Adelaide Uni Distinguished Alumni Award Speech

jane-20160909-adluniaward-melwoodpics-06I’m thrilled to accept this award today and to celebrate where my degree has taken me. This study kindled my curiosity about life in all its dimensions and it has given me the skills to seek to understand, analyze, synthesize and critique what’s happening in the world, especially for women.

This degree has taught me how to connect seemingly disparate information and ideas to appreciate their interconnection. It has also taught me how to open up dialogue rather than close it down. And it’s given me the ability to make the business case to raise millions of dollars for issues and causes that need funding.

The gift of independent study during my honors degree gave me the ability to steer my own course and to have confidence in my own judgment. Having lecturers such as Professor Hugh Stretton taught me so much about critical thinking and applying the lessons of history to contemporary issues.  Working for the student paper, On Dit, fuelled my love of writing and working at student radio made me feel like every day could be a creative act.

I remember too the many Theatre Sports sessions at the university on weekends with Geoffrey Rush as Master of Ceremonies. Ones where jaffas were literally rolled down the aisles and fantales tossed over seats while many of us were on the floor holding our sides from laughing so much. And, at the end of all this, I remember my proud as punch parents at both my graduations.

From that extraordinary time of learning and freedom has been my journey to where I am now. Living on a small wooden Popeye boat in Sausalito, just over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, working for a global women’s human rights organization. ‘

This degree has provided me a foundation for my work inside the refugee camps in Lebanon and in working with women who have escaped ISIS in order to determine what kinds of policies will make a difference to their safety and freedom. This arts degree has given me skills in political analysis and historical perspective that supported my interaction with Nelson Mandela in discussing the power of citizen led activism, and being with Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma during the first International Human Rights Day held in Burma since 1988. I wrote about this in my book, Citizen Jane.

This journey has now led me to my new role with The Asia Foundation that will see me working with the White House and with many other influential groups in both the US and across Asia.

When I return here now I feel such gratitude for what this university has fostered in me. And I hope to find meaningful ways to give back, including being a global mentor to other students here and continuing my fight for the right of women and girls everywhere to have access to education.

Thank you very much for the honor of this award, and for the myriad gifts this university has provided me.

Jane Sloane


Power of Artivism

Last year just before Australian singer/songwriter Shane Howard released his new album “Deeper South” I had the privilege to talk with him for a few hours. This year Australian Quarterly published my piece in their April 2016 Issue.

Artists, whether they be musicians, painters, dancers, sculptors or writers, have incredible potential to catalyze social change through the way they use their art.

I’ve long been drawn to the story of Shane Howard’s life, first as creator-singer of the band, Goanna, and later as a solo musician, Shane Howard continues to use his lyric power to reconnect Australians to spirit of place.

This spirit takes the form of connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ dreaming and creation stories and identity, and to the communal power of standing ground for what’s worth fighting for.


Shane Howard – Spirit of Place

[symple_testimonial by=”Shane Howard” fade_in=”false”]I woke up in the Dreaming. I realised there was a powerful intelligence at work — a great sense of understanding in the land and landscape. And the cosmology, spirituality and the cultural depth of Aboriginal society really woke up there as well.[/symple_testimonial]


Many things can be said of Shane Howard — that he’s an Australian musician, he’s a poet laureate of the people and he’s an artist activist who fuelled our consciousness of what it means to be Australian. As  the founder, in the 1970s, of the band, Goanna, Howard’s lyrics drew on his own journey into the interior — of himself, and of Aboriginal Australia. In so doing, Howard held up to us that cultural mirror of identity, land and dispossession, and then he used his music to engage us in a national conversation about those issues that continues to this day.

Shane Howard was born in Dennington, Victoria in 1955. As he recalls: ‘Where I grew up in south west Victoria, it’s Gunditjmara country and on the border between Gunditjmara and Girai Wurrung country. So Aboriginal people were a fact of life for us growing up but it was a very dispossessed reality. … My early secondary schooling goes something like “Aboriginal people lived here and then the first fleet came — colonial settlement — and it was all quite peaceful”. That was the popular narrative in terms of the history that we were taught. … [However,] what I saw around me was drunkenness, I saw Aboriginal people completely pushed to the fringes of society, discriminated against, the butt of jokes, you know, racism. Not in my own family but certainly in the wider world. …

‘My Dad had a very keen sense of justice … [and] Mum was a musician. She played music, she played piano and we sang as a family. … She instilled in us a love of music and, I suppose, the power of music too. …

‘There’s one … very beautiful moment for me that fed into my songwriting and a kind of “fire in the head” moment. … When I was only about 10 … [I heard] The Times They Are a-Changin’ by Bob Dylan.

‘We’d grown up with a lot of folk music around us … but Dylan brought something new to that whole genre. … He was speaking about contemporary issues, and I guess that was the great awakening. …

‘Song is one of the oldest and most transportable and transmissible forms of memory … and I still see myself as part of a troubadour tradition — and the balladeer, the storyteller. We were the media once and we would travel from place to place and take the stories of one place to another. And I still think that’s an important role of the songwriter and the singer to the communication of ideas. …’

Standing on Sacred Ground

When he was 19, Howard went hitchhiking across the country, and he recalls his own social awakening from these trips:

‘I felt a keen sense to write about my Australian experience. … I did lots of journeys. … It’s amazing how far 32 dollars and a guitar can get you. And of course, as I went further north, I met more and more Aboriginal people. … So my experience deepened, and I began to hear the stories of dispossession, of colonisation, of stolen generations, and of course, the questions became more amplified and the racism became far more conspicuous. …

‘The band [Goanna] had started by then. It was very, very early days, but I got very sick and very run down and I had to take a break, so I ended up going to Uluru by train and by bus. It was pretty basic in those days.

‘The first night I set up my tent and set up camp. The next morning I went to the store … and said to the people, “I’d like to pay my respects to the local people, and how would I do that?” And they pointed me in the direction of a house. …

‘And I went over to that house and knocked at the gate. An Aboriginal guy came to the gate and [said], “What do you want?” and I said, “I’ve just come to pay my respects”.

