We enjoyed bringing you our first anthology so much that we are doing it again for International Women’s Day 2018 – this time in podcasts. This year, we have partnered with Centre for Health Equity Training Research and Evaluation at the University of NSW chetre.org to bring a focus on women’s wellbeing.

We ask some pretty special Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and one ally for their thoughts around this year’s theme #PressForProgress http://internationalwomensday.com

Thanks for listening



Pam Greer is Educational Consultant and Lead for Weaving the Net and Strong Aboriginal Women community programs with the Education Centre Against Violence but that does not begin to describe Pam’s incredible lifetime of work. Pam has over 30 years’ experience delivering services and training to health and education workers and community members, and is one of the most highly regarded voices on domestic violence and abuse against Aboriginal women and children. Pam was inducted into the NSW Aboriginal Health Hall of Fame in 2008, the highest accolade awarded by the sector, in recognition of her lifetime commitment to violence prevention and response. Pam is integral to ECAV’s Weaving the Net and Strong Aboriginal Women programs and is a member of Aboriginal Communities Matter Advisory Group (ACMAG).



We enjoyed bringing you our first anthology so much that we are doing it again for International Women’s Day 2018 – this time in podcasts. This year, we have partnered with Centre for Health Equity Training Research and Evaluation at the University of NSW chetre.org to bring a focus on women’s wellbeing.

We ask some pretty special Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and one ally for their thoughts around this year’s theme #PressForProgress http://internationalwomensday.com

Marilyn Wise - head shot


Associate Professor Marilyn Wise has 25 years’ experience in the field of health promotion as a practitioner, service director and researcher. Her main fields of current interest are influencing public policy to create conditions for equity and population health, Health Impact Assessment, and contributing to strengthening the capacity of Aboriginal communities to promote health.

Marilyn has been a member of the editorial boards of the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Health Promotion Journal of Australia, Promotion and Education, and Drug and Alcohol Review, and has written more than 50 articles, editorials, book chapters and government reports.

She has served as Regional Vice President and Global Vice President (advocacy) of the International Union for Health Promotion and Education. She has also been a Technical Advisor to the World Health Organization in Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Marilyn is conducting research to find ways to increase the power of minority populations to set public policy agendas, to frame problems and solutions, and to influence public policy.



We enjoyed bringing you our first anthology so much that we are doing it again for International Women’s Day 2018 – this time in podcasts. This year, we have partnered with Centre for Health Equity Training Research and Evaluation at the University of NSW chetre.org to bring a focus on women’s wellbeing.

We ask some pretty special Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and one ally for their thoughts around this year’s theme: #PressForProgresshttp://internationalwomensday.com



Lynda-June Coe is a Wiradjuri and Torres Strait Islander woman from Erambie, Cowra NSW. Proudly hailing from one of the most politically active family groups in the country, Lynda-June was educated from an early age by leaders of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. She has been involved with the grassroots movement since the NTER (Northern Territory Emergency Response) – known as ‘The Intervention’ – in 2007 and stands for affirmative action for young people to speak out against ongoing colonial systems of apartheid and systemic genocide. Lynda-June brings her own learnings and as an educator to the young black movement known as FISTT (Fighting in Solidarity Towards Treaty) which has led and supported national campaigns in Sydney and NSW.

In 2014, Lynda-June moved home to Wiradjuri country to teach young people the importance of identity, culture and connection to country. She has since relocated to Newcastle where she currently resides to finish a higher research degree.




We enjoyed bringing you our first anthology so much that we are doing it again for International Women’s Day 2018 – this time in podcasts. This year, we have partnered with Centre for Health Equity Training Research and Evaluation at the University of NSW chetre.org to bring a focus on women’s wellbeing.

We ask some pretty special Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and one ally for their thoughts around this year’s theme: #PressForProgress http://internationalwomensday.com


Kyra Kum Sing

Kyra Kum-Sing is a Malera Bandjalan and Mitakoodi Woman. Her current role is Emerging Curator with Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative based in Leichhardt. Kyra is the curator and one of the artists in Boomalli’s current Mardi Gras Exhibition – ‘Luscious All Sorts: Love Won’, which showcases Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQI Artists from across our communities. Kyra believes we must support younger generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as it’s important to continue traditional practices so the next generation will know who they are and knowing where they are from, through maintaining connections to traditional lands, culture, family bloodlines, spirituality and laws, as Aboriginal peoples in Australia.



