Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Silent Drivers | Driving Silence - Aboriginal Women's Voices on Domestic Violence

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Silent Drivers | Driving Silence - Aboriginal Women's Voices on Domestic Violence

Article excerpt

'The difference is only that the first voice knows of no others, while the second has silenced them' - Angela Harris (2000: 262)


At what point does silence enter the frame in abusive relationships and the shocking violence against Aboriginal1 women we witness today? Aboriginal women have long been vocal in the collective call for social justice, yet it seems our communities have undergone a tectonic shift that has disempowered and silenced those voices to such an extent that we now tolerate a rate of violence in our homes and communities that is not only intolerable, it is drastically out of proportion with every other section of Australian society. Hospitalisations from intimate partner violence for Aboriginal women is 38 times as high as for non-Aboriginal women, death from assault is 10 times (AIHW 2006) and head injury hospitalisations due to assault is 69 times the rate for non-Aboriginal women (Jamieson et al. 2008).2

Harris's penetrating comment speaks of dominant voice and of those that claim to speak. Indigenous and black women have written that the ongoing dominant discourse for women's social justice centres the white middle class feminist speaker position (O'Shane 1976; Behrendt 1993; Lucashenko 1996; Harris 2000a; Moreton-Robinson 2000; Smallacombe 2004) and is maintained on the issue of domestic violence (Crenshaw 1991a; Best and Lucashenko 1995, Lucashenko 1996). I argue that not only is this speaker position maintained in the discourse on domestic violence, it corresponds with an Aboriginal social justice speaker position that is configured around the 'Indigenous men's experience' (Lucashenko 1996: 379, Moreton-Robinson 2014: 339). Together, they feed a confluence of race, gender and social position that consciously and unconsciously cancels out Aboriginal women's voices that do not find favour within each of these paradigms.

The power asymmetry formed by Aboriginal malepositioned socio-political influence, tied with privileged white feminist 'capacity to contract' (Moreton-Robinson 2014: 335), shares a proximity to heteropatriarchal postcolonialist structural power through its mutual gender/ whiteness identification that Aboriginal women do not. This confluence presents as the explicit authority in the representations of feminist and Aboriginal knowledges in Australian society. As Crenshaw (1991b: 11) writes,

The problem is not simply that both discourses fail women of colour by not acknowledging the additional burden of patriarchy or of racism, but that the discourses are often inadequate even to the discrete tasks of articulating the full dimensions of racism and sexism.

To consider this I look at the concept of influence in the silencing dynamic threaded through the elite discourse (Van Dijk 1993) to the grassroots and dyadic exchanges in our communities and homes. Influence emphasises the significance of Aboriginal women's voice in these locations.

The Link Between Personal and Social Consequences of Domestic Violence on Social Justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women

Influence is a key element to a woman's ability to assert voice within interpersonal relationships. Influence impacts on women's capacity to be safe from psychological and social harm, physical injury and, in far too many cases, death in domestic and family violence conflicts. For Aboriginal women this includes our kinship systems and geo-political contexts as well as the layers of hegemonic structures.

The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences makes clear the repercussive link between violence against women and capacity to influence social justice outcomes:

An often-overlooked impact of violence against women is the role it plays in obstructing the realization of women's citizenship rights. Violence against women fundamentally undermines the State's capacity to guarantee the right to development and it significantly limits their capacity to participate meaningfully in the development of their communities (Manjoo 2014: 4). …

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