‘In the end, they let me in and … there was an old Aboriginal man sitting there, whom I learnt, very much later, of course, was a very senior custodian for that country, with his wives and children and extended family all sitting around a small fire. I went over to where he was and felt the gravity of that moment. … And he said, “What do you want?” And I said, “I just want to pay my respects and walk the country. I don’t want to go anywhere I’m not supposed to go or go to any places I’m not supposed to be”. And he was lovely; he said, “No, you’re right, you’re right … most of the places where you’re not supposed to go are marked and just respect that”.

‘Over the next few days, … as people went past my camp, they would wave, and … I felt like a welcome visitor and not an intruder. … [One day,] there was a little sign on the toilet block that a white woman, a non-indigenous woman, was putting up. It just said, “Inma, other side of the rock at sunset.” And I said, “What’s an Inma?” And she said, “Ah, a Corroboree dance, you know, songs.” … So I walked to the other side of the rock. It’s a long way, 9 kilometres. When I got there, there was a group of people set up, sun going down, darkness fell, … the dancers came into the firelight, the body paints made them look like spirit figures — in the firelight, against their dark skin.  

‘And at the moment the women began singing and chanting, the full moon rose over the back of Uluru, and I describe that experience as my “wake up” moment. I woke up in the Dreaming. I realised there was a powerful intelligence at work — a great sense of understanding in the land and landscape. And the cosmology, spirituality and the cultural depth of Aboriginal society really woke up there as well. …

‘What I didn’t realise until years later was that … [these people] were coming back to reclaim their connection with Uluru after their own disconnection and removal. … And that dance, that Inma that night was a very important moment for them as well, and so it was those experiences that really coalesced in the first two verses of “Solid Rock”.

‘It was an experience to … go to sleep out on the ground, under the stars, like you were on a floating platform in space with a circle of Aboriginal people all speaking across the camp to each other in their language until the voices died down to a murmur and everyone goes to sleep under a full moon. …

‘I remember the very first night writing, “Out here nothing changes, not in a hurry anyway”. And that song then grew out of that experience, and then the last verse grew out of going back to Alice Springs after that experience and seeing — being confronted, after that very gentle experience, with the harsh reality of racism, colonisation, defamation, drunkenness, violence, dispossession. …

‘I saw something profoundly beautiful, and then I came back into the Western world out of that experience and saw something really ugly and I wondered who was civilised. And some things are so compelling that you can’t turn away. …

‘We’ve grown up with images of the Civil Rights Movement in America, and with all the imagery of Martin Luther King … and Bob Dylan’s “Hollis Brown” and those very powerful songs and all the great black artists as well, [like] Sam Cooke. … All of a sudden, it’s real to me in my own country and I felt embarrassed and ashamed of the country I was living in, and I suppose when you see something so wrong you either turn away or [you act]. …

‘I got deeply radicalised by the experience and I couldn’t shut up about it, but most people just glazed over. … But of course, bearing in mind during the seventies there’d been …  great Aboriginal activists at work: Gary Foley, Charlie Perkins, Cheryl Buchanan, these people I came to know later, who were rattling the can. …

‘[And me,] I’m a young bloke starting out in a band, with a young family … all I could do was write a song. I didn’t know at that time how persuasive that might become.’   

That Spirit Following You

In 1982, Howard’s band, Goanna, released its debut album, Spirit of Place, featuring the rock anthem ‘Solid Rock’. Spirit of Place was an album that ignited the social conscience of a new generation, fuelled in particular by the raw power of the lyrics of ‘Solid Rock’, the album’s distinctive didgeridoo feature (played by Billy Inda) and the use of traditional clapping sticks.

‘I felt strongly that a band called Goanna … had a really strong sense of trying to articulate an Australian sound because, at that time, … Australians … weren’t writing about Australian subject matter seriously.

‘And I was influenced by people like Henry Lawson and John Shaw Neilson … and Professor Manning Clark … . He was the one who … used the phrase “spirit of place”. … He was saying that the land, the landscape, the colour of the sky, all this will inevitably determine who will become an Australian in our evolution as a national identity. And so, … who better to go with as a guide into that understanding as a young evolving nation than the First Peoples who have been here for thirty, forty, fifty, sixty thousand years and have an intimate knowledge of the country, the land and landscape.

‘So, Manning Clark was very, very influential … and we approached him about writing the liner notes for the album, thinking he’d say no, but he actually agreed to do that. It was an unusual thing to have an emeritus professor of Australian history write out the liner notes for a pop album.’

The success of ‘Solid Rock’ gave Howard a platform for a wider public conversation about race and justice.

‘[The song] threw me headfirst into mainstream Australia and … popular culture at the same time as it threw me headfirst deeper into Aboriginal culture, and those two things were quite oppositional in many ways. …

‘An old Aboriginal fella said to me many years later after the song was released, “Ah, Shane, you’ve been going to that country, to Uluru, and that spirit been followin’ you around”. … Some things come from you and some things come through you, but I think in many ways that was a song that came through me. … It still continues to do that and it calls me powerfully every time I sing it, to really give your spirit. …

‘Once “Solid Rock” [came out] … there [were] Aboriginal people coming to every gig, coming to check out these white fellas. … People were telling me stories of the “Stolen Generations”. ……

‘Archie Roach was one of those kids, the great Aboriginal singer songwriter, who was taken away from the family and community … 20 kilometres away from where I was living. And of course, Archie and I became great friends over the years, and he and I are the same age and we often ruminated that if … he’d not been taken away, we may have been great friends [earlier]. We would have grown up together in the same town. A lot got broken.’

Something Worth Fighting For

‘[In 1972,] Lake Pedder was dammed in Tasmania for hydroelectricity. … I remember when first I saw the photos of Olegas Truchanas, his photos of Lake Pedder. It was enough to make you weep for the loss of what can only be described as the “goddess’s bath”, one of the natural wonders of the world. I think that’s true for a lot of my generation, that we felt a deep sense that there should be no such loss like that again.

‘So then to go to the Franklin River, at the invitation of Bob Brown … and to be there with hundreds and hundreds of young people my own age who gave up their own time … to be there in very harsh conditions in the middle of the bush … all these people, with this great energy and exuberance and dedication to what they were doing, that was inspiring to me. … I had a week to write that song [“Let the Franklin Flow”] before we performed it live at “Stop the Drop” concert in front of 70,000 people in Melbourne. We had the ear of the media at the time because we were coming off the back of the success of “Solid Rock”. So we had the opportunity to get that song out there and on to the airwaves … before the … federal election. …

‘Peter Dombrovskis’ photo [of “Rock Island Bend” became] the front cover of the single, and … there were … full-page ads in newspapers all around the country that said, “Would you vote for a government that would destroy this?” That was an amazing campaign; it was the first for the Greens in Australia, and it was really the awakening of the environmental movement in Australia.’

