The Indigenous Women And POC At The Forefront Of Ending Violence Against Women

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In 2021 more Australians finally started listening to people speaking out against violence and discrimination towards women. 

But it wasn’t the first time that First Nations people or people of colour have spoken out, and in fact, many national campaigns for women’s safety are still created without all women in mind.

Introducing Ashlee Donohue And Dhanya Mani

Ashley Donohue is a proud Dunghutti woman born and raised in Kempsey on the mid north coast of NSW.

She is a domestic violence educator, advocate and survivor, and the current CEO of Mudgin-Gal Aboriginal Women’s Centre, which has been campaigning for the safety of women and their families for decades.

“So I would say I’ve been advocating in this space for well over 25 years now.

I talk a lot about [how] we focus on the anti-violence messages after the fact, but what we need to do is find ways to keep women safe in these spaces, and not only keep women safe, but make sure perpetrators know they’re perpetrating,” Ashlee Donohue told Junkee.

Dhanya Mani is the founder of Kate’s List, a campaign making politics and workplaces safer for people of colour since 2019.

“Less formally, I started campaigning on these issues in a more public way in 2018. When those efforts to advocate in a party political context and when the Premier’s office completely fell down, that prompted me to tell my story and to start a formal and publicly launched campaign,” said Dhanya Mani.

Dhanya told Junkee that one of the real difficulties has been the unilateral, sort of declaration by particular white women that certain progress was achieved last year, where even in relation to those women, she doesn’t agree.

Ashlee, on the other hand, believes that particular women in the last 12 months have done some real deadly work, but also points out that they attained huge platform for things that were perpetrated against them, that have been perpetrated against Aboriginal women since colonisation.

“So what kind of lens do you think they’re looking through? They’re looking through a white lens. And that’s not going to make any difference because that’s what’s been happening for all these years. Like, “We’ll tell you how you should be. We’ll tell you what you need to do. We’ll tell you how to act. We’ll tell you how to raise your children. You be like us and you’ll be fine”. No, we won’t. We haven’t, it’s not working.”

Campaigns Excluding Women Of Colour

The #SafetyRespectEquity campaign was launched earlier this year, with the aim of ending injustice for all women. However, the campaign was quickly criticised for erasing the voices of women of colour.

After watching the campaign, Dhanya still reckons there isn’t a genuine understanding of what diversity and intersectionality actually mean among specific campaigners in this space.

“A lot of these white feminist advocates will repeatedly say things like “I care about diversity. There needs to be more First Nations voices. There needs to be more women of colour voices.” And yet I’ve not been able to observe substantial measurable action from those advocates to make that happen,” said Dhanya.

She believes there needs to be that follow through and the recognition that it isn’t always appropriate to just take centre stage.

Media bias has meant that a lot of its reporting is being whitewashed and the intellectual property and labour of a lot of women of colour, First Nations women, and other marginalised gender voices has been completely eliminated, Dhanya points out.

Ashlee compares the campaign to what happened with the #MeToo Movement.

“It was a grassroots movement in the first instance created by a Black woman / for Black women in that space. The view was taken off the Black woman and focused on the white woman. Well, how come we have to get over it and then when it happens to women of privilege we, you know, join arms and create a movement?

This is our land. And yet we are still not considered equal to any other woman in Australia.”

Women can often fail to internalise and see that there is a legitimate critique of them and not take take that extra step back by examining the reasons that they’re in that position, Dhanya says.

She wants women to make sure that they’re being conscious of their privilege and using their privilege to benefit and centre other voices who would never have the advantage of being seen as an idealised victim, who everyone can agree was wronged.

“That isn’t to say that they don’t deserve recognition and acknowledgement, but it’s to say that things occur in a context. And I think that unless we see the nature of the damage of that degree of bias investigated from all of the different perspectives, nothing’s going to change.”