The Women of Animals Australia

The Women of Animals Australia

“Every day I feel that I am in the best possible position to make the biggest impact for animals.”

L-R: Lisa Chalk, Shatha Hamade, Karen Nilsen, Lyn White, and Glenys Oogjes. All photos by Jo-Anne McArthur/Unbound Project.

While it is a progressive country in many senses, Australia has had only one female Prime Minister since federation in 1901, and 75 percent of board positions on Australian listed companies are held by men. Animal groups have not been immune to this glass ceiling. While much of the daily toil of animal protection is carried out by women in Australia, senior leadership roles within the animal movement – as in many professional industries – are often held by men.

Not so at Animals Australia. One of the major voices for animals in that country, the group has been female-driven since its inception in 1980. Founded to provide a unified voice for animal protection groups that had begun springing up across Australia, Glenys Oogjes, now CEO, became Animals Australia’s first employee in 1983. Initially working part-time, Oogjes was drawn to the group because she believed “political campaigns were the key to reform for animals.”

One of Animals Australia’s co-founders describes Oogjes’ appointment as the best thing he has done for the animal movement – no light praise considering that co-founder is Professor Peter Singer, Australian philosopher and author of the so-called ‘bible’ of the animal protection movement, Animal Liberation.

Animals Australia has worked hard to represent and unify animal protection groups in the country’s growing movement. In her early years on staff, Oogjes performed the often-thankless task of sitting on government committees and working with policymakers to try and bring about change for animals from inside government. That work was predominantly behind the scenes and throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Animals Australia remained a little-known organization.

All that changed when Lyn White joined the team in 2003.

Lyn White

A police officer for 20 years, White’s life took a dramatic turn when she learned that bears are farmed for their bile in parts of Asia. That realisation led her to volunteer and then work with Animals Asia and Jill Robinson, whom White describes as an inspiration and her greatest mentor. But White would not remain in Asia forever. As her understanding of animal suffering expanded, she was drawn back to Australia to begin addressing the plight of animals at home. It was White’s skills as an investigator that would lead Animals Australia in a new direction, allowing them to gather the evidence that would be used in the organization’s now-trademark media exposés.

In 2004, Karen Nilsen joined the team as a volunteer. While the organization had an online presence, it was not yet the social media powerhouse it would become, and Nilsen’s graphic design training and experience with tech start-ups gave her the tools to make a big difference with the organization’s online reach. By 2007 she was a full-time member of staff and is now Director of Communications and Creative Services. Nilsen sees her mission as taking what Animals Australia does every day and extending it across the globe via the web. She recalls that Animals Australia “was conducting strategic, critically-needed, ground-breaking investigation work (led by White), but was struggling to scale the impact of that work for animals online. For me, that was the easy part.”

By the early 2000s, the Animals Australia team already had established campaigns on factory farming, and were now setting their sights on Australia’s live animal export trade. Within months of coming on board, White was in the Middle East conducting the first of dozens of investigations into the treatment of animals exported for slaughter.

In 2011, Animals Australia, working in conjunction with RSPCA Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), and journalist Sarah Ferguson, revealed the reality of what happens to cows who are live exported from Australia to Indonesia. The award-winning piece aired on the ABC’s flagship current affairs program Four Corners. It shocked the nation and resulted in a temporary ban on live animal exports to Indonesia, as well as finally making Animals Australia a household name.

When I met the team at Animals Australia I felt like I’d arrived home.

After serving as the RSPCA Australia Communications Manager throughout the live animal export campaign, Lisa Chalk joined the Animals Australia team in 2012. Her commitment and talent did not go unnoticed, and when Chalk was invited to join Animals Australia she knew she couldn’t say no. Chalk says that working on the live export campaign was “an equal mix of exhilarating and liberating. When I met the team at Animals Australia I felt like I’d arrived home.”

Lisa Chalk

After bringing Chalk on board, Oogjes and White had not quite finished handpicking their dream team: next on the radar was Shatha Hamade. Having left the corporate world to train as a lawyer in order to stand up for animals, Hamade was already a well-known advocate after being named Australia’s Young Lawyer of the Year in 2012. She left a full-time role with RSPCA South Australia to join the Animals Australia team and hasn’t looked back since. “Every day I feel that I am in the best possible position to make the biggest impact for animals… Animals Australia gets results and operates without fear or favour. The talent and commitment of the team is world class.”

“There is a unity of purpose that shines through every day and we all bring different skills and knowledge to the table. In knowing that this is a difficult field, that is relentless in its demands of you, it is also an incredibly supportive and caring environment,” says White of the team. “It is a rare workplace where colleagues are also dear friends.”

