Throughout the year Half The Sky is holding events – think ins, workshops, seminars – which will culminate in an annual gathering of women which celebrates all our achievements – in conversation, debate, music, performance and art. This blog records the journey.
Our Mirrabooka Think In began with Bev Port-Louis welcoming us to Country and Emele Ugavule bringing the room of women together and creating a space to connect with a sense of openness and generosity of spirit. Half The Sky's Chris Scoggin captured the afternoon in words and graphics, the story growing as the afternoon unfolded.
WELCOME TO COUNTRY | BEV PORT-LOUIS
"Welcome. I would like to acknowledge our Elders past, present and emerging... and in particular I would like to pay my respects to our grandmothers, our great-grandmothers -the old lady scientists...
"As you journey across this ancient land, travel gently on our Mother Earth, with respect and care.
May the spirits of our ancestors always watch over you and keep you safe.
Hold the spirits of the sacred campfire always in your heart. "
Bev Port Louis and Emele Ugavule
BRINGING OUR VALUES TO THE TABLE | EMELE UGAVULE
"I am a storyteller... I believe stories are integral to being human. We are the only mammals that need stories to understand our lives. We need stories of our past to interpret and re-imagine the stories of our future, so I see our role ,as people who tell stories and share stories, as historians. Sharing stories shows a kind of resilience, a resistance and by being here today, being present and engaged in the conversation you are already doing that work (of resilience and resistance).."
"First, Identification- Self-identification. I'd really like to encourage everyone in the room to think strongly about how they identify and where they come from, who they come from and how that connects to lineage. Lineage is really, really important. Storytelling doesn't happen in isolation, its process is really interesting, really complex and should be celebrated."Everyone in the room introduced themselves, identified themselves by sharing names, preferred pronouns, ancestry so we could locate each other in relation to ourselves, be aware of similarities and be aware of the different communities that we wouldn't often share space with.
Eva Mwakichako, Wendy Martin, Zainab Syed, Irina Rey and Ida Novakovich
Zainab, who facilitated the meeting, introduced herself:
"Hello. I'm originally from Pakistan - best country in the world! My last name's Syed which denotes I'm from the family of the prophet Mohammed - Salaam, salaam - my family actually came from Saudi Arabia and Yemen and migrated to the sub-continent. My grandparents are from Pakistan and my grandfather was a Hindu convert who became a Sufi saint! So religion is a huge part of my identity. I am a practicing Muslim, I grew up in Romania in Wales, in Yemen, in the US... I've been here for about five years and I'm moving to Sydney on Wednesday!"
"We're now going to build on everything that has gone before. Aunty Beverly, thank you so much for starting us off and really grounding us in this place - and Emele for extending that knowledge. I'm always astounded by how traditional cultures from across the world are so interconnected because they rely on ancient wisdom that comes from the land they grew on. And when we get to know each other and the traditions we come from, we realise that so much that connects us, there's so much wisdom collectively in this room. We're now going to do a Think In which is like a conversation. I'll guide you, we'll'll ask questions but we really want to hear from you. You are the experts of your own lived experience. "
HOW DO YOU GATHER?
With women from your own cultural background? Your neighbourhood? What activities do you like to do? What do you talk about? How do you support each other?
In Africa we say "It takes a village to raise a child".
In the absence of extended family support we create new "villages", with friends.
We gather to share stories, memories and histories, to listen to and learn from our elders. To connect with and celebrate our cultures, to hold traditional wisdom and ways and to learn new ways.
We gather over food - in our own homes or outside our homes - food is always involved.
What topics would you like to engage with or hear about?
Is there something, specific to your culture, you would like to showcase or share?
Mental Health: Depression and anxiety in women and dealing with our children's mental health.
Parenting: Having the courage to try new ways of parenting. Raising girls to be strong women and teaching them about respectful and healthy relationships.
Belonging. Integration into Australian society for refugees and migrants including learning about culture and history of First Nations and meeting First Nations women; places to share knowledge and histories of home - both country of origin and new country.
