The Lawyers Circle’s 8th anniversary: from the Maputo Protocol to the Living Wage

Proto credit: Nader Elgadi | Melanie Hall QC, co-founder of The Lawyers Circle, alongside Livia Firth, both of whom are ambassadors and founding members of The Circle.

Eight years ago today, Miriam Gonzalez and Melanie Hall QC founded The Lawyers Circle with the aim of bringing together female lawyers who could use their skills to further women’s rights.

To celebrate their anniversary, we’ve rounded up some of their past and ongoing projects.

Influencing change with the Maputo Protocol

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, also known as the Maputo Protocol, provides a comprehensive legal framework to protect the rights of African women, including the end of discrimination, violence, exclusion and poverty. Of the 54 members of the African Union, 51 have signed it and 36 of those have signed and ratified it.

The Lawyers Circle published a report where they reviewed whether the Protocol was reflected in national legal frameworks and was being implemented effectively.

Helping end gender-based violence in Kenya

Helen Mountfield QC, Anna Bugden, Monica Arino, Elsa Groumelle and Cathryn Hopkins of The Lawyers Circle worked with Equality Now to support Kenyan lawyers in developing a test case to establish a broad ambit for positive obligations to protect women from gender-based violence. The research evaluated the relevant instruments and the most significant case law from the United Nations, the Inter-American Court, Africa and the Council of Europe in order to identify, summarise and provide links to potentially useful materials for the Kenyan lawyers to use.

Maternal Health Rights in Tanzania

In Tanzania 398 out of every 100,000 women die from pregnancy or birth-related causes. In the UK, the ratio is 10 out of every 100,000. The Tanzanian government has made promises to its people to improve these rates by setting out its goals to reduce maternal mortality and by signing up to international conventions and initiatives. However, the government’s obligations under these conventions have not been made national law.

The Lawyers Circle has made a commitment to our partner the UN Every Woman Every Child Campaign to assist the Tanzanian government in the process of ratifying and introducing international conventions on maternal health rights into the national institutions and legal system.

A living wage for garment workers in the fast fashion industry

In some countries, 80% of garment workers are women. Very often, they only earn a fraction of what they need to live.

Multinational fast fashion companies are able to quickly move their production to countries with lower wages. The risk of losing this investment acts as a disincentive for countries to improve their labour laws and provide fair minimum wage rules. The result is labour protection is kept to a minimum, and essential rights to freedom of association are not guaranteed.

The Lawyers Circle, in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign, has written a report that argues that a living wage is a fundamental right and that companies and governments have a responsibility to uphold this right.

We are planning a two-year campaign to stop the current trend of keeping wages as low as possible and to propose a new architecture for the garment industry which will ensure that companies pay a living wage and will hold them accountable when they don’t. Our first step was to take the report to the European Parliament, where it was debated on 20 February 2018.


5 biggest health concerns faced by the women and girls of the Rohingya plight — What can we do to create awareness about it?

Photo credit: VOA.

Since August 2017, an estimated 655,000 Rohingya refugees have joined the other 300,000 refugees in the camps in Bangladesh. There are now in excess of one million refugees in fear for their lives. Among them are countless vulnerable women and young girls.

A rapid needs assessment from the Inter-Sector Coordination Group shows that 60% of these new arrivals are women, who urgently require for their reproductive and sexual health needs to be met.

The five biggest concerns faced by Rohingya women and girls are:

1. Emergency obstetric and newborn care

Home deliveries are a frequent occurrence. Unhygienic conditions, coupled with the scarcity of ambulances and transport, means women are at high risk of potentially life-threatening health complications.

2. Safe abortion

Abortion is illegal in Bangladesh. Despite the fact that menstrual regulation through medication is practiced in Bangladesh, it is scarcely available and little understood. Menstrual regulation is a type of abortion that uses a concept called “vacuum aspiration” to empty the uterus in early pregnancy. There are currently only ten health care facilities around the camps which provide this service, but its use remains low due to a lack of awareness of its process.

