DAY SIXTEEN: Jawan Beetal Baa, Uhe Geetwa mein Chhapal-ba – Bhojpuri Women and Articulations on Migration

For our final blog for this year’s Blogathon, Asha Singh writes about Lakhpati Devi’s songs, which are a reflection of how many women experience migration in their families.

Asha Singh

Featured image: ‘Lakhpati in centre’ was also taken in 2014 in Bhairotola, which is under Chandi thana of Bhojpur district. Bhairo-tola is Lakhpati’s natal village. Image credits: Asha Singh

Baba ho kate da na duyi-das dinwa nu ho,

Tale praabhu-ji lawati ayihen ho.

E beti ho humase na kati toharo dinwa nu

Chali ja na matariya bhiri ho

E mai ho kate da na duyi-das dinwa nu ho

Tale praabhu-ji lawati ayihen ho

E beti ho humase na kati toharo dinwa nu ho

Chali ja na bhaiyawa bhiri ho

Oh father, let me spend a few days at your home

Till my husband returns

Oh daughter, I can’t take care of you,

Go ask your mother.

Oh mother, let me spend a few days at your home

Till my husband returns.

Oh daughter, I can’t take care of you,

Go ask your brother.

I collected this song from Lakhpati Devi, a septuagenarian unlettered woman who is also my mother. Lakhpati, like many other Bhojpuri women her age, is a storehouse of songs. I grew up with these songs. Researching them has always been a bitter-sweet experience for me.

Sweet, as they are the only living repertoire of Bhojpuri women’s collective experiences. Bitter, as they are used to reproduce the violence of traditional gender roles and caste affinities. This is not to argue that women’s songs don’t question traditions. They do, especially when they come in contact with new ideas and aspirations.

It has been my aim as a researcher to convey this bitter-sweet nature of songs and underline their undeniable place in Bhojpuri women’s experiences of mobility and immobility.

Now, let me turn to Lakhpati Devi’s song. It is an excerpt from a long dialogue between a married daughter and her natal family. She pleads to stay with them a little longer till her migrant husband returns home. Her parents remain unwilling to commit a decision and evade her appeal. The song works as a fact-fiction. It captures the generic conditions of ‘marriage migration’ – the inaugural experience of mobility (and immobility) for most women in Bhojpuri society.  Patrilocality ensures that women make no claims to resources in her natal village. This disenfranchisement, a form of structural gender-based violence, is regulated through social rituals, rules and oral art forms. This song reminds women of their status in their paternal home, post-marriage. It mirrors her own alienation from the natal home, a place she co-produced with her labour as a peasant-daughter. However, she (and the protagonist in the song) doesn’t hate her parents. Rather a deep sense of sorrow permeates the song where poor daughters realize how their equally poor parents can’t share much with them; that marrying a daughter is an economic transaction that settles delicate questions of resources. Thus, a deeper sense of patriarchal structure as violence, springs from the script of the song. Lakhpati’s parents died young of easily curable diseases in the 1970s. Singing this song perhaps is a way to remember them – a migrant child’s memories. Take a look at another such song where the daughter laments being married off to Bhojpur instead of urban Arrah or Chhapra. 

#भोजपूरी#सबकेबियहलाआराजिलाछपराहमरेबाबूजी #BOJPURI  #HAMKE BIYAHLA BHOJPUR HAMARE BABU JI

In the Bhojpuri milieu, the migrant figure is usually a young man who leaves his family to earn a living. His life and actions are commemorated in women’s folk songs. If we look close enough every such song recognizes two categories of migrants. One, the easily identifiable economic male migrant. And two, the implicit, taken-for-granted marriage migrant – the main voice in the song. Let us take a look at one such song, recalled by Lakhpati Devi, which captures an exchange between these two categories of migrants –

Kahe dhani angawa ke paatar ho ram

Kahe dhani chowkathiya dhaile jhuruvas ho ram

Toharo je maiya prabhu ho awari chhinariya ho

Tauli naapiye telwa dihalan ho ram

Toharo bahiniya prabhu ho awari chhinariya ho

Loiye ganiye hathwa ke dihalan ho ram

Husband: Why do you look so thin, dear wife?

Why do you look so sad, standing at the doorway, dear wife?

Wife: Oh husband, your mother is such a bitch,

She gives me only a few drops of oil.

Oh husband, your sister is such a bitch,

She gives me only a handful of flour to cook.

When the husband asks his wife to explain the reasons for her frail frame and sorrow, the newly-wed wife tells him that her in-laws deny her oil (telwa) and portions of kneaded flour (loiya). The song is woven together additively, with ‘prabhu ho awari chhinariya ho’ acting as a bridge to add new lines. Like other women’s songs on migration, the protagonist is a ‘newly-wed’ wife. One rarely comes across songs where a middle-age married woman becomes the protagonist. The ‘newly-wed’, is a migrant coping with forms of everyday violence—the scarcity, the control, the refusals of her wishes—in her marital home. 

Bhojpuri Folk Song (Jatsaar) | Saraswati Devi | भोजपुरी लोक गीत (जतसार)

The household is characterized by conflicts and negotiations of a marriage migrant. The micro-politics of oil and flour – daily necessities – is a slice of how women experience migration.  Reflecting on the content of the song, Lakhpati Devi conceptualizes them as lapsed or persistent lived experiences which are orally passed down through generations (‘jawan beetal baa, uhe geetwa mein chhapal-ba’ or what we experience is ‘printed’ in the song). The presence or absence of the migrant husband or khanihaar (breadwinner who has the first claim to all resources) determines the status of the marriage migrant. Lakhpati’s husband, my late father, was a migrant, for almost half their marriage. His absence adversely affected her life and that of her children. Her children survived only when she left for the city with her husband.

Women’s articulations on marriage migration and its everyday violence have silently shaped Bhojpurian notions of pain and displacement. Irrespective of gender, Bhojpuri migrants draw from women’s lives and sing like women to endure the pangs of mobility. The conditions of migration in Bhojpurian society are shaped by the structural violence of socio-economic institutions. Songs register (if not reflect) disappointments with such forms of violence but also work as painkillers to endure them.
This image was taken in 2012 in village Dihari under thana Sandesh, district Bhojpur (Bihar). Dihari is Lakhapti’s conjugal village. Image credits: Asha Singh

Author’s Bio

Asha Singh is an Assistant Professor in Gender Studies with Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC). She has also taught at Ambedkar University-Delhi, Amity University-Noida, Adamas University-Kolkata and Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya HindiVishwavidyalaya-Kolkata centre. Prior to her academic career, she was a journalist in Hindi newspapers NaiDunia, Bhopal and LokmatSamachar, Maharashtra. Her PhD is from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Her doctoral work focuses on the intersections of gender, caste and migration in Bhojpuri folksongs. Her current research focuses on the sociology of Bhojpuri language, its institutional history and implications on social transformation. She has published with EPW, Sociological Bulletin, Sage, Routledge and Prabudhha.As a bilingual scholar she has contributed essays in popular platforms like Hindustan Times, Roundtable India and Savari.

DAY FOURTEEN: Challenging sexual humanitarian bordering through co-creative ethnographic filmmaking

Nick Mai shares the trailer to CAER, made in collaboration with Colectivo Intercultural Transgrediendo, and argues for the importance of co-creative ethnographic filmmaking as a strategic methodological approach to challenging the spectacle of victimhood, allowing migrant sex workers and other migrant groups to define victimhood according to their needs, experiences, and priorities.

Nick Mai

Featured image: Image: Still from CAER: Lorena Borjas and Liaam Winslet watching the first version of the film during a co-creative editing feedback session. From Anti Trafficking Review. 

