Waves: Interview with Jessie Ayles

Photo credit: Waves

Filmed in Cape Town’s notorious Lavender Hill, Waves explores the perspective of three young girls as they grow up together in South Africa. We spoke to Jessie Ayles about this incredible project and the issue of gender-based violence.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?

I’m a documentary filmmaker based in London – I’ve always been motivated by imbalances or injustices in the world, and try to pursue projects that reflect on these types of issues  to create  an impact or some form of change or conversation.

Why did you decide to focus on the issue of gender-based violence for your project?

Women, in all walks of life, often draw the short straw, whether you’re looking at gaps in wages, structures of society, education or more urgent matters like gender based violence. Women in these communities, as we know, suffer huge amounts of gender based violence and attacks, there is still a very strong patriarchy in these communities that place young girls at the bottom of the ‘food chain’ – I was interested in exploring the feelings of young girls there, to translate their point of view, and their own experiences so that people would really be able to empathise and understand the extent that this affects a life.

One of The Circle’s EVAWG projects is located in South Africa, but violence against women is a global issue, why did you decide to focus on this country and community in particular?

My parents are South African and I have dual citizenship, but I actually grew up in London, so i’ve always had a connection to South Africa and interest to understand the country and its complexities.

I think what also really motivated me to work with this community is that most South African’s ordinarily would never really enter these communities due to fear of crime, and in turn never really understand what life is like for the most vulnerable there. It’s a country largely still divided by wealth, and I wanted to create something that would offer an insight from marginalised voices we ordinarily wouldn’t be able to get access to, especially as young girls, and break down these barriers.

What was the experience of filming on such a difficult subject? Particularly with such young women.

I was lucky to be able to really take my time making this film, I spent a lot time just getting to know the girls at surf lessons, and listening, so by the time we started filming we just felt like friends hanging out. I think this really helped them feel comfortable with me, and also meant the filming days were never too intense. It was difficult and shocking for me to hear how these girls felt, but to be honest, for them, I think this type of violence had become quite normal that they were almost used to talking about it.

There was another aspect to filming, and that was that I was able to offer the girls a voice – I think that they felt special by being a part of the film, that their story and feelings were important.

So, despite the subject matter of the film being so sensitive, the girls were at the end of the day still just young girls, they loved getting extra time surfing, playing, laughing, going on trips with me that they normally wouldn’t be able to get access to – and I really loved that experience too.

 

The film is incredibly beautiful and moving, what did you find most challenging about the process?

I think the biggest challenge with this film, and filming in the community was safety and access. The area that the girls live in is Lavender Hill, it’s notorious in Cape Town for gang violence and crime, it’s really not a safe area to drive in, you roll the dice every time you enter. This being said, I couldn’t get any funding to make this film so wasn’t able to hire security or special transportation. So that was very limiting, we would have to work out which days and times would be less of a risk to go into the community and set our self time limits filming on the streets etc I think we got everything we needed for the film, but I would have loved to embed myself a little more into their daily home life if the limitations weren’t there.

The Circle is an organisation of women empowering women. Is that motivation something that you feel plays a role in your work?

Yes definitely. I think I spent quite a long time not really honing in on what I care most about – I was making a documentary about a Burmese guerilla fighter about 5 years ago, someone who had rebelled against the Burmese military and gone into exile in Chiang Mai, he had given up everything for what he believed in. He kept on asking me why I was interested in making a film about him, he couldn’t quite understand – I told him it was because he was fascinating, but he was still confused, he kept on telling me ‘Jessie, you’ve got to find your people’. At the time it didn’t register, I just thought ‘What people…I don’t have the same sort of authoritarian government to overthrow like you did, ’. But then it clicked, by highlighting women’s stories and voices – whose injustices I can personally relate to – I feel more like I have found ‘my people’ to fight for.

What would you encourage those watching the film to do in order to support women and girls across the globe who are survivors of gender-based violence?

The scale of this issue is so large that it can feel a little daunting sometimes at where to start or what can be done to help. But in my experience working with NGOs on the ground, I see how much of a difference these organisations can make to someone’s life. The surfing that offers these girls an outlet in the film was organised by an NGO called Waves for Change – a small thing like a surfing lesson once a week can make all the difference to someones life – it can give them that breath of air they need or support to keep going.

So my advice would be to do some research on NGOs, like The Circle’s EVAWG projects, and donate whatever you can to help keep them going. You could also volunteer at NGOs if you live near one that’s making a difference to women’s lives, or even keep spreading the message and raising awareness to keep the conversation going.

What is the situation in South Africa like now? 

Unfortunately since the filming of Waves the situation in South Africa has become even more volatile for women. A spate of recent sexual assaults, murders and kidnappings of young girls and women caused outrage and saw country-wide protests – demanding the government to effectively tackle the issue. While some policies have been amended, like the retraction of bail for rape suspects, there is still a huge space for work needed to help support victims, prevent violence and create gender equality and awareness. This is why I believe NGOs are so important right now for those South Africans who have to live through this on a daily  basis.

You can watch Jessie’s award-winning short film here: 

One of our Chai Day projects is located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside Cape Town. Khayelitsha is the largest township in the Western Cape province and has a high level of overcrowding and poverty. For years, unemployment and crime rates have been high, particularly around violence against women and children with little services and support for the victims. The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre offers survivors offers a place to stay, individual and family counselling, legal support, access to healthcare, educational programmes and victim empowerment groups. Find out more about hosting a Chai Day to support women and girls across the globe here.

 

Jessie is a South African and British filmmaker. Her work shines a light on female-centred stories and marginalised voices, bringing a cinematic and fresh perspective to socially conscious stories. She studied Film & Literature at Warwick University, then went onto a Masters in Screen Documentary at Goldsmiths University where she won a One World Media Bursary.

Jessie’s interest in impact and stories that highlight morals or human rights, with her distinctive style, led her to work with the social impact arm of many brands and NGOs, creating poignant film campaigns for clients such as Nike, Google, M&C Saatchi & Always.


Chai Day with Shana

Image: Shana and her family

The Circle is an organisation of women empowering women and through our Chai Day campaign, Shana wants to support survivors of gender-based violence. Shana and family are survivors of honour-based domestic violence and we asked her to share our moving story ahead of her Chai Day event …

“I am hosting a Chai Day event because I know first-hand how much it hurts when you feel trapped in the abuse. I know how lost you feel, how you begin to justify the perpetrators actions and how trapped you are because you have nowhere to go and your children only know their home; even though that home is hell.

Once you look for help, you must struggle through a system that isn’t fit for purpose, relying on complete strangers and constantly repeating yourself to different organisations, being sign posted from here to there.  All you know is pain and trauma and the only thing that kept me going was faith. For me, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

I am hosting the event because my family and I were nearly killed by the perpetrator. I was so lost and confused due to the fear of cultural and societal pressures that I put myself and my family at danger. We would have been killed if I didn’t leave when we did and we were left with nothing.

I want to raise awareness because domestic violence and those who encounter it, end up normalising it and this attitude can be passed down for generations. I grew up witnessing domestic abuse and this was normal in my community, finally I entered a relationship that was also abusive. I never want my daughter be in a relationship like that and I want to teach my sons to understand that the only thing they need to control is themselves, not others. I would like all the other women suffering in silence to break the silence. I want our story to be the story of hope. It’s everyone’s duty because it effects all of society. It’s time to break the cycle.

I can’t do it alone and I want to empower others to take collective and collaborative action.”

Shana and her family have recently won an award at the Pride of St Helens Awards for their bravery and determination not to give up after fleeing domestic violence. They will continue to do what they can to support other survivors within their community. Shana is very clear that “we are not victims, but survivors and our story is something to be proud of, we believe our circumstances do not define us. We are now a campaigning family trying to bring positive changes.”