3. Post-rape care

For many Rohingya women, rape has been an inevitable by-product of the Burmese military campaign. The UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, NGOs and journalists have provided evidence of widespread rape against Rohingya people in Rakhine State, in Myanmar. Yet, post-rape care, including emergency contraception and safe abortion, remains largely unaccounted for.

4. Voluntary contraception

Refugees are required to provide their proof of address to access the most effective contraceptives, which they often do not have due to being displaced.

5. Treatment and prevention of STIs

The combination of a lack of awareness and the lack of trained (female) service providers or privacy makes this a great challenge. HIV/AIDS treatment is available in hospitals, but refugees have their freedom of movement restricted and they can only access the treatment if referred and escorted to hospital.

 

What can we do to help?

Raise awareness

Among the global mainstream, there is a noticeable lack of awareness and understanding of women’s health issues and their rights in not only in the Rohingya community, but in many other displaced communities around the world. The recognition of these key issues is the fundamental first step to addressing and ultimately overcoming them.

Recognise the obstacles

There is an ongoing stigma epidemic surrounding women’s health rights, which is a barrier to tackling and solving the main issues. We must recognise the reality of cultural and historic taboos surrounding issues such as sexual health and abortion and seek to build a constructive dialogue with those directly affected, while engaging with the societal background from which they come.

Provide ongoing support and cooperation to NGOs and the Bangladeshi government in tackling the problems

Women’s health rights are a global issue, which means they require collective and cross cultural action, whether from grassroots, bottom-up movements, governments, local communities or INGOs. All together, we can make a difference.

In response to the imminent global health issues facing women, The Lawyers Circle has partnered with the UN Every Woman Every Child campaign to reduce maternal mortality in Tanzania, which remains prevalent. It has set out to help the Tanzanian government with incorporating international conventions on maternal health rights into its national jurisdiction, through legal advice, negotiations and multi-stakeholder initiatives, to generate recommendations for the ratification of international conventions into Tanzania’s domestic law. In addition, The Lawyers Circle is helping to raise greater awareness among the Tanzanian public through the dissemination of information identifying maternal health rights. This is an incremental step towards overcoming stigma surrounding women’s health as well as a testament to cooperation between an INGO and national government.

 

 
 
Written by Tania Hardcastle.
Tania works in the legal sector and volunteers for The Circle.


Events to attend in April to learn about the inequality issues The Circle is addressing

Photo credit: Judit Prieto | The Circle members at March 4 Women, London.

Inspired by the Feminist Calendars written by our fantastic volunteers, we wanted to put some additional external events for April onto your agenda. Events are a great way to meet other members and learn more about some of the issues we are addressing in our projects. If you are planning to attend any of these listed below, please email us at hello@thecircle.ngo so we can connect you with other members who are also interested in attending.

17 April — Walk Together to Fight Inequality, London

Issue: Inequality
Join The Elders, the Fight Inequality Alliance and the Atlantic Fellows for an event at LSE, London. The event is in honour of grassroot efforts around the world to address the inequality crisis and learn more about joining the #WalkTogether movement.

The Elders are an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. It was set up in 2007 by Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu.

The Circle is committed to a guaranteeing a living wage for garment workers in the fast fashion supply chains. With Fashion Revolution Week taking place from 23-29 April, it’s the best time to brush up on your knowledge of The Circle’s Living Wage Project. Being informed about the fast fashion industry allows understanding of the greater context in which financial inequality for women and girls is perpetuated within fast fashion supply chains.

Here are some events being run by fellow members to help you be better informed:

22 April — We-Resonate Launch Event, London

We-Resonate is an ethical fashion brand founded by one of our inspiring members, Lizzie Clark, that will be launching on World Earth Day, 22 April, from 4 pm-8 pm.

