Why we need a dedicated, self-determined National Safety Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children

This International Women’s Day, and every day, we are celebrating the courage, leadership and expertise of First Nations women, and calling on politicians to listen and respond to our calls for action.

Change the Record is Australia’s only national Aboriginal led justice coalition of Aboriginal peak bodies and non-Indigenous allies. For International Women’s Day in 2022, they write about the need for the government to commit to a dedicated, self-determined National Safety Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children.

Blak women have endured and resisted colonisation, dispossession and exploitation for centuries. We have nurtured, raised and defended our children and held our communities together in the face of violence, racism and displacement from Country.

We are the experts in our own lives, our own safety and what we need to thrive.

For too long governments of all stripes have failed to listen to First Nations women. We have been silenced and ignored. No more. This International Women’s Day we are calling on the incoming government to put us in the driver’s seat of our own lives – where we belong.

The failure of successive governments to address and redress the injustices that have seen us dispossessed of our land, our children removed and our people killed means Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women continue to experience violence at starkly disproportionate rates. Nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence than non-First Nations women, 10 times more likely to die due to assault, and 45 times more likely to experience violence. This is a national crisis which demands a self-determined, community-led response by and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

Last year we released a report Pathways to Safety which brought together the expertise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and organisations and set out fifteen key recommendations for the government to follow to give us the power we need to keep ourselves, our children and our families safe.

Noone understands the challenges we face, and strengths of our people, better than we do.

That is why we are calling for a dedicated, self-determined National Safety Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children. We don’t want a subsidiary action plan to sit beneath a mainstream plan – we are not a footnote to ‘mainstream Australia’. We don’t want a plan developed by Government in consultation with a handpicked committee of advisors.

We are calling for a genuinely self-determined National Safety Plan for and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Let us decide what’s best for our and our communities.

Pathways to Safety does what the Government’s National Safety Plan does not – it sets out clear, tangible actions that government could take right now to address some of the key barriers to safety. Without going through them all here, let’s look at some of the key ones:

Poverty

Government policies for over two hundred years have been driving mob into poverty – and they continue today. Centrelink payments below the poverty line force women to choose between safety and being able to feed and clothe our children. Racist and punitive income management schemes and mutual obligations trap women and children in unsafe situations. This can be fixed. During the Covid-19 pandemic the Commonwealth Government raised the rate of Centrelink to above the poverty line and for the first time women were given the freedom to make decisions in their best interests and the best interests of their children. We are calling on whichever party is elected to government in May to permanently lift social security payments above the poverty line so women aren’t forced to choose between safety, and having enough food to eat.

Housing

Everyone needs somewhere safe and decent to live. Governments have failed to provide enough housing, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been neglected for decades. Homelessness drives our mob into prison, and it traps women in unsafe homes. We make up 20% of people with nowhere to live, despite being just 3% of the total population. This is a crisis caused by governments’ failures to invest in affordable housing. We are calling on the incoming government not only to provide more social and public housing as an urgent response to the epidemic of family violence, but to specifically invest in Aboriginal-controlled housing. Let us own and control our homes and keep our people safe.

Community-led solutions

We are calling for greater investment in community-based solutions that have been shown to work time and time again, and for governments to stop insisting that they know best.

“It is not safe for our women to call the police when they are in danger. Too often our cries for help are met with police hostility or dismissal. Worse, we are often misidentified as the perpetrators of family violence and criminalised. We are terrorised with the threat of having our children removed.”

Antoinette Braybrook, Co-Chair of Change the Record

Mainstream services are failing our women, yet budget after budget we see governments fail to fund the community programs and family violence prevention and legal services that actually work. Community-controlled services with community trust, authority and expertise are examples of self-determination in practice and are at the heart of ending violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Right now, FVPLSs aren’t resourced to provide national coverage and as a collective are only able to service an area covering half the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. This needs to change. If politicians are as serious as they say they are about ending violence against First Nations women, then they need to fund our services, now.

Take action!

Support our call for a dedicated National Safety Plan for and by First Nations women. It is only with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in the driver’s seat, that we will make sure First Nations families, children and communities are strong in our culture and Country, safe and thriving.

You can read our report and join our campaign for action here. ​

Learn more about Amnesty’s campaign to end the overrepresentation of Indigenous kids in detention here, and our calls for governments to support Indigenous-led solutions for kids and change laws for a fairer youth justice system.

Read about our campaign to create a world where women and girls can live free from violence and discrimination here.

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