In the last few years, the Animals Australia team has had a profound impact on the animal protection landscape in Australia and around the world.

One of their recent flagship campaigns has exposed the systematic and endemic cruelty that is a routine part of Australia’s greyhound racing industry. They uncovered tourists unwittingly eating dog meat in Bali. They have continually brought to light the hidden suffering of animals on factory farms and in slaughterhouses on Australian soil, and they have demonstrated time and time again the suffering of animals in the live export trade.

The work of the Animals Australia team has not gone unnoticed: in 2014, White was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia. In 2015, Animals Australia became the most ‘liked’ Australian charity on social media. They now have more than 30 employees, including team members in Europe, South America, and Indonesia.

It is a rare workplace where colleagues are also dear friends.

When asked what the most rewarding aspect of working for the organization is, each woman emphasized the privileged role they occupy and the exhilaration they feel to be working with so many other talented animal advocates, both within their own team and beyond.

We’re seeing more progress than ever before, and I’m convinced that trend will continue as smart people in smart organizations continue to work together on behalf of animals.

Oogjes takes pride in the community she has helped build, which “expands its circle of compassion each day.” For White and Hamade, it is the supporters that drives them forward. Nilsen feels keenly the privilege of seeing the animal protection movement flourish, and knowing that she has played a small part in that process. Chalk sums it up perhaps best: “There are campaign wins that invigorate us, like convincing McDonald’s to stop using cage eggs, but I think what’s most fulfilling is the journey itself, and of course the ultimate reward will be the day when there is no need for an organization like ours.”

The team knows that the day they will no longer be needed won’t come anytime soon, and they are in this fight for the long haul. Asked what they would like to achieve in the future, the list was as ambitious as you might expect. White spoke of working towards a large-scale shift in consciousness that “will make societies willing to re-examine what our relationship with our fellow species is meant to be.”

Nilsen is focused on finding ways to help others do the most good they can and building capacity and coordination within the movement. “We’re seeing more progress than ever before, and I’m convinced that trend will continue as smart people in smart organizations continue to work together on behalf of animals.”

What’s most fulfilling is the journey itself, and of course the ultimate reward will be the day when there is no need for an organization like ours.

Hamade has her sights set on working globally to end live animal exports. Chalk is also mindful of problems closer to home, nominating a ban on the use of the battery cage in Australia as one of her priorities. And what are the hopes of Animals Australia’s first staff member, Oogjes? That “community awareness and understanding of animal sentience… will lead to significant changes in the use and treatment of animals that are currently being hunted, displaced, culled,” and exploited in so many other industries. Essentially, Oogjes says that she hopes that we will come to see animals not as bodies to be consumed, but as fellow beings.

Learn more about Animals Australia and support their work.
Text by Siobhan O’Sullivan. Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur.

The 2017 Unbound Project Grant Recipients

The 2017 Unbound Project Grant Recipients

All photos by Jo-Anne McArthur/Unbound Project except where indicated.

In 2017, the Unbound Project invited some of our featured women to apply for our first-ever round of grants to support projects aimed at helping farmed animals around the world. We awarded grants to women doing remarkable work to make real change for animals. We gave away a total of $100,000, with 10 grants of $10,000 each going towards funding innovative projects in eight countries.

Read the stories of the projects we’re funding and the women leading them below.

Note that any future Unbound Project Grants will also be awarded to applicants who are invited to submit funding proposals. We are not accepting unsolicited applications at this time. 

2017 Unbound Project Grant Recipients

Pam Ahern

Pam Ahern – Australia

Ahern is the founder of Edgar’s Mission, a sanctuary for rescued farm animals and one of Australia’s most important voices in farm animal protection. The sanctuary is home to hundreds of animals and also runs animal protection and vegan advocacy campaigns and events on-site and around the country. Ahern’s 2017 Unbound Project Grant will go towards funding a cross-country speaking tour in Australia where she will share the story of starting a sanctuary farm sanctuary and dedicating her life to animal

Check back in 2018 for Ahern’s full Unbound profile.


Piia Anttonen – Finland

Piia Anttonen

Piia Anttonen

Anttonen runs Tuulispää Animal Sanctuary in Finland, a sanctuary she founded in 2012 after pledging to always help the animals most in need, the elderly, the sick, the abused, and the neglected. Anttonen’s 2017 Unbound Project Grant will go towards stepping up her sanctuary’s vegan advocacy with the creation of an on-site education centre to host plant-based cooking classes, film screenings, speakers, school visits, and community events.

Read Anttonen’s full Unbound profile here.


Allison Argo

Allison Argo – USA

Argo became a filmmaker almost by accident as she sought a way to speak for those who could not tell their own stories. “I look for those who are struggling – for survival or freedom or simply for dignity and respect,” she says. Argo’s latest film, documentary The Last Pig tells the story of a pig farmer who, after a change of heart, sent his remaining animals to sanctuaries and moved to plant-based farming. Argo’s 2017 Unbound Project Grant will be used to promote the film.

Read Argo’s full Unbound profile here.


Karyn Boswell – Canada

Karyn Boswell

Boswell founded and runs Penny Lane Farm Sanctuary in Canada. Almost an accidental activist, she started the sanctuary after moving to a rural area and being shocked by the treatment of horses sold (generally for horsemeat) at auctions. Today Penny Lane is an important voice for horses and other farmed animals in Canada. Boswell’s 2017 Unbound Project Grant will go towards the construction of a visitor barn and educational space at the sanctuary’s new location, allowing visitors and school children to learn about the sanctuary’s animal residents and the industries that abuse countless animals just like them each year.

Read Boswell’s full Unbound profile here.

Juliana Casteñeda-Turner. Photo by Julie O’Neill.

Juliana Casteñeda-Turner – Colombia

Casteñeda-Turner is the founding director of Juliana’s Animal Sanctuary, which she officially opened in 2008. The sanctuary is now home to more than 80 rescued animals—most of them farm animals—and also runs education and vegan outreach programs. Casteñeda-Turner’s 2017 Unbound Project grant will go towards expanding the sanctuary’s educational outreach and providing free vegan resources to schools in Colombia.

Read Casteñeda-Turner’s full Unbound profile here.


Josie Du Toit – South Africa

Josie Du Toit

Du Toit is Co-Director of the Vervet Monkey Foundation in South Africa. Born and raised in England, Du Toit’s early love for animals led her to volunteer and work full time at the African sanctuary she’s now called home for more than ten years. Under Du Toit’s leadership, the vervet sanctuary has also developed a vegan outreach program, and the 2017 Unbound Project Grant will be used to build an on-site kitchen to host vegan cooking classes for volunteers, community members, and chefs from local schools.

Read Du Toit’s full Unbound profile here.


Dobrosława Gogłoza

Dobrosława Gogłoza – Poland

Gogłoza is the co-founder of Otwarte Klatki (branded as Open Cages internationally), the Polish organization driving change for animals in Eastern Europe. Gogłoza’s group focuses its energy on campaigns and projects that will have the maximum impact for animals. Her 2017 Unbound Project Grant will go towards a high-impact plant-based advocacy campaign in Estonia.

Read Gogłoza’s full Unbound profile here.

Camille Labchuk – Canada

Camille Labchuk

Labchuk is Executive Director of Animal Justice, Canada’s only legal advocacy organization for animals. A lifelong activist, Labchuk made the decision to become a lawyer in order to fight for greater legal and political protections for animals. Since its foundation, Animal Justice has quickly become one of the leading national voices for animals in Canada. Labchuk and Animal Justice will use the 2017 Unbound Project Grant to increase their federal political outreach and bring media attention to the need for federal protections for farm animals.

Read Labchuk’s full Unbound profile here.


Smaragda Louw with members of the Ban Animal Trading team

Smaragda Louw – South Africa

Louw co-founded Ban Animal Trading (BAT) in 2013 and the group has quickly made a name for itself in animal protection in South Africa. Louw’s group has a broad focus and a relentless drive to keep conducting new investigations, launching new campaigns, and generally keep animal issues in the public eye. Louw and BAT will use their 2017 Unbound Project Grant to fund investigative work on farms through 2018.

Read Louw’s full Unbound profile here.


Hazel Zhang – China

Hazel Zhang. Photo by Kelly Guerin.

When Zhang watched a documentary about the brutal treatment of farm animals, she knew she had to take action. She started VegPlanet, a website that shares news and resources about living a vegan lifestyle –– one of the first of its kind in China. Today, Zhang’s site has hundreds of thousands of followers and a growing team of full-time staff.  She and her team will use the 2017 Unbound Project Grant to host a series of simultaneous vegan events, promoting them online and in the media to increase public awareness of the benefits of plant-based diets.

Watch Hazel’s Unbound video profile here.


Text by Sayara Thurston. All featured photos by Jo-Anne McArthur/Unbound Project except where indicated.

Patty Mark

Patty Mark

Fierce and Fearless: Patty Mark’s Unique Approach to Animal Liberation

When many people hear the phrase “animal liberation” they imagine covert operations in which those participating are clad in head-to-toe in black, their faces covered in order to conceal their identities. The shadowy nature of these encounters (real or imagined) has contributed to a somewhat negative impression of animal liberation among the general public. There is a fear of violence, a sense that these cloak-and-dagger style operations have no place in a “civilized” society. It is the activists, in other words, that tend to be envisioned as the ones causing harm in this version of events.

