In Yolngu law, which most of my electorate remains subject to, men are not to interfere with the governance of pregnancy.
Pregnancy is the symbolic power faced by women in my society, (inaudible) and political equality. Men and women decision makers meet at a level of a (inaudible). That is why I have engaged an (inaudible) to consult around this matter.
With the short time frame pursued for this bill I have only been able to receive formal feedback from one women’s (inaudible). They met independently in February. Before I talk about their position I must tell you a little about Yolngu society.
To us, sex is like a ritual or relational commitment. Traditional marriage happens with agreement between families and with consummation. This is a mutual agreement and consummation is by consent only. It is not by force.
This connection between sex and a committed relationships means sex cannot be a free thing without education and discipline.
Yolngu relationships also do not support promiscuous behaviour often represented in Anglo or western culture. Promiscuity is a behaviour introduced into Yolngu society and it badly affects our otherwise closed and caring kinship structure.
I believe this structure, this cultural outlook is the background to the women’s forum’s resistance to medical abortion. The women do not want more availability of abortion. They do not want to encourage the philosophy of free sex. They want to promote the knowledge that sex needs to be respectful, caring and responsible to the closed relationship it promotes.
Plainly sex should also be treated with respect because it is also by nature about human reproduction. Yolgnu leadership takes this matter seriously. The integrity of our society depends on it. Dhuwa and Yirritja and Yothu Yindi, separations of governing powers depend on restrictions on the people we can have sexual relationships with.
The strength of our Marrauen Rringgit alliance connecting Yalpa Mari with the related clan alliances that protect the territorial and governing integrity of our estates also depend on good marriages. Even our genetic integrity depends on our proper flow of genes which depends on marriage between proper kin. There is an advantage for a child who is born through the right skin, right kinship and clan relationships. He or she will be endowed with spiritual marr or power. They will be strong in their integrity and have the world open to them in terms of clear rights.
The women’s forum did not want to expand the availability of abortion because it could promote promiscuity and wreck our good marriage culture. More strongly, the women’s forum did not support abortion at all. Abortion is not really required in our society; this is because a child born in any circumstances can be adopted into an appropriate family, even in cases where people have a sexual relationship with the wrong kin. Shame is not on the child. Instead, they are placed into a family with the right kin relationships.
For example, a dhuwa has a sexual relationship with another dhuwa person, which is incest and illegal. In the past the man might have been judicially killed, leaving the child to be adopted by a yirritja man, which is correct. Today we do not judicially kill; the children continue to be adopted into right kin relationships.
Nonetheless, it was identified by a women’s group that some situations might arise where abortion is used by some. In those cases they prefer this happens away from community, prying eyes and potential offensive situations where a person is recovering from the process within a crowded family housing situation.
The forum also identified concerns about supervision of medical abortion, which was not an issue with surgical abortion. The Yolngu experience of surgical abortion is that it happens in a hospital with recovery also happening in the hospital. Medical abortion, as so far discussed, is being presented as happening around community medical clinics, and the miscarriage and recovery happening at home. The forum was also concerned that children might be able to access an abortion without parental consent. The expectation of Yolngu leadership is that they are involved in such decision-making for a juvenile.
Here I will quote the independent consultation notes.
For young people in this situation in Yolngu culture, any female relatives are able and should be involved in providing care and guidance.
There was discussion about the way the family members’ responsibility for their children are important and involve providing support and encouragement, talking to them about these issues and providing education, care and looking after one another.
For issues such as pregnancy and childbirth, or how many children a couple will have, we have a responsibility within our family to talk about this. These responsibilities do not end when someone reaches 16 or 18 years old. This involvement continues in adult children’s lives.
Motives for the medical abortion technology was also raised as a concern. Is it an attempt to lower Indigenous birth rates? If it is not, will it be used in this way by individual hospital or clinic staff? This probably sounds excessive to an outsider but since the intervention we have heard and experienced all sorts of racist things. The women’s forum ended with an agreed suggestion that it would be better to give a group like the independent group of female elders funds to run a program with a reproductive education and discipline focus to prevent young people getting pregnant.
These were results from one community’s (inaudible) women’s forum in my electorate. I will not feel informed until another (inaudible) could also provide feedback in this respect. I have received no other formal communication from my electorate. The bill was not raised by members of my electorate at the community forum in Nhulunbuy two weeks ago. There has been some weary and non-committal feedback towards to bill from individual health workers but nothing formal to me.
The end point is that I require more time to properly consult my electorate. I will vote no if the decision is voiced during this sitting period based on the formal feedback I have received.
Bill was carried 20 Ayes 4 Noes