28 April — How to Dress Ethically: CHANGE is SIMPLE and we’ll show you how, Online webinar

Another incredible member of The Circle and Founder of Enchanted Rebels, Lianne Bell, will be hosting and co-hosting a series of live events on Facebook, including Dress Ethically. She will be joined by ONE SAVVY MOTHER for a live Facebook event that aims to bring you closer to the people who make your clothes. They’ll be sharing their own experiences and answering your questions!

28 April — What the Hell is Greenwashing? Online webinar

The Circle member Lianne Bell will be having a good old chinwag with Ethical Fashion Blogger Tolly Dolly Posh about greenwashing. Lianne is based in Taiwan, but the chat will be taking place online at 15:30 UK time.

Written by Peta Barrett.

Peta is a member of The Circle since 2016 and The Circle Relationship Manager since 2017.


Inspiration Is in the Everyday Woman

Photo credit: Nader Elgadi | Members of The Circle at the Annual Gathering 2017

As a woman, I feel we are always encouraged to name our “inspirational woman”. We are surrounded by the media plugging the likes of Emma Watson, Beyoncé and Jessica Ennis-Hill, who have all made their mark in society regardless of their gender. I am not disputing this. These women are amazing, have amazing talents and have achieved amazing things. Unfortunately, what I think is sometimes forgotten is that we are not all aiming to be the best actress, musician, sports person or a world leader — we are aiming to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.

With this in mind, why are we constantly looking at the “stars” for inspiration and guidance? Why are we looking at Cosmopolitan’s “Woman of the Year” awards, or Sport England’s “This girl can” campaign to drive us forward? Personally, I feel we need to be looking closer to home more often. As cliché as it may be, my mum is one of my biggest inspirations, as I’m sure yours is to you. Running her own business, being a single parent and dealing with all the fun that goes into looking after two mood-forever-changing children is clearly very admirable.

But it is not just my mum that inspires me. I take inspiration from my friends, the ones who spend every day in the library slaving away for their degree, but still are able to hold down a part time job and enjoy a good night out. I take inspiration from the ones who are still smiling and laughing when they have broken up with a boyfriend; the ones who no matter what time of the day will always be there with a cup of tea/bottle of wine when you need it the most and the ones who are strong enough to say “no” to things they do not want to do. I take inspiration from my aunts who have had the courage to travel the world and constantly experience new things and I take inspiration from my nana who can barely walk but still has one of the most active, creative minds I know, and my grandma who at nearly 80 has just come back from Australia!

I don’t believe we should just have one role model. I personally don’t believe that me trying to be Beyoncé is the most realistic thing either (although after a few glasses of wine I think my rendition of “Single Ladies” is pretty much on par with hers, to be honest). But what I do believe is that we can do anything we put our mind to, whether male, female or nonbinary, and it is the people who surround you, your family, your friends, teachers, colleagues, lecturers (the list is endless), who make you believe that you can too.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s not Beyoncé, Emma Watson or Jessica Ennis-Hill who inspire me to try and be like them, but the women around me who inspire me to believe that I can. Let’s face it, it’s 2018 and we are still fighting for feminism to be heard. Women in this country are still being paid less than men for the same jobs; the least we can do is look around us. Look around and remember that we all have something to offer; to someone we are their inspiration. So be the best possible you, not just for yourself but for the people around you, because someone is looking up to you —maybe it’s me, maybe it’s your friend, your sister, your mum, your boss, that girl who always sits four spaces away from you in the library— whoever it is and whoever you are, we all deserve to inspire and to be inspired. Inspiration is a beautiful, amazing thing which leads on to even more beautiful and amazing things— and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

To my family I am still a girl, to my work colleagues I am woman, and to society I am female, but to me I am Hatti and I hope I am simply Hatti to you too. Each one of these labels has a different connotation, which of course you don’t need me to explain, but thanks to the women around me I hope to be the best Hatti I could ever possibly be.

At The Circle we’re inspired by our members and volunteers every day. If you would like to find out more about our membership and how you can become a member, go to our Become a Member page.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Hatti Briggs, a volunteer of The Circle since 2016. You can read more articles by Hatti in her blog.