Patty Mark, the founder of Australia’s Animal Liberation Victoria, has much respect for these non-violent activists, however, she chose to approach animal liberation differently. Mark pioneered a form of activism we now know as “open rescue,” and, in so doing, has helped to change the conversations about activism and about how nonhuman animals are treated and valued in our contemporary world. In the “open rescue” model, there is no attempt to hide or avoid detection. Those participating in open rescues rely on video footage to not only show the deplorable conditions they find the animals in but also the importance of the immediate care and attention given to neglected and enslaved animals in great need.

The first time that Mark engaged in this form of activism was in the early 1990s. A woman who worked at an egg producing factory where thousands of hens were crammed in small battery cages had told her about the deplorable conditions in which these birds lived. Mark recalls that this this woman “talked about hens crammed 7 to 8 inside multiple tiers of small cages, row after row, located above what she described as an ‘enclosed manure pit.’” Through this conversation, Mark learned that “hens would somehow get out of their cages then fall down into this pit, where there was no food and water, and they would slowly starve to death.” While Mark’s informant attempted to offer some assistance to these bird by breaking eggs and throwing them down for them to eat, she reported that “some of the other workers would do target practice trying to shoot these feeble hens trapped down in this pit.”

This horrific story haunted Mark, and a friend of hers, a woman named Diana Simpson, offered to take a video camera in to the facility at night to obtain footage of these conditions. Mark will never forget the impact that this footage had on her, how:

Diana’s bravery (and filming skills) will never leave my mind. The footage she brought to me will also never leave my mind. There in front of me, clear and painfully sharp, were dead and dying hens sinking in their own feces; hens with their combs drooped over their eyes unable to hold their heads up waiting to die; piles of dead birds sinking into a liquid slush of feces where a water source from above had been leaking. They had obviously tried very hard to get a drink. It was beyond heartbreaking, it was beyond unjust.

Seeing this footage galvanized Mark who immediately began making plans to rescue the hens in this facility. She knew that turning the footage over to the authorities and imploring them to investigate on the grounds of cruelty and neglect would not help the hens as she had tried this too many times before. Instead, she “had an overwhelming gut reaction to go there myself, to hold them, help them, give them some water.” She began to organize a “rescue mission,” and part of this process involved talking to “a trusted media contact who offered to send a camera crew and reporter along.” Mark was excited by the potential of having this mission documented and, as she recalls, “it didn’t cross my mind for our action to be clandestine, only to somehow get ourselves in there safely so we could help as many hens as possible, to document conditions so people would become aware of what was happening and to openly identify ourselves while doing what needed to be done.” This first “open rescue” made the national news in Australia as a story titled “The Dungeons of Alpine Poultry.” This set the course for many more rescue operations of this nature in the subsequent decades.

Mark points to the “teamwork” aspect of open rescues, and how in this model a number of people come together to help animals who are in desperate need of a compassionate intervention. In addition to directly and immediately helping to improve the lives and wellbeing of the animals in these facilities, open rescue operations also help to “document the appalling conditions that billions of animals are forced to endure.” Further, the presence and visibility of rescuers in the footage helps to change the dialogue about animal liberation. As Mark notes, “by standing strongly right there with these animals we are openly acknowledging for all to see that what is happening to them is wrong and needs to stop.” In other words, in the open rescue model of animal liberation the idea of the activists as being the ones in the wrong is turned on its head. Instead, people are left asking questions about a system that permits such suffering to happen in the first place and which castigates those people reaching out to give immediate aid to sick and dying individuals who were left unattended.

Mark has been described as “fierce and fearless” in her efforts to make the world a better place for animals. She has been fined and arrested numerous times for her role in open rescues, but this does not deter her. She refuses to pay these fines on “ethical grounds,” noting that if she receives a parking ticket she pays it immediately, but that “there is something very strong inside me that balks at paying a fine for what is simply taking an ill, crippled or stressed individual for medical treatment and/or freedom.” She acknowledges that “it can be stressful being arrested and it’s definitely not something we want to happen, but it’s nothing compared to what the animals we are being arrested for are going through.” When talking about these arrests Mark points out that these experiences “only served to strengthen my resolve to keep working to free the animals because you really get a taste (albeit short) of what they are going through when you are locked up and can’t do what you want to do.”