Contemporary times are characterised by the convergence of the inequalities engendered by neoliberal policies and the parallel increase in both migration flows and restrictive migration policies. They are also characterised by the global rise of neo-abolitionist policies attempting to eradicate sex work, framed as sexual exploitation and trafficking, which often translates into harmful policies exacerbating the exploitability and deportability of marginalized, racialized and sex-gendered migrant groups. This convergence is the background for the proliferation of sexual humanitarian biographical borders. These emerge at the interplay between discursive, material and performative practices through which a majority of ‘economic migrants’ are filtered away from a minority of refugees identified according to stereotypical humanitarian understandings of victimhood, abuse and exploitation expressing the sensibilities and priorities of the global north. Co-creative ethnographic filmmaking (ethnofiction) can be a strategic methodological approach to challenge the idealised and stereotypical priorities and categories of victimhood framing sexual humanitarian bordering by allowing migrant sex workers and other marginalised and stigmatised migrant groups to define victimhood in their terms according to their experiences, priorities and needs. 

Watch the trailer to CAER (Caught) here. It was made in collaboration with the Colectivo Intercultural Transgrediendo

Author’s Bio

Nick Mai is a sociologist, an ethnographer and a filmmaker whose writing and films focus on the experiences and representations of stigmatised and criminalised migrant groups. Through co-creative ethnographic films and original research findings Nick challenges prevailing representation of the encounter between migration and sex work in terms of trafficking, while focusing on the complex dynamics of exploitation and agency that are implicated.  Nick is the author of Mobile Orientations: An Intimate Autoethnography of Migration, Sex Work, and Humanitarian Borders (Chicago University Press, 2018).  

DAY FOURTEEN: Heart & Art, a creative program for refugee and asylum seeker women

Amancaya Xristina shares the power of art through her piece on the Heart & Art creative program for refugee and migrant women. By using creativity women reinvent what are those stable values within themselves, that no matter the circumstances they can return to and feel safe.

Amancaya Xristina

Featured image: Artwork created during the Heart & Art creative program. Image credit: Amancaya Xristina

When words are not ready to be shared, painting through its symbols and colors can become a smoother bridge to connect the dots of the past to the future, from loneliness to community, from silence to a story. Heart & Art is a creative and therapeutic program of interaction and exploration where refugee and asylum seeker women from different paths of life meet, create and share. The focus is on community, self-expression and healing from trauma. By using creativity women reinvent what are those stable values within themselves, that no matter the circumstances they can return to and feel safe.

Gender based violence (GBV) is often disguised in subtle forms of living, such as the daily intimidation of survival, or on the uncertainty of where “home” was, is and will be and when can I reach it, how to raise my children through a xenophobic and racist culture? How do we combat GBV through safe and respectful networks of solidarity and how to reinvent oneself in a new culture as a woman and mother?

My most recent insight on GBV and displacement comes from my work in Amurtel Greece, an organization located in the center of Athens, that gives various forms of support to refugee and migrant women in pregnancy, in birth and postpartum. We gather in this safe women’s space once a week, where mothers are able to close their eyes, connect with their breath, choose their brushes and colors, and create.  To be in the present for a whole hour without worrying or thinking ahead is a state that is often unthinkable for refugee women, so when they do manage to relax it is a welcome break to them.

In a few cases, some mothers needed and were ready to share their story in detail. This included their stories of abuse and how they conceived their baby, sometimes in a refugee camp or while crossing borders. However, the majority of them need time to build trust and open up. Through art and more specifically through painting, mothers are able to access sensible personal information which is not yet ready to be expressed in words. The “silence” of colors, forms, and symbols has an inner message that has valuable meaning to the mother that creates and gives her an understanding of her present psychological inner state of being.

Painting is a tool that is respectful to the emotional pace of each person; it reveals only what the mother is ready to share to herself and to the group. Expressing through painting is a respectful and essential way of working with possible victims of GBV. Of course, it does not have to be only painting or a specific technique. The idea behind it not just being eager to listen right away for a detailed story expressed orally but employing creativity to access the unconscious information of each person in its own symbolism, rhythm and time.