Aboriginal Woman by Mixed Relations featuring Bart Willoughby, Alice Haines, Sharon Carpenter, Neil Murray and Brenda Gifford.


Our final post today brings us to the end of the RAWA online anthology. We have enjoyed bringing these thoughts and hope that the writings have challenged or inspired you.

Thank you for sharing IWD2017 with  Redfern Aboriginal Women’s Alliance.

We invite you to keep visiting our page.



HannahMcGlade copy

Dr Hannah McGlade is the Senior Indigenous Research Fellow at Curtin University. Hannah is a Noongar human rights lawyer, researcher and social justice activist, and chairs Aboriginal Family Law Services. She is the author of ‘Our Greatest challenge, Aboriginal children and human rights’ (Aboriginal Studies Press)

Human rights for Aboriginal women: a long way to go yet

Every year the United Nations marks March 8 as International Women’s Day as a day of celebration for women across the world and an opportunity to mark progress towards the realisation of gender equality. Sadly the situation in Australia for Aboriginal women gives little cause to celebrate. The widespread incarceration of women experiencing very high levels of family or partner violence along with increasing removals of children shows that we have a long way to go to ensure human rights for Aboriginal women are respected.

Aboriginal women encounter multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence based on both race and gender, and contact with the legal system will more likely see them processed as offenders rather than victims. This was most evident in the case of Ms Dhu, a young 22 year old West Australian Yamatji woman who died in a Port Hedland police cell just three days after being taken into custody for non-payment of fines.

Ms Dhu sustained injuries at the hands of her de facto partner shortly prior to being arrested and although both she and her grandmother – who contacted the police with her fears – told police officers she had been ‘flogged’ by her partner and sustained rib fractures as a result, they refused to acknowledge her as a victim with injuries, deciding against all the objective evidence that she was ‘faking’ it.

The circumstances of Ms Dhu’s death, captured on CCTV, show the deadly consequence of gender-based violence amplified by individual and systemic racism that permeated the responses from the police.

The police did not act alone. Ms Dhu was taken to the hospital on three occasions but barely assessed by the non-Aboriginal nurses or doctors who did not undertake basic medical procedures, such as taking her temperature or performing x-rays, which would have shown her serious infection and illness.

Medical staff accepted police opinion that her condition was merely ‘behavioral’ and sent her back to the cells where her condition of sepsis infection deteriorated before she died. Aboriginal people across Australia have reported that racism in hospitals and health care responses is commonplace.

State Coroner Rosalind Fogliano, who examined Ms Dhu’s death, described the conduct of police and health professionals as ‘inhumane’ and ‘unprofessional’. However, she did not refer any of the police or health personnel to the state prosecutor or any regulatory body. Most of the officers involved in Ms Dhu’s death have since been promoted. No medical staff faced any disciplinary actions.

The Deaths in Custody Watch Committee made extensive submissions concerning the way in which gender based violence and racism, Ms Dhu’s intersectional identity and vulnerability – as Aboriginal, woman, victim, prisoner – but this was ignored by the Coroner.

We do not agree with the lack of justice afforded to Ms Dhu. As the Aboriginal girls choir of the Pilbara ‘Maaliya’ sing, ‘Now they’re Whitewashing away the evidence’ asking us ‘Did Dhu die for nothing? No she didn’t!’

As Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women across Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Canada, we have made a stand in support of Ms Dhu’s family, advocating for the dismantling of institutions perpetuating structural and systemic forms of violence and abuse.

Aboriginal women in some parts of Australia are believed to constitute the most victimised group of people or women in the world, and are the ‘fastest growing’ prison population in Australia. It is well known that incarceration rates for Aboriginal women are linked to the double discrimination that women face in the criminal justice system on the basis of both race and gender.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Dubravka Šimonović heard from Aboriginal women on her recent visit about the suffering resulting from child protection practices that are leading to widespread removal of Aboriginal children, including newborns infants, from their mothers at rates exceeding those that occurred under the discriminatory era of the ‘The Stolen generations’. Ms Šimonović noted the high levels of Aboriginal child removal under policies that she thought were ‘belonging to the past’ had continued and, in effect, maintained the cycle of violence against Aboriginal women. A specific National Action Plan on violence for Aboriginal women would be consistent with Article 22 and 23 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Imprisonment of Aboriginal women should only be a matter of last resort.

