Aboriginal women’s issues

From Reference 10 Government report 1998

Violence in the Family

Aboriginal women need to be informed of the possibility of tailoring AVOs to suit their own particular circumstances, for example by taking advantage of the "timeout" option which allows them to spend time away from the violent situation.
The different and often complex social structures and support needs of Aboriginal women and the fact that they have fewer options, for example, moving to another area or town and getting support, must be recognised. Effective communication skills need to be developed, especially for men so that problems can be resolved without resorting to violence against women. This is particularly important for Aboriginal women, as they are very reluctant to take any action that could lead to the imprisonment of Aboriginal men, because of the incidence of deaths in custody.

Childbirth and antenatal care

Antenatal health care services need to be promoted and expanded, particularly for Aboriginal women. At present, antenatal screening rates in the region are the lowest in the State for Aboriginal women and second lowest in the State for non-Aboriginal women.


Aboriginal households may occasionally require the application of different criteria to determine what constitutes 'over occupation'. The same departmental source added that housing policy guidelines also allow for the sharing of premises, even though demand for shared accommodation is generally very low and the Department of Housing does not promote it in any pro-active way.


Aboriginal women feel disadvantaged when applying for grants as many grants programs have very specific guidelines and objectives. Indigenous women’s projects do not necessarily fit into the existing objective areas or current project guidelines. For example, the current objectives of the DFW Grants Program do not include cultural heritage projects, which are important to Aboriginal women7. It was suggested that there should be more flexibility within grants programs to allow Aboriginal women to gain access to valuable funding for projects which may not fit the usual categories, such as education or employment.

It was also pointed out that Aboriginal women’s groups need recurrent funding for their organisations if they are to continue functioning.

Participants also have the perception that Grafton has been losing out on funding to other cities that are larger or attract more tourism, such as Coffs Harbour and Lismore. The DFW is currently in the process of developing the 1999 Women's Grants Program, which will include a revision of the funding criteria.


The need to increase resources in designated Aboriginal Health Centres was mentioned. The area has a high incidence of STDs and alcohol abuse within the Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal women believe the involvement of local community members and groups in solving these problems is a priority and would be more effective than mere further policy development.

Private Sector Employment, Economic Resources

Private sector employment for Aboriginal women in Grafton and surrounding areas is virtually non-existent. TAFE programs in the retail sector have been established in Ballina but women are having difficulty in gaining work experience in supermarket chains such as Woolworths and Coles. It was also identified that some employers are presumptuous about Aboriginal people, wrongly regarding them as lazy, unreliable and unwilling to gain employment.

Ms Shirley Adams, the Mayor of Grafton, is currently looking at ways to overcome this problem and has organised a meeting with the local Chamber of Commerce and Aboriginal community groups to address these issues.

Non-indigenous women in the workshop also stated that Aboriginal women are often denied access to economic tools such as funds, materials and access to premises to start craft groups or workshops. There are opportunities for Aboriginal women, through their various skills in arts, crafts and culture to establish business ventures, but many are unable to access the required resources to initiate such ventures.

Community Organisations and Public Sector Employment

Participants identified some of the problems arising when positions are developed for Aboriginal women in the public sector and community organisations. These positions need to be realistically designed, with clear aims and objectives and be appropriately supported. Very often Aboriginal women are placed in an organisation in isolation, without the support of other indigenous people, and are left with the responsibility for all the Aboriginal-orientated work. Difficult situations can arise for these women when they are accountable not only to their employers but also to their own communities and this double burden needs to be recognised in the workplace.


Aboriginal women are concerned that there is not enough cross-cultural awareness amongst teachers in the schools in Grafton. It has been recommended by Aboriginal women that this issue needs to be addressed as the majority of teachers do not appear to have received cultural awareness training at University and have insufficient teaching experience with Aboriginal communities. The Department of Education and Training has developed an Aboriginal priority list but participants were concerned about the lack of outcomes and this needs to be followed up. See attachment 4, Tab H


Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal participants supported the spirit of reconciliation recognising that both groups need to raise one another’s consciousness, as nothing would change unless there is mutual understanding.