New report shows First Nations women do more unpaid work
The Sector > Workforce > Advocacy > New report highlights the extent of unpaid care undertake by First Nations women

New report highlights the extent of unpaid care undertake by First Nations women

by Freya Lucas

April 19, 2024

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women do more unpaid work than non-Indigenous women and Indigenous men, a new report prepared for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner has shown. 


The report, produced by the Australian National University (ANU) and written to support Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) analyses how Indigenous women conceptualise, value and experience care work, using ABS data and discussions with over 100 First Nations women. 


Disparities in unpaid care are especially strong when it comes to caring for children, and for those with additional needs, “largely because of the demographic structure and relatively poorer health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” the report states.


There has been little in the way of academic study to explore understandings and practices of care by First Nations women in Australia until now, and researchers were therefore focussed on understanding the scope and nature of care work performed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to contribute to this space. 


Report authors found the estimated economic value of the work ranged between $223.01 and $457.39 per day when representing an estimated annual salary between $81,175.64 and $118,921.40. This remains only a conservative estimation, declining to consider actions such as multitasking.


Differing perspectives


A core finding of the report was that First Nations women “were often required to clean up the mess of colonisation through unpaid work,” something which the authors believe “raises questions about what is owed to Indigenous (sic.) women.”


This includes the complex realities around decision making concerning unpaid caregiving, as well as the “associated impacts on women and those around them.”


The report analysed the difference between ‘mainstream’ definitions of care, noting that such understandings fail to include the many ways First Nations women offer care – often for many in the community on top of their own family.


Many interviewed saw this unpaid work as part of their commitment to supporting their families and community, as well as advancing First Nations people.


Report authors note the difference between the ‘white liberal’ notion of care, which is viewed as burdensome, undereognised and undervalued, and which many women seek liberation from, and the First Nations perspective, which places great value on family, community, culture, and Country.


“Definitions and understandings of care that guide and shape research, policy, and practice are too often informed by western colonial logics, whereby care is typically viewed as peripheral to the economy, and as a burden that undermines women’s economic security,” the report states.


“Despite the high workload carried by women, many of the women included in our study are categorised as ‘unemployed’ and passed off as unproductive by settler policies and measures.”


Legacy of the past


When women in the study expanded on the notion of ‘care’ against the lens of the impacts of colonisation, including impact on gender roles, on child removals, incarceration rates, poor health, and racism, the authors noted that many said institutions set up to “care” were in fact often “uncaring and may be violent.”


“This damage, as well as the ongoing impacts of harmful state responses, requires Indigenous (sic.) people’s care to heal, adding extra demands on existing care loads. As a result, many of the women interviewed in this study were tired and often, carers needed care too.”


Core recommendations


The report makes seven recommendations from the study including: 


  • A Federal task force – led by and comprised of Indigenous women – to design a national action plan to elevate, centre, and support care; 
  • Ensuring public policy is anti-racist, decolonial, and upholds Indigenous self-determination; and
  • That governments at all levels need to fully acknowledge and appreciate the intricate links between paid and unpaid care roles undertaken by First Nations women.


“A whole new approach needs to be taken that elevates Indigenous women’s voices, and centres and celebrates their care as an essential and crucial expression of culture,” authors note. 


“This is a must if Australia is to take seriously its obligations under several human rights instruments, to which it is a signatory”.


The Sector acknowledges the National Indigenous Times for the original coverage of this story. 

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