The song, ‘Let the Franklin Flow’, became an anthem for those working to save the Franklin and, ultimately, a victory song when the river was saved.

Later, it also led Shane Howard to spend more time working with young people and fuelling their social conscience.

‘I’ve done work with a lot of kids in schools … and I say to them, “Today we’ll learn a song in an Australian language”. And they look at you strangely because they think they’re speaking an Australian language, but of course, they are not. And we teach them “Solid Rock” in Pitjantjatjara. …

‘I’d love to think that we would adopt an indigenous language as a … national language, so that we have a way of speaking [to] each other as a nation that is not just English. … It goes right back to what Manning Clark said about spirit of place, that, inevitably, the country, the land, the light will determine who we become as Australian people, and we already have a beautiful model here before us in terms of the First Nations people, so why not follow that lead?’


Last year, Howard released his 13th solo album, ‘Deeper South’, which is drawn from 5 years of songwriting.

‘This is an album of deep material … I deal with the sea and there’s a lot of references to the ocean. I’ve lived in a lot of places … most of my life has taken place around the sea, and ironically, I’m best known for a song about the desert.

‘We’re at the edge of the world here and anywhere south of here, [like Antarctica] … its wild country.’

Wildness in all its dimensions has had a defining influence on Howard, and so have other artists. ‘I’m so drawn to the old masters like the Joni Mitchells, the Van Morrisons, the Leonard Cohens, the Bob Dylans. These artists who have lived an artistic life, and continue to do so, they’ve inspired me since my childhood and they continue to speak to me about living an artistic life and staying true to the past. Making art that is useful and not just entertainment. …

‘I think we lost something in the last 30 years. We were on the path to somewhere and we lost that. … Modernity came on us very shortly after our establishment as a nation, and by that I mean “as a colonial nation”, so we didn’t have time in isolation to develop a really strong cultural identity. So we have to work really hard if we’re not to just be swept up into the powerful forces of an American cultural imperialism. …

‘[However,] there is something in us as humans that is about the joy we derive from doing good for the other. There’s something hardwired in us about being decent and doing the right thing.

‘I have to believe we’ll get it together despite [laughter] everything and deal with these big issues like climate change and the ongoing issue of injustice, and we will, despite everything we do [laughter] to damn ourselves, we will find the pathway to decency. And you know, there is more good in the world than there is the opposite and we’ll find a path forward. But our art is playing a central role in prompting our conscience.’

In this respect, Shane Howard seems attuned to another of his muses, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who said, ‘In the final analysis, the questions of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something has happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened.’

As de Chardin encapsulates, ‘Love is … the affinity which links and draws together the elements of the world. … Love, in fact, is the expression and the agent of universal synthesis’ and ‘The day will come when, after harnessing the ether the winds, the  tides, and gravitation, we shall harness … the energies of love. And on that day, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.’

Shane Howard’s music has about it the qualities of infinite space, energy, timelessness — and definitely fire — that also seem to infuse his journey and his social activism. His hopefulness, social witness, attunement to the land, and to the universal, mythological and cosmological is, in itself, a love story.

[symple_box color=”white” fade_in=”false” float=”center” text_align=”left” width=””]Shane Howard is one Australia’s most influential writers and singers. He was the founding member of the iconic Australian band, Goanna, whose first album, Spirit of Place, went to the top of the charts in its first week and was released in 35 territories worldwide. The first single from the album, ‘Solid Rock’, challenged colonization and injustice experienced by Aboriginal people. With Archie Roach, Howard won a 2015 APRA Screen Music Award for ‘A Secret River’. In 2000, Howard was awarded a fellowship by the Music Fund of the Australia Council for his contributions to Australian musical life.[/symple_box]

Australian Quarterly April 2016 p26

Jane Sloane


Letter From San Francisco #22

sausalito boatI’ve just arrived back on my boat in Sausalito from being in Australia. A couple of days after my return I open my hatch and watch a man with a pirate hat rowing toward shore. Hi, he says with a grin, although in my mind it’s more har, har. I’m back in Sausalito, Grateful Dead territory.

And back on campaign turf. The Presidential campaign feels like a microcosm of what’s playing out in the wider world. At one end of the spectrum there’s fear and greed trumping all and at the other a genuine citizen powered movement for social justice. A hawks and doves kind of race, with the latest act being Sanders’ little green bird sparking a peace tweet frenzy. We’d better hope that this momentum for social justice wins out if we’re to have any chance of advancing women’s rights and righting history in the time ahead.

Sometimes it feels like there’s a lot of noise but not a lot of sense making when it comes to advancing women’s human rights.

Grass roots women’s organizations still receive so little funding in spite of all the noise of commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals and to all kinds of initiatives intended to engage women as leaders and peacemakers. Often, commitments get made to great fanfare without the tracking in place to ensure those donors step up and honor their commitments. Other times it seems that all the boxes get ticked for getting more funding to groups with women as beneficiaries without the power dynamic changing and without women stepping up to new positions of power, influence and engagement.

Women need to be able to influence informal and formal political processes and regulatory mechanisms and to connect this to their front line activism. They need to be able to tap political will and resources to address the issues they’re advocating for. At present, so many women are literally fighting to their death for the causes to which they are bound.

Berta Caceres stands at the Gualcarque River in the Rio Blanco region of western Honduras where she, COPINH (the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) and the people of Rio Blanco have maintained a two year struggle to halt construction on the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric project, that poses grave threats to local environment, river and indigenous Lenca people from the region.For instance, the recent assassination of Berta Cáceres, a Lenca Indigenous woman, and an internationally recognized leader, who was assassinated in her home.

I heard Berta speak at an agro-peasantry conference in Mexico last year and she was compelling in her message and oratory. Berta was an activist who worked at the frontlines in the struggle against the expropriation of land and water from her community by the construction of the Agua Zarca hydropower dam project in the Gualcarque River basin in Honduras, promoted by the company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) and financed by foreign investors.  The kind of company that would be championed by a Trump Presidency.

