#JusticeForNoura: HuffPo Piece

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This was originally published on the Huffington Post.


What do we know about Noura Hussein?

The 19-year-old Sudanese woman is currently on death row in Omdurman, Sudan, for killing a man in self-defense. She was convicted of murdering her husband, who raped her on their “honeymoon.”

When she was 16, Noura’s family attempted to force her to marry a man, despite the fact that Islam prohibits marriage without consent. Refusing the marriage, she ran 155 miles away from her family home to a town called Sennar. She lived with her aunt for three years, determined to complete her high school education and with her eyes on further studies. In 2017, she received word that the wedding plans had been cancelled and that she was safe to return home.

It was a cruel trick. On her return, Noura found the wedding ceremony underway and was given away to the same groom she had rejected three years earlier.

Defiant, Noura refused to consummate the wedding for a number of days. Her husband became increasingly aggressive, and before the week was over, forced himself onto his teenage wife. With the help of his two brothers and a cousin who held her down, her husband raped her.

When he returned the next day to attempt to rape her again, Noura escaped to the kitchen and grabbed a knife. In the altercation that followed, the man sustained fatal knife wounds. Noura went to her family; they disowned her and turned her over to the police. She was held in Omdurman jail until April 29, 2018, when she was found guilty of premeditated murder. On May 10, the man’s family was offered a choice: either accept monetary compensation for the injury caused, or the death penalty. The family chose to sentence Noura to death. Noura’s legal team has until May 25 to submit an appeal.

After the verdict was announced, members of the Sudanese community, at home and abroad, called for mercy. Grassroots activists have been collecting signatures on a petition in an effort to pressure the Sudanese government to intervene. The #JusticeForNoura campaign has collected almost 800,000 signatures and support from the likes of supermodel Naomi Campbell.

Since Noura’s sentence was handed down on May 10, broader international pressure has also mounted. Several U.N. groups, including U.N. Women, UNFPA and the U.N. Office of the Special Adviser on Africa appealed for clemency in the case. The U.N. human rights office said that it has become ‘increasingly concerned for the teen’s safety, that of her lawyer and other supporters’ and argued that imposing the death penalty in Noura’s case despite clear evidence of self-defense would constitute an arbitrary killing. Amnesty International has also gotten involved, collecting letters from people around the world asking for Noura’s release. Over 150,000 letters have reportedly been sent to Sudan’s Ministry of Justice.

Many have asked if the petitions and noise will make any difference. There is precedence that the international pressure will help.

Many have asked if the petitions and noise will make any difference. There is precedence that the international pressure will help: In 2014, a Christian Sudanese woman, Meriam Ibrahim, was spared execution after international outrage at the sentence. Stories like this are what keep campaigners going. With intimidation and societal pushback from the Sudanese National Intelligence Security Services (NISS), which banned the lead attorney, Adil Mohamed Al-Imam, from appearing in a press conference, it is incumbent on the global community to highlight these cases and amplify the voices of those calling for justice.

Noura’s story is heartbreaking, but sadly it is not wholly uncommon. What is unusual about her story, as other activists have pointed out, is that Noura fought back. In Sudan, almost one in three women are married before they turn 18, and marital rape is not yet illegal. Noura’s story is one of personal courage and conviction, and an opportunity to shine a spotlight once more on the fight to eradicate child marriage, forced marriage and marital rape.

Among the activists and campaigners working on the #JusticeForNoura campaign, there is hope that the case will change things beyond Noura’s individual situation. The window for those changes can rapidly evaporate, however, if the international spotlight moves on before Noura’s death penalty sentence is lifted.

Noura’s case speaks to the strict gender roles and expectations placed on Sudanese women and reflects the tension between individual courageous acts and a system that is not set up for substantive equality. Despite relatively high levels of representation in parliament, Sudan is one of a handful of countries still not party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The deeply patriarchal society is also governed by a pluralistic legal system, which uses a protectionist approach toward women in society, rather than the transformative approach advocated by Muslim women’s rights groups like Musawah.

A simplistic reading of the situation might reflect on the horrific nature of Noura’s case and assign blame to Sudanese society, the nation’s socioeconomics or perhaps even Islam. However, the societal conditions and norms that have allowed this sequence of events to occur are not unique, and in fact, even developed nations are not all signatories to CEDAW. Violence against women can be traced to a root cause: gender inequality. Where women are not politically, culturally and economically equal to men, they will be subject to gendered violence, regardless of their faith, race or nationality. Fighting for Noura means fighting for a global society where women and children live free from all forms of violence and have meaningful decision-making power; where they are full participants in society, family and state.  

This is not a case of Noura, or women like her, needing to be ”saved” from Islam. This is about supporting the women who are fighting back, using whatever tools they have at their disposal. In the West, discussions about the religion in Muslim-majority countries are wont to decry Islam itself, but that has not been Noura’s wish, nor the wish of any of the activists on the campaign. In fact, Sudanese women ― domestically and in the diaspora ― have taken pains to articulate that forced marriage and sexual assault are prevalent in Sudanese society, but that culturally and based on Islam, these norms need to be shifted.

Noura’s campaign succeeded in raising awareness in part because it has been driven by Sudanese women who understand Sudanese culture. Recognizing that our challenges stem from the same original oppression ― gender inequality ― means that we must not speak on behalf of other women, but amplify and stand in solidarity with those who are already speaking.

Inequality Opinion Is taking down white men like Josh Denny always a victory for equality?

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This was originally published on The Guardian.


Those with the highest levels of privilege are often viscerally afraid of losing it. It’s the fear that if they relinquish power, the tables will turn on them, the terror that they will become the oppressed. This anxiety is not completely unfounded. If we’re honest, no one is above being corrupted or is immune to subjugating others, not even those who have been structurally oppressed for generations.

So, if you’re part of the fight for equality, as I am, how do we make sure that we’re working towards a world that would be good for all, rather than just the group we’re part of?

I was mulling over these questions following a Twitter exchange with the comedian Josh Denny. He said that the phrase “straight white male” was this century’s “N-word”. Many, including me, pointed out that this statement betrayed a lack of understanding of history and context. However, Denny seemed to understand the danger of being dehumanised, given the disastrous impacts of this process throughout history.

He argued: “We have to be better than that. Use our words and our minds and our hearts to win arguments. Not by trying to dehumanise the opposition to your beliefs. No matter who you are.”

It’s fairly obvious to those with an understanding of history and power structures that the term “straight white male” does not carry the same baggage as the N-word – or the same tragic outcomes over particular members of society. It is a false equivalence. However, despite his history of racist rhetoric, the root of Denny’s concern should not necessarily be dismissed. This is not about him really, but about the very real pushback to the many equality movements today, whether it’s #MeToo, diversity and inclusion efforts within companies, or any mention of quotas. Many like Denny – straight white men – feel the ground shifting beneath their feet and seem terrified of what is to come.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in favour of prioritising the feelings of those straight white men, or about how we manage the discomfort that those in power are feeling. Not in the slightest. I am more than happy to call out the powerful, name prejudiced behaviour, highlight hypocrisies, and point out the structural inequalities that inform society. Acknowledgement is the first step towards change. However, as the ground shifts, we have a window of opportunity to shape the landscape of political discourse.

First, we must interrogate our intentions. I’ll be the first to admit, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from delivering the perfect Twitter takedown. Who doesn’t love the dopamine hits as the likes, re-tweets, and gifs of standing ovations flood in. It feels good to be right, and to have your community reward you for it. However, there is a discernible difference between naming bad behaviour with an intention to educate and calling things out with the aim – conscious or not – of humiliation.

Second, once those who benefit from the status quo have their power equalised, how will they be treated? Does the use of terms such as “straight white man”, “gammon” and “centrist dad” to humiliate or belittle indicate a level of dehumanisation, that could become dangerous once power shifts out of their hands?

Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and theorist, explores these themes in his 1968 book, Pedagogia do Oprimido (Pedagogy of the Oppressed). “The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors,” Freire observes. There is precedent for this reversal, and it could be argued that a shift where the oppressed and oppressors share power equally is much more historically unprecedented.

“The oppressed find in the oppressors their model of ‘manhood’,” the Brazilian theorist further posited. If this concept is extended to contemporary society, the implication is clear: those who are currently oppressed take their cues on how to exercise power from those holding the reins.

If we are to truly transform society, we must resist the temptation to lower ourselves to the methods of dehumanisation that have been used to exercise power and control. What does that actually mean? Well, we have to be better than those who currently hold power, finding ways to be generous and to be kind – even if it’s going to be hard work.

That’s the work of change. It’s about taking a breath before slamming the next Josh Denny on Twitter, and instead choosing to have an actual conversation. This isn’t about centring straight white men, because I don’t have time for that. This is about honouring ourselves and making sure we are building the best society for us all. It won’t be easy, but I truly believe it’ll be worth it.

Tyranny and Free Speech: Essay in The Saturday Paper

Tyranny and Free Speech: Essay in The Saturday Paper

“The colliding of opinions will only lead to the emergence of truth if the force behind both is equal, if the playing field is level, if there is a commitment to truth rather than to an agenda that is self-serving.”

GUEST APPEARANCE ON GUILTY FEMINIST PODCAST

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I joined Deborah Frances-White and Susan Wokoma for an entertaining and impassioned edition of the fabulous podcast, The Guilty Feminist. Also a guest on the show was the inspiring co-founder of Legally Black UK, Liv Francis-Cornibert.

Check it out!

 

 

Riveting Reads: Wednesday 21st March, 2018

Riveting Reads: Wednesday 21st March, 2018

Interesting articles on issues ranging from a small town fighting for asylum seekers to stay, to Cambridge Analytica.

Interview with Investment Magazine on Unconscious Bias

  Yassmin Abdel-Magied delivering the Mavis Robertson address via Investment Magazine

Yassmin Abdel-Magied delivering the Mavis Robertson address via Investment Magazine

I was honoured to present the Mavis Robertson address at the Conference of Major Superannuation Funds in Brisbane this year.  As part of the engagement, I answered a few questions for Investment Magazine on #BeatingBias. Here is some of what I said:


In your 2014 TED Talk, you make the point that acknowledging unconscious bias is “not an accusation”. Do you find many people still resist discussions about beating unconscious bias and get defensive?

In 2014, unconscious bias was a relatively new concept in the corporate world. Today, I think many people are aware of its existence, but rather than be outwardly defensive, sometimes they think it is an excuse for biased behaviour – as in, ‘Oh well, I am biased, there is nothing I can do about it.’ The other thing I often hear is people saying that they aren’t biased, and then immediately follow it up with a statement or question that demonstrates the exact bias they were trying to deny. Sometimes those who think they are the least biased are the ones with the most deeply entrenched ways of seeing the world.

How do you suggest people start the process of identifying their own unconscious biases?

It starts with being open to the idea that we are all biased, and that all of us need to go through processes of identifying and acknowledging the biases that we hold. It’s about asking ourselves about every single assumption we make and then questioning why we have made that assumption – where has the information come from, and is there space for that assumption to change? If we have a gut feeling someone is going to be a good leader, for example, is it because they have actually demonstrated anything, or is it because they are tall, they seem sure of themselves, they remind us of ourselves, etc? We need to be comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable – challenging our own biases is never a comfortable experience, but it is worthwhile.

In that TED Talk, you challenged people to seek out and mentor someone different to them. Have you seen any good examples of organisations doing that systematically? How has it worked?

There are a couple of organisations I see do this well, and it tends to be places where the idea of inclusion is a value that is built into the very DNA of the organisation. Organisations that understand how power dynamics work, that demand that you are on board with the culture of the organisation, that see supporting and empowering those with structural disadvantage as a must have, not a nice to have. It works best when everyone in the organisation understands that this is a company-wide ethos, and when individuals are willing to do everything they can in their power to make a difference for others. That sometimes involves sacrifice and discomfort, but when people believe in a goal that is bigger than themselves, it works out well.

What is your advice for someone who knows there is a problem with unconscious bias within their organisation but feels they are not senior enough to lead change?

Leading conversations at a peer-to-peer level is incredibly important and powerful, so that should not be underestimated. Cultural changes need to be both top down and bottom up, so finding ways to stimulate the grassroots conversation can be a stepping stone to broader understanding within the organisation. Also, looping in a champion, or someone else at a higher level who believes in the need for change, is also a good option.

What would you say to any senior executives or directors who are confident they are not afflicted by unconscious bias?

The science says that we all are – even me! The more we think we are not affected by it, the bigger the cognitive blind spot is. The first step in addressing any problem is to admit there is a problem, so I always encourage people to be open to admitting there might be bias, even as a thought experiment. Acknowledging unconscious bias isn’t saying someone is bad per se, but it is an opportunity for improvement – and what senior executive doesn’t like finding ways to improve?


This author thinks talking about structural inequality is 'disempowering'. I, obviously, disagree.

 Photo of Peter Thiel  via TechSpot

Photo of Peter Thiel via TechSpot

I came across an article recently that articulated a view I've heard before. Like others before them, the author makes a false equivalence: 

...this idea of agency is a controversial one today...We speak of privileges and systemic biases. We talk of our problems as if they are intractable, overwhelming and malevolently created. Even on the extreme right, there is an obsession with biological differences between sexes and races, about whether one gender or another is naturally better at this or that. Again, these are simply averages that have nothing to do with individuals. Our focus on it all, from either side, is a way of subtly erasing agency. We emphasise where we are disempowered rather than opportunities for empowerment.

The author seems to believe argument that highlighting structural inequalities, biases and systemic obstacles is disempowering, and rather focus should be on the opportunities available.

I disagree.

Now, I must make the disclaimer that I do speak and write publicly about bias and privilege, so it would obviously be in my interest to challenge this charge.  However, it is important to realise that not all norms and challenges are the same, and these are far from binary conversations. 

Peter Thiel (as the article pointed out), a billionaire who was upset at what was written about him in the press, was told that 'there was nothing he could do about it' because of the norms within media. He then went on to do something about it, and this is the example of 'high levels of agency' the author is asking us to consider, and perhaps emulate.  It should be noted the author does not condone Thiel's actions per se.  

However, being written about in the press and then taking that news outlet down is not quite the same as a systemic bias against women, or structural inequalities due to a history of slavery and colonisation.  There are reams of studies that look at the structural nature of these inequalities, and some of them are overwhelming, intractable and malevolently created. To dismiss a focus on tackling structural inequality seems inconsiderate, illogical and ill-informed.

The reality is, folk who are marginalised have been succeeding in spite of these inequalities and biases.  You want to know about agency?  Talk to first generation migrant parents. I was unaware of the true impact of cognitive biases and structural inequality growing up because my parents refused to entertain that as an excuse, like many other migrant kids I knew. In fact, any systemic issue would be framed - on purpose - as an opportunity for growth. Work ten times as hard, because things are tougher for women / people of colour / Muslims, I was told.  The way my parents brought my brother and I up was to believe that our agency would overcome all.  And it did - until it didn't - but that's a story for another time... 

Yes, individual agency is something we can control, and perhaps even underestimate. But talk of systemic and structural problems does not automatically mean that individual agency is disregarded, and does not have to be inherently disempowering. In fact, that fact that the public discourse has shifted to include the structural challenges is a step in the right direction. It means we are shifting to a place where we change the world to fit people, rather than people to fit the world.   

Individually, we can control our mindsets, and do our best to fully utilise our agency.  Not everything is within an individual's control however.  Rather than dismiss that reality, those with more access and agency should do what they can to level the playing field.  And don't say it can't be done... ;) 

Ways you can support Ahed Al-Tamini and other Palestinians.

 Source - The National

Source - The National

My lovely friend and activist Sara Saleh has put together this great list of places you can support Ahed Al-Tamini, a young Palestinian child who has, like many others, resisted Israeli occuption and suffered the consequences.

 
 

STEP 1: Sign a global petition (bold + italic = click for link)

 

STEP 2: Consider long-term support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign

For long-term, constructive support and solidarity, please support the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel which works to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law

 

STEP 3: Support Volunteer Local Advocacy Groups and their Campaigns

Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) 

Join their most recent campaign supported by ActionAid Australia calling on PayPal to extend its services to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. 

 

STEP 4: Apply Political Pressure by emailing your local Member of Parliament, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister:

Email the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Email Julie Bishop - The Minister for Foreign Affairs

Contact your local MP

 

STAY INFORMED

Electronic Intifada: @intifada

Military Court Watch: @MCourtWatch

B’Tselem: Israeli Info Center for Human Rights in Occupied Territories: @btselem

Adalah: Independent human rights organization and legal center: @AdalahEnglish

Amnest International and Amnest Australia: @Amnesty & @AmnestyOz

 

2018: A year of learning to move beyond anger.

I originally published this piece on Medium.

 Photo by Sally Ryan

Photo by Sally Ryan

Charlotte Wood recently published an incredible essay about the anger of women.

It got me thinking about my anger, my rage, how I processed trauma; of recent experiences, and of simply existing as a Muslim woman of colour living in the West.

I must be clear. I do not think less of anyone for being angry. Often, almost always, the anger is justified. The world is not fair, trauma is real, and anger is an incredibly valid response to the pain the world, society and individuals, inflicts on us. Anger can drive change, and often does. It catalyses action in ways many other emotions do not. It is the fuel behind many an engine of transformation. It has it’s place, and is so deeply part of the human experience that to deny it completely would be folly, and perhaps, dangerous.

But like fire, anger can be the candle that lights a room, or a burning inferno that destroys a home. For the first time in my life, this year, I felt my anger spiralling out of control. I felt it consume the oxygen in the room, slowly creep under the doors. The flames of my fury licked at my window frames and threatened to engulf the safe house I had built myself to survive.

I frightened myself.

Charlotte Wood’s piece refers to this:

I won’t forget the look I’d seen on her face. It was fear, of drowning in her own rage.

My housemate, incredibly thoughtfully, bought a gift for my birthday. ‘It’ll help you get the anger out’, she said. It was a session at The Break Room, where you can break things, and feel good.

It was a wonderful sentiment, but I was strangely and involuntarily repulsed. My housemates were confused; they felt my rage. Surely smashing crockery was the perfect way of unleashing it. ‘I’m afraid of my own anger,’ I told them. ‘I don’t like the person I become.’ They didn’t understand, but how can they understand that sometimes we are most afraid of ourselves, of the darkness only we know exists?

We went anyway, despite my sullen mood and protestations. It was a wet Melbourne morning, the weather matching my demeanour. I watched the others take baseball bats to mugs, throw plates against the walls, hurl glasses with pure abandon. Loud metal music drowned the sound of chaos.

I felt sick.

Housemates 1 & 2 insisted that I have a go. I smashed a few mugs. I felt a tendril of satisfaction. Then, I felt sick.

Allowing myself to be violent in response to anger felt like opening the door to the room on fire, the room which once held a candle. The fire was hungry for the rest of the oxygen in the house, and once that door was open — even just a crack — well, that was all the invitation it needed to consume the building.

Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps breaking things would starve the fire, remove the oxygen.

I still felt sick.

My anger was justified, I felt. I had been treated unfairly, I felt.The world was systemically set up against me, I felt. My anger felt safe.

I found allies in the anger, other women and people of colour who were also deeply enraged. Rightly so, because my feelings weren’t off base: the world was set up against people like us. My anger alienated some, but drew in others. I found community, in anger.

Anger, for a brief moment, was liberating.

And then, it wasn’t.

The fire had consumed all the oxygen.

I couldn’t breath.


I don’t like being angry, certainly not when it is without restraint.

I don’t like the person I become.

But anger is an energy, a fuel, and perhaps like energy, it is neither created nor destroyed, but only transformed into something different. Petrol engines transform chemical energy into mechanical energy. Perhaps there was a way for me to transform my anger into another form of constructive energy, into an emotion that does not consume the very essence of who I am.


I’m occasionally reluctant to talk about how faith plays a role in my life. Having grown up in quite an anti-religious society, I know how faith based discussions are received. Religion, like Islam, is often mocked and ridiculed, sometimes by the very same progressives who fight for the rights of those who practice the religion. Irony aside, it is obvious that we all have our own framework for understanding the world. Fabulous; the plurality of experiences makes our world the wonder that it is and coexistence is divine. Mine is, and has always been, faith.

My faith allowed me to believe there was nothing I could not handle. That every obstacle was an opportunity for growth. That I could use the fire of anger; contain it, tame it, channel it. It taught me how to use the fire to light 100 candles, rather than let it run free. It didn’t work alone — faith worked in conjunction with therapy, a strong support network and moving countries. But it gave me the fortitude to ask myself how I wanted to use my anger, and what I was going to do about it. I am an engineer, after all. Energy is only useful if it can be channelled constructively.

So yes, I have anger. But I am no longer angry, Alhamdulilah.

I am not so frightened of myself anymore, and god, how that helps me breathe.


The first day of the year often brings with it an opportunity to rest, reflect, restart. As corny and passe as that might be, I revel in and enjoy the chance to stop, pause and think. To give myself the time to listen; to myself, to others, to what the world is telling me beyond the conscious, perhaps.

Here’s to a 2018 where I learn to live beyond a destructive anger. A year of directing that energy to raising others up, to building, to maturing. A period of time to be treasured, as all time deserves to be.

Ameen, Inshallah.

Sexual Harassment Comes At A Cost. So Does Speaking Up About It.

And the price is often steepest for the women who can least afford it.

This opinion piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

 DAVID MCNEW VIA GETTY IMAGES  Demonstrators at the #MeToo Survivors’ March in Los Angeles last month. 

DAVID MCNEW VIA GETTY IMAGES

Demonstrators at the #MeToo Survivors’ March in Los Angeles last month. 

Why do people leave organizations? Reasons often include dealing with bad management, finding a higher paid role elsewhere, or not seeing opportunities for promotion and growth. Workplace sexual harassment is rarely treated as an issue of retention, but it affects morale and career satisfaction at least as drastically as an issue like a difficult boss. 

Sexual harassment is one of the many ways workplaces are a hostile environment for women, pushing them out of organizations and sometimes entire industries. And sexual harassment clearly reflects the power structures that define our society. It exacts a high cost on all individuals and communities, but the price is disproportionately shouldered by women who can least afford it. Women of color and other marginalized women are among those hit hardest by a culture that for generations has turned a blind eye to the epidemic.  

Workplace sexual harassment comes with a steep cost: the cost of participation.

A 2008 study by the American Psychological Association found a correlation between “work withdrawal” and the aftermath of sexual harassment for black women. And in a 2016 survey of the Chicago leisure and hospitality industry, where the majority of women are of color, 49 percent of housekeepers said a guest had answered the door naked or exposed themselves. The most damning result? Of those housekeepers, 56 percent said they did not feel safe returning to work after the incident.

The system was failing these women. Formal report numbers were low, partly because the workers didn’t believe it would make a difference to tell their stories. In fact, 43 percent of respondents said they knew someone who had reported harassment and seen nothing change. Unfortunately, their fears are well-founded. Two-third of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some sort of retaliation, according to a 2003 study cited by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And although times are changing, they might not be changing for women in certain workplaces just yet. 

When marginalized women, particularly women of color, need solidarity, their white sisters don’t often show up.

The outpouring of recent allegations of sexual harassment and subsequent consequences for some perpetrators have prompted many to say we’re in the middle of a turning point in how sexual harassment is dealt with. This is true for some women, but not for all.

When allegations against Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men turned Hollywood upside down, Jane Fonda pointed out the obvious: The women speaking out were being listened to because they were famous and white.

Fatima Goss Graves, the CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, agreed, saying, “Class and race and stature play into whether someone is believed.”

Ironically, the #MeToo movement was started a decade ago by black social activist Tarana Burke. It took Alyssa Milano, a white actress, using the hashtag for it to go viral ― among other white women, at least. We’ve seen this before, such as in the racism of the suffragettesFEMEN’s attempts to “liberate” Muslim women despite protests, and the exclusive nature of the Women’s March. When marginalized women, particularly women of color, need solidarity, their white sisters don’t often show up.

We have seen this play out in the cases of black actresses like Lupita Nyong’o and Aurora Perrineau. The implication is clear: Yes, women who allege sexual harassment and other forms of abuse are to be believed ― if they’re the right kind of woman. The majority of women don’t fit that criteria, and those who live and work at the intersections of marginalization ― whether due to race, religion or disability ― are often hardest hit by harassment. Unfortunately, they’re also the least supported. The eventual outcome is dismal.  

For women who are not famous, wealthy or otherwise influential, socioeconomic, cultural and historical disadvantages compound to make it more likely that harassment will occur and less likely that it will be taken seriously. 

The history of sexual exploitation through slavery has created a culture where black women are more likely to be sexually harassed but less likely to be perceived as victims. They are therefore less likely to report, and the cycle continues. Socioeconomic status exacerbates this vulnerability; the majority (58 percent, as of 2013) of low-income families in the U.S. are a racial or ethnic minority. Low-income women of color often lack bargaining power, face language and financial barriers to accessing legal services, and in some cases, are not even aware of their rights. Undocumented workers also face unique additional challenges, as fears of retaliation or deportation may deter them from taking legal action.

