World Refugee Day

By Mary-Margaret Sweeney, MSW, Indy Feminists member & activist


If you’ve been on social media at all today, you’ve likely seen that it’s World Refugee Day. Each year, those who work to resettle refugees and advocate for their rights use this opportunity to educate others about the world’s refugee crisis.

I spent my early social work career as a refugee resettlement case manager. Since that time, I’ve remained involved as an advocate, volunteer, and donor. Why? Of course, many of my colleagues and clients became my friends. And all of my clients had stories that I will never forget. Here are some facts and statistics about the current refugee crisis.


What is a refugee? How is it different than a migrant or asylum seeker?

–The 1951 Refugee Covenant defines a refugee as someone who  “owing to a well-founded fear of being  persecuted for reasons of race, religion,  nationality, membership of a particular social  group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or  owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself  of the protection of that country.”

–Migrants may follow the same travel patterns as refugees, but are often traveling to further their economic of education prospects. They aren’t being forced to flee, necessarily.

–Internally Displaced Persons, or IDPs, are people who have had to flee, but do not cross a national border. For example, the Yazidi people of Iraq were often mislabeled in the news as refugees, but because they fled in-country, they were technically IDPs.

–Asylum seekers have made it into the country in which they intend to seek asylum status. This typically happens at a port of entry, like the Customs office of an airport. Sometimes these people have more resources, as they were able to get themselves out of country on a travel, work, or student visa, and pay for their passage. This is not to say that they have not experienced trauma: many have been jailed and tortured in the country they are fleeing, and face months or years in a detention facility upon seeking asylum status while their case is reviewed.

–At the end of 2012, there were about 15.4 million refugees globally. Of that, 5 million emanate from Palestine alone. The situation there produces so many refugees and has gone on for so long, it is handled by its own agency, UNRWA. The rest of the world’s refugees are processed by the UNHCR.

–The UNHCR has three “durable solutions” for refugees, and they are attempted in this order: repatriation of the refugee to their homeland; if that is not possible, it is attempted that they integrate into the country into which they fled; often, this is not possible, as the surrounding nations are also in conflict or are unable or unwilling to take refugees. The third and final resolution available is resettlement in a (likely) Western country through the official UNHCR programs.

–The US takes ~70,000 refugees annually

–The largest populations of refugees entering the United States currently are those from Burma, Iraq, Somalia, and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

–Germany is typically the largest industrialized host each year, taking ~100,000 refugees in 2013.

–Months, and many times, years, of interviews, background checks, medical screens, and paperwork happen before a refugee is cleared to emigrate.

–Only 1% of the world’s refugees are resettled. The rest may be repatriated, integrated into the nation into which they fled, languish in refugee camps for decades, or lose their lives in the conflicts.

–Many women and children travel alone as male heads of household were killed in conflict. Many of these women have experienced rape as a tool of war.

Funding for refugee resettlement via the US State Department does not come close to covering the expenses of operating a robust resettlement agency. To hire competent workers who understand trauma-informed care, interpreters and translators who are fluent in languages rare in the United States who have also been trained in the ethics and confidentiality crucial to their work, and to create programs that truly support self-sufficiency and healing for refugee clients is expensive. If you’d like to make a donation, below is a list of my favorite organizations doing this work:

Exodus Refugee Immigration: Exodus resettles in the local Indianapolis, IN area. Their primary population comes from Burma, as Indianapolis is home to a large Burmese community. They have a fast-growing population of Congolese refugees as well. All refugees receive 3 months of case management, and have access to extended case management services if they have an outstanding medical or mental health need. All refugees are offered mental health services, employment placement, English classes, and all basic services such as housing and school enrollment.
GirlForward is a mentoring agency for teenage refugee girls in Chicago, IL and Austin, TX. They provide after-school tutoring and safe-space, summer camp, special events and programs, and match girls with a mentor. They have been profiled in Reader’s Digest and on CNN, and they are doing amazing work that makes a huge impact. Their Austin, TX location is a new addition. Look for more from them in the coming years.


UNHCR/UNRWA: These are the large organizational arms of the UN that provide on-the-ground support in-country during conflicts. They serve those who are processing out of their homes for resettlement but also provide humanitarian relief for those who must stay behind. Those who work for these organizations do some of the most dangerous work there is to be done. The agencies also work to compile data and statistics on refugees that inform funding and policy-making decisions globally.


5 Reasons Not To Hit Kids and 5 Alternative Ways to Guide Children’s Behavior

1. Children imitate their role models. They learn from their parents what is and is not acceptable behavior. Studies have shown that children who are hit or spanked at home are more likely to hit other children.


2. Despite the common myth that spanking and hitting helps children succeed, children who are spanked or hit do worse in school than their counterparts who are not spanked.


