Indigenous Women in Australia - A short recent history

An Aboriginal symbol for woman

The symbol above is a traditional Aboriginal sign for woman. Indigenous women are the most marginalised group in Australia. Poverty, health problems, violence, lack of education and opportunity were, and remain, serious issues for many Aboriginal woman and their communities. Much of this is due to the impact and invasion of colonialism that struck at the very heart of Aboriginal womanhood.

Colonial governance introduced in the states and territories created rigid systems of segregation that were presented as protection for Aboriginal people. A prime example of this is the Western Australia 1905 Aborigines Act. This act made provisions for the control of large parts of Aboriginal lives: whom they associated with, where they could live, where they could work, earnings and property, and family life. Although punitive for both Aboriginal men and women, these controls were gendered and there were additional sanctions for women.

The state restricted an Aboriginal woman’s choice of marriage and sexual partner, and perhaps most notoriously, created the anti-natalist policies that removed their rights as mothers to raise their children. These policies led to the scandal of the stolen generation. Patriarchal colonial power deemed Aborigines as inferior but further relegated Aboriginal woman to the bottom of the evolutionary ladder below Aboriginal men.