It is imperative to acknowledge that efforts to improve the lot of one group of women may only tangentially affect women in other groups.

It is imperative to acknowledge that efforts to improve the lot of one group of women may only tangentially affect women in other groups.

If we are truly interested in building a world where all women feel safe, supported and able to fully participate in their communities and workplaces, we must remember a rising tide does not lift every woman’s boat. We need to be proactive in our advocacy for low-wage women and women of color. We must ensure vulnerable women are provided adequate training, in the language they are most comfortable in, so they understand their rights. The more educated a workplace is, the less likely potential perpetrators will be to think they can get away with harassment. We need to find ways to support these women ― legally, financially, emotionally ― when action is taken.  

The #MeToo moment will be incomplete if it serves only the white, wealthy and otherwise privileged among us. Look around in your own workplace and make sure no woman is being overlooked. Failing to do so will not only affect the women as individuals, but will ultimately damage our workplaces, our communities and our societies. We will all be poorer for it.

What do we learn from the black outs in South Australia?

Source: The Australian

I wrote this piece early this year, before the Elon Musk twitter storm that led to theTesla battery installation a couple of days ago. It appeared in the latest edition of The Stick, and given the chat around the battery installation, I thought it was worth re-sharing the piece, and thinking about the impact of these recent developments beyond the novelty.


On September 28, 2016, South Australia was hit by a once-in-50-year storm. Despite being a world-leader in integrating intermittent renewable energy generation into a constrained electricity grid, the state’s energy system was tested by the extreme weather event.

Over 40 per cent of South Australia’s energy is generated by wind and solar power, and there are no longer any coal-fired power stations operating in the state. The only back up power comes from the neighbouring state of Victoria, heavily dependent on brown coal. Unfortunately for South Australia, and the advocates of renewable energy, the storm caused the state to lose all power. The statewide black out, which dragged on for days, was an unprecedented and catastrophic engineering failure. However, South Australia’s failure should not be seen as the failure of the renewables transition. Instead, it is a prime opportunity to understand the delicate engineering challenge of integrating new, intermittent and asynchronous sources of power into ageing infrastructure reliant on conventional power generation. Understanding what happened in South Australia enables us to understand what is possible with today’s current technologies, and what truly stands in the way of a complete transition to a carbon neutral future.

So what happened on that fateful Wednesday afternoon?

According to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO)’s final report into the events, South Australia’s series of woes began with two tornadoes with gale force winds of 260km/hr knocking out three major transmission lines. When a transmission line is damaged, it often short circuits. As a result of such a “fault”, the line almost immediately disconnects, protecting the rest of the system. Almost. For a fraction of a second, the voltage dips in the grid, and it was these voltage dips that lead to the cascading failure of the system.

Typically, power generators — whether wind, gas or otherwise — are designed to “ride-through” a voltage dip, allowing them to continue to operate through a fault. However, unbeknownst to the AEMO, responsible for operating energy markets and power systems, several wind farms in South Australia had been set up with a protection feature limiting their tolerance for disturbances. If the number of faults in a specified period of time exceeded a pre-set limit — for instance, two faults in two minutes — the safety mechanism activates and a wind turbine will either reduce its output, stop operating or disconnect from the network. Strangely, this critical protection feature had been left out of all simulation models submitted to AEMO, so the market operator had no idea that their wind turbines were vulnerable to disconnection due to voltage dips.

The damage wrought by the weather caused six voltage dips to occur over a two minute period. Without warning, nine wind farms activated their protection features and 456MW, or almost a quarter of South Australia’s energy demand, was lost from the system. The remainder of South Australia’s generation was wind and “slow responding thermal” (gas), and therefore unable to pick up the slack in time. Instead, Victoria, the neighbouring state, which was already providing 24 per cent of South Australia’s electricity requirements at the time, began to compensate. During the seven seconds of power loss from the wind farms, the system began to draw significantly more electricity than the single interconnector between the two states could handle.

It was like trying to light a football field from a single powerpoint, blowing the proverbial fuse. The interconnector tripped, and Australia’s fourth largest state became an “electrical island”. The entire population of 1.7 million was plunged into darkness. It was known as a Black System event, and it took 13 days for the last of the remaining customers to have their power restored.