Contrary to human rights, the lives of Aboriginal women and girls nationwide are undermined on a daily widespread basis through entrenched practices of discrimination impeding the wellbeing of families, communities and cultures. This year on IWD we call on all Australian women to stand in solidarity with us as we resist widespread human rights violations being witnessed.



this article is an edited version as appeared on ABC Opinion www.abc.net.au

RAWA Anthology – International Women’s Day 2017



Ingram-HS1 -small

Suzanne Ingram is a Wiradjuri woman based in Sydney. She is on the board of Mudgin-gal Aboriginal Women’s Corporation and is Indigenous Health Lead with the UNSW Centre for Health Equity Training, Research and Evaluation

The long shadow of violent predators on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership

Who are the people in this photo? Several are well-known and, in some cases, regarded as Aboriginal ‘leaders’ and ‘elders’. More about them in a moment.

ClarkCongressTauliCorpuz copy

(clockwise from left): Geoff Clark; Les Malezer (former Congress Co-Chair), Tennille Lamb, Katie Kiss (Congress Director), Terry O’Shane, Geoff Scott (Congress CEO), Victoria Tauli-Corpuz; Millie Ingram; Norma Ingram (Congress Director)

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander political narrative is couched in ‘resetting the relationship’ with government, and lists family violence as one of the pressing social justice issues to be addressed. Following almost two weeks of consultations across Australia, with the exception of Western Australia, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences, Dubravka Šimonović, reported on her recent tour with a dire assessment of Australia’s inadequacy in addressing this violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children, which in some communities is out of control.

Ms Šimonović’s report applauded Australia as one of the first countries to sign up to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW sets obligations for states on violence against women. In singling out the government’s third Action Plan for criticism, Ms Šimonović also noted the failure of the ‘Close the Gap’ strategy in relation to ‘gender equality and violence against women’. Her report makes specific recommendation for a National Action Plan that includes ‘temporary special measures that would accelerate the advancement of indigenous women’ .

Which brings us to the photo above. It was taken in Sydney on the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpuz’s, previous Australian visit*. She is with current directors, CEO and former co-chair of The Congress of Australia’s First Nations Peoples, the peak organisational representative for Aboriginal people’s advancement. Within weeks of this photo being taken, Ms Tauli Corpuz released the UN report on the human rights violations relating to Indigenous women and girls. We might well wonder at the table conversation – given the escalating and alarming statistics of abuse and sexual violence against Aboriginal women and children – taking place in the company of Geoff Clark, disgraced former chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) found guilty of rape in 2007.

On the morning of Malcolm Turnbull’s Close the Gap report on 14 February, Congress Co-Chairs Jackie Huggins and Rod Little delivered to the Prime Minister the ‘Redfern Statement’, cradled in a coolamon, in an elaborate ceremony at Parliament House. The Sydney suburb of Redfern is a potent symbolic presence in Aboriginal politics, so naming their manifesto the ‘Redfern Statement’ suggests Congress has devised and delivered it on behalf and with the consent of a majority of Australia’s First Nations people. But in the same week of its actual launch during last year’s federal election, Dr Huggins issued a media release with Mr Clark titled ‘What Australia’s First Peoples want and need from Government’ (since removed from its website). Members of the community who were shocked at what they saw as an alignment with Mr Clark complained on Congress’ Facebook page but their comments were deleted by  Congress’ moderator for ‘lateral violence’ against Mr Clark.

Congress Clark-Huggins MR-Jun2016

Press release issued by Congress in the week of the ‘Redfern Statement’ launch

Despite the ‘Redfern Statement’s’ weighty backing, with mainstream organisations such as Amnesty International, the Australian Council of Social Service, Australian Medical Association and the Law Council of Australia, and the Australian Human Rights Commission’s extolling of it in its 2016 Social Justice and Native Title Report, it has not gained the robust traction needed – Redfern locals say that they haven’t read it, and the federal government has not committed to re-fund Congress. Why?

One answer could well be that Congress is suffering a legitimation crisis. Two reasons could be put forward for this. First, Congress’ claim to be the nationally elected representative voice of Australia’s First Peoples is slim. It rests on a membership base of less than 10,000, at a conservative estimate this equates to 4.5% of the total national Indigenous adult population (voter turn-out is significantly less). Low membership numbers are not accounted for by its unique structure as a registered company – the NSW Aboriginal Land Council alone counts its membership in the vicinity of 20,000, and Aboriginal people in every State and Territory are familiar with membership voting procedures.

