Racial and Gender Justice for Aboriginal Women in Prison

A room full of majority women watch a mix of Aboriginal and non-Indigenous women panellists at the Sydney Law School

On Thursday 23 May 2019, I attended at the Sydney University Law School Beyond Punishment Seminar Series: Aboriginal Women in the Criminal Justice Network. The speakers discussed data on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison, and programs to support them in the state of New South Wales (NSW). ‘Aboriginal’ women in the context of the talks and the discussion below also encompasses Torres Strait Islander women.*

Before I tell you more about the talks, I’ll set the scene, looking solely at the adult prison context affecting Aboriginal women being targeted by the criminal justice system.

Over-incarceration is an issue best examined through a lens of intersectionality, a term originally exploring the limitations of dominant definitions of discrimination under industrial law (Crenshaw 1989: 150). Legal outcomes of Aboriginal women are simultaneously impacted by race, gender, class and other systemic inequalities. Lack of legal resources available to Aboriginal women to navigate the legal system is born of concurrent racial justice and gender inequalities. Economic disadvantage, poor access to therapeutic and other health services, and housing insecurity are preconditions of offending; these are class and racial justice issues. Sexual violence and poverty of Aboriginal mothers are typical of imprisoned women’s backgrounds at a rate that is much higher than male prisoners (Stathopoulos and Quadara 2014). Again, these are both racial and gendered issues, which are interconnected with colonial violence and intergenerational trauma.

I am writing on 26 May; National Sorry Day. This day commemorates the truth-telling of the Bringing Them Home report, the documentation of the Stolen Generations. Around 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly taken from their families under our racist social policy. The first institution built to ‘civilise’ Aboriginal children through the use of violence was in Parramatta, New South Wales (Marlow 2016). From 1910 to 1970, across the nation, Aboriginal children were forced to forget their culture, language and spirituality. They were placed into neglect by Christian-run missions and into White foster care (AHRC 1997). Today, the state continues to forcibly remove Aboriginal children from their families at four times the rate as non-Indigenous kids (Zevallos 2017). New forced adoption laws in New South Wales mean children placed in care will be forcibly adopted (Zevallos 2019). For Aboriginal women in prison, this will almost certainly mean losing legal rights to see their children. Fracturing families through the imprisonment of mothers is another way in which colonial violence continues in the present-day.

Forced removal of Aboriginal children leads to cultural disconnection, exposure to child abuse, an increased likelihood of entering the criminal justice system, and trauma for mothers. These are gender, race and class dynamics unique to Aboriginal women, their families and communities. Continue reading Racial and Gender Justice for Aboriginal Women in Prison

Aboriginal Families Seek Action Over Uranium in Drinking Water

Racist policies are making remote Aboriginal communities sick. At least three communities in central Australia have levels of uranium in drinking water that exceed health guidelines, with dozens more not meeting good quality.

“It’s an international scandal that this is allowed to happen in a country like Australia — a rich country like Australia… If that was happening in Victoria, you’d have a hell of a row… Because they’re bush people and not a concern to politicians, they don’t worry about it.”

Continue reading Aboriginal Families Seek Action Over Uranium in Drinking Water

Study confirms intimate partner violence leading health risk factor for women

An Aboriginal woman in a white lab coat, staring out the window of an office

Kim Webster, University of Melbourne and Zuleyka Zevallos, Swinburne University of Technology

Barely a week passes without a media report of the suffering or tragic death of a woman at the hands of a partner. Typically, these accounts focus on the individuals involved. While important, in isolation, such a focus can belie the fact intimate partner violence is a wider social problem, obscuring both the factors contributing to it and opportunities to prevent it.

A study being launched today by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety confirms the serious impacts of intimate partner violence. The analysis, undertaken by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, provides estimates of the impact of intimate partner violence on women’s health.

Data from the Personal Safety Survey, Australia’s most reliable violence prevalence survey, was used as a key input.

Since the age of 15, one in four women in Australia have experienced at least one incident of violence by a partner. This includes violence perpetrated by a live-in partner as well as boyfriends, girlfriends or dates. This is based on a definition of violence, used by the Personal Safety Survey, which includes physical and sexual assault, as well as face-to-face threats the victim believed were likely and able to be carried out.

When emotional abuse by a live-in partner is included, (defined as controlling behaviours aimed at causing fear or emotional harm), it is estimated one in three women have experienced violence or abuse by an intimate partner. Continue reading Study confirms intimate partner violence leading health risk factor for women

Sociology of the Anti-Vaccination Movement

The state of Victoria in Australia is facing a measles outbreak due to parents in relatively progressive suburbs choosing not to vaccinate their children. The anti-vaccination movement has its roots in Western societies in the myth that vaccines cause autism. The science demonstrating that there is no link between autism and vaccines is peer-reviewed and well-established. The original paper that made the assertion that such a link existed was retracted by the original publisher, The Lancet, due to fraud by Andrew Wakefield and his team.

Given that the myths of vaccines have been thoroughly debunked, what is behind the anti-vaxxer movement? I start by discussing the scientific evidence about the fraud that inspired the anti-vaxxer movement before providing a broad sketch of the public who don’t believe in vaccination.

Sociology of the Anti-Vaccination Movement
Continue reading Sociology of the Anti-Vaccination Movement

Demographic Profile of Anti-Vaccination Movement in USA

Source: Pew Research.

