Women of colour find their voice at Sweatshop

Sweatshop Women. Photo by Bethany Pal.

Sweatshop Women at Sydney Writers’ Festival 2019. Photo by Bethany Pal.

Winnie Dunn is a Tongan-Australian writer and arts worker from Mt Druitt. As the General Manager of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement, she’s determined to continue facilitating a creative space for women of colour, by women of colour.

Can you tell us a bit about Sweatshop?

Sweatshop is a literacy movement based in Western Sydney, which is devoted to empowering people of colour (POC) and our communities through reading, writing, and critical thinking. Our movement provides research, training, mentoring and employment opportunities for emerging and established writers, and arts practitioners, from POC backgrounds.

What role does Sweatshop play in empowering women of colour?

I believe Sweatshop is vital in our grassroots efforts to provide training and employment to writers of colour. Our writing workshops are incredibly important because they are an autonomous space for people of colour, by people of colour – a practice that is usually denied to us by those in power.

Since I facilitate the Women of Colour Collective, I have seen first-hand how a completely autonomous creative space for women of colour, by women of colour, can transform our way of thinking, of reading, and of being in the world. We are able to have intercultural dialogues away from the white gaze and provide constructive criticism in a safe space, to better our writing.

Sweatshop also partner with organisations including Diversity Arts Australia, SBS Voices, Red Room Poetry, Meanjin, Overland, Affirm Press, Sydney Writers’ Festival, Emerging Writers’ Festival and others, in order to have a wide reach within the Australian public, and to show them POC writers do exist, and we are incredibly gifted writers in our own right.

I teach the women of colour I work with that through reading, writing, and critical thinking there is an alternative to patriarchy, to racism, to imperialism, to capitalism and to white supremacy. If we are truly brave enough to do the work. And women of colour continuously show me that we are more than brave enough.

Can you tell us about the Sweatshop Women Collective and the anthology – Sweatshop Women: Volume One­ that was launched at Sydney Writers’ Festival in 2019.

Sweatshop Women is an exciting and contemporary collection of prose and poetry written by women from Indigenous, migrant, and refugee backgrounds. On every level from the writing, to the editing, to the design – everything in Sweatshop Women is done solely by women of colour.

Sweatshop Women: Volume One was funded by Create NSW and launched at the Sydney Writers’ Festival last year to a full capacity crowd. We sold out our book at the festival too. This shows me that Australia is more than ready and more than keen to see, read, and purchase completely autonomous anthologies by women of colour. If anyone is interested in Sweatshop Women, they can purchase it from the Sweatshop website here.

Within the literary space, what is your dream for women of colour in Australia?

My dream is that we stand in solidarity with our brothers of colour in arts leadership positions and on bookshelves across the country telling our own stories. I dream that we are the examples of true intersectionality because we know what space to take up and when to stay behind the scenes. I dream of the day we abolish patriarchy and white feminism.

This year the theme for International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual. What do you think we can do collectively to help create a gender equal world?

We need to stop thinking gender is our only form of inequality. That’s an incredibly ignorant white feminist take. If you don’t believe me, you need to read White Tears / Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad. We need to be intersectional. We need to be anti-racist. We need to be anti-patriarchal. We need to be anti-capitalist. Otherwise it’s a global countdown to the apocalypse.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on Sweatshop Women: Volume Two, which will be out this year, so keep an eye out because it is going to be a really incredible volume. I am also working on my own novel.

For more information about Sweatshop check out its website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Image: Sweatshop Women at Sydney Writers’ Festival 2019. Photo by Bethany Pal.