Shana’s Chai Day is happening on Monday 25th November from 12.30-2.30pm at Park Farm ACYP Community Centre, 54 Kentmere Avenue, Carr Mill, St Helens, WA11 7PG. Join her and her family to support survivors of violence across the globe.

For more information on Chai Day, please follow this link.


The Circle’s Living Wage Symposium

Photo credit: Nader Elgadi

On 8 November, we continued our work to ensure a Living Wage for the millions of women working in the garment industry by convening a symposium to bring together those with the same aim. We were joined at Pinsent Masons by incredible change-makers and enjoyed discussions from the legal, investment, corporate and NGO sectors as well as academics, and policy makers including Jessica Simor QC, ASOS, Continental Clothing, BMO Global Asset management, ASN Bank, Kempen, ACT Coalition, Fair Wear and Clean Clothes Campaign amongst others.

 

We began the day hearing from our keynote speaker, the inspirational Anannya Bhaattacharjee, founder and President of the Garment and Allied workers union in Northern India. Anannya encouraged the room to push forward ‘the theme of solutions’ on the urgent issue of a living wage. She also took the opportunity to remind us of the abuse that happens throughout supply chains that is facilitated by the lack of a living wage and the fact that many consumers are unaware of the true cost of garments. The need for increased transparency was a key theme throughout the day and came up again and again across all of our panels.

“Fashion brands are the drivers of the supply chain” – Anannya Bhaattacharjee

Jessica Simor QC, the legal driving force behind our second report, used her opening speech as an opportunity to remind us that the industry is an uneven playing field. This environment is one that works against brands that want to do better in their supply chains and began the conversation of what structural changes need to be made to allow retailers, investors and individuals to introduce a living wage within their supply chains without losing their competitive edge.

 

Our different panels spoke from positions of experience across many difference fields and with a varied wealth of knowledge. However, many of our speakers spoke about how important legislation that the report outlines will be in achieving the living wage, how transparency for the consumer but also for regulatory boards is vital, and discussed different methodologies on how to implement legislation with ‘teeth’.

“The poorer you are the more vulnerable you are and the more vulnerable you are the more exploited you are …. so a living wage makes a real difference from the ground up” – Adil Rehman

 

Melanie Hall, QC, Ambassador for The Circle, and Livia Firth, Founder of Eco-Age and Ambassador for The Circle closed the day with some incredibly poignant speeches. Livia quoted lecturer and author, Naomi Tyrell, “nothing will ever change unless there is a transnational agreement on wages, otherwise the companies will keep hopping from one country to the other, in pursuit of the cheapest bargain.” This is the argument outlined in our report launched at the event wage changes must be made simultaneously and region-wide to ensure that brands cannot continue to the “race to the bottom” in countries that simply cannot turn down the employment provided by the fashion industry.

 

All those involved in this report understand that there will be obstacles and there will be resistance, but as our Ambassador Melanie Hall closed with:

“Everyone has a part to play, everyone in this room today is a consumer”

A huge thank you to all of our speakers and to JJ Charitable Trust and Pinsent Mason for their support in making this symposium happen. Keep an eye on The Circle’s website and social media for updates on our living wage work. You can read the full report here.


International Law: Supporting or Ignoring Survivors of Gender-Based Violence?

Image: Victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo, 2007. James Akena/Reuters

“Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times.” – Susan Brownmiller, 1975[1]

In conflicts ranging from the 18th century Scottish Highland Clearances to the Rape of Nanking in the 1930s, sexual violence has been a lurid, ceaseless feature. The rationale is that sexual violence is an unfortunate, but inevitable, consequence of the breakdown of the rule of law and the militarised, masculine culture of conflict zones. Until recently, victims of the violence are seen as ‘spoils of war’ – rewards for the conquering army – and the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ was used to justify heