Indigenous women 'invisible' to justice

September 20, 2012

Indigenous women are often invisible in the administration of justice, posing a serious obstacle to basic freedoms and fundamental rights to self-determination, UNSW law professor Megan Davis has told a United Nations panel.

Addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Professor Davis said the very nature of legal systems and their structural bias can render Indigenous women "invisible."

"Indigenous women suffer a 'dual discrimination' or 'double discrimination', when it comes to the enjoyment of their individual and collective rights; this means discrimination by virtue of being indigenous and discrimination as a consequence of being a woman," Professor Davis said.

"This is especially the case in relation to access to justice," said Davis, who is an elected member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the first Indigenous woman nominated by the to a UN body.

Speaking about her work as Rapporteur on Against Indigenous Women, Professor Davis said ineffective access to justice for women, especially in the context of domestic violence, acted to exacerbate harm for indigenous women.

In Australia in the area of criminal law, rising statistics of incarceration or overrepresentation of indigenous women is a stark illustration of the problem.

"One of the main reasons women find themselves involved in the is in the context of .  In many communities it is reported that there are cultural barriers to access to justice: discussion of violence against indigenous women by indigenous men is taboo and indigenous women [who speak out] are accused of being 'disloyal' or 'corrupted by Western concepts'," Davis said.

"Indigenous women face additional barriers in their attempts to report violence to authorities or press charges against perpetrators because it could mean losing a breadwinner or a main source of subsistence."

In civil cases, there are insufficient services including legal aid to deal with civil matters for indigenous women. And, in the case of family law matters, indigenous women often have no access to legal representation, Davis said.

Widespread mistrust of authorities, especially concern about police brutality, cultural insensitivity and lack of education were also barriers.

Professor Davis said a solution was to encourage themselves to find solutions.

Quoting from a report by United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples Rights, James Anaya, she said "Indigenous peoples have a responsibility to work to rebuild strong and healthy relationships within their families and communities, and to take concerted measures to address social ills where these exist".

In addition, "states should increase indigenous peoples own participation in the design, delivery and oversight of programmes aimed at preventing and providing remedies for violence against women and girls".

Better data collection was also essential. "Lack of statistics in regard to issues of jurisdiction and policing create a significant obstacle to developing ways in which communities can work with authorities to deliver appropriate responses to victims of violence," she said.

Explore further: Indigenous Aussies have shorter lives

Related Stories

Indigenous Aussies have shorter lives

August 7, 2006

Australia's top medical body wants the government to spend $1.5 million to boost primary health care services for the nation's indigenous population.

There is no such thing as 'the' Indian

May 8, 2008

An increasing number of mayors in Guatemala are of Indian origin. Dutch researcher Elisabet Rasch went to find out what this development means and discovered that there is much more to building a multicultural democracy than ...

European ancestry increases breast cancer risk among Latinas

December 1, 2008

Latina women have a lower risk of breast cancer than European or African-American women generally, but those with higher European ancestry could be at increased risk, according to data published in the December 1 issue of ...

Recommended for you

Chimpanzees shed light on origins of human walking

October 6, 2015

A research team led by Stony Brook University investigating human and chimpanzee locomotion have uncovered unexpected similarities in the way the two species use their upper body during two-legged walking. The results, reported ...

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.