A second reason is more likely: the ways in which Congress leadership is elected and called to account. In the nationwide deliberations that created Congress, women called for equal structural status as a means of addressing the serious problem by male perpetrators that brought down ATSIC. But although Congress has this gender balance, it has not undertaken a serious program of work for advancing women’s issues. In fact, it made recommendations to the UN to ‘expand’ the definition of violence, from violence against women to a more amorphous violence against Indigenous people. In contrast, Congress’ focus in the ‘Redfern Statement’, its blueprint for its survival, is heavily planked on the social justice premise. Congress’ structure incorporated an Ethics Council, however, it appears to be inactive. Invoking a human rights framework to prop up its agenda with neither internal or external accountability measures brings these particular leadership claims into question.

The demise of ATSIC left a fundamental gap in Aboriginal affairs. Congress could and should have filled that gap. But when accountability of perpetrators is absent in organisational structures, validated by mainstream agencies who unquestioningly sign up to this ‘leadership’, a truly representative political system is unattainable.

This IWD we boldly ask: how comfortable were the people in the picture to be photographed with Geoff Clark?

* Victoria Tauli Corpuz returns to Australia on 20 March






updated 11 March 2017 10:03am








The men to admire

Ken-B+W - Cropped

Ken Canning is a social activist and published poet and author, beginning his writing career in Boggo Road Prison. In 2016 federal election, Ken stood for the Senate with Socialist Alliance.

On International Women’s Day, I want to talk about the two groups of men that I admire: those who have never hit a woman and those who have and own up to it.

Both groups combined can play a significant role in stopping violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

I write as a proud Bidjara Murri man. I write as a man who is not without a past, I have done time for my share of wrongful deeds, though using my fist on a woman is not one of them. It’s the willingness to admit your behaviours that shows the strength of character, and in some ways I can have more respect for those men that have struggled with their issues and found the ways to take control of themselves to be better husbands and fathers.

When looking at this pervading issue of domestic violence in our families and communities, it is necessary to view the social climate that we live in. As the First Peoples of this continent, we know the societal and systemic oppression that have affected Aboriginal people’s lives since 1788. Domestic violence among First Nations Peoples takes places in an environment where the powers pulling the levers are far out of reach. This alone will cause a multitude of problems, one of which is that oppression always implodes. But I believe firmly that this violence is predominantly a male problem and it demands to be solved by our men. Their oppression is not a free pass to normalise violence and cause our women and children to live their lives in terror.

I talk to a lot of Aboriginal men dealing with violence against women, and the reasons they give me come thick and fast. The main one I hear is, ‘She attacked me first.’ While this can often be true, I advise these men to follow the advice I received decades ago: talk to the women in their own family. A verbal fight spiralling out of control can be a complicated scenario, and talking with the women is one way for men to take that step to try and get to the root of the problems.

But I have found that this defence is more often an excuse by men to use violence when they’ve given up using words. And it’s right there that self-control needs to step in. Screaming abuse is a damaging and frightening form of violence and these men tell me their partners can also be verbally violent. This as well is very true, but what should be seen is the actual difference between a man, who has a physical presence, and a woman screaming. When men talk to me about this, I ask them to visualise how they feel when their partner is screaming at them and do they feel fear. The answer is invariably, no. I follow that up with having the men visualise the same scene and how the woman may be feeling. Most admit the woman would experience all levels of fear.

Another factor in the normalisation of violence is the old notion of keeping silent. Some of our young women turn to the older ones for guidance, only to be told ‘just be quiet about it’, or ‘no good will come of talking about it’. I do not blame these older women, this is a taught response from a time when violence against women in most sections of society was considered almost normal. But with violent men, silence will not make the matter go away. We need to encourage all women to come forward to talk about what they are being subjected to.

We know that domestic violence is a significant problem in many of our communities and has been for quite some time. Many programs have been put in place but just as many have failed and the violence continues. We need to design our own ways of dealing with this issue that is crippling generation after generation. This cycle must be broken but can only be broken when both our men and women can work together to find more culturally aware solutions.