3. Spanking or hitting children makes them MORE likely to be arrested, not less, like many parents hope. Source:…/study-finds-link-between-use-of-c…

4. Although many don’t consider spanking or hitting “real abuse,” it is nonetheless strongly linked with mental illness. Source:…/Spanking-Linked-to-Mental-Illness.aspx

5. Children misbehave more when they are stressed, frightened, angry or sad. Studies have confirmed that children who are spanked are more poorly behaved. Source:…/spanking-hurts-parents-…/nrD77/


1. Mentally prepare kids for tough situations to avoid bad behavior. If you know your child misbehaves in a specific situation, talk about it beforehand. For example, if your child throws a tantrum when it’s time to go home from the park, warn them a few minutes before you want to leave. The child may still be upset, but often taking away the element of surprise will lessen the impact. If your child misbehaves at the movie theater, talk with them before you leave about how to make sure everyone has a good time such as sitting down in your seats and keeping your voices down.

2. Have children restore the harm from their mistakes. If a child makes a mess, have them clean it up. If a child upsets another child, have them apologize and do something kind for the other child. If a child behaves badly towards a pet, have them apologize and give the pet a special treat.

3. Show children that they have choices. For example, if you child starts using bath toys to dump water on the bathroom floor and doesn’t stop when you ask, you can calmly ask “do you want to stop dumping water on the floor, or do you want to give me the bath toys?”

4. Wait for the mood to pass. If a child is so upset that they really aren’t responding to your attempts to guide their behavior, sometimes it’s best to comfort them and distract them until their head is clear. If you’re at your stress limit, another approach is to just walk away for a while and say “we will address this later when you feel a little better.”

5. Empathize and do basic troubleshooting. Try to remember how things that seem trivial as an adult would upset you when you were a kid. Try to remember how your emotions just happened, rather than being a process with some warning and some element of control. Understand that basic things like hunger, fatigue and illness can cause dramatic shifts in a child’s personality and they might not know why they feel bad.

More parenting resources:



Reflecting on 2016 Take Root

By Kathrine “Kate” Jack

Activism starts with yourself. Take Root is a chance to broaden your Reproductive Justice (RJ) horizon and deepen your personal commitment to the movement. In Indiana, we have very dedicated and intelligent activists. But, speaking for myself personally, I needed a nudge to give me the courage to overcome the Hoosier characteristic of not wanting to talk about hard issues. Some of the things at Take Root can be that nudge:

Solidarity with activists from other states working on issues just like the ones in Indiana. People who understand what it is to live in a state with a supermajority republican legislature and a [fill in the blank] governor.

Inspiration from speakers who will move you with their words. Check out Our keynote speaker Miriam Yeung challenged us by quoting Assanta Shakur:

It is our duty to fight.
It is our duty to win.
We must love and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.

New ideas and frameworks. This year I learned about RJ framework for adoption, abortion support in Kentucky, and “appropriate whiteness” from Loretta Ross.

Personal reflection and development, especially in pre-conference trainings. The best description I can give is learning that people who are comfortable with their own self are better able to weather the storm. Learning how to make progress on yourself.

This was my second Take Root and it won’t be my last. I want to take as many Hoosiers with me as I can each year, especially those who are new to this work. My dream is that we have a grassroots, long term, sustainable Reproductive Justice movement in Indiana. Do you have courage to take this journey with me?

(Take Root is a Reproductive Justice in Red States conference that takes place in Norman, OK each February. For more information check out

