Scholarship Programme for Indigenous Women

Indigenous Women gain increased leadership capacity and financial empowerment

The Challenges

European settlement of Australia devastated the way of life and caused numerous deaths of the Indigenous Peoples who had lived on the continent for tens of thousands of years.  Despite modern Australia being a relatively wealthy and tolerant society, Aboriginal Australians continue to suffer significant disadvantage in every aspect of life. 

What did the Sisters do?

The sisters established the Good Shepherd Reconciliation Scholarship in 2007.  This programme aims to support the building of leadership capacity in the Indigenous community and make a significant positive difference in the lives of individual Indigenous women. 

Who is the major target group?

This Scholarship is open to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from 18 – 56 years of age who are eligible for or enrolled in a course of study leading to a certificate, diploma or degree at an accredited Australian University, Tertiary College or TAFE and has a commitment to indigenous education, health, arts, law, science, human rights or justice.

The Scholarship Program has an intentionally wide scope.  It offers support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who face significant financial, social or geographic challenges in beginning or continuing higher levels of education. Women of any age who are preparing for or undertaking tertiary study at any level and in any field are eligible.

Each year, the Scholarship Programme will offer several grants-in-aid up to a fixed amount, to assist with expenses associated with studying and/or the cost of additional support to overcome other barriers to successful study, including child care, transport and books.

Women who feel an affinity with Good Shepherd values are especially encouraged to apply but the scholarships are not restricted to women who are currently part of or known to the Good Shepherd network.

Who benefits and how do they benefit?

The women themselves say that the Scholarship often makes the difference between continuing, or having to opt out of education, due to the circumstances of their lives. The funds assist the women to buy text books, stationery, laptops and internet connection and provide assistance for transport costs, childcare support, living expenses and accommodation.  There are wide benefits, too.  As a result of achievement of higher education, the women are able to exercise leadership within their indigenous communities and the wider Australian community.  It increases their opportunity for financial empowerment.

Who manages/administers the programme?

The Mary MacKillop Foundation administers the Good Shepherd Reconciliation Scholarships as one component within a larger Scholarship Programme.  A Good Shepherd sister and a lay Mission Partner provide support within the process. Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand funds the Scholarships.

How many people are assisted?

Each year approximately 15 to 20 students are successful in taking up or continuing with the Scholarships and some are assisted for a number of years. The Scholarship is applicable only to women.

Motivation and Core Values

One core value of Good Shepherd is Inclusion.  This programme aims to assist and empower women and girls, especially those most marginalised. This is a powerful driver in the awarding of the Scholarships.

How is the programme evaluated?

The Mary MacKillop Foundation provides an account of half-year results for the students.  At the beginning of each year the Good Shepherd representatives meet with the Foundation staff to review and approve continuing students and new applications for that calendar year.

What outcomes are achieved?

A high proportion of Scholarship recipients complete tertiary studies.

Some examples of 2016 students:

Age        Area of Study

36          M. of Science (Nursing)

60          B. of Fine Arts (Hons)

21          B. of Arts / Law

21          B. of Indigenous Knowledge

27          B. of Medicine & Surgery

47          Dip. Science, Engineering & Technology

32          Post Grad. Dip. of Indigenous Policy Development

38          Dip. in Accounting

How does it contribute towards UN Sustainable Development Goals?

The Scholarship programme contributes particularly to SDG 4 - Quality Education, SDG 5 - Gender Equality, and SDG10 - Reduced Inequalities.  It has other benefits as well.  A higher education may enable women to obtain higher paid and more fulfilling work, and both they and their families benefit.  In addition, it increases the ability of women to exercise positive leadership in the community, which is an important factor for society in general and for the indigenous community in particular.

What are the obstacles, difficulties, challenges?

  • The programme needs to be flexible and remain open to changes or deferments of study when a participant’s circumstances change, often unexpectedly. 

  • Obtaining a student’s reports and papers from her mentoring teachers often involves significant follow up.

  • Publicising the Scholarships widely without attracting a large number of applications, many of which would have to be refused.

What would make the project more effective?

Increased financial capacity to be able to offer more Scholarships.