Learning and skills development: Financial literacy - in a world where men control the money and have the power - was the most urgent. Health literacy - hormones, cycles, reproductive health, sexuality and menopause is also primary.CULTURAL ACTIVITIES
Music and Dance- classical music, live music, culturally specific music and dance
Storytelling events - true stories, sharing stories is empowering.
Food events and learning about food from other cultures
Language - learning greetings in many languages. Share, swap, teach, hear about the history of many cultural languages
Cultural fashion shows
Good, clean comedy
Conversations and workshops exploring important topics - micro-economics, divorce, domestic abuse, single parents, homelessness, sharing stories and culture.
On a blustery and wet Saturday 38 women gathered at the Canning River Eco Centre for our first Think In. TJ Mia and Alta Winmar from Sister Kate's Home Kids Aboriginal Corporation welcomed us with an empowerment and healing ritual. Because of the weather Alta created her beautiful installation on the Eco Centre's wide verandah, overlooking the Canning River - instead of on the grass, open to the sky. We were welcomed with stories of place and, one by one, were smoked and cleansed, a profound, uplifting and generous offer that opened hearts and lifted spirits. The women, who came from many places and many cultures loved this introduction, this connection to Noongar culture and said they'd like many more opportunities to get such real experiences of Indigenous culture.
Liesbeth Goedhart led the Think In with women from Indonesia, Lithuania, Turkey, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, Bulgaria, India, Jamaica, Singapore, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Australia. The first question was "What do you choose to do in your free time?" Answers were called out and included Tai Kwondo, dancing, sewing, making costumes, photography, calligraphy, choir singing, Lego therapy for autistic children and from one table"No free time!"
Next, what does HOME mean? Stability, a sanctuary, a safe place,. Nowhere physical , a feeling rather than a place - FAMILY is HOME. A family of faith creates a home. Home here is a connection to home there, speaking dialect here, nurturing culture here. Home is the people you love. Everywhere and nowhere.
When we got onto arts and culture, many women wanted to be able to participate and not just watch. Singing, dancing, and gathering with food and sharing food. Multi-sensory events. Being immersed in culture, sharing culture and being open to other cultures. BEING OURSELVES not just someone's mother or daughter or wife. Activities and events for children, and in particular teenagers who are often overlooked.
Language is an important issue, even though most women in this room are fluent in English. Greetings are very important for connection and would be great to have them displayed in many languages and to look at other language systems such as sign language, body language and a language of the heart.
Topics of great interest included: Sustainable living; Mental health; Menopause and women's health; Defining beauty; Relationships; Domestic violence; a focus on indigenous history, culture and language to provide it with respect and recognition.
Our first conversation | consultation was with women at Wadjuk Northside Aboriginal Community Group in Balga, Perth.
We were warmly welcomed by Len Yarran and introduced to the women who meet every Monday at the Centre. Jeannie, Margaret, Di, Shirley, Wendy, Aunty Pat, Lyn, Eric and Len. Uncle Len gave the Welcome to Country, acknowledging the desire to come together, to listen from the heart and to heal all Australians and the Country to which we belong.
Wendy introduced our new Half The Sky project: starting with a series of Think ins, workshops and events and leading up to an annual gathering of the voices, ideas and work of women across Western Australia. A festival celebrating the ordinary and extraordinary achievements of women.
What would you like to see? How would you like to share stories, your culture?
This painting by Arrente woman Kitty Pultara tells the story of women gathering and being together. It acknowledges the importance of women in culture – in your culture and in all cultures.
Ideas offered and shared included the need to involve both elders in remote communities and the young people; to celebrate women leaders and role models and the many unsung grassroots heroines who hold their communities together. And to not forget those who have gone: the first female resistance fighter, BALBUK must be honoured.
The most important issues and topics were
MOTHERS and COUNTRY
STOLEN GENERATION now the LOST GENERATION
MOTHERS and LOSS OF MOTHERS
COUNTRY and LOSS OF COUNTRY
EVERYDAY STORIES from all walks of life leading to understanding the stresses and challenges we all face.
Thank you Shirley, Di, Sharyn, Len, Aunty Pat, Margaret, Kira, Lyn, Sarah, Anne, Jeannie, Delma, Eric.