There was neither the political will nor regulatory processes to hold DESA and its investors to account for the decimation of land and water; no formal systems in place to protect the wellbeing of communities. In the United States, we’ve seen the effect of efficiency processes trumping the right of communities to access safe water in communities such as Flint in Michigan where the governor’s representative decided to replace access to the community’s safe water supply with a  cheaper unsafe option. The devastating health consequences of that decision resulted in an ongoing inquiry and a class action for compensation.

The difference in Latin America is that those leading the protests are getting assassinated. The Global Witness report shows that Latin America has the highest rate of indigenous peoples being murdered for standing up for their rights, and many of those murdered are women.

During her 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize Award ceremony, Berta Cáceres shared these words:

In our worldview, we are beings who come from the Earth, from the water, and from corn. The Lenca people are ancestral guardians of the rivers, in turn, protected by the spirits of young girls, who teach us that giving our lives in various ways for the protection of the rivers is giving our lives for the well-being of humanity and of this planet… Let us wake up!

We’re out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction. “Our Mother Earth – militarized, fenced-in, poisoned, a place where basic rights are systematically violated – demands that we take action.”

Conflicts over land and mining rights are exploding into dramatic battles.  Violent intimidation, assassinations and burning of houses of rural activists is widespread. 03-Bazookax480The most recent assassination of an environmental defender of land against a mining company is of Bazooka Rhadebe, Chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), The ACC was elected by the affected communities to represent them in the fight against the proposed mining project at Xolobeni, Wild Coast of South Africa. The committee had managed to hold the Australian mining company, MRC, and the force of the state at bay for close to a decade. And then Bazooka Rhadebe was gunned down in his home by assassins posing as police officers while Bazooka protected his son and wife from also being shot.

Women and men are being killed as defenders of land and territory, and more often it’s women who are left to defend the land while men are further afield working. If women aren’t killed, they are often raped and violated for their stance and determination to protect their home, rivers and earth. The word ‘gendercide’ does not overstate the case when it comes to rape being used as a weapon of war in many countries, women still being burnt as witches in places like Papua New Guinea, women being killed in honor crimes, the ‘normalization’ of domestic violence, including in marriage, the kidnapping and forced marriage of girls as young as nine and the sustained mutilation of girls’ bodies through harmful traditional practices.

02-aboriginal girlYoung girls are also committing suicide in response to violence and despair, such as the 10 year old Aboriginal girl who committed suicide in the Kimberley in Australia last month. Growing criminal networks, militarization and corporatization add to the layers of violence affecting women and girls.

Most especially concerning is the rise and rise of religious fundamentalism and the devastating impact this is having on women and girls in all of its dimensions.

There’s been plenty of military money and might to support fighting wars in the world but not much money for combatting the world’s longest war of violence against women, whether it’s domestic violence, sexual violence, violence perpetrated against women’s human rights defenders of body and earth or the violence of fundamentalist beliefs and the impact on women. Why do we accommodate this sustained war against women and yet commit so much fight and might to address other major crises and wars?

If we are serious in addressing this gendercide there has to be a global compact by donors to ending violence against women. Important here is the need to dramatically increase funding to grassroots women’s groups to ensure they can continue to provide the services and support on the ground while advocating for policy and legal change.

For instance, at Global Fund for Women we provided a crisis fund grant to Berta’s group to support their continued fight for their land and for justice in Honduras and in Australia we’ve funded the formation of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s fund based in Darwin to support strategies and solutions led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. We need to be ramping up support on the ground to 1000 times the level at which it currently happens.

08-nonhle-mbuthuma-1-c2a9-the-shore-break-lrGlobal Fund for Women remains one of the few global organizations committed to providing core funding to support the work of women led groups focused on realizing women’s human rights. It’s critical to maintain this support as the opportunities for women’s groups to access funding is diminishing and the spaces for women’s organizing are shrinking. This is happening in many forms and for a number of reasons. In some countries, women organizing together are seen as a dangerous trend and the buildings they occupy are being burnt and razed to the ground.

In Egypt, the government is cracking down on women’s groups receiving funding from donors outside of Egypt and issuing officials summons to key staff of these organizations to attend interrogation sessions undertaken by government officials and freezing organizations’ bank accounts. Other cultures restrict women coming together for cultural reasons and so their isolation and disconnection from other women, community and organized action is acute.

Girls too are losing their gathering spaces as their parents choose to marry them off early in the name of security rather than allowing them to stay in school.

The number of donors pulling out of countries due to concerns over corruption, conflict and crises as well as changing strategic interests and approaches all contribute to women losing the spaces they’ve created for their organizing. The pressure against civil society and women’s human rights groups has been increased exponentially in countries in the Middle East in particular, with some donors deciding it is too hard to keep supporting groups in this region.

Funding is also being reduced for organizations working to support refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. This situation is now exacerbated by the fact that many European governments that were supporting organizations working in the refugee camps in the Middle East have now diverted this funding back to Europe to address the refugee situation there.

04-aptopix-mideast-lebanon-syrian-refugees-cpPublic attention has also swung from the Middle East to Europe where there appears greater interest in providing funding support for the refugee situation in Europe than to also maintain support for organizations and groups working in the Middle East.

And yet if we don’t support groups to be able to help families and communities inside the camps in countries in the Middle East then these women, their families and their children miss out on education, personal and economic security and an opportunity to realize their rights and potential. They may also become targets of fundamentalists and terrorist recruiters.

What is the solution, so many people ask? There is no one solution, there are many interventions and actions that will collectively contribute to real change. The work the women’s groups are doing in the camps is essential in supporting women to address violence, trauma, attend to their own, and their family’s health and education needs, for them to have a voice and self-esteem, to claim their own power, to earn an income and to influence policies and laws. Having spent time in the camps, I’m also convinced of the power of yoga, mindfulness and meditation and conflict resolution skills for long-term peace.

Nikita ShahbaziI’ve written previously about Nikita Shahbazi a yoga teacher supported by I Move Foundation, one of the women’s organizations working in the refugee camps that are funded by Global Fund for Women.

