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Friday, 09 March 2018 11:11

Mentoring Tiwi Islander women into leadership

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0318SrAnneGardiner 150International Women’s Day was celebrated in Rome this year with a talk from Australia’s Sr Anne Gardiner on the work being done to support indigenous women into leadership positions in the remote island community, Vatican News reports.

Australia’s Embassy to the Holy See sponsored the event and invited Sr Anne, a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, who was recognised as the 2017 Senior Australian of the Year because of her work with the Tiwi island people.

Sr Anne first travelled to the islands, off Australia’s Northern Territory coast, in 1953.
Since then, she has devoted her life to the community, as school principle, setting up support groups and founding a museum to showcase indigenous history and culture.

In her International Women’s Day talk, Sr Anne recounted the history of the mission there, started by Frenchman Francis Xavier Gsell, who arrived in 1911 and learned the local language to be able to teach them about Christianity. It remained a Catholic mission until 1970, when the Tiwi people were given self-determination, but, unlike other parts of Australia, they asked the sisters and the priest to remain on islands.

“We missionaries could be blamed for many things”, Sr Anne says, “but I believe that the foundation set by the early missionaries has helped that place to be as strong as it is today”.

She also talked about the problems of alcohol abuse and marijuana, which, she said, “is wrecking the place” as increasingly young people are trying it. The Church runs programmes to try and care for addicts, but she says the problem is getting worse and there is a lack of employment opportunities for young people.

Sr Anne also spoke about the challenges of mentoring Tiwi women into leadership positions, first in the school and also in the museum which she set up and has now handed over to the local community. While the women initially resisted the idea of running the museum, she says they have had “remarkable results”.

Women, she says, “have more stickability than the men do, and I want to see those women succeed”.

 

This story was first published by Vatican News.

PHOTO: Vatican News/David Hancock.