Why it’s a terrible idea for Australia to send its refugees to Cambodia

In the past year, 24,300 refugees applied for asylum in Australia. Yet as one of the most seemingly desirable places for refugees to seek asylum, it is ultimately one of the worst places for them to go. Australia may strike a deal with the Cambodian government to resettle up to 1,000 refugees in Nauru to Cambodia, with one source stating that the Australian Government will “pay almost anything” to make it happen.  Human rights organizations have criticized this approach because of the fact that Cambodia is one of the poorest Asian countries, and that it is still trying to recover from years of civil war.

But conditions in Nauru aren’t much better. Nauru is a remote island country in Micronesia that has been home — if you can call it that — to thousands of refugees who attempted to seek asylum in Australia. Why is Nauru taking Australia’s asylum seekers?

In 2001 and 2002, Middle Eastern refugees fleeing persecution in their home countries attempted to seek asylum in Australia. They were met with attitudes of fear and resentment. The Prime Minister, who was up for re-election at the time, framed the asylum seekers as potential terrorists, warning, “there is a possibility some people having links with organizations that we don’t want in this country might use the path of an asylum seeker in order to get here.” To further vilify the asylum seekers, he contended (without any supporting documents) that the refugees had thrown their children from boats into the water on their way to seeking asylum.

Viewing the refugees as undeserving, hostile, and foreign to Western attitudes about the importance of family made it easy and excusable for Australia to sign refugee-swapping agreements with nations in the remote Pacific. Under the agreement, Australia paid Nauru to take its refugees. Conditions in Nauru were, and are, desperate. According to one refugee, the camp in Nauru should not be called a camp: “We should call it a big prison. It is fenced like a zoo.” One prominent Australian lawyer called it “indistinguishable from the detention of people in Guantanamo Bay but for this difference the people being held in Guantanamo Bay are suspected of serious offenses.”

Refugees who seek asylum from their countries of origin have already been victimized. According to the 1951 UN Refugee convention, people are considered refugees if they have a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” Over the past 15 years, many refugees seeking asylum in Australia are re-victimized when they are condemned to the conditions of camps in Nauru. With uncertain and unstable conditions in Cambodia, which is still recovering from a civil war that killed millions of its own people, they are bound to be victimized a third time. Australia has a responsibility to the international community, and to the refugees that they promised to protect in 1951, to keep refugees safe and to preserve their freedom.

Mary Thom June 3, 1944—April 26, 2013 Author, Feminist, Editor

This letter was published in Women’s Media Center’s memorial to Mary Thom on May 29, 2013, here.


The feminist community lost Mary Thom, an invaluable writer, thinker, and leader in the women’s movement. While I never met Thom, I worked with her on my first feature for WMC on anti-Islam advertising, the discourse of islamophobia, and several hate crimes that occurred last summer. With her guidance, I wrote my first feature-length piece on orientalism in post-9/11 advertising, a topic I never felt I had an outlet for. When Thom asked my social security number to put an invoice in for my fee (I had not asked to be paid), she said, “we don’t think promoting women’s voices in the media should include exploiting women writers.” Agreed.

Thom dedicated the ending of her life editing features at WMC, a non-profit organization with a goal to increase women’s influence in the media, and shape the way news is reported and issues are discussed.

WMC’s goal of shaping the way news is reported, particularly on violence against women, is particularly prescient today. Journalists at WMC and news consumers castigated CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville rape trial after the network sympathized with the two men who were found guilty of raping a young woman and emphasized the victim’s alleged alcohol consumption.

And despite the fact that rapes are often uncovered by the news all over the world, news consumers took to social media and traditional media outlets at the news of that six men brutally gang-raped a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi, India.

At the same time that news consumers and mainstream outlets are increasingly covering violence against women and issues facing women (including The Atlantic’s new Sexes Channel), a crop of media monitoring organizations have emerged, including Miss Representation’s #NotBuyingIt campaign, that point out sexism in ad campaigns, news media, and journalism.

Thom died at a moment when mainstream media continues to castigate women, but when women and news consumers refuse to stand by idly and be castigated. She died after helping create the foundations of the conversation on women shaping the news at Ms. Magazine, and at the beginning of a time when the average news consumer can share their resounding opposition to sexism and violence against women through social media.

While it is impossible to measure the impact of women’s participation in news with how we talk about issues related to women, Thom’s death comes at a time of enormous potential. As an editor for two prolific feminist publications, and the author of two books, Thom leaves the feminist and journalist communities with a challenge: continue to empower women who work in media, and continue to empower women through fair and equal news coverage.

A Woman Saved By the Vagina Monologues Considers 1 BN Rising

This story was originally published by Vitamin W on February 12, 2013, here. 


Like many women, discovering The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler, and V-Day changed my life. A close friend told me about the Monologues, which I read cover to cover on Valentines Day of 2007. I was sixteen years old, a disempowered witness in a household plagued by violence. Privy to the pressures that young women face from the media, from men, from billboards, from magazines, and from a patriarchal society, combined with watching the physical and emotional abuse against women in my family, I had never considered the power of my femininity or of my vagina. After reading The Vagina Monologues, my reality was different: my role in the world had changed, my position as a young woman changed, and my perception of myself as an activist — an empowered, smart, capable, woman. It saved me.

Two friends and I were shaken to life by the Monologues on rape as a tactic of war, a male savior called Bob, and especially a monologue called “My Short Skirt,” which asserts, “I declare these streets, any streets, my vagina’s country.” We decided to perform the monologue at an open-mic night at our high school, but were told to omit the stanza that said the word “vagina.” As a 16 year old, I had yet to develop my feminist consciousness or truly understand the systemic roots of gender inequity; I had realized, however, that this was some kind of injustice — that it was right to perform the monologue in its entirety against the wishes of our school’s administration.

For that insubordinate act, as the administration called it, I was suspended from school.

In the ensuing months and years, I met Eve Ensler, discussed the whole ordeal on The Today Show, and attended the tenth anniversary of V-Day in New Orleans. I went on to study at Connecticut College, where I applied a gendered lens to my liberal arts education, exploring the question “Where are the women?” in everything I studied. I acted — as an actor and activist — in four years of The Vagina Monologues, and produced the show my senior year with a cast of 90 intelligent, complex, passionate, and compassionate women. The show and all of its implications has been the guiding light in what could have been a very dark world for me.  Finding V-day and developing a feminist consciousness brought purpose to my life, and framed my existence in a way that was meaningful for the first time.


Now I can add Ensler’s new project, One Billion Rising, to my list of major life influences.

What started 15 years ago as a one-woman, off-Broadway play called The Vagina Monologues has today inspired the One Billion Rising global movement. The name represents the number of women in the world who will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. The idea is that on February 14, 2013, one billion people will rise, dance, and revolt in 202 countries around the world to demand the end of violence against women and girls.

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Where Women are Headed in 2013: Philanthropy, Activism, Advertising, and Tech

This story was originally published by Vitamin W on January 16, 2013, here. 


This article is the second in a series about thought leaders’ predictions for women in various fields in the New Year.

“There’s a benefit to including women, there’s a benefit to considering women, and there’s a benefit to having women included in everything,” said Rachel Sklar, one of the women that Forbes calls a woman changing the world. Sklar, co-founder of Change the Ratio, and other women in the fields of philanthropy, advertising, and tech are the movers and shakers who are attempting to add women to the equation. VITAMIN W spoke with some of these women, and asked them for their predictions and hopes for women in the new year.

4. Philanthropy & Activism

While women have always been at the forefront of activism, they are only recently being recognized as philanthropists. Indeed, in a November New York Times article, Women’s Philanthropy Institute director Debra J. Mesch said, “Women don’t think of themselves as philanthropists….when you think of philanthropists, you think about Warren Buffett and Andrew Carnegie. You think about all those older white men.”

Yet between Melinda Gates’ work providing contraception to the poorest countries in the world with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Oprah Winfrey’s work empowering women and children through the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, it is clear that not only are women becoming more prominent philanthropists, but that their philanthropy is directly affecting women on the ground. Giving to women and girls is on the rise; a 2009 study showed that giving to women and girls increased by 24% while overall giving increased by 14%.

In 2013, the myth that women are not philanthropists will continue to dissipate. VITAMIN W spoke with Susan Celia Swan, executive director of V-Day, the global movement dedicated to eradicating violence against women. Swan noted that the women working with V-Day are taking a creative approach to activism, which is directly tied to philanthropy. Unlike “armchair activists,” or those who comment blindly on atrocities without truly understanding their nuances, these philanthropist-activists “want to get more deeply involved in the story, understand what it is that they’re funding, and they want to get more deeply involved in spreading the word, helping on the ground, and seeing what’s happening,” she said. They’re using social media to “raise more funds and raise more people.”

V-Day’s movement One Billion Rising invites one billion women and men to rise, dance, and demand an end to violence on February 14. In terms of where women are going this year, Swan said, “I see a steady increase in philanthropy and activism. What we’re seeing is that women and men all over are creating projects tied to social media and getting the word out, and we’re seeing it worldwide where people are embracing One Billion Rising.” Changing consciousness, she said, is at the heart of the rise of philanthropy and activism. Continue reading

Where Women Are Headed in 2013: Comedy, Politics, and Journalism

This story was originally published in Vitamin W on January 11, 2013, here. 


This article is the first in a series on where women are going in 2013.