We are at a time when we need good strong men to stand up and act. For brothers to be better husbands and fathers, having our sportsmen doing paid advertisements speaking out against domestic violence is just not good enough and is about as effective as one drop of rain in the desert. What we don’t need is the wiffle waffle from those in positions of power. When Stan Grant asked Senator Pat Dodson the direct question ‘Is it fair to say, though, that this issue of domestic violence has not had the same attention as other issues have, for instance the incarceration rate?’, Senator Dodson answered, ‘There are a range of things that haven’t had the same weighting applied to them in relation to this, umm, in relation to many things in the social arena for Indigenous people.’ As though, one day, we’ll get around to this pesky violence issue. This violence isn’t an item on a laundry list of problems confronting us. It is the core issue facing us right now. It is destroying families and it is destroying men’s lives as well.

How do we get men to own their behaviours?

For my part, other men are crucial to the battle. We have to deal with the perpetrator. This requires a whole of community approach, to create conditions to sit, talk, probe and question the individual to find out exactly what is driving the violence. And for the men themselves to leave their own pre-judgements aside and reach out and attempt to find the causes of violent behaviour.

Of course, I don’t expect that everyone will agree with what I have stated and that is their complete right. What I aim to do more than anything is to open up a dialogue about this tragedy that faces our women on a daily basis. If we do not, the epidemic will continue and our suffering remains constant.



_D3_3123-Leah Armstrong - Copy

Leah Armstrong, Chair of the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office, is a Torres Strait Islander woman with over 20 years experience in the business and not-for-profit sector


International Women’s Day is founded on actions, not platitudes and words. It celebrates the fact that vulnerable women took collective action to fight for their rights as many Australian Indigenous women to this day continue to do.

International Women’s Day is a great deal more than a lapel button and hosting a morning tea. It is more than simply acknowledging the mere existence of Aboriginal women or acknowledging the fact of past injustices; we need to use this day to consider the problems that Indigenous women face today: from historic disadvantage, homelessness, domestic violence and lack of opportunity in locations around New South Wales.

I speak on this from the perspective of a Torres Strait Islander woman fortunate to have been involved with incredible community-based programs in the business and not-for-profit sector throughout my working life. In my current role as Chairperson of the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office’s (AHO), recognising women’s responsibilities in families and our communities means creating openings and empowering Aboriginal women with practical steps within our priority programs and housing based opportunities.

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BeBoldForChange. It is a theme we would do well to consider at a time when Australian Aboriginal women face outcomes that are far from parity, from cradle to the grave. Housing is at the centre – of good health, education, employment and cultural inheritance. It starts young. Aboriginal women are the centre of the Aboriginal household, they are the pillars of strength in the family home and, by extension, the communities in which they live. This is a significant cultural factor that is too often not acknowledged by housing suppliers.

I would like to share with you the story of an AHO client, Cheryl-Leigh Partridge. Growing up in the country town of Glen Innes in the Northern Tablelands of NSW, Cheryl-Leigh saw first hand that the relationship between the police and the local Aboriginal community was not always positive and she sought to do something about it – by entering the NSW Police force. Her choice meant making the big move to Sydney when she was accepted into the Indigenous Police Recruitment Our Way Delivery (IPROWD) Program, an entry pathway to the NSW Police Academy.

The AHO was able to support Cheryl-Leigh, and two of her colleagues, by providing accommodation close to their study and training centre. Cheryl-Leigh said the Program was central to her being able to complete the course and take her next step on the path to becoming a member of the NSW Police Force.

“The program I was in involved doing four training sessions a week”, Cheryl-Leigh said. “We had to get up at 5am and were getting home really late. It was great having somewhere safe to come home to.”

Without this specialist housing, Cheryl-Leigh doubts that she would have been able to complete the course.

Cheryl-Leigh Partride Aliesha Prince Jazmin Mary Brown IPROWD

Housing help: Cheryl-Leigh Partridge, with fellow students Aliesha Prince and Jazmin Brown (photo courtesy AHO)

Having ‘somewhere safe to come home to’ is, inexcusably, not available for all women. The AHO is supporting women at their most vulnerable. With the shocking statistic that an Aboriginal woman is 35 times more likely to be hospitalised for domestic violence injuries than other women, the AHO’s six safe houses in remote New South Wales provide crisis, transitional and exit housing. The AHO has strategies in place to ensure that women are not left homeless and saddled with debt when they and their children are escaping violence.

In addition, our partnership with New South Wales Corrective Services to provide stable accommodation for women exiting custody, is driving change. Housing is provided for up to 12 months to allow women stable support to transition back into the community.

