Years ago while Principal at Angurugu Community School on Groote Eylandt (a school that at that point in time enjoyed top level school attendance), I was asked to write a paper for the Pacific Women’s Jubilee Conference of the value and the importance of the role of women within Aboriginal communities. That was well over 30 years ago.
Paper Prepared for the
Pacific Womens Diamond Jubilee Conference
Held in January 1982
A dilemma of the developing Aboriginal society is one of attitude. Women can play a vital role in societal development, if the society will let them.
There is abundant evidence to show that young Aboriginal women can do well at school, and that they do achieve. The dilemma is ‘for what’. Often it is for a return to the camp life, where child bearing and child rearing provide the only relief from the monotonous domestic routines that follow.
Aboriginal society is patriarchal. It is what men say that counts, and what men want that happens. Aboriginal women have vision, for they are thinkers and they know what they want. But they often don’t have the power in their society to put their thoughts into action. They just don’t count enough.
This so often means that education only frustrates teenage girls growing up into women, because education shows the girls concerned what they could be and trains them toward doing things they learn about. In the end however, it means nothing because society tells them they must fill a position in life that puts them into a less important position than men.
Aboriginal culture and tradition is important. But often men, who are the custodians of this culture think ‘back’ to it without thinking ‘forward’ enough to the changes forced on Aboriginal society by the time and place in which we live. Women in Aboriginal society seem more futuristic; they think to the future and with education gain the understanding they need to play a part in the change that happens.
Economically, the men command the money the community earns, even when that money is earned by women.
Time and time again women will be asked to hand over money they have earned, so it goes on other things than providing food for families and children in those families. I have frequently seen women interrupted in their work b y those coming to demand money for this and that. Woman contribute to local economy by seeking work and earning money. But too often that money is taken by demand and disappears.
Many women became frustrated because they earn money they never see. They have to earn it while still doing huge amounts of ‘looking after’ at home.
Aboriginal society might be more progressive if women had a say in the development of that society – both locally in each community and overall by their membership of land councils and other organisations. While women can influence the thinking of their men by talking to them, they never actually do any of the (wider level) talking. If they could put their thinking into action, many communities might be further advanced than they are.
It is not so much a question of education and training for women that is a worry, but one of what satisfaction the education and training is giving. If any. It seems to be that training gives women a chance to earn money that others can take. There needs to be training in the thinking that is necessary if Aboriginal women are to come out as spokespersons and leaders who can be seen to lead in their communities.
Education and training to be successful must succeed in enabling Aboriginal women gain that confidence necessary to their emergence, so they are seen as a visible voice for their people. If education only ‘trains’ to the point of giving skills and work understandings to women, then they will continue to be hidden in a culture that traditionally allows men to be seen and keeps women hidden.
Education to be really meaningful must succeed in enabling women to rise to a point of making social and economic decisions. Women have to be seen as equal.