One of the workshops of Heart & Art is called “Masks & Mirrors”, where we challenge the notion of who we are, how we see ourselves and how others see us. Another expression of GBV for refugee women is self-identity crisis; asking “who am I?” while crossing border to border and when the cultural norms differ. The cultural shock is inevitable and there is a heavy weight on them when they walk in unknown and unfamiliar places.

At the same time in “Masks & Mirrors”, we go deeper and try to look into the different layers of societal perceptions since childhood to adulthood, womanhood, motherhood – the mask of innocence, of being a pure girl, a quiet woman, a caregiving mother. We acknowledge these invisible masks in our self of today and by painting our new mask we redefine who we are and who we want to become.

One mother shared with the group that the white part of the mask represents her early years when she was a girl and a daughter, and the black painted part of the mask represents when she got married. There is no need for further questioning to understand her full story. The image that she portrayed accompanied with her few words reveal her present perception of herself in her story, which she can redefine when she is ready. This first acknowledgement is a valuable step towards healing. Also, various mothers that wear the hijab put make up on their masks – rouge, eyelines and crayons – and they share that this is how they would like to look if they could.

In another Heart & Art workshop called “Mothers within Mothers”, the intention is to honor and heal the intergenerational linkage of mothers within their own mothers and with their children. One of the mothers in the group stayed silent the whole hour but she did paint. Once more the symbols and colors used revealed her story in a respectful, subtle way. From this image alone, we were able to address her need for further psychological support.

I used these few examples from my practical experience with the mothers that visit Amurtel Greece to share my insight on how to approach victims of GBV in transition, in this case refugee and asylum seeker mothers.

Art can reach ones’ truth in a humane, calmer and softer way when words are not ready.

Author’s Bio

I started painting at the age of 24 when I was living in the colorful country of my favorite painter Frida Kahlo, in Mexico. While living in Bolivia I wrote an art visual book of birth stories, painting and poetry called “Birth as you please”. In Latin America, Canada and now in Greece I am coordinating women’s circles using art as a powerful healing tool. I have a degree in Economics, an MBA and a Master’s in Social Development and I am currently studying Art Therapy.

I always say that I started painting to penetrate more into the truth of life where words cannot reach. Creating in groups and especially in a circle is therapeutic in itself since it is a safe space for sharing and connection. I am now conducting in collaboration with various non-profit organizations (IOM GREECE, Amurtel Greece, Caritas Hellas) an art program I call Heart & Art, with refugee women who have deep traumas, but also life teachings of strengths and resilience.  I am always moved by how art can instantly alleviate the human spirit.

Art is more than an expression, it is a human need that connects us to our inner truth and wisdom.

For further information:

DAY TWELVE: Care, fear and mothering in the British asylum accommodation system

“Writing about motherhood in the asylum system, I’ve come to realize, requires thinking about forms of life that survive, resist, and often also thrive in vulnerablizing and harmful spaces; and about the care practices that enable them to do so, even amidst fear” says Júlia Fernandez in this illuminating piece.

Júlia Fernandez

Featured image: Rayan’s accommodation, a small studio flat where she lives with her two children since they were moved to a very isolated area in the outskirts of the city. Rayan is one of Júlia’s participants in this project and the photo was taken by her.

I press Ctrl+F on my keyboard and search for the word ‘care’ throughout the document where I type all my fieldwork notes. The search function returns 120 results, of which more than 50, I quickly realize, belong to the word ‘scared’. Such an altering presence of two additional letters prompts relevant questions when writing about motherhood in the British asylum system. In what ways are ideas and experiences of ‘care’ and being ‘scared’ woven into the same everyday life stories of mothers living in asylum accommodation, and what does it mean to mother along the divides between care and fear?

Eleven months of (still ongoing) ethnographic research on the reproductive experiences of asylum-seeking women residing in temporary accommodation in London have invited me to wonder how ‘care’ and ‘fear’ mobilise different yet interconnected practices and discourses that shape lives -and life-making- in the asylum system. The authors of ‘Revolutionary Mothering’ beautifully capture the care work of mothers as ‘making a hostile world an affirming space for another person’ (2016: 116). 

Writing about motherhood in the asylum system, I’ve come to realize, requires thinking about forms of life that survive, resist, and often also thrive in vulnerablizing and harmful spaces; and about the care practices that enable them to do so, even amidst fear.

What is it like for mothers to care when caring takes place in sites defined by ‘habits opposite to love’ (Gumbs, A, 2016: 12)? How do mothers nurture the life of others in sites that facilitate their very own suffering? And how is gender central to the understanding of how forms of violence fold into the everyday practices of care?

I follow Victoria Canning’s criticism of the structural violence of the British asylum system (2018) and approach asylum accommodation as hostile spaces structured by gendered and racialized forms of control, where the perpetuation of violence, trauma and fear is woven into the ordinary lives of unwanted populations. Canning’s work evidences the further gendered harms inflicted by the structures that contain and control migrants on women who have survived persecution. I try to extend her line of analysis to explore the impacts on mothers who care for their children and others in the precarious and uncertain circumstances of temporary asylum accommodation.

Mothers are moved through or stuck in the asylum accommodation system on a no-choice basis, subjected to forms of surveillance and control, and to the enforcement of material and legal precarity. Thereby, they experience minimized autonomy and safety, and higher levels of dependency and vulnerability that extend gendered and intersectional forms of violence into their everyday lives.

As houses witness processes of feeding, nurturance, love, and the continuous remaking of social relations, they also carry wider political significance. Thus, I argue, as extensions of patriarchal control, asylum accommodation structures and the gendered systems of violence that underpin them act as particular terrains for the emergence of specific forms of relatedness and practices of everyday care and support with which mothers, often as lone parents or as primary caregivers, respond to the violence and brutal care deficit of the system and the fears that this engenders.

María breastfeeding her newborn baby right before they were moved to another room. Her partner was carrying downstairs everything they had. Image credits: Júlia Fernandez

For the mothers I have met through my fieldwork, fear lives in the subtle, lingering agony of protracted waiting times and in the sudden accelerations of forced mobilities. The persistent threat of destitution silences dissent and complaint among mothers, whose phone calls to the charity Migrant Help are imbued with the fear of being dismissed or of being punished for the insolence of being ungrateful. Fear soaks through that meal illicitly cooked in a hotel room with improper appliances and pervades the air like the smoke that activates the alarms. Fear inhabits unopened envelopes containing unintelligible Home Office correspondence, empty Aspen cards at the end of the week, the return of a husband from an unlawful work day that raises public suspicions about illegal employment. Mothers fear raising a baby on their own in a hotel room and being sexually harassed on their way to the communal toilet. They fear unfavourable forced mobilities and disrupted childhoods that unfold through the course of fragmented memories of temporary housing.

For almost a year, I have observed the day-to-day strategies mothers utilise as they figure out how to mother despite being scared of the various deliberate forms of harm that permeate the British asylum system.

Mothers answer the gendered impacts of structural violence that further marginalise, impoverish, and exclude them with mundane, sketchy, creative, improvised acts of making life possible – often imbued with a sense of not-enoughness. Women respond to poor housing conditions by bathing small children and warming up milk bottles in the sink; composing ingenious sleeping arrangements in a limited living space; cooking chicken soup inside a kettle and warming up pizza slices in a secretly sneaked-in-toaster. They respond to the marginalising and individualising mechanisms of the accommodation system by waiting for the staff shift to bring friends and relatives to stay overnight and by participating in forms of relatedness across sites of temporary accommodation that support them and allow them to care for others. Their acts of care include boundless hugs and kisses to their children and other mother’s children; donating second hand clothes, buggies, and cots to their neighbours; doing hospital visits and helping with childcare; building a den with blankets and pillows and baking a birthday cake for their friend’s child.

The circumstances in which these acts of care take place bestow their mundanity with an extraordinary character that pushes back against gendered systems of violence and nurture the life of others beyond the limits of their fears.