These are just some of the examples that my role as Chairperson of New South Wales Aboriginal Housing Office has given me. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of these important and life changing programs for Aboriginal women.

Each one of us – women, men and non-binary people joining forces – can be a leader within our own spheres of influence. We need to “Be bold for change” pragmatic in action, and all work together to accelerate parity for Aboriginal women. Through purposeful collaboration, we can help women advance and unleash their limitless potential.

This is a challenge that we face.

On International Women’s Day I urge everyone, and indeed all of you reading this article, to do more than pay lip-service to ideals. I urge us all to #BeBoldForChange, be bold for parity and take action on ensuring Aboriginal women continue to shine.




Dr Marlene Kong MBBS, FRACGP, DRANZCOG, MPH is a Worimi (NSW) woman and leads the Indigenous Health Stream at the Kirby Institute, University of NSW (Sydney)

What the new cervical cancer screening program in Australia means for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

A new screening test designed to safeguard Australian women from the risk of developing cervical cancer will be rolled out this year on 1 December 2017. Delays to the registry set-up by Telstra Health postponed the rollout, initially set for 1 May. Fortunately, the delays will allow for meaningful public engagement and communication to take place for these significant changes to an aspect of women’s health to take place – if the time were to be used for this purpose.

One of the most important public health steps to execute when implementing any new medical intervention program is diffusion, to allow smoother transition for the community to absorb, process and accept the major change that will affect their lives.

An on-line petition by Change.org opposing the new changes to the screening program has since been pulled following an alert by the Australian Medical Association that the information was inaccurate. What this signifies is a critical lack of adequate communication between Australian health policy decision-makers and the public. It is an issue that intensifies the health prevention information needs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other vulnerable women.

Australia’s national cervical cancer screening program, which commenced in 1991, has halved the cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates based on the Pap test and Australia’s world-first HPV vaccination program, introduced in 2007. The new HPV-based test is predicted on evaluation models to drop that rate by a further 15%. Two major key changes in the new cervical screening program are the raising of the screening age from 18 years to 25 years and replacing Pap smear tests from once every two years with a HPV-based test (swab instead of smear) which can be taken up to every five years.

There are two important factors for Indigenous women to take on board in regards to the above: unless you actually screen at all for cervical cancer risk, and whether you have had your complete HPV vaccination course, are two of the most important predictors of whether you will also reap the important prevention benefits from the cervical screening program (inclusive of the HPV vaccination program).

Eighty per cent of women who develop cervical cancer have never been screened. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are one of Australia’s most marginalised health populations in regards to accessing the national cervical screening program. Some remote Aboriginal communities have less than 20% cervical screening rates. Poor access to primary healthcare and poverty are just a couple of reasons for this poor screening rate.

Also, there is evidence that although the National HPV Vaccination Program had high coverage rates of about 73% in 12-13 year olds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth had an average of 10% less coverage in both Queensland and Northern Territory (the only two jurisdictions with published data on pre- and post- HPV vaccination HPV prevalence rates).


Despite statistics indicating that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have much higher rates of cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates than non-Indigenous women – incidence is about three times higher and mortality six times higher respectively – the HPV vaccination program was only freely accessible for women under the age of 26 years. Older women wanting access to the HPV vaccine had to pay for it at a cost of around $100 per vaccine for a three dose course. Had it been also offered free to Aboriginal women of all ages when introduced in 2007, many more cervical cancer morbidity and mortality may have been prevented, not to mention cost savings in healthcare and lives. Other marginalised women with poorer health outcomes for cervical pathology are those in lower socio-economic groups – ‘postcode disadvantage’ – and from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Behaviour change to make cervical screening a habit for such women is a key to the success of this program. It is also vital that other upper stream changes occur including representation by these groups at the decision making levels that determine such programs, such as the Standing Committee on Screening or Medical Services Advisory Committee.

The conflation of epidemiology and statistics is too often used to mask real health disparities that continue to exist in smaller disempowered groups. Health economics is thought to be a cost saving measure for governments, however, we continue to see lack of political will to decide what is best for the most disadvantaged groups in our society. Unfortunately, short-sightedness ends up costing our health system a lot more not just in terms of money but economic stability, too, when lives are affected. Tackling gender and ethnic inequality including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage are vital mechanisms to persist in changing systems to allow full benefit of such screening programs to all Australians.