Empowering Indigenous women on Instagram and changing a national conversation
26 August 2019 at 8:25 am
Marlee Silva is the founder of Tiddas 4 Tiddas, a grassroots movement sharing the untold stories of powerful Indigenous women and changing the conversation around Indigenous Australia.
Tiddas 4 Tiddas was born out of a desire to keep up the momentum around the 2018 NAIDOC theme, “because of her, we can”.
Kamilaroi woman Marlee Silva and her sister Keely started the platform as a way to share the untold stories of powerful past, present, and emerging Indigenous women.
Silva had no idea how quickly the platform would grow, or what kind of impact it would have in empowering Indigenous women and transforming the conversation around the history and future of Indigenous Australians.
Silva and Keely now host a podcast for the Mamamia Network, and speak at social change events around the country, educating and sparking conversations with mainstream audiences on Australia’s past, and how we can move forward as one.
In this week’s Changemaker, Silva discusses how to use Instagram for social good, the challenges of what it means to be an Australian and the importance of switching off.
How did the idea for your platform come about?
The theme for NAIDOC week last year was “because of her, we can”. We saw this massive focus on our women and saw some stories emerge that had otherwise not had a spotlight on them in our history.
It blew me away because I know the stories of the women in my family and in particular of my grandmother and my great grandmother which are really powerful for me, but there’s a huge amount of women left in the shadows. Women who were so influential in the civil rights movement for us, who on top of being on the frontline would also go home and make dinner for their five kids. And 12 months to celebrate that isn’t enough, especially because there are so many small stories emerging all the time in the present day.
I’m a writer by trade, and am really passionate about the ability stories have to influence people positively. I knew I could launch this platform quite easily on social media. I didn’t think we’d have a podcast or be collaborating with really cool upcoming brands eight months later.
What were the challenges of starting a platform on social media?
Social media is so unpredictable and you can’t guarantee that people will buy into what you’re doing. You could spend thousands of dollars on Facebook advertising and get nothing in return if people aren’t invested in your content. Our growth has been 100 per cent organic, and I’ve never paid for an ad, which is a reflection of the fact that we had the right people backing us from the beginning and that what we’re doing doesn’t exist anywhere else or isn’t captured in the way that we’re capturing it.
It also didn’t really feel like a challenge because I had no expectations. The challenge we are faced with now is deciding where to go from here. It’s those sorts of solutions which I’m looking for, but figuring out where to go next is really exciting. More and more people are interested in collaborating with us, and it’ll be about deciding what the best option for us is and who we want to be involved with, and also how much we are able to take on.
How has the conversation changed since you started your platform?
The biggest change has been in the demographic of people who follow us. It went from being a lot of people that we knew personally and our extended networks, to a thriving population of non-Indigenous people getting on board, which has really been a pleasant surprise. The conversation from them is all about education and how vital what we’re doing is for their own journeys around them navigating what it means to be an Australian, which is really cool.
We’ve seen a particular influx since the first of the two Adam Goodes documentaries came out, The Final Quarter, which I think is incredible but not surprising. It is having such a great influence on discussions we’re having about Australian identity and the state of the country, and posing the question of: Is Australia racist?
As well as that, we have the podcast with the Mamamia Network, which is a white organisation and the demographic is mostly mums. They’re very much a growing population in our following who are very empathetic and very vulnerable and don’t have an ego, and are willing to be taught and are often quite sorry about what they don’t know. But we just say they don’t have to be sorry, it’s just great they want to learn and be a part of it.
What impact has your organisation had on Indigenous women, particularly young Indigenous women?
They love being able to share their stories with the platform, and I think they have a sense of ownership over it, which is what we wanted. We wanted them to influence the direction that we go in and decide what we post about, and what matters. I love getting messages from the teenage girls and young women because I remember myself at that age and how desperately I would have benefited from something like this.
What are you hoping to achieve in your career?
The underlying messaging in a lot of what we’re doing and in all the stories I tell is for all Australians to consider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and the issues that community faces and the successes that we see as something that impacts all Australians.
I would love for everyone to feel connected to all parts of who we are, because it’s the only way that we can have a brighter future. We only make up 3 per cent of the population, so we need the other 97 per cent to work with us. It’s about coming together, and in a tangible sense it’s about reaching as many people as possible.
This is a long-term goal but I would love to be able to run an empowerment program, bringing all the women who benefit from our online content together in real life. At the moment we do in-school stuff and I’m a guest speaker at a lot of events, but I’d love my own thing.
If money wasn’t an object it would be great to have an app that had all the education resources that we’ve shared, so women can apply for a job that we post or a workshop.
I am thinking big, but everything that has already happened is so much bigger than I ever thought, so I feel like I can do anything now.
What would you say your favourite part of your job is?
Being able to connect to women – women full stop, black, white, whatever – and inspire them every day and change conversations.
Social media is such a big part of our lives now, do you find it hard to switch off at the end of the day?
It is very hard. I’ve actually just been overseas for four weeks and it was very hard to not look at my phone. I have tried to implement a strict rule of getting home, going straight to the gym and then not looking at my phone for the rest of the night unless I have to answer my emergency phone call. It’s hard to maintain, especially because people want to do conference calls at weird hours.
It’s so important to be strict about though because if you don’t, you can’t recharge. We’re all becoming more aware of how damaging computers in our pockets can be.
Do you have any book or podcast recommendations for us?
I listen to The New York Times’s The Daily because it’s just like the best way to understand what’s happening in the world. And I’m also a massive fan of the Shameless podcast because it’s a pop-culture podcast and I can indulge and listen about the Kardashians, and I don’t feel guilty because they do such a good job of making it sound really intelligent.