16 days, 16 stories

Dorinda Cox

Dorinda says a new narrative about the potential of contemporary Aboriginal women and a sophisticated interplay of western and traditional justice systems are what’s needed to tackle systemic violence. Colonisation destroyed gender equality and its repair is our shared responsibility.

Funded by the State Library of Western Australia, 16 Days, 16 Stories is a courageous new collection of stories presented in solidarity with survivors of domestic violence, recorded for the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.

A new narrative about the potential of contemporary Aboriginal women and a sophisticated interplay of western and traditional justice systems are what’s needed to tackle systemic violence. Colonisation destroyed gender equality and its repair is our shared responsibility.

Content Warning: Please be advised that the following story contains themes of family and domestic violence that some listeners may find distressing. If you have been impacted by family or domestic violence and are in need of support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service.

Copyright © 2019 Dorinda Cox

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by Dorinda Cox. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

Production by Rita Saggar and Claudia Mancini. Recording by Terri Bellem.

Photo by Claudia Mancini.

View Story Transcript

My name’s Dorinda Cox, and I am a Kaniyang Yued Noongar woman, so my family are from the southwest area of Western Australia. I am a business owner. I am acting executive officer of the Noongar Family Safety and Wellbeing Council here in Perth. I’m a mum of two daughters, divorced recently, and I’ve been working in the family and domestic violence area for about20years. My first experience, I suppose, in working in this area was, I was a police officer for eight years and so I worked in the frontline attending domestic violence cases. So, I’ve seen and responded to different levels of the continuum of supporting women in particular, mainly in the crisis area but also within the refuge system. Within my role now, I do a lot of policy and advocacy and try and get service reform in relation to responses particularly for Aboriginal women.

Someone had once said to me, a lady by the name of Jackie Huggins who’s a famous Indigenous author here in Australia, is: “We identify ourselves as Indigenous women, we identify ourselves as Indigenous first before we put ourselves out there as women, is because of the struggle of our race.” So, the deficit model that’s been built around race relations particularly here in colonial process in Australia, I think has been the reason why we find it so difficult to have the same starting point as other women. So, our starting point for us isn’t the same, and so we have to continue to have those conversations about how this is different. So, within our law and culture, as Aboriginal people in this country, we had laws that kept our genders equal. So, it wasn’t until we were a colonised nation did we have those eradicated, did we have those taken away from us. So, as Aboriginal women and particularly here in Noongar country, we are a matriarchal society, which means that our women have lots of respect, lots of equity and more so, they are the women that have a lot of power in their families and in their communities. So, when we think about that in relation to the decision making, in relation to conflict, they are the women that generally are the ones who people go to, to resolve that. What happens then is that we layer that with government, with services, with other things, police and other structures that try and intervene in that process or minimise that process and take it away from them to be able to do that. And so, what we don’t do is then respect the cultural governance or the family governance that already exists and the important role of women in that. So, we don’t empower women to be able to take and use the resources that they have within their culture to be able to try and resolve those.

I don’t think there’s a ‘one-size-fits-all’ and I don’t think it’s an ‘and/or’ conversation, I think that there needs to be a conversation around what works well together. So, are there instances where there is traditional law or conflict-resolution strategies and techniques that can be employed to stop that from happening, rather than western law as an option versus traditional law. So, I think that they’re complementary in some instances and I think that there’s definitely a need because of the heightened violence and the extreme violence that’s happening in our communities for the western system to intervene for the safety of our women and children. So, I think that it’s nota choice about either or, it’s more about what’s complementary and what will work in different circumstances.

So, when we see patriarchy being imposed upon us, but also westernised culture, so our law and western law are not the same. It takes it away from Aboriginal culture, the responsibility to be able to administer law within our context. And laws that we’ve had for 65,000 years. So, we know then that the men in our communities -and not all of the violence that is committed against Indigenous women is committed by Indigenous men, so I just wanted to make that point: that it’s also committed by men from other cultures and white men -so there seems to be this view around the lives of Indigenous women and the value of those lives and the lack of respect for us as Indigenous women. So, I think that that’s been something that has been introduced rather than something… And with that we’ve adapted to and normalised within our communities rather than something that we have created ourselves. And so, what happens is it perpetuates itself as a part of that internalised trauma and the way that people attack each other within their families and their communities. So, most of this is about the trauma of what’s been experienced from previous generations and brought into both the current generation and what will be the future generations if we don’t work on the healing of that trauma and we don’t actually look at strategies to prevent that from happening.

I think that in Australia, we don’t see this as a priority. And I say that because within a fortnight, we had seven women killed. And it wasn’t on the front page of the news, there wasn’t an outcry, there wasn’t resources then pulled into, we didn’t hear about it being spoken about in parliament. It’s just that it’s just not on the radar for people. And I think that that for me is frightening, because these are people’s lives we’re talking about, you know, and I think that if we continue to be complacent about this, we’re actually placing a lot more lives at risk.

I do think it’s about women’s lives not being valued, I do think that what enables that to be kicked off is about the way that people respond to this. People know about the violence that’s occurring and we just don’t provide an adequate response, we don’t believe that early intervention will stop that from happening and I think that because of that, we just don’t try, and we become complacent. I think in a service system that is built around -we’ll hear lots of buzzwords around ‘whole of government’ approaches and other things -there’s lots of, “Someone else will come behind me and pick that up,” you know, “Another agency will be responsible for that,” or, “There just wasn’t anything we could do, because she wouldn’t leave.” I think there are all of those things that make still make it possible for us to be complacent within a system that really doesn’t see risk at a really, really early stage. And I think we also believe that violence is linked just to physical attacks and physical violence, but it’s on a continuum, you know. We know that emotional, financial abuse are such big indicators when we’re talking about then it progressing further to violence against particularly women and children, so we need to get better at that.

I think it’s everyone’s responsibility. I think it’s the whole of community, whole societal responsibility. But I think governments are in the driver’s seat in all of that. And I think if we pulled more resources into being much more collective in our efforts. But I also think corporate workplaces, our sporting organisations are also responsible because what we see is some of that is negatively influenced by some of the cultures of those institutions. So, this is also about how we change this through an earlier intervention and a primary prevention approach that is a long-term investment. We might not see and reap those rewards for a whole generation, you know, so we’re not going to get an immediate fix out of that, but we are going to see in that generation, boys and girls talking more about respectful relationships with each other. We are going to see the gender pay gap, you know, closed. We are going to see other areas which indicate that women are being respected and are being treated much more equitably.

And I think that it’s not just about leadership, it’s also about debunking the myths in relation to Aboriginal women and I think recreating a different narrative. So, we’re actually recreating a whole different story about what a contemporary Aboriginal woman looks like and has the ability to do in the year 2019. So, this is about, you can be all those things: you can be a businesswoman, you can be a woman who’s a political figure, you can be whatever you want, but you hold your culture and your family and your kinship and your community so strong and at the heart of who you are. But you are still all of those things and able to navigate all of those spaces because you believe that you can.

I think that one of the biggest faults of the way that we, I suppose frame violence against women in this country, is that we criminalise it; we criminalise it to a degree that we think that going to prison stops the violence from occurring. It actually doesn’t. It keeps people safe for a short period of time. And most of the time, they don’t go to prison, so what it does is it just puts a hold on it.

We actually need a better investment in educating people, we actually need a better investment in healing and particularly for men. We have to get to the heart of why men use violence against women. What is it that is readily available to them? Why do they need that power and control over somebody? Why do they feel the need to oppress somebody else? So, what is it that’s about them? So, this is a personal journey but also a collective journey, I think for men everywhere, because if we don’t create those safe spaces, what we’re not doing is creating opportunity for conversation. So, I think if we allow men to speak more openly about their issues and what’s hurting them and the work that I’ve done with Aboriginal men, we need to make sure that we’re doing that to actually allow them to heal.

We can’t outcast those people, they’re not a monster that we can put in a box and put away, they’re people that walk amongst us every day. And they’re people that need to just have a conversation about their use of violence, need to be educated about the impact and need to be called out about it. And that, I think is, as I said, everyone’s responsibility, it’s not just in a workplace or in a school setting, it’s actually everyone. It’s at your local BBQ, it’s at your family dinner, it’s everywhere, so we should be able to do that and as a society I think we have a responsibility to do that.