Nikita is a teacher with the grit and grace to help children survive in these camps by giving them an immersion in yoga that helps them reclaim energy, life force, hope, curiosity and the power to dream thanks to Nikita’s skilled and graceful teaching.

The arts also play such a key role in healing and peacebuilding – including children drawing, writing and dancing their fears and hopes while in the camps. Conversely, art can be a great community educator and peace builder. While I was in Australia, I was captivated by the theme of the Perth international Arts Festival which was empathy.

In responding to the refugee situation, we can’t just say their problems are not our problems, that they are the other, they are not us, that we’ll build walls and fences to keep refugees out. This is a global problem and it requires global, regional, national and local  leadership. Each country must take a quota of refugees rather than expecting those countries closest to the borders of Syria to assume the load. Moral leadership requires this commitment. Beyond this commitment by political leaders is the invitation to every person to walk in another’s shoes, it’s the invitation to an empathetic life and to the profound recognition that we are not separate, we are connected.

06-hr_pwf-family-day_cr-jessica-wyld_01In this same spirit of empathy and connectedness, there needs to be a recognition of the radical shifts needed to achieve gender justice so that we don’t lose another generation of women and girls, of men and boys – who are also profoundly affected by gender inequality and ideas of hyper-masculinity. Investing in women’s movements is critical. And so is the need to recognize that just supporting other social justice movements, whether they be environmental movements or racial justice movements won’t necessarily lead to changed conditions for women unless there is an intentional commitment to gender equality built into the equation.

Getting money to women’s groups and trusting their strategies and solutions for change, as well as ensuring they have a seat at tables of influence, is key to real change for women. For it is their rise that will rebalance the world and set us on a course of peace and justice.

While immersed in the big issues impacting women’s human rights I took time to fly back to Australia where I needed to spend time with my family and with close friends. When I was there I was dealing with a lot of change and so swimming in the sea was like an act of renewal; diving into the water felt like I was reclaiming a fearlessness I felt I’d lost. I danced, I spun, I somersaulted, I leapt.

I read an interview with surfer Leah Dawson and felt I’d found kin in the way she described her relationship with water:

“If I were to categorize myself, I’d say I’m a water woman in love with the sea, passionately exploring all crafts and waves of most sizes.

Most of all, I’d love to be considered a dancer of the sea, that’s what I am working towards on every wave I ride.

I want to feel that feminine elegance exude from me, I want to feel myself in unison with the wave, completely a part of the sea. If people do see me surf, I want them to see that I’m in love with the ocean.”

Walking the beach reconnected me to joy and laughter. The daily ritual of watching dogs bounding into the sea was sublime and so too the experience of seeing dolphins in the bay.

07henley beach dogOne day I watched an old Labrador walk slowly along the sand next to his owner. He suddenly stopped, plodded into the sea and sat down in the water. I laughed out loud. Nearby was another daily ritual in progress. A very large woman waded into the sea up to her neck, with just her face showing and her very big floppy hat waving in the breeze. Like the nearby Labrador, she was glad to soak her skin. Near her was a woman in a green bathing cap and swimmers relaying a mile from one jetty to the other, arms slicing the sea in sync. Like rhythmic points of light across the water.

Later, getting some fish to eat and sitting in the beach square, I watched a woman carrying a baby, with her male partner following her and a little girl trailing behind. The little girl turned and stopped when she saw me and then she curled her fingers in a slow wave several times. Then she smiled again, all dimples and ran on to join her family. Those littlest of moments can bring a great whoosh of joy.

It brought to mind that lovely song by Australian singer Sara Storer called “Long Live the Girls“. Storer, who has four boys, said she wrote this song for her four nieces. It seems to me it’s a universal song for all the girls in their fearlessness, potential and in affirmation of their rights.

Toward the end of my time in Australia I took a dreamy drive from Mt Gambier to Port Fairy – into faerie people land:

05cockatoosWhite cockatoos break across the sky
Gum studded roads
Scent of eucalyptus
Maggies cawing
Kookas cackling
My Australianness rooted in me
Deep like redgum roots
Shacks and ruins strewn across plains where the light bleaches out life
Stripped back stark
Glowing light
Meditative, memorable
Trees become creatures
Silhouettes sing to me
My country
Fella jump up
Sista sit on the ground
A gathering circle
To understand to try to

Jane Sloane
San Francisco


Letter From The Interior


[symple_testimonial by=”Audre Lorde” fade_in=”false”]“Caring for myself is not self indulgence, it is self preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
A Burst of Light: Essays[/symple_testimonial]


This is a long-time-coming letter, erupting like a dormant volcano, stirred and spurred by a convening of women’s human rights activists in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and held in Batumi on the edge of the Black Sea.

moffatt-cropIt’s a surreal series of flights on smallish planes hopping from London to Riga to Minsk to Batumi that brings me to the convening. By the time I arrive in Minsk it’s late at night and all that greets me is an endless configuration of grey, unoccupied seats in the transfer lounge. I wander over to another area where two structures akin to four poster beds sit incongruously in the middle of the grey compound and next to them are a child sized table and chairs and a gloriously colored pup tent complete with rocket chute.

Settling myself in one of the beds, in an Alice in Wonderland like moment, a woman suddenly materializes before me and informs me that this is part of Etihad’s lounge and am I a member? Am I a member, I wonder out loud, looking in vain for signs of what I associate with an airline lounge. “In any case, you can join for a few hours,” says the woman deciding for me and my gratitude knows no bounds as I curl up for a ‘kip’ so tired and needing a flat line bed.

At last we take flight and then finally I’m in Batumi, on an ink black night and me in an altered state. I sleepwalk through registration and fall into my bed and to a  brief and welcome sleep. I wake to the alarm and to our planning day for the convening, pull the curtains across and stare at the view.

The sea!! The sea!!

(eternal) divine, ethereal, sublime…the constancy of the sea, my elemental home.


I am beside myself with joy in this moment and later, after our planning is done, I reclaim this lightness as I skip waves in my boots and fossick for colored stones as runes for rituals and stories.

At our planning session we spend time with the facilitators, one of whom is an experienced trainer in integral security, as a concept of security that goes beyond just the physical protection of the individual. It takes into account the need to feel safe at home, at work and on the street, as well as integrating the physical and psychological well-being of women’s human rights defenders. It’s the first time in my experience that a convening such as this is so fully grounded and informed by the principles of self-care.

