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
HOUSING: AT THE CENTRE OF LIFE CHANGING OPPORTUNITIES FOR ABORIGINAL & TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER WOMEN
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.
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.