backbone of their communities, and investing in their lives is critical for broader for society.
“We do it all; from keeping the home fires burning, running community events, supporting our kids, running businesses and standing at the front line of activism,” Oscar said. “All of these things are about the whole society and are the glue of existence.”
“The work our women do is absolutely crucial to our existence. It can’t be work that stops, it never ends. It’s about time broader society invest in it.”
Oscar is now engaged in the second stage of Wiyi Yani U Thangani, which is about finding ways to translate the report’s calls to action into meaningful change to better the lives of First Nations women and girls. She says there’s been talks with jurisdictional governments and senior ministers for women and Indigenous Affairs around championing the report and its implementation.
Oscar says a ground up, holistic response is essential to responding to the women and girls who have so generously given their thoughts and voices to the report.
“Our current systems are not holistic at all. They continue to divide so many of our lives into singular issue areas,” she said.
“For example, women escaping family and domestic violence need wrap around support for a whole range of issues, from housing to childcare, to access to training and employment. We often fail to effectively respond to interconnected needs like this because our systems are disjointed and not holistic. They’re out of touch in terms of the way people live their lives.”
“People do not live their lives in silos. They system is not capable, as it’s currently designed, to respond to that holistic need. We are always dealing with isolated issues and symptoms of problems, never combating root causes and resolving them.”
As the pandemic continues around us, and as we look at ways to build back from the past 18 months, the recommendations in the report should be leant on, Oscar says.
“Indigenous knowledges can contribute to so many of the things that matter to Australians, things we all hold in common,” Oscar said. “The recommendations are about how to build back a stronger, fairer and more inclusive Australian society and economy after Covid.”
Indeed, to build back as an inclusive society, the voices of First Nations women and girls must be centred in the discussion, especially when we’re talking about gender equality.
“Gender equality cannot be achieved by a few women from the same background acting on behalf of everyone else,” Oscar said.
“There’s a lot in the current gender equality movement that I can’t see myself in, I know it has left First Nations women out for far too long. I do think it is changing, as our voices are getting stronger and stronger.
“Our experiences are different – it’s not all about gender pay gaps or getting the top job as CEO. We have to expand our understanding of what women want and need.”
June Oscar will be speaking at the Women of the World (WOW) Cairns event, to be held on the 6th and 7th of August. You can find more information and get your ticket here.