What is the Wiyi Yani U Thangani Project? 

Wiyi Yani U Thangani—meaning women’s voices in Bunuba language—is a multiyear systemic change project set out to capture and respond to the strengths, aspirations and challenges of First Nations women and girls. Our vision is for First Nations gender justice and equality in Australia. We elevate the voices of First Nations women and girls, knowing that they hold the solutions to drive transformative change. 

How is the Project elevating the voices and knowledge of First Nations women and girls? Where did you travel across the country? 

As the first woman to be appointed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, June Oscar AO, began her term wanting to champion the needs and aspirations of First Nations women and girls.

Throughout 2018, June and our team travelled to 50 locations in urban, regional and remote areas across every state and territory. We conducted 106 engagements and met with 2,294 women of all ages, including senior elders, girls from 12 to 17 years of age, women in prison and people in the  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Sistergirl and Brotherboy (LGBTQIA+SB) communities. We also received over 100 submissions and 300 survey responses.

This has been the first engagement project of its kind since the 1986 Women’s Business Report—the first time that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women had been heard as a collective.

Each engagement was facilitated with no set agenda or imposed framework. Rather, women and girls were asked about their strengths, the challenges they face and their solutions for change. A central aim was to look beyond cycles of crisis that have come to characterise First Nations lives, and to make the space for our women and girls to determine the conversation and define their lives in their own terms.

What are the key findings in the Wiyi Yani U Thangani Report and the call to action?

The landmark Wiyi Yani U Thangani report holds the voices of our women and girls on every page. Their stories taken together paint the big picture of history— of a remarkable cultural vibrancy spanning millennia that has been heavily impacted by colonisation and an ongoing growth in inequalities.

We heard of the destructiveness of colonial dispossession to our societal frameworks and of how the intervention of western patriarchy, means that our women have been discriminated against on the basis of sex and race, and along many other lines of our identity. It means that since colonization to the present day, First Nations women’s position in society, our knowledges and status, is one of the most marginalized in Australia.

Against this backdrop, the report tells of the extraordinary ability of our women and girls to survive and triumph despite persistent trauma and marginalisation.

Thousands of engagements with First Nations women and girls tell us that our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties, grandmothers and great-grandmothers are the backbone of society. Women are doing the care work that knits families together and they are driving all forms of social change. Women are doing it all—largely without recognition and investment. Through Wiyi Yani U Thangani women have called for urgent structural change to invest in them, their lived experiences and knowledges, so together we can break cycles of disadvantage to improve life for everyone—children, men and entire communities.

That is why the seven overarching recommendations put forward in Wiyi Yani U Thangani are all about achieving structural reform through the empowerment of First Nations women and girls. This includes the call for a First Nations women and girls’ National Action Plan so all governments act on the issues raised throughout the report and the establishment of a First Nations women and girls’ advisory body, to hold a national summit dedicated to strategic dialogue and agreement-making to design key elements of the National Plan and determine the way ahead.

Can you talk about the Implementation Framework? How is it channelling momentum and driving meaningful action?

Following the release of the Report, the second stage of the Wiyi Yani U Thangani project focused on socialising its findings with communities, peak bodies, First Nations and non-Indigenous organisations, as well as the Commonwealth and state and territory governments. Several tools have been developed as a part of Stage Two (see supporter toolkit & animation) to help community groups and other stakeholders to engage with the Report and project, and to effectively pursue the implementation of the Report.

The Wiyi Yani U Thangani Implementation Framework is the major outcome of Stage Two. It is a living document to be used and refined in preparation for dialogues at the Summit, and to form the basis for the National Framework for Action. It introduces a First Nations gender-responsive systems practice approach. This is in response to the Report’s major finding that systemic change is required, as a process and as an outcome, to meet the needs and rights of First Nations women and girls.

The Implementation Framework lays out four thematic areas with major priorities, as well as actions identified under each. This structure provides a focus on the key interconnected drivers of structural equality identified by women and girls, and how to support and invest in these drivers into the future. The thematic areas are leadership and decision-making for self‑determination; Language, land, water and cultural rights; societal healing and intergenerational wellbeing and; economic justice & empowerment

The Report and it’s accompanying Implementation Framework provide a blueprint for structural change, right when it is needed.

