The Asian Circle Summer Party, 2017

 

The Asian Circle Summer Party, 2017 — press release

The Asian Circle Summer Party is beginning to become a bit of a tradition. The annual bonanza was hosted once again at the fantastic Bangalore Express restaurant near Bank Station, in central London. A prime location for an evening of inspirational, thought-provoking speeches and laughter.

The evening started with guests arriving and mingling, with complementary drinks and light snacks. Designers Natasha Khushi of Opuline and Geeta Handa of C-Atomic showcased their collections to guests, with items available for purchase on the night.

This year, The Asian Circle was delighted to welcome guest speaker Caroline Sweetman from Oxfam and a very special guest headliner, the award winning comedian and columnist Shazia Mirza. As Shazia arrived, the photo opportunities and fanfare flowed. Half an hour after her arrival, the speeches began. Opening was by Santosh Bhanot, founder of The Asian Circle, who ended her speech with a video showing the importance of the work The Asian Circle is doing supporting the impoverished Adivasi communities in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, in India.

Caroline followed with some inspiring words on why over twenty years after she took up her role, fighting against the injustices that women face across the world remains such an important part of her work.

Finally, it was time for headliner Shazia, who brought the house down with laughter during her half-hour set.

The Asian Circle’s project

Of course, this event, like all of The Asian Circle’s, was held to raise awareness and much needed funds for the our current project in the Chhattisgarh region of east India.

The Asian Circle’s main objective is to tackle the issue of violence against women, which is the most common form of human rights violation in India. It is such a deeply-ingrained, socially-accepted ‘right’ for men to physically, sexually or mentally abuse their wives in the country, that women are trapped in a life of violence, shame and stigma. They suffer from lack of support from the police and the legal system. This lack of support prevents many women from reporting domestic violence and seeking help. The Asian Circle is working with Oxfam in the tribal Adivasi communities in India to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women.

Progress so Far

In Chhattisgarh, there has been a state-level consultation on the State Gender Equality Policy, a policy that had not been revisited in more than a decade. Women from across the state took part, reflecting their concerns and issues with the policy gaps.

Notably, our partners that are working on the ground have received an award for the positive outcomes of their work and for helping to forge happier communities.

In Odisha, Gender Times sessions were organised at colleges, which increased engagement of adolescents and youth groups with gender issues.

This fantastic evening was held to generate much needed donations. Here is a breakdown of how funds can help with different aspects of the existing project:

  • £100 could provide vital legal aid to five women.
  • £300 would cover monthly counselling sessions for twenty women facing violence.
  • £500 would cover setting up a support network for survivors.
  • £1,000 would cover awareness-raising sessions for 100 men, to educate them on violence against women and challenge entrenched attitudes and beliefs about women.

To find out more about the project and donate, please visit our Brave New World project page.


Karigari London — an exhibition of artisanal Indian fashion and decor

 

Karigari London, 2017 — press release. 

The Asian Circle was delighted to be the charity partner at this year’s Karigari London exhibition. The event took place at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan centre, in West Kensington, London, between 22 and 25 June 2017.

The term ‘karigari’ in Hindi means a craftsman who specialises in traditional arts. Six like-minded women entrepreneurs have come together, creating the first UK-based collective to celebrate and showcase the rich craftsmanship of Indian artisans. The collective is based on their love for preserving traditional heritage and slow sustainable fashion.

Curations included handwoven fabrics, embroideries, artworks, silver and gemstone jewellery, traditional clothes, rugs and other homewares from India and South Asia.

The three-day event kickstarted with a launch reception on the Thursday evening. Speakers included The Asian Circle founder Santosh Bhanot, who talked about the importance of the work that The Asian Circle is doing alongside Oxfam in South Asia. Santosh said that ‘The Asian Circle’s ethos of “women empowering women” is very much at the forefront in this partnership. Much of the art comes from the talent in small villages where traditional arts skills are practised to form beautiful creations with fine sensibilities’.

Complimentary drinks and snacks flowed as the evening went on before the first day of the exhibition came to a close.

The next day, visitors started arriving from 11 am to see some of the best Karigari work on show in London. Guests were so impressed with the work on show that competition was rife for who would end up taking home some of the clothing on display!

The Asian Circle had a constant presence at the event to raise awareness about violence against women and funds for their project in central and east India. The Asian Circle sold handmade chokers designed by C-atomic, and raffle tickets to win a beautiful Gond tribal bronze statue, handcrafted by the leader of one of the women support groups that The Asian Circle has helped set up in India.

A massive thank you has to go to the designers for inviting The Asian Circle, as well as pledging a very generous donation to the project. We look forward to next year’s Karigari!