As we commence our convening, we gather in a circle in a room with lots of pillows and mats and for the next three days we take up space across the room with our bodies sprawled out in various positions. It’s such a celebration of this free flow space where we are able to choose with our bodies as well as our minds how we occupy this space.

My mind expands in this space – I connect different thought patterns and make leaps of association in relation to ideas and issues. I think back to the children in the refugee camps in Lebanon who could dream again, experience the reawakening of their spirit life, after doing yoga classes created by a woman who believed in the immense power of body and movement therapy.

During this convening time, we hear from so many women’s human rights defenders and activists who speak of exhaustion and burnout from their work and of the irony of advocating for the safety and security of others while our own bodies fall to pieces. At a time when civil society spaces, and spaces for women’s organizing, are closing down it seems important to find ways to find, fund and affirm the importance of these spaces.

We hear too from speakers whose work has been criminalized by the government and where any travel is dangerous. “When I return home I will be invited to the police office, I will be fingerprinted, I will be sent to the HIV office. I will be interrogated to find out where I went and why I went and how I went,” one speaker said.

“I didn’t realize how much I needed this time until I got here,” said one woman. “I didn’t think we should meet in some fancy hotel but now I realize that having soft beds and spa access is probably exactly what I needed after time in the field,” said another.

Women often seem to experience a sense of guilt when we focus attention on our own need for rest and restoration believing it somehow less worthy than the heartbreaking and devastating stories and situations of women and girls in other countries.

We don’t often enough recognize that we are affirming the right to physical and mental wellbeing of women globally when each of us take responsibility for our own rest and wellbeing.

Self-care is a political act.

Picture2If I had the funds I’d create a Center for Women’s Deep Rest that would be available to women activists and to other leaders in transition. A center for women’s deep sleep and healing, with crayons and paints and strings and clay and instruments available for play time and expression.

What a radical concept, no reports, presentations or training sessions, just a focus on restoration and rejuvenation in recognition of the incredible contribution, talent and expertise of these women, and the desire that they again be able to play a creative and active role in their communities and movements.

Where women can reclaim their playful, joyful selves and rediscover their beauty and complexity in and beyond their activist selves and learn to ensure that rest and recovery time are part of their daily lives and rhythm.

I wish the same for other leaders who are facing a time of transition in order to support them to do this from a position of strength – or at least the aikido idea of strength in the form of flow and surrender. For me, the question continues to be how to find a role where I can practice transformative leadership, without compromising my sense of community, home, and connection to nature.

How to be close to family in Australia, with my parents getting older and wanting to be close to them, and to my brother and close friends, while doing the work I love in the world that is mainly outside of Australia and being steeped in nature to infuse my soul.  And in a global environment that increasingly rewards managerialism, how to hold fast to my big dreaming self?

I listen to an interview with my favorite broadcaster, Phillip Adams, where he reflects on his broadcasting role and says

“We are so bloody privileged to be working at the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) at the one place that actually encourages ideas. We complexify rather than simplify to a slogan, we embroider. It’s not a binary world, issues aren’t yes or no, they are infinitely complex and we have the great joy, the great privilege of working in that context.”


And so it is with women’s movements and women’s human rights activism. The work of challenging and changing structures and systems is deep and long term and necessary. We have to be strong to stay the course in holding ground and gaining ground and in supporting a new generation of activists and advocates.

I recently spent time with graduate students at the University of Berkeley at a session that was supposed to be about career advice on getting involved in women’s human rights movement building and ended up being a deeper dive discussion after a student asked me what one of my biggest lessons in my work life had been.

“Not giving up my own power,” I said

“What does that mean?” asked one student.

“In essence, don’t sabotage your own potential at the very moment where forces converge to take you to a new point in your leadership and influence.
Hold on to that opportunity and influence while being inclusive of others.
Claim this power, as good and vital power and use it as a springboard to realize your vision and direction.”

Back at the convening, I remember a powerful storytelling session I had with a narrative therapist where he encouraged me to imagine an animal totem that I could relate to and then to describe myself in the skin of this creature. I responded by saying I could see myself bounding like an impala across the landscape and my body was leaping with love of life. Like the image of Sybil Shearer, my favorite dancer, and her high, ecstatic leaping in a deeply intuitive response to the natural environment which stoked her creativity.

Bright_sun_1000What would stoke my creativity?

To dance
Work with my hands
Draw with my color crayons
Write poetry on my boat
Join artist India Flint in her textile workshop in New Mexico
Go to a month long yoga retreat at the Sanctuary at Mission Beach

Sleep long and dreamily in Piccadilly

Embrace leadership in a way that more swiftly gets funds and power into the hands of women in communities including seed funding for those women and women’s movements who just need the funds to begin a dream.
Seed funding is as precious as funding to help those wanting to extend and scale their work.

I want to reclaim those lost parts of myself that my dearest mentor, Stella, asked me about. She knew the cost and she knew the rewards when we paid attention to this.

black seaI greet the sea one final time, seeking my eternal threes – three has always been my lucky number. I don’t really know which stones I’ll be drawn to, only that it feels like an alchemic process.

As I reach into the clear, clear sea, I’m drawn to glowing egg shaped stones that are smooth and comforting in my hand. And of course I’m not really surprised – eggs – source of creativity, new life, maternal birth, cracking open.

I remember the story of the monks who deliberately dropped the clay pots they made and then painted the cracks with gold leaf, in the belief that it’s in the cracks that our richness can be found. I turn to go.

Jane Sloane

[symple_testimonial by=” Kobayashi Issa” fade_in=”false”]
From that woman
on the beach, dusk pours out
across the evening waves


Letter From Piccadilly

[symple_testimonial by=” Wendell Berry” fade_in=”false”]What I stand for is what I stand on.[/symple_testimonial]


201501309-JaneSloane-CottageFront(Corrected)I am home. Cockatoos hurtle like boomerangs across the morning sky. A cacophony of sounds. The beautiful trees. The awakening of the natural world –

The owners of my Piccadilly cottage, and the wider land on which it stands, are selling the property and so this is my last time here. My doctor has ordered complete rest so that my fractured ankle can heal and she’s told me to cancel all holiday plans.  “You need to stop, to rest and reschedule your holidays for later. You’re exhausted and your foot needs to heal; this is recuperation time and medical appointment time for you.”  And so here I am, unexpectedly face to face with grief at leaving my heart home, this sanctuary that has been such a balm for my soul for the last 12 years.   It feels like a layering of loss and, at the heart of this loss, a call to courage. “You can’t grow if you can’t let go,” said my yoga teacher when I told him that I was leaving.  “One less expense,” said another friend, ever practical. And yet what is the cost of not being here. That is the question never asked.