Canning, V. (2017): Gendered Harm and Structural Violence in the British Asylum System.  Routledge Studies in Criminal Justice, Borders and Citizenship. London: Routledge.

Gumbs, A., Martens, C. and Williams, M. (2016): Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines. PM Press.

Author’s Bio

Júlia Fernandez is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, currently conducting ethnographic research on reproductive experiences among asylum seeking women in London. Her research aims to capture the complex everyday experiences of mothers within the British immigration and asylum system, seeking to understand how the conditions of transiency, insecurity and temporality result not only in particular modalities of mobility but also articulate specific reproductive experiences and subjectivities “on the move’’. Júlia also volunteers as a doula supporting asylum seeking women during pregnancy and childbirth and has social care background working with migrant women experiencing gender-based violence.

DAY SEVEN: The sisterhood – reflections on the challenges and strengths of working with First Nations women’s experience of personal trauma – colonisation, displacement and violence 

Today’s piece features an interview with Mareese Terare and Rowena Lawrie, who work with First Nations women and their personal trauma of colonisation, displacement, and violence. Their powerful interventions demonstrate the enduring impacts of coloniality, displacement among First Nations’ community, and the strength from stories of women resisting violence everyday.

An interview with Mareese Terare and Rowena Lawrie

Featured image credit: Mareese Terare

What does this year’s Blogathon theme mean to you?

Rowena: What it means when you don’t have basic human rights like a safe landing place, sense of belonging and security is disconnection, increased safety risks and no safe place. There is an assumption that Australia is the “land of the lucky”, the “land of the free”, but we know that Australia is also a country stained with murder, genocide, child trafficking and racism. Not everyone has a “safe landing” in Australia either – I am also considering the number of people that were trafficked to Australia in the last year, women who are exploited for labour and sex crimes. Women of colour and culture.

Displacement has been a long theme for Aboriginal people, including families like mine. It impacts on connection, safety, security, parenting, relationships and a sense of belonging, which is a fundamental human need, and culturally important.

This Blogathon creates a safe and necessary space for many narratives, for many voices – that is so important. It is vibrant and revolutionary to have lots of voices talking about gendered violence.

Mareese: Many women looking for safety are forced to move from their country, town and family, and are displaced as a result.  Women who have migrated often experience racism in this country, and this directly affects First Nations women. There are also challenges of intersectionality – multiple intersecting experiences of discrimination in the lived experience of these women. From a First Nations perspective, having a voice when you don’t have those connections is hard. This Blogathon gives voice to so many women who don’t have a voice.

How has colonisation, displacement and family violence affected your lives and the lives of the women your work with?

Rowena: In our ways of being, kinship systems and lore protect women and we had criminal sanctions to deal with people who harmed. Those sophisticated systems of safety in our cultures were impacted by colonisation and legislations that offered no safeguarding again violence– we know this because the violence has not decreased, but has gotten worse.

In a colonised world my safety is compromised. In a colonised world, there are increased risks as family kinships systems are impacted. In a world of displacement, I can become isolated from my family.

Violence operates well in contexts of isolation and racism. The systems that are now in place to protect women from violence are flawed and are certainly not always culturally safe. If I seek support from the structures that exist, I can experience further discrimination and access issues. The systems that are designed to help are also the systems that harm Aboriginal people. I see women trying to navigate these systems, and sometimes they are judged and fear further consequences such as “intervention” by child protection services. Sometimes women will live in violence and keep their children safe at the same time. It’s a tremendous burden on victims, who need support, not judgement.

Mareese: Knowing about the prevalence of gendered violence in our lives gives me the capacity to make women’s needs visible. We did a First Nations women’s workshop two weeks ago and heard horrendous stories of human rights violations. What came through was the fire these women have in their bellies – they won’t tolerate it. This is tribal and comes from our ways of knowing.

When women connect, and their philosophy is about coming together as sisters to fight domestic and family violence (DFV), they are very strong. It is so important when working with DFV to have spaces to connect to resist the violence and the impacts of colonisation. Women have been doing this forever and they are powerful in it.

What are some of the strengths and challenges of doing this work?

Mareese: We were exhausted when doing this workshop, but it is through survivor stories that we can continue this work. It’s a challenge having lived experience, but listening to those women’s stories and their strength is empowering. When you have lived experience, you have empathy, but it is important to honour your own story and not allow it to influence that engagement. Getting to that place comes with good therapy and good supervision. There is always a challenge to separate the two.

Rowena: The challenges of doing this work are enormous for services and women. It is hard to know where to start. There is:

  • a lack of national commitment and adequate resources for women and children who are escaping violence
  • a lack of consistency in regulations across jurisdictions. This means when women travel over state or territory borders for safety, they do not get the same response from systems
  • racism and discrimination that means difficulty for women to access services – we need funding for culturally safe and trauma-informed service design and delivery. And to add to Mareese’s earlier point about intersectionality – violence in same sex, transgender relationships, and those who live with different abilities, needs additional and specialist services.
  • services that re-traumatise through replicating dynamics of power and abuse resulting in isolation
  • the allocation of resources. It is critical that we have cultural safety and acknowledge that women need safe spaces to connect with other women. It is in these circles of sisterhood and solidarity that safety is valued.

I am often very grateful to work alongside survivors of violence and the services that support them. There are amazing stories of women resisting violence every day – who are constantly assessing their safety and the safety of their children – they live with a sense of terrorism daily and yet are courageous and formidable in their ways of being and how they care for their loved ones. I see Elders, Aunties and strong Aboriginal men stand up to violence and keep families safe,  in line with Aboriginal ways of being, knowing and doing. I see health practitioners, clinicians, counsellors, Aboriginal specialists, lawyers, child protection workers, policy makers and educators, making phenomenal efforts and doing exceptional practice all the time. It inspires me so much. This work has grown me as a woman – I have always worked in this space and will always do so.

What needs to change?

Mareese: I started my work in refuges in 1985 and watched refuges grow in regional towns. Since 2001, I have watched those refuges disappear. Now we question high rates of homicide when government and laws have taken away safety. I would love to see more research into whether an increase in domestic homicides correlate with reduction in safe refuges. We need to look at the reasons why the systems are not responding to First Nations peoples. How many more women need to die? We need safe spaces for women to connect to make sure no one is displaced by violence again. A recent ABC 4 Corners documentary How many more? is a call for action.

Rowena: I think the concerns around national regulations, legislation, and swift responses can be interrogated through a Royal Commission. Right now, we have a government acting like a perpetrator of violence – withholding resources, keeping the harm minimised, holding the narrative and power, weaponizing services against each other. It’s truly disturbing and needs a massive overhaul. What happens when people don’t follow the existing legislations and policies – not very much. There’s no accountability. I think a Royal Commission can really zoom in on what needs to happen nationally.

Authors’ Bios

Rowena Lawrie is the Director (and founder) of Yamurrah, a collective of First Nations clinicians, educators, academics, consultants, who specialise in professional development, supervision, therapy, training, project consultancy and research. Rowena has over 25 years experience as a clinical social worker, has a background in law and justice and a passion for neuroscience. Rowena works with survivors of complex and collective systemic trauma and the clinicians who work with them, and also an interest in research and systemic change. Rowena was raised and lives on Darkinyung country and is a descendant of Wakka Wakka and Wiradjuri nations with her matriarchal lines – Longreach extending to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Mareese Terare is a Bundjalung Goenpul Woman. Her creation story extends from Brunswick Heads NSW to North Stradbroke South East Queensland. Bundjalung from Tweed Heads both sides of the river; Minjungbal northern side and Pooningbah southern side. Goenpul from North Stradbroke Island. Mareese was raised by her mothers who are proud Goenpul/Bundjalung women who taught her the importance of family, love and connections. She is committed to a lifelong journey of embracing and learning about her worldview, by unpacking colonial structures that have impacted greatly on her personal life and the lives of her families.