Patty Mark being arrested for her activism c.1980. This image was published in Animal Liberation Victoria's magazine in 1993 (photo supplied by Animal Liberation Victoria)

Patty Mark being arrested for her activism c.1980. This image was published in Animal Liberation Victoria’s magazine in 1993 (photo supplied by Animal Liberation Victoria)

Mark is acutely aware of the scale of suffering and is haunted by thoughts of all the animals the ALV have not been able to save, the ones “we have to leave behind.” While she cannot forget these animals, she does not allow herself to be overwhelmed by sadness or despair. It is almost as if the memory of those she could not help pushes her forward and drives her to work even harder for those who still have a chance. Mark works tirelessly to make a difference and is singularly focused on helping animals—every decision she makes is based on how her actions will best help support her drive to help animals in need.

Mark’s mission to help animals began in the early 1970s. Like many people, she had considered herself to “love animals” but did not stop to think about the fact that so many of them suffer and are killed for food production. This all changed in 1974 when she saw a goat’s head in a cauldron of soup during an 18 month bicycle tour of Europe and Asia on her way to Australia. This sight caused her to become vegetarian immediately (17 years later she went vegan), and also forced her to reflect on the horrific ways in which so many animals are treated and the fact that animals have their own wants, needs, desires, and feelings that so often go ignored in favour of human wants, needs, desires, and feelings. Prior to this, the notion of “animals possessing autonomy” had never crossed her mind—“this was something I don’t recall ever being discussed or considered,” she notes. This realization changed when her husband brought Animal Liberation by Peter Singer home from the library. Mark credits this book with informing her about what was happening to animals on a grand scale. She states, “I had to repeatedly put the book down as finding out the truth and its enormity was too upsetting.” But it was many years later after she came across the writings of Gary Francione that her mind was opened to what animals needed most—abolition of animal use and abolishing the property status of animals.

Shortly after reading Singer’s book Mark founded Animal Liberation Victoria (ALV) and set about finding like-minded people to join her efforts to change the world for animals. She posted a notice containing the words “Help the Hens” in big, bold letters in a local shop, and on the 7th of December 1978, the first ALV meeting took place in Mark’s house. Seventeen people were in attendance at that now-historic meeting, and the focus of that evening’s discussions was on finding ways to abolish battery cages. Mark knew that changes like this would not happen overnight—“I remember telling this meeting that we had to be patient, that it may take us two years” to achieve this goal. In Australia the fight to ban battery cages continues to the present day, but Mark and ALV now don’t focus only on caged hens but on animal agriculture in all its forms. ALV and Mark are at times marginalised for their strong abolitionist stance, but they are not deterred by seemingly slow progress and they continue to work steadily to ensure a strong foundation for a successful animal movement.

Right from the earliest days of the organization ALV members gave talks at schools and public events, organized protests and marches, circulated petitions, and distributed countless leaflets outlining the reality of life and death for farmed animals. Mark and the other members of ALV made a conscious decision to focus their efforts on farmed animals because there was so little attention paid to their plight. As Mark recalls, “there was no Internet or Facebook at this time, and images of animal abuse inside animal agriculture were rare.” Mark and her colleagues at ALV felt that they “struck gold” when they were able to obtain images showing the deplorable conditions farmed animals faced and were convinced that “once we printed these images, for instance a featherless hen in a battery cage, onto a leaflet or a huge placard this horror would be banned immediately.” While they were dismayed to discover that this was not the case, Mark and her fellow advocates continued to work tirelessly to educate and raise awareness about the realities of life (and death) for the animals who are raised for food. Through the addition of “open rescues” in 1993 they were able to begin making a difference for the individual animals, something they felt was tremendously important for activists to do.

For years Mark’s home was also the headquarters of the ALV, and it was a place bursting with upbeat energy. Volunteers and staff bustled about, while rescued animals enjoyed their newfound freedom and all of the comforts that came with their new lives in a safe, loving environment. For example, visitors recall how sheep curiously walked inside the house, keeping a hopeful eye on the snacks that had been set out for the staff and volunteers. Mark’s son Noah is now the President of Animal Liberation Victoria, and under his direction this organization continues to “be strong in its mission statement of supporting animal rights, abolition, and veganism.”

Mark is a trailblazer in the world of animal liberation and has, no doubt, inspired many people with her work. She is, however, quick to acknowledge the work of people like artist Sue Coe who she met in 1999 and who remains a huge inspiration to her. She also has high words of praise for Emily Moran Barwick of Bite Size Vegan, and Joanna Lucas of Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, activists who use their time and talents to bring the message of veganism and animal liberation to so many. Mark is also deeply inspired by the bravery, advocacy, and life of Jill Phipps, a British activist who was killed while attempting to stop a truck carrying veal calves in 1995.