201501309-JaneSloane-Trees02Late afternoon … a tangerine sun… dappled light, trees aflame, birds flitting from tree to tree, a sweet caroling, chirruping…and then come the magpies – raucous caws…almost a screech…to add to the whole shebang. “You’ll find another place,” says a friend.

And yet, that’s the thing. It is this place, this land, this tree, this scent inhaled from this loft perch under this piece of sky. It is this walk around the property with this view to the moon with a koala in the eucalyptus tree outside my balcony, and a white horse running across the field behind.

201501309-JaneSloane-FromBalconyI have some inkling of what Aboriginal people must feel in their connection to country when they leave their Dreaming place, and what they will do to stay.  I think of the pilot program to support  five hundred Aboriginal – Martu – children at five schools in the Pilbara desert to begin learning under the Direct Instruction teaching method championed by Cape York leader, Noel Pearson so that they can also stay on their land.  “We have got a great moral purpose here, a moral purpose for the survival of these communities and these people, Noel Pearson said.  “The Martu have the same vision as I have for my people, which is for them to live long on their land.” 

This is my place, not in an economic sense of ownership; rather it is a spiritual connection that is cellular.  It belongs to my heart, it belongs to me.  It was the poet Muriel Rukeyser who wrote: ‘The universe is made of stories not of atoms.’  The storylines of this place are etched on my body as much as my soul.  From building fires, walking fields, talking to the chooks and playing stick with Penny dog to watching a crow land near my window, brisk walks in the rain, evacuating from the bushfires and seeing the first cherry blossoms. In all of this I can feel the wild energy of dancer Sybil Shearer, and I know I could dance this place as an epic love story.


A few days later I hear the news that the former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, has died.  He was a mentor to me when I was doing an ethics fellowship.  He was also one of the politicians who had the greatest influence on my life.  This does not mean that I believed in all his policies.  For instance, if Fraser had stayed in power, the Franklin River in Tasmania would have been dammed. Fraser was a Federalist and didn’t believe in Federal power trumping state authority when it came to environmental issues.  He wanted to honor the Federal compact with states and territories and so offered compensation if the dam was not built, which the Tasmanian government rejected. Bob Hawke won the next election, and honored his election promise to stop the dam being built.

malcolm fraserMalcolm Fraser’s influence was as someone who demonstrated the courage of his convictions and was not influenced by what it might mean for his chances of re-election.  His commitment to Aboriginal land rights, human rights, equality and refugees was absolute.

I remember as a 20 year old watching Fraser’s election defeat speech in 1983 and being struck by his tears and his humanity.  Here was a man who deeply loved his job and country and his voice and face betrayed his emotions.  This was someone who had not sought out public opinion on whether the country should accept Vietnamese boat people because he knew the weight of opinion was against them coming.

In the end, Fraser’s acceptance of more than 200,000 Asian and Middle Eastern migrants marked a definitive end to the White Australia policy and permanently changed the face of Australian society. Among the migrants were nearly 56,000 Vietnamese who applied as refugees and an additional 2059 boat people who fled the communist regime.

Fraser made this decision because he felt it was the right thing to do. He appealed to Australian public’s own sense of justice in asking them to billet these people and to make them welcome. I remember the fractious nature of this time and of walking past graffiti where words slashed red spelt ‘Asians Out of Here’.  A day later I walked past and the graffiti had been changed to ‘We Welcome Asians Out Here’.  Fraser biographer, Margaret Simons gave a sense of Fraser the man in her tribute to him:

‘In the popular imagination (Fraser’s) “life wasn’t meant to be easy” line has been reduced to a joke. Yet in its original context the line is powerful and moving – the conclusion to a discussion of liberalism, and the history of nations and what a nation needs from its people.

The full sentence reads “There is within me some part of the metaphysic, and thus I would add that life is not meant to be easy.”  Fraser was not religious, and yet he acknowledged a sense of higher purpose – a spiritual sense. An idealism. I suggested to him once that he was an idealist. He paused, patted a dog that was lying at his feet, then said: “Well, that is what it has all been about, really.”’

Fraser became an ever vocal critic of successive governments’ response to asylum seekers and ended up resigning from the Liberal Party in December 2009, saying the party no longer represented the values of the party he joined and the approach to asylum seekers was neither just or humane.  This critique was supported by the first academic analysis of the current asylum seeker policy by the University of Queensland which concluded that the policy was a fatally risky, moral and legal failure that is severely damaging Australia’s reputation.

Speaking on this issue, Fraser said “The asylum seeker debate in Australia is demeaning and miserable.  The politicians who participate in it have contempt for the Australian people. They believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that if they appeal to the fearful and mean sides of our nature they will win support.”

we_welcome_refugeesInvoking fear of asylum seekers suggests a distrust of ‘the other’.   How then to break through and recognize another’s humanity rather than the color of her skin, his gender, her identity, his race, her culture, his choice of religion – or lack thereof.

In response to the gunning down of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, Andrew Hussey wrote in the New York Times of the holy clash between deeply religious crusaders and French nationals. A clash between those who are outraged by what they see as the arrogance of those in positions of influence who believe they can mock whatever they like, including others’ religious beliefs, versus ‘a generation that believed foremost in the freedom to say what you like to whomever you like…what Parisians… call “gouaille,” a kind of cheeky wit, based on free thinking and a love of provocation, that always stands in opposition to authority.’

bring back our girlsIn Nigeria the terrorist group, Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden”, is now joining forces with ISIS and supporting the Islamic State to extend and deepen its influence.  More girls and young women have been taken hostage in Nigeria, to be married off to Islamic men; forced into slavery to reproduce for the cause, with no chance of education or any means to fulfil their own dreams and potential. In ISIS controlled cities in Syria, women are not allowed to sit outside and are forced to wear the niqab, the full face veil only sparing the eyes.

And so we have these gathering forces. A call to arms by an Islamic State that is ‘Very Islamic’, as Graham Wood writes in The Atlantic. As Wood wrote, ISIS had ‘hijacked secular sources of power and grievance, and was using them for religious ends – ends that are, at least among some supporters, sincere and carefully thought through.’ The call from the Islamic State is being heard by men and women, young males and young females, in Europe and Africa who want to engage in a higher calling. And now a Christian cavalcade is growing with private Christian armies forming to take up their own call to arms in what may be seen as a holy war, or a New Crusade.

In his attempt to answer the question, ‘what’s really going down here’, David Brooks in the New York Times wrote that we’re deluded if we think that creating better economic conditions will stop people joining ISIS.

“People don’t join ISIS, or the Islamic State, because they want better jobs with more benefits…These people don’t care if their earthly standard of living improves a few percent a year.  They’re disgusted by the pleasures we value, the pluralism we prize and the emphasis on happiness in this world which we take as public life’s ultimate end. They’re not doing it because they are sexually repressed.  They’re doing it because they think it will ennoble their souls and purify creation.   A young Egyptian man, Islam Yaken, joined ISIS …for the sake of an electrifying, apocalyptic worldview and what he imagines to be some illimitable heroic destiny.  People who live according to a pure code of honor are not governed by the profit motive; they are governed by the thymotic urge, the quest for recognition.  They seek the sort of glory that can be won only by showing strength in confrontation with death.  This heroic urge is combined, by Islamic extremists, with a vision of End Times, a culmination to history brought about by a climactic battle and the purification of the earth.”

Brooks is clear that the only way to counter this heroic impulse is with a more compelling one. His suggestion is a call to nationalism, of the kind that will contribute to global democracy through Syrian, Egyptian, Lebanese nationalism as ‘a call to serve a cause that connects nationalism to dignity and democracy and transcends a lifetime’.

Meanwhile, in all of this conflict and terrorism, it is women who are most affected. They are kidnapped, raped, forced into marriage, used as interlopers. It’s not surprising then that, in response, it’s women who are leading the social media campaigns, the underground efforts, the organizing power, and the galvanizing forces in citizen demonstrations and policy advocacy in many countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and beyond. Women’s movements for dramatic social change are building momentum.

Gandhi’s ‘we must be the change’ is as relevant for government policies as it is for individuals. In Turkey the lack of gender equality and freedoms is based on a structural patriarchy that informs all policies and programs. The lack of formal reform has translated to a tripling of gender related homicides and domestic violence increasing by 1,400%. In an article in The Guardian Weekly, Elif Shafak writes of a government that doesn’t know how to collaborate with women’s advocacy and civil society groups….and notes the parallel rise of Turkish women’s own politicization and call to action.  More than half of those demonstrating at protest rallies are women and most critical social media campaigns are led by women seeking to hold those in power to account for the increasing gender violence.

slide9-img-5People will rise up and women will lead the way in many communities.  They will do this for social and economic reasons as much as for spiritual and political motives, and not just in the Global South.  In his book, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America
Bob Herbert writes that by 2013 “nearly fifty million Americans were poor. Another fifty million, the so-called near poor, were living just a notch or two above the official poverty line…Those two groups…constituted nearly a third of the entire U.S. population…One in every five American children was poor, and one in every three black children. Meanwhile the top 1% hauls in nearly a fifth of the nation’s income each year. With 6.5 million people aged 16-24 being both out of school and out of work, this is a catastrophe in the making.  The gendered impact of poverty is also alarming. The poverty rates for women remained at historically high levels in 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released in September 2014. Nearly 18 million women lived in poverty in 2013. More than half of all poor children lived in families headed by women.

Herbert’s hope lies in America’s citizens.  ‘If our nation is to be changed for the better, ordinary citizens will have to intervene aggressively in their own fate. The tremendous power in the hands of the moneyed interests will not be relinquished voluntarily.’  Women’s funds across the US and globally are doing this. Women’s Funds are philanthropic organizations that provide financial support to women-led initiatives designed to advance women’s human rights and economic justice. They raise money to distribute grants to women’s groups within their own region in recognition that getting money into the hands of women’s organizations is one of the best ways to address community issues and ensure that women and girls can assume greater voice and leadership in decision-making, and thus benefit directly from the solutions.

With support from women’s funds, women worldwide are exerting more and more economic power as donors and philanthropists.  The collective capacity of women’s funds is broad and deep — broad enough to propel worldwide transformation and deep enough to engage and empower women on the ground.

To sustain this momentum exponentially more funds need to be channeled to grass roots women-led organizations so that they can build resources and momentum at a time when safe spaces for women and girls are being eroded and denied. This is especially so for women’s human rights defenders who are at the front lines of conflict, and with religious fundamentalism and violence against women at record highs in many countries.  Women need these spaces build compelling and inclusive social movements that involve men and boys, women and girls in a compact for a reconfigured society where every person can contribute to imagining and realizing a new world. Spaces that can embrace relevant technologies, that respond to dynamic and volatile landscapes including pop-up spaces that can be easily assembled and dismantled and virtual spaces that transcend physical boundaries to ignite collective action.

[symple_testimonial by=”Medea Benjamin” fade_in=”false”]Changing the structure and rules of the global economy will require a mass movement based on messages of compassion, justice, and equality, as well as collaborative and democratic processes … If we stay positive, inclusive, and democratic, we have a truly historic opportunity to build a global movement for social justice.[/symple_testimonial]


And now I’m back from Australia and serene in my watery home in Sausalito.  Next door my boat friends are having a surprise party. A band plays and how I love that jangly banjo sound.  There’s a splash in the water as a pelican skids through while laid out above me is the glory of a starry spangled sky.  My boat is like a rock-a-bye sweet baby jane kind of experience and it’s in this mode that I fall into a deep sleep. This too is dreaming country.

[symple_testimonial by=”Ruth Bader Ginsberg” fade_in=”false”]It is not women’s liberation, it is women’s and men’s liberation.[/symple_testimonial]


Jane Sloane
Piccadilly – Australia


Handheld Video of Piccadilly