South Australia’s Black System ushered in weeks of finger pointing and blame shifting among politicians, energy operators, pundits and consumers. Conservative politicians blamed renewable energy, renewable energy purists blamed the market operators and the majority of the state and nation simply wanted the problem to be solved.

Part of why the South Australian example is so important is because it is tackling what is known within the industry as the “energy trilemma”. This is the tension between energy security (reliability), equity (affordability and accessibility) and environmental sustainability. As we move importantly and inevitably towards sustainability, there can be no question that energy security and equity will be tested. How they balance out is being watched very closely.

From an engineer’s perspective, the focus is often squarely on reliability. The challenge of integrating intermittent renewable power generation sources into a system that hasn’t been designed for it means the energy supply is not always as resilient, and therefore, potentially less reliable. This poses a significant political risk for leaders and often the argument for baseload coal and gas generation is offered as a solution. However, in this case, AEMO found the operations of the gas generators had little to no material effect on the event, to the dismay of renewable energy opponents. Yet a quarter of the state’s energy was coming from Victoria, largely powered by brown coal. So although South Australia may not have coal-fired power stations within its borders, it is still in some way dependent on their operation for baseload power. The answer for the perfect mix of power generation is certainly not clear cut.

What is clearer however, are the broader consequences of such an event and the potential loss if it is interpreted incorrectly. The lessons learnt from these massive engineering failures provide invaluable insight into how to design out a system’s weaknesses. Technical industries rely heavily on learning from major incidents; the oil and gas industry, for example, designed many safety systems from lessons learnt after Piper Alpha in 1988 and Macondo in 2010. The opportunity here to improve the system and avoid a similar incident in the future not only benefits South Australia, but can also have a global impact. By demonstrating how renewable sources of energy can be integrated into an ageing electricity grid, South Australia is providing a blueprint for the energy transition globally.

That is, if the interpretation of the event and the subsequent discussion remains true to the technical findings.

Unfortunately for engineers, the reality of the energy trilemma means that the technical solutions alone are not always enough, and run the risk of getting lost in posturing and agendas. The political and economic challenges are steep. Tackling these requires moving away from blatant and dogmatic ideological approaches to a view that is committed to achieving the optimum balance of sustainability, affordability and reliability. This may mean not turning of all fossil fuel powered generators tomorrow, but it also means not shying away from pushing for the carbon neutral future that we need to survive. For whether we like it or not, if we don’t get sustainability right, there may not be a world for us to live in where affordability and reliability matter at all.

Thanks for reading! This is my first technical piece, so please share any thoughts / feedback / comments below! ❤

What being a public outrage taught me about fighting inequality

What does being a woman on an oil rig have in common with being a Muslim in Australia? Watch Yassmin Abdel-Magied give an impassioned speech about what it means to be misunderstood and misrepresented in the press and culture. What is it like when you show up and don't look like anyone else?


So I was quite nervous about this talk. Everything about it: writing it, memorising it, delivering it. And this is from someone who talks, well, for a living now.  

When Andrew Hyde from TEDx Boulder asked me to be a part of the program this year, I jumped at the chance. I loved the idea of the Boulder community, and the opportunity to flesh out a new idea. My initial draft for a talk was on a wildly different topic - one that I was looking forward to sharing because I thought it was new and innovative.

And yet...

Writing the speech felt like pulling teeth. It simply didn't want to happen. Although I was intellectually committed to the concept, my heart wasn't in it. 

So a few days before the event, I threw in the towel and wrote a new speech. This is it.  Some of you may be familiar with some of the stories; I wrote about it in my TeenVogue piece a few weeks ago.  This, however, was the first time I spoke publicly about in a formal setting - and to a completely unfamiliar audience.

They were kind, rewarding me with a standing ovation. This certainly helped the nerves. But ultimately, this talk is not about what happened to me in Australia. This is about sharing the lesson that so many of us have learnt the hard way - the need for structural and systemic change.

Alas, a 12 minute talk isn't enough to do the topic justice. But here's to being a part of the conversation.

To those who have been trying to tell me this for some time... sorry it took me so long to get it. I guess I always learn things the hard way! *bemused face*