The Asian Circle’s work in India

The Asian Circle and Oxfam are supporting survivors of gender-based violence in rural areas of Chhattisgarh and Odisha. Oxfam and The Asian Circle are setting up support groups and shelters for survivors and organising debate groups to challenge the social acceptance of violence against women.

To find out more about the project and donate, please visit our Brave New World project page.


A new lease of life for the Pink (Rickshaw) Ladies

Nasreen Ghafoor, one of the first drivers at The Pink Rickshaw. Photo credit: The Environment Protection Fund.

With a video call full of laughter, female empowerment and even tears, some of the members of The Circle caught up with the women of The Pink Rickshaw Initiative, a project envisioned and implemented in Lahore, Pakistan, by The Environment Protection Fund (TEPF).

The project has two goals: to enable women to become economically independent and to provide a safe public transport option to the women of Lahore.

Zar Aslam, founder of The Pink Rickshaw Initiative and President and CEO at TEPF, started by introducing some of the women involved in the project, including single, mother-of-one Ansa Noreen, who has now been driving her pink rickshaw for over a year.

Women such as Ansa are trained to become rickshaw drivers and leased a pink rickshaw to work with for two years. During that time, they are expected to contribute back to the scheme with an affordable part of their income so that other women can join the project and become rickshaw drivers too. At the end of the two years, they become the sole owners of their pink rickshaw.

For Ansa Noreen, things weren’t easy when she first received her rickshaw.

“My family were extremely angry with me at first but I was not disheartened. I thought, ‘I have just been given a new life, I don’t care if no one speaks to me’. People even told me to sell the rickshaw but I won’t part with it till death”, she said.

Ansa, who lives with her daughter, has also faced problems from male rickshaw drivers: “They often start arguments and try not to let people on my rickshaw but I stand my ground, keep myself to myself and wait for customers to come to me. When women and girls see me, they get excited and scream ‘wow a pink rickshaw, we will take this one!’ – it makes them happy”.

According to Stop Street Harassment, 92% of women surveyed in Islamabad said they would like to have access to women-only public transport, and a report published by the ILO Country Office for Pakistan in 2011 showed that the lack of safe transport for women in Pakistan “has exacerbated socioeconomic exclusion”. The Pink Rickshaw Initiative is trying to address this issue by offering a women-only public transport service.

Having driven the women and girls of Pakistan around for a year, Ansa’s tenacity and hard-work led to her being given the Token of Appreciation award from Lahore University of Management Sciences, where she received a standing ovation after sharing her story.

“Some women got emotional and cried and told me that I am a very strong woman and that I am to stay like this and not to relent to the pressures of society. I really liked and appreciated that.”

Speaking on how The Pink Rickshaw Initiative has changed her life, Ansa concluded: “Now I have a good life, a very good life, and I am very happy and grateful to you all [The Circle members] and to the Madame [Zar Aslam] for that. May Allah bless you all and may you all help lots of other women to be happy the way I am.”

Another beneficiary of the scheme is 36-year-old Rehana Kausar, who lives with her four children and husband in a joint family system, where 28 people live in one 1,600-square-foot house.

Having received her keys for her rickshaw in December 2016, Rehana joined the scheme to provide a brighter future for her children.

“I have learnt to drive the rickshaw so that my children can get the best education I can provide them with. Thanks to all of you, I am already more financially secure and have covered my children’s school fees. What more can I ask for?” she said.

The Pink Rickshaw Initiative aims to challenge gender roles and help bring down stereotypes in Pakistan by helping women learn to drive and earn a living. And we are achieving it together.

42-year-old Sanya Noordin says her rickshaw, which “flies like an aeroplane”, has not only helped her to regain her economic independence, but also pushed her to help others.

“I was doing my usual run picking up fares when an elderly, disabled man approached me. He had no legs and nobody would take him, so I told him to get in”, she said.

“It was a three-hour journey but I ended up making fares both on the way there and the way back — and the best part was helping somebody in need, that makes me happy.”

Other beneficiaries pointed out how the benefits of the scheme have a ripple effect that reach their wider community too. Malika Nisreen believes it has helped her stand on her own two feet and not have to depend on the support of her children, increasing their overall family income, and 35-year-old domestic cook Nasreen Ghafoor believes her rickshaw (aptly nicknamed Pinky) has helped bring good luck and opened more doors for women in Lahore, as well as making women and girls feel safer when travelling with a female driver.

The empowering, inspiring chat with the lovely ladies of Lahore ended with these kind words from Zar Aslam: “I have always said ‘be each other’s strength, be of help to each other and pave the way for each other’ — like the women at The Circle have paved the way for us”.

To learn more about The Pink Rickshaw Initiative or to make a donation, please go to The Pink Rickshaw Initiative.


@shanhodge
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.