Walking Alongside First Nations Women
In Australia, MWIA partners with organisations that work together with women towards financial independence and sustainable economies.
Following are two stories of female empowerment, supported by MWIA partners Enterprise Partnerships WA and CatholicCare Wilcannia Forbes…
PIRIWA OP SHOP AND ENTERPRISE HUB
Piriwa is a female-led community organisation in Balgo (Wirrimanu), one of Australia’s most
remote First Nations communities. Young women in Balgo face overwhelming social and environmental barriers to education, training, and employment, and most available opportunities do not meet the needs of First Nations women. Piriwa aims to overcome these barriers and improve the well-being of local women by engaging them in culturally-based enterprise development while nurturing connection to country.
Monica Njamme is one of four local women leading Piriwa and is involved in the organisation’s op shop and enterprise hub, both located in the town centre. Profits from the op shop are used to fund on-country trips, during which women collect bush materials to make natural products like soaps, balms, and medicine. As tourism increases in Balgo, these bush products will be sold to visitors, enabling the women to gain financial independence and economic dignity while promoting their cultural identity and well-being.
When leading bush trips, Monica sees firsthand how the experience impacts all who participate. Being on country together connects female elders with disenfranchised young women from Balgo, creating a secure space for them to learn from each other. The sharing of cultural knowledge and stories continues back at the enterprise hub, where the women work together to create various bush products and place-based artwork.
Monica is optimistic about the organisation’s future. Its impact on the economic inclusion and empowerment of local women is apparent to all in Balgo, as is its positive contribution to First Nations health, and social and emotional wellbeing. Monica is immensely proud that Piriwa is rapidly becoming a hub of work and activity, where First Nations women thrive and develop the skills required to sustain a business, explore meaningful employment opportunities, and are supported to launch their own enterprise initiatives – all while strengthening connection to culture and country.
“It’s good we get to take young girls out from Balgo to collect bush tucker and learn from the elders and older people. I like to take the young girls out bush and show them bush plants for medicine and bush soaps for when you are cold or sick, then we collect the plants and can make them at Piriwa.” – Monica Njamme
WILCANNIA MARKETPLACE HAIR SALON
Emma*, a lifelong resident of Wilcannia in outback New South Wales, often experiences great difficulty accessing basic goods and services due to the lack of public transport between her hometown and the larger regional centre of Broken Hill, over 200 kilometres away.
When Emma’s friends told her that a hair salon named ‘Cooee for Cuts’ had just opened in town, she was excited to learn more. Along with her friends, Emma got a new haircut while chatting with hairdresser Juliann and other customers, all of whom were thrilled to finally have a hair salon in town.
The hair salon is part of the larger Wilcannia Marketplace, a social enterprise hub designed to create employment opportunities and fill service gaps within the local community. The hub also includes the town’s only coffee shop and will soon open a recycled fashion boutique.
The salon is open three days per month and is regularly booked out. Consequently, Juliann needed a trainee assistant, and Emma, with her natural ability to connect to people, was a perfect fit. Employment opportunities like this are uncommon in Wilcannia; many must leave town to find work. This is particularly difficult for the large First Nations community of Wilcannia, many of whom feel a deep connection to country.
For Emma, meaningful economic participation will enable her to be independent and make decisions about her life and circumstances, which many women never experience. Through her new position at the salon, she will also serve as a positive role model to other First Nations women living in Wilcannia.
The hair salon has transformed the community, lifted spirits and created a sense of well-being. As the business continues to grow, it is hoped that more employment opportunities will become available to women like Emma.
Author: Kirstin Del Beato, MWIA Projects & Partnerships Manager