Yesterday I wrote about the fraud and science myths that inspired the anti-vaccination movement. Since I’ve gotten a few questions about the demographics of anti-immunisation groups, here is a broad sketch of the American public who don’t believe in vaccination. Scientific data show that anti-vaxxers come from all walks of life. There are no significant differences along gender, education, religion, race and income, though there are some differences in terms of political ideology. The strongest difference is in age.

As promised, I will later provide a more in-depth analysis of the sociology of anti-vaxxers, addressing educational and policy intervention. The main issue I highlight here is that the biggest divide is lack of trust in science amongst younger parents. Continue reading Demographic Profile of Anti-Vaccination Movement in USA

Fraud That Inspired the Anti-Vaccination Movement

 

Any time there is an article about vaccine initiatives, a segment of the public begin to shout about government conspiracies and their perception of nefarious science. What is behind the anti-vaxxer movement? I will eventually write a post on the sociology of why this movement has gained support and what can be done about it, but for now I reproduce my comments from another thread filled with these conspiracy theories (http://goo.gl/KqwiVk). My post below presents scientific evidence about the fraud that inspired the anti-vaxxer movement.

Continue reading Fraud That Inspired the Anti-Vaccination Movement

Displacement of Indigenous Australians

The Australian Government is getting ready to displace Indigenous Australians living in over 150 remote communities in Western Australia, in a bid to save money. Rather than fixing existing social services, Indigenous Australians will be forced to move from their homes. This poorly conceived policy is nothing short of colonial violence, by dispossessing our traditional land owners from their homes. Continue reading Displacement of Indigenous Australians

Impact of Injustice on Indigenous Australian Health

Indigenous health continue to be in a woeful state in Australia. In late August, a young Yamatji woman, Ms Dhu, died in police custody in Western Australia due to lack of basic health services. She was arrested for not paying a fine. She had a blister that seems to have become infected, and she was vomiting and screaming in pain for hours. Plus she had fractured ribs. She pleaded with police to be taken to hospital. The police ignored her pleas: “when the cops finally took her to hospital they were laughing and saying she was acting.” She died in hospital.

More recently, an inquest has begun into the death of, Stanley Lord, an Indigenous Australian man who died in custody early last year for a similarly petty issue. He was serving 18 months for driving while disqualified. At the time of his arrest, he was not driving drunk nor was he arrested for reckless driving. He suffered a heart attack in jail after a delay in getting him adequate healthcare, having being resuscitated five times before being taken to hospital.

The argument that Indigenous people should follow the law does nothing to address the inequity of over-policing of Indigenous Australians. Non-Indigenous Australians are not jailed at the same rate for similar misdemeanour offences. Paying fines is difficult for Australia’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable. It should not cost them their lives. Continue reading Impact of Injustice on Indigenous Australian Health

Explaining Ebola

Most of what the media is reporting about the epidemic is incorrect. Ebola is not airborne. It is transmitted by close contact with blood and bodily fluids and secretions. This is why Ebola is spreading in developing regions in Western Africa that have inadequate healthcare.

Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe and I speak with virology expert Professor  Vincent Racaniello and Infectious Disease Epidemiologist Dr Tara C. Smith. They talk about what Ebola is, how it’s transmitted, how the current epidemic might be contained, and we also talk about some of of the media-driven misconceptions about the virus. We discuss why an outbreak in developed nations is unlikely and we cover the socio-economic factors sustaining the epidemic in poorer nations. 

Vincent is a professor of virology at the University of Columbia and is a fantastic science communicator. Tara is an epidemiologist at Kent State University who has written numerous articles debunking some of the myths surrounding Ebola.

Women’s Mental Health and Celebrity Culture

Last time, I talked about the problem with holding up celebrity lifestyle habits as reasonable health advice. A popular young American actress had reportedly suggested that genital yeast infection and other genital conditions can be cured by exposing vaginas to sunlight. She shared this information during an interview, saying she read this advice in an article by “an herbalist.” The media jovially shared this story, especially when a writer decided to try it out and recommend the practice, not bothering to investigate whether the health claim was true. This is my second in-depth case study showing why it’s especially damaging to present celebrity ideas about women’s health without consideration to the social impact.

Today let’s look at why the so-called “Rushing Woman’s Syndrome” is scientifically invalid. This is a marketing term coined by a self-described “holistic nutrition specialist” who argues that women who feel emotionally overwhelmed and who show other signs of mental illness are abnormal. She argues their emotional issues boil down to a busy lifestyle and hormone imbalance. A celebrity athlete and parts of the Australian media ran with this term, giving the impression that women’s emotions need “biochemical” intervention (at the cost of $600 a pop). This narrative grossly penalises women’s expression of their emotional wellbeing and serves only to stigmatise both women as “moody bitches” (quote used by celebrity Lisa Curry) and it further stigmatises mental illness.

Vulnerable women who are suffering depression or who may not understand their bodies do not need to be exposed to pseudoscience. The individual musings of celebrities can be ignored at the individual level. At the social level, however, the media have cultural authority and a responsibility to inform readers about health issues. This is done by drawing on expert advice, not egging on damaging celebrity endorsements. Continue reading Women’s Mental Health and Celebrity Culture