Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru (AWSWN) is made up of a multidisciplinary team of campaigners — journalist and campaigner Julie Macken, refugee and asylum seeker advocate Pamela Curr, former Premier of Western Australia Professor Carmen Lawrence, journalist and academic Wendy Bacon, human rights barrister Claire O’Connor SC, and campaigns and communications expert Luisa Low.

how it all began

AWSWN was formed in 2015 after media expert, journalist and humanitarian Julie Macken met with asylum seeker and human rights campaigner, Pamela Curr from The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

Julie was shocked to see what was developing on Nauru in August 2015 and rang Pamela to find out what was happening. 

That phone call was a turning point. Women were being routinely raped, bashed and abused. The two chatted and Julie suggested that she thought a lot of Australian women would identify with the idea of not feeling safe and why that was so fundamental to all women's wellbeing.

Julie wondered that if the two wrote an open letter from Australian women to Malcolm Turnbull would enough women sign it? 

Julie's colleague, campaigner and journalist Luisa Low then came on board, creating a Change.org petition and a full page advertisement featured in The Saturday Paper on Saturday September 26 2015.

Australian women began responding in huge numbers. Within just a few days over 20,000 women had signed including some of the most powerful women in business, media, entertainment and academia. 

The campaign was a knockout.

It then occurred to Julie that Australians would never know what was happening on Nauru unless some media and civil society were able to visit.

The problem at this point was that even applying for a media visa cost $8000.  In an age of dwindling media and newspaper sales no media outfit was going to take that risk. 

It then occurred to Julie that this was actually a collective issue – something a lot of Australians would want to be a part of. So when Julie asked Wendy Bacon if she would consider going as an independent and very highly regarded investigative journalist - she jumped at the opportunity and recognised why it was imperative. 

The two then discussed who else should go as kind of 'ambassadors' for Australians, especially Australian women. Professor Carmen Lawrence’s name came up straight away. 

Professor Carmen Lawrence is a woman of enormous intellect but also real heart and great facilitation skills. Julie then posed her idea to her. After explaining it her Professor Lawrence took a deep breath and said, of course I will go if you think I can be of use.

And as a collective do we think that? Yes we do.

The next step was to raise $20,000 to cover the visas; including Wendy's media visa - a non-refundable $8000 per application, flights, transport, accommodation and security. A big feat which we considered may be impossible in a short time frame.

We then set up a GoFundMe in order to raise the $20,000. Donations came flooding in. Amazingly, in less than 48 hours we had raised the amount needed to send Wendy Bacon and Professor Carmen Lawrence to Nauru.

This whole experience has been extraordinary to see women across all the major political parties and disciplines and States, from all sorts of walks of life jump in, put their money down and count themselves in.

It was at this point the team was joined by one of Australia’s preeminent human rights lawyers, Claire O’Connor SC, who made an extraordinary contribution to the watershed report, Protection Denied Abuse Condoned. Claire later went on to represent AWSWN at the Australian Senate Inquiry into serious allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect of asylum seekers in relation to the Nauru Regional Processing Facility.

Simply the issue of violence against women resonates so deeply for many women that it cuts across the whole refugee debate and locates itself in simple questions of respect and compassion and dignity – not a bad place to be when considering how we treat the most vulnerable in both Australian society and on Nauru.

The Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru is dedicated to exposing the truth on Nauru, and ending the area of mandatory detention which sees to unspeakable abuse against women like Abyan. 

With a supporter network of over 70,000 Australians AWSWN continues to campaign for the end of offshore processing and advocating for the fair, humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.


Photo credit: Tim O'Connor