Guest Blog: Feminists of Hanover College Open Letter to Mike Pence

Dear Governor Pence,

We are reaching out to you as students of your alma mater, Hanover College, to urge you to stand with women and veto HB 1337. The writers of HB 1337 may claim that their intention is not to control women’s bodies, but this bill is not structured in a way that will make sure women’s autonomy and even their rights of citizenship will not be compromised. Instead it places undue burden on women seeking control over our own bodies, and provides no exceptions for women who are victims of rape or incest. This is a problem, as whether or not a woman gets an abortion is not your decision to make.
It is unethical for you or any other man to make decisions about the women of Indiana’s bodies. HB 1337 was written by a man with only one female co-author and one sponsor, and passed by a general assembly that is 75% male. Meanwhile, female legislatures from both sides of the political spectrum – both Republicans and Democrats – have voiced concerns over the consequences this bill would have on women’s health. Clearly, the women of Indiana have not had a say in the making of this bill and are thus not represented by its mission. Therefore, signing HB 1337 into law would be morally outrageous, as you have no right to make this decision for us. Inaction will also be synonymous with approval, as doing nothing will allow this bill to become law. This means that you must put control back into the hands of the women of Indiana by vetoing.
We know, however, that you are reluctant to support a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion. However, even from an anti-choice perspective, the provisions in this bill do nothing but place an undue risk and burden on the women of Indiana. For example, no legitimate medical reason exists to require that fetal tissue from abortions and miscarriages be disposed of by women and their providers through cremation or burial. This only serves to increase the costs of abortion and miscarriages while also adding to the stigma that these women face.
Furthermore, no conclusive evidence exists suggesting that the United States needs to take measures to prevent sex-selective abortions. While our culture has far to go in terms of achieving gender equality, the United States simply does not exhibit the same skewed sex rations found in countries where sex-selective abortion is a common practice. In fact, most abortions in the United States occur before the sex of a fetus can even be determined. Therefore, measures to end such a practice are unnecessary in Indiana, and would instead only serve to undermine women’s right to choose, as women would be burdened with proving our intentions were “legitimate” enough in the eyes of Indiana law.
Evidence of race-selective abortions is equally as inconclusive. Thus, measures to ban them are unnecessary. Instead of working to curb racism, HB 1337 would stigmatize women of color who seek abortions while requiring abortion providers to question their motives, thereby insulting our integrity and ability to make informed decisions. This provision would place an undue burden on abortion providers and women of color, whose access to abortion is already more limited than those of white women, thereby resulting in more institutionalized discrimination and defeating its own purpose. Furthermore, it is true that women of color are more likely both to experience unintended pregnancy (due to a lack of contraceptive resources) and to have an abortion. However, if the state of Indiana is truly interested in helping these women, the solution would be to increase access to contraceptives and comprehensive sexual education, not placing more restrictions on abortion. Otherwise, you are merely attempting to stifle the symptoms while ignoring the problem, thus failing Indiana’s women of color.
If putting a stop to sex and race-selective abortions is truly of concern to you instead of simply reducing women’s constitutionally affirmed right to abortion access, then the solution lies in taking legislative action that works to provide more social support to vulnerable communities such as the disabled and women experiencing unplanned pregnancy, as well as changing the harmful cultural norms and stereotypes, which undervalue women and minorities, through education and community outreach. Thus, if you choose to allow HB 1337 to pass, we will know where your true intentions lie. Doing so would clearly show that you have no interest in protecting the autonomy and rights of the women of Indiana.
Additionally, the provision of HB 1337 that calls for a ban on abortions if the fetus has any genetic abnormalities, would force women to carry pregnancies that put our health and our lives at risk. This ban would effectively strip the women of Indiana of our right to make informed decisions about our pregnancies, and potentially force us to carry to term pregnancies that are incompatible with life. This would increase the grief and financial burden of women whose pregnancy was wanted and intentional but have to choose abortion because of health concerns by forcing them to carry fetuses that will not survive outside of the womb or pregnancies that put their lives at risk to term, thus prolonging their suffering.
Once HB 1337 is thoroughly examined, it is clear that this bill does nothing but stand in the way of women’s best interests by restricting our constitutionally protected right to abortion access while willfully endangering our lives and reducing us to second-class citizens who cannot make important choices for ourselves and our families. We know that, despite the language of this law, this is exactly what it is intended to do. For that reason, we urge you to protect our right to freedom and autonomy by vetoing HB 1337. You may believe that a matter such as abortion access has no real impact on women’s rights. However, Indiana has already begun to see what happens when women’s rights are seen as secondary to those of unborn fetuses, as shown by the unjust criminalization and imprisonment of Purvi Patel. Patel’s rights to bodily autonomy were not respected, and her plight is only the beginning. No more women need to be criminalized or stigmatized for not having children, regardless of whether they do so voluntarily through abortion or involuntarily through miscarriage. We, the Feminists of Hanover College, urge you to stand with the women of Indiana and veto HB 1337.


The Feminists of Hanover College 


We’d like to thank everyone who supported our action at the Indiana statehouse on March 14th — in person or online.10399924_1075436885810098_5390498491060249943_n.jpg

So, let’s continue to keep the pressure on the governor to veto this bill. Ask your friends and loved ones to join us in the fight to protect pregnant Hoosiers!

You can let Governor Pence know how you feel about ‪#‎HEA1337‬ in the
following ways —

By Phone: 317-232-4567 (We know that this has not been a successful avenue previously, but we’re interested to know how long the governor intends to leave his phone off the hook, as it were. 😉)

By Mail:1918850_1075436932476760_1192749076517110771_n.jpg
Office of the Governor

Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-2797

On Twitter: @GovPenceIN (keep using #HEA1337 #Veto1337 & ‪#‎Itsatrap‬)

On Facebook:

Or send the Governor an Email at the bottom of this page: