June Oscar: Our women have spoken: the need for strengths-based approaches to violence prevention in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

The structural inequality and systemic racism Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women continue to face in Australia today exposes them to vulnerable situations and results in alarmingly disproportionate levels of trauma which are passed on to our future generations.

In 2018, June Oscar AO the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission led the Wiyi Yani U Thangani, Women’s Voices project. It was the first time in 32 years that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls had been involved in a national engagement dedicated to their unique rights and interests. June heard directly from over 2000 Indigenous women and girls about their strengths, aspirations and challenges.  She heard across the nation the need for governments to take a fundamentally different approach to working with Indigenous peoples in Australia. June’s presentation explores how a new approach, grounded in our Indigenous human rights, must enable our women, girls, families and communities to determine our own futures, to rebuild the societal fabric which the colonisation process has torn, and to break the cycles of intergenerational trauma.

A continued over-reliance on case-management of situations which reach crisis point is entirely inadequate in addressing the systemic issues related to trauma and violence. This current system is incapable of seeing and building on our strengths. Instead it defines us in the deficit, where we are too often seen just within an assessment framework as being ‘at risk’ and having issues that need external crisis intervention. There are always critical instances that require immediate and intensive supports, but all interventions need to be a part of a holistic response to trauma and violence. June explains that to change the tide, our women need to be participating in the design and delivery of services, alongside needing to have meaningful access to services and programs which support our families and communities to thrive. This presentation considers the type of supportive initiatives and systems our women and girls have spoken about, which are community-led, strengths-based and trauma-informed. June will outline the different elements of this approach and the need for adequate and timely investments to develop models of prevention instead of a system based mainly on crisis response and intervention.


 

June Oscar AO is a proud Bunuba woman from the remote town of Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia’s Kimberly region. She is a strong advocate for Indigenous Australian languages, social justice, women’s issues, and has worked tirelessly to reduce Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

June has held a raft of influential positions including Deputy Director of the Kimberley Land Council, chair of the Kimberley Language Resource Centre and the Kimberley Interpreting Service and Chief Investigator with WA’s Lililwan Project addressing FASD .

She was appointed to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (1990) and was a winner of the 100 Women of Influence 2013 in the Social Enterprise and Not For Profit category. In 2015 June received the Menzies School of Health Research Medallion for her work with FASD.

June has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from the University of Notre Dame, Broome, Western Australia, and is currently writing her PhD. June is a co-founder of the Yiramalay Wesley Studio School and is a Community member of the Fitzroy Valley Futures Governing Committee.

In February 2017, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Edith Cowan University.

June began her five-year term as Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner on April 3, 2017.

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