Many lauded 2012 as “the Year of the Woman,” referring to the gains women leaders made in Congress, television, journalism, and other fields. While these successes should be celebrated, we should also view them as incremental — small but important steps toward addressing systemic gender inequity. Indeed, between the news of the cover-up of the rape of a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio, to the GOP’s refusal to sign the Violence Against Women Act, it is clear that sexism persists, and that women face ongoing challenges in the year — and years — ahead. Here at VITAMIN W, we asked women thought leaders in various fields the following questions: where are women going in 2013, and what do you hope for women?

1. Comedy

Given the plethora of male comedians, male producers, and all-male casts (see: FX’s The League, The Hangover series, Louis CK, and the like), it was exciting to see women’s names in popular film and TV credits. Twenty-six-year-old writer and actor Lena Dunham led the charge with her uber-popular and hip HBO series Girls, which uses crude, honest humor to change how we see women’s experiences and bodies. Similarly, Mindy Kahling, known for her role as a writer and actor on The Office, emerged on the comedy scene with her memoir, Is Everyone is Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), and her own TV series, The Mindy Project.

Ellen DeGeneres, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler continue to remind us that our conception of humor spans beyond the all-male bromances we see in many Judd Apatow films and that women are continuing to rise in the ranks of comedy.
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VITAMIN W’s Guide to Good Gifts for Women

This story was originally posted by Vitamin W on December 13, 2012, here. 


Tis the season to give the women in your life socially responsible, unique, hip gifts. Rather than stuffing stockings with sweaters from sweatshops or mass-produced, mundane tchotchkes, check out our guide to making the season a little brighter – for women all over the world! (Larger image below.)

Books worth buying: Babeland’s Sex Toys 101 (1) and Best Women’s Erotica 2013 (2)

Babeland opened in 1993 in response to the lack of women-friendly sex shops. They seek to inform and educate women on sexuality. Their philanthropic arm, Come for a Cause, donated almost $100,000 to over 300 organizations last year, including the Trevor Project, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Planned Parenthood. “We like to think we’re changing the world, one orgasm at a time!” the group says.

Make a loan in honor of a woman you love with Zidisha Microfinance (3)

Zidisha mincrofinance is the first peer-to-peer microlending service that allows direct interaction between lenders and borrowers. Your gift recipient can keep in touch with the borrower directly, and learn about the impact of your gift. Microfinancing opportunities can empower women to financial independence.

A night on the town: Tickets to Eve Ensler’s Emotional Creature (4)

Bring your teenage niece, daughter, nephew, or son to the new off-Broadway play Emotional Creature. Written by Eve Ensler of The Vagina Monologuesfame, Emotional Creature details the complexities of “growing up girl,” and discusses subjects like eating disorders, female genital mutilation, and working in factories. The show promises to empower and mobilize girls, and ticket proceeds go to V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women.

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On Women Entrepreneurs and Failure

Published in Vitamin W on December 5, 2012, here. 


For many women entrepreneurs today, the most grotesque “F-word” one can conceive of and utter is “failure.” According to top startup investor and advisor Judy Robinett, the most successful entrepreneurial ventures typically fail three times before hitting success, however many women take failure personally and abandon entrepreneurship entirely. While women have made vast progress in traditionally male fields like business and entrepreneurship, there exists an oft-overlooked element of fear of failure. As important as it is to celebrate progress and success, it is equally important to give credence to the many failures that precede success, including the obstacles that women face, what we can learn from failure, and how some organizations are empowering more women to try, fail, and succeed.

Firstly, failure is a very different animal for women than men, particularly when it comes to starting a business. While men typically bounce back in the face of failure, women tend to internalize failure and struggle to recover.

According to Sharon Vosmek, CEO of Astia, a San-Francisco-based nonprofit that helps women entrepreneurs grow their businesses, “Women get our first C, we drop courses, majors, we drop out. Men stay in—in ways that translate to meaningful entrepreneurship. This is about how we self-assess.”

Indeed, in a study on women’s entrepreneurship around the world, Babson College and the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found that women have lower perceptions than men about their capabilities for starting a business, as they, in general, have a greater fear of failing than men. Donna J. Kelley, a Babson associate professor of entrepreneurship and one of the report’s lead authors believes that women “need to work on their confidence and their perceived abilities”

“If capacities perceptions are not equal to men, then there’s something there that we need to examine further. Is it the confidence level? Is it that they have lots of education but not the business skills? I would suggest it’s more around the need for a practical education that lets women experiment with entrepreneurship and learn to become confident,” said Kelley.

Which is precisely the reason that organizations like Astia are so crucial. In addition to helping women entrepreneurs find funding for their businesses, its work seeks to shift women’s consciousness and confidence. Vosmek said that women learn to treat business like judo, where you fall gracefully, then roll back onto your feet. Continue reading