Narelda Jacobs: “Stop Asking Women To Work For Free On International Women’s Day”

This International Women's Day, Narelda Jacobs shares her thoughts.
Naredla Jacobs

Women are empowered by being valued, so stop asking us to work for free.

Paying women for their time, skill, expertise, experience and service must be the starting point to addressing women’s economic empowerment. First Nations women know this most of all. My tiddas (sisters) will agree with me and the experts will back us.

This International Women’s Day (on March 8), the UN is calling for investment in women to “accelerate progress”. The UN says gender equality remains the greatest human rights challenge and, disproportionately, millions of women and girls around the world are living below the poverty line.

Indigenous women are overwhelmingly over-represented when it comes to poverty statistics. The situation in Australia is no different from the rest of the world, and the policy and decision makers know it.

Our incredible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner June Oscar AO even led a national summit Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) last year to help address gender justice and equality.

Recommendations were made by First Nations women to accelerate economic empowerment, and all governments across the country were called upon to take action.

While systemic and cultural change might come from such a summit, it can take a long time. So while the powers that be work on this change, I can tell you right now that if you are a small business, a local council, a big corporate, or even a charity that is intending to ask a woman to do something for you, then you must be willing to pay her.

You need to pay her even if she is an activist for her people and even if she is sharing cultural knowledge and practices with you.

Narelda Jacobs wears Camilla.
Narelda Jacobs. (Credit: Getty )

There is a strange idea out there that if an Aboriginal woman is advocating for her people then she should do it for free. Chuck that idea out right now.

We didn’t get to a point in our lives where we are invited to speak to organisations about matters important to us, our cultural heritage and identity without hard work.

There is another strange idea out there that payment can come in the form of exposure. Last time I checked, I couldn’t eat exposure, it didn’t pay my bills or keep a roof over my head or that of any of my tiddas.

As First Nations women in this country, we are already fighting to have our existence valued. We are already fighting to overcome racism, systemic barriers and challenges, and the significant gaps in health, education, employment, justice and housing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

We are still fighting to have our voices heard. Don’t make us fight to be paid for work you’ve asked us to do as well.

If you’re asking a woman to speak and share knowledge with you this International Women’s Day, be ready to pay her for it. Stop asking us to work for free.

If you’re asking a First Nations woman—or indeed any First Nations person—to attend, speak or contribute in some way during NAIDOC Week, National Reconciliation Week or the anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, be ready to pay them. Stop asking us to work for free.

Of course, people will have other motivations for participating and many generous humans will give their time and expertise for free – but that should be their choice.

You don’t get to hang our artworks in your homes for nothing. So why would you get to hang our thoughts, ideas, beliefs and knowledge in your minds for free?

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