As part of the Zonta Club of Sydney’s advocacy programs, we support the annual “Empowering Women, Changing Lives” Breakfast. Thanks to our committee chair, Lorraine Orfanidis for writing a report on this year’s event, which was held on the 18th September. Photo credit to Jamie North
‘EMPOWERING WOMEN CHANGING LIVES’ BREAKFAST – September 2018
June Oscar, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Social Justice Commissioner delivered her address at the ‘Empowering Women, Changing Lives’ Breakfast event to a packed Strangers’ Dining Room in Sydney’s Parliament House on Tuesday, 18 September. In its fifth year, the Breakfast event was organised by the Keeping Women out of Prison Coalition – the Sydney Community Foundation through the Sydney Women’s Fund and By My Side Fund, the Community Restorative Centre, through its Miranda Project, Shine for Kids, Women’s Justice Network and the Zonta Club of Sydney. The event attracted 197 people and funds raised went to the Miranda Project.
In her speech, the Commissioner noted that in Indigenous women make up 37% of imprisoned women, have children and may be either on remand or serving short sentences of between 3-6 months. She stated that many of these women have experienced early life trauma and abuse – children being removed, increasing psychological stress, and a lack of stable and secure housing.
Commissioner Oscar spoke about the significance of the work being done by the Indigenous Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) project which encourages women to talk about their strengths, challenges, how they want to make changes, and the positive work being done across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Commissioner Oscar cited the estimated cost of $237 a day and $86,630 a year it costs to incarcerate one woman each year in NSW prisons and noted that this money would be better spent on rehabilitation and training programs, diversionary options and post-release supports to assist women to reintegrate into society. She noted that earlier this year, as a result of the recommendations in the 2007 Corston report, the UK Government established a network of community centres, investing millions of pounds to ‘provide intensive, holistic, locally-adapted joined-up service supports based on women’s individual needs and on addressing the underlying factors that led to their offence.’
The work being done by the Miranda Project, which is a pilot program run in four NSW women’s health centres and based on the women’s centres in the UK was praised by the Commissioner who also cited the positive results of Indigenous specific diversionary options such as Justice Reinvestment and other models which provide flexible and culturally appropriate sentencing.
In her closing remarks – the Commissioner noted that ‘women are not a justice issue. They are the integral threads of a healthy nation, and our governments must invest in our communities to reflect this.’
Speech by a former client of the Miranda Project
A young woman who was a former client of the Miranda program, bravely shared her life experiences as a single mother sent to prison for selling and using illicit drugs.
The young woman completed high school and her Retail Certificate at TAFE but fell in with the wrong crowd and started using drugs. When she was 27 she discovered she was pregnant, stopped taking drugs and due to family problems, she went into public housing. Seeking support, a community nurse told her that she wasn’t able to attend any mothers’ groups because she knew of her past, ie taking drugs. After 12 months of no support services – rejected from women’s groups, no family or partner, she returned to her former life and drug use and was eventually sent to prison.
When she was released, the young woman made contact with the Leichhardt Women’s Health Centre, (a Miranda Project pilot site) where she felt welcomed and supported.
She has completed their rehab program and is still engaged with the Miranda Project and counselling; she is increasing the amount of time spent with her son and is now looking for a job.