Australia and many nations are reckoning with systemic racism and sexism and the far-ranging gender inequalities that perpetuate harm against women and children. This is abuse that First Nations women and girls have been the most impacted by for centuries. There is growing recognition that First Nations women and girls hold the solutions to overcome this abuse, and advance societal health and wellbeing. Momentum is building as people add their voices and take action in pursing First Nations gender justice and equality in Australia, for the benefit of everyone.

What is the final stage of the Project - and the objectives of the Summit? How will it drive leadership and self-determination among First Nations women and girls?

The project is now in its third stage. In November 2021, the Federal Government committed $2.761 million as a contribution towards the Commission’s projected total cost of $4.137 million for Stage Three of Wiyi Yani U Thangani. The Commission is actively pursuing corporate and philanthropic funds to bridge the gap between the projected costs and the funds received from the Australian Government. (let me know if you would like me to send pitch decks)

Stage Three shares a common overarching aim and approach with the previous two stages of Wiyi Yani U Thangani and is designed to progress the achievement of the Project’s overarching objectives. Self-determination and participation in decision-making are particularly important considerations for Stage Three.

In summary, Stage Three will see the development and delivery of: the First Nations Women and Girls’ National Summit (held in Canberra, early May 2023); National Framework for Action to drive systemic change toward First Nations gender justice and equality, capturing systemic change initiatives and indicators of success as determined by First Nations women and girls; a Summit Design Committee, composed of First Nations women, to oversee the delivery of Stage Three and the Summit; a series of facilitated design workshops bringing First Nations sector experts/leaders together around the major themes of Wiyi Yani U Thangani to inform the development of the Framework for Action; and a First Nations Gender Justice Institute for innovation based at the Australian National University to support/pilot women and girls systemic change initiatives and lead in the implementation of the Framework for Action.

The Summit is a once-in-a-generation platform for agreement-making where First Nations women and girls will come together, raise their collective voice, and determine the way ahead. Workshops and dialogues will be action based and solution orientated spanning topics from women and girls’ self-determination to economic justice, targeting the root causes of inequality, and embedding healing practices throughout institutions and policies.

At the Summit, serious commitments and lasting relationships will be formed across diverse sectors to invest in the vital work identified through Wiyi Yani U Thangani, guaranteeing it is made real and drives systemic change over the long-term.

The Summit will provide space for participants to provide feedback on and come to agreement on a draft National Framework for Acton. It is intended that the Framework for Action will be a powerful shared agenda for women and girls to use in working with stakeholders and governments to progress policy, legislative and structural changes. Simultaneously, it will enable women and girls to bring attention to and encourage investment in community-led gender responsive initiatives on the ground that can influence and improve broader systems.

The documentary animation 'From dreams, let's make reality' was launched this week in four First Nations languages. Why is it important to preserve and share language, and what do you hope people take away from the animation?

'From dreams, let's make reality' is the documentary animation capturing the story of Wiyi Yani U Thangani– the story of strength, resilience, sovereignty and power. The animation is shaped by the frank and fearless conversations with thousands of our women and girls, and like them it does not hold back. This NAIDOC week, the animation was launched in four First Nations languages: Kimberley Kriol, Yolngu Matha, Yumplatok and Pitjantjatjara.

Language is the expression and continuation of culture. Preserving, learning, speaking and sharing it is a powerful act, recognised globally with the UN declaring 2022-2032 the International Decade of Indigenous Languages.

Languages speak life—they tell of our interwoven ecological, kinship and economic systems. Women raise children in language and know language-speaking imparts unique knowledges for collective care and societal governance. National recognition and resourcing of language-use supports family and gender-equitable models of care where language, culture, intergenerational relationships, and nurture are intertwined. This provides a vehicle for growing language-based jobs and economies, from service delivery, authorship and editing to tourism and ecosystem management. It is time to reverse the loss and let languages flourish to unleash the intersecting benefits for societal health and prosperity.

We invite everyone to share the animation. It can be used as a resource in workplaces, schools, and other settings to generate discussion and how you can take action towards First Nations gender justice and equality. Following the screening, you may want to facilitate a discussion on some of the key themes of the animation and discuss how you can take action, see here for some example discussion questions.

We all have a role in building a stronger, fairer, more inclusive nation—come on the journey towards First Nations gender justice and equality with us.