International Women's Day 2022

Creating space for Aboriginal women in academia

By Associate Professor Shawana Andrews
Director, Melbourne Poche Centre

Indigenous women’s identities are intrinsically connected to land and place through culture, gender, mothering and multiple other truths.

These truths form our ways of knowing, being and doing.

Caring for Country is embedded in how we care for ourselves and our communities and has been maintained through generations. Indigenous women’s gendered knowledges hold intimate understandings of human nature and the natural world and the sustainability of our knowledges is anchored within cultural practice and a relational worldview. Such knowledges can and do support environmental and ecosystem management, biodiversity conservation, health and medicine, economic development and many other areas.

Predominantly driven by patriarchal colonialism, the world’s degradation and exploitation has damaged Indigenous place-based practices of sustainable ecosystem stewardship and governance.

Empowering Aboriginal women, making space for our voices and enabling our leadership, offer opportunity for solutions as Indigenous women worldwide seek to apply our ancient knowledge banks to contemporary global issues.

Space to challenge

Many of our PhD candidates are women  and they are creating spaces in and challenging the academy with their research. Our candidates conduct research in fields as varied as breast cancer, culturally appropriate arthritis and diabetes management, population data linkage to support Aboriginal maternal and child health, and equine assisted learning for Aboriginal youth. Much of this research is conducted with and within Aboriginal communities, and Aboriginal ways of knowing, being and doing are intrinsic to the research processes.

In 2020, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s powerful voices were brought together by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, June Oscar, and called for structural change, climate, gender and health justice in the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women's Voices), Securing Our Rights, Securing Our Future Report. At the Melbourne Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, we are working towards these through higher education, fostering the next generation of leaders in health practice and research.

Space to create

Partnerships in research and health across the higher education, health and community sectors form a significant part of the work we do and is central to the development of our emerging leaders. Broader University and Faculty support is also essential. The Poche Dungala Kaiela Fellowship, an example of a multi-partner collaboration, has seen three Aboriginal women on Yorta Yorta Country graduate with a PhD in the last 12 months.

All three women conducted research that supports their community and have moved into teaching, post-doctoral research and directorship. The consortium of partners that established the Poche Dungala Kaiela Fellowship include the Poche Centre, the University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health and the Kaiela Institute, operating under the University of Melbourne’s Goulburn Valley Partnership with the Kaiela Institute.

Space to be

Our team supports Aboriginal PhD candidates prior to and throughout their candidature, with programs like the PhD Familiarisation Program, system navigation, research masterclasses which will develop into an international PhD program and by connecting them with an established Indigenous health leadership program and network. The Centre provides a safe place on campus for mob to come to, be together and achieve great expectations.

We have many candidates who accomplish outstanding research while caring for family, having babies and caring for children, working, undertaking community commitments and responsibilities and much more.

By removing barriers, we empower a new generation of Aboriginal researchers to achieve the highest qualification in the academy and, in doing so, advancing their research agendas and health leadership.

Head to Twitter to learn what International Women's Day means to our people.