Are we giving voice and visibility to the women who need it the most?

In a stirring keynote address, Teela Reid argues no.

By Kate Kachor


In a stirring keynote address, Teela Reid argues no.

By Kate Kachor

As Teela Reid stepped to the microphone she asked those seated before her a simple task – look around the room.

Seconds later the senior land rights lawyer and proud Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman would make a sobering, yet, poignant point.

“It would be accurate to say there are less First Nations women here today,” Reid said to the scores gathered at the Future Women Leadership Summit.

“However, if you looked around a similar sized space in a prison complex the demographic would be much different here in Australia.

“First Nations women are the highest incarcerated peoples on the planet.”

As the room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney fell silent, Reid poised the question – “what does visibility mean and what does it mean on days like today and every day for First Nations women?”

As her question filled the air, she poised a second – “Are we giving voice and visibility to the women who need it the most?”

It was clear Reid was inviting the audience to ponder her questions, to evoke emotions and conversations long after her keynote speech had ended.

Yet, she also wanted those listening to know she too had questions to consider.

She admitted she took her time when considering how to address the theme of this year’s conference – The Power of Visibility.


Teela Reid delivers a keynote speech at Future Women Leadership Summit 2022

Teela Reid delivered a keynote speech at Future Women Leadership Summit 2022

“The only way to understand the power of visibility is to acknowledge what it is like to feel invisible on your own land,” she said.

“I think we can only have a conversation about the power of visibility when we are honest about the ways in which power perpetuates others invisibility.

“Not only patriarchal systems but also how often women who seek to reinforce their own visibility are upholding patriarchal systems.”

She acknowledged that it is not just First Nations women who are constantly erased.

She said as peoples we should remain vigilant about the ways in which “systems perpetuate the invisibility of First Nations people as a collective”.

“We are a nation that is yet to recognise First Nations peoples,” she said, before explaining in depth the archaic law inscribed in Australia’s Constitution.

The Australian Human Rights Commission states the Australian Constitution “did not – and still does not – make adequate provision for Australia’s first peoples”.

“I traverse the continent speaking at forums like this and it astounds me the number of Australians who don’t understand the systemic racism that functions in our society,” Reid said.

She said “lots of politicians and elites” continue to perpetuate the narrative of Indigenous invisibility.

She said there were other, more obvious examples.

“When you think about the word Barangaroo, what’s your initial thoughts?” She asked.

“Is it the fancy suburb down on the inner city harbour? Or do you know the story of the fierce matriarch on the front line of the invasion?”

Reid said if you Google Barangaroo, search results are about an inner city suburb with its list of things to do, not images of Barangaroo the warrior.

“So when I think about the power about visibility it’s the power of the First Nations matriarchs that matters most of all,” she said.

“First Nations matriarchs might not be written in the history books, they may not be visible in the statues erected in honour, but they are all warrior women reckoning with this colony.

“And we, each of us here, have an obligation to remember their stories and their visibility.”

Reid said it has been First Nations’ matriarchs who have stood on the right side of history and shaped Australia for the better.

“Matriarchs like Faith Bandler, Oodgeroo Noonuccal. Pearl Gibs, Aunty Rosie Richards demonstrated share stamina in their decade long battle that led to the landmark 1967 referendum,” she said.

Back in 1967, 90.77 per cent of Australians voted Yes to amend the Constitution to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for First Nations people and include them in the census.

“Until that moment it was left with the colonies who perpetuated policies such as the Stolen Generations, massacres and murders of the Blacks,” Reid said.

In December 2020, June Oscar, a proud Bunuba woman and the first female to hold office as Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Social Justice Commissioner released the significant – ‘Wiyi Yani U Thangani Report’.

‘Wiyi Yani U Thangani means Women’s Voices – securing our right, securing our future.

Reid said the report captures the voices of more than 2000 First Nations women and girls. She urged every workplace in Australia to have a copy of the report.

“If you want to know the experiences of First Nations women this report gives a groundbreaking, contemporaneous insight into what First Nations women are thinking right now,” she said.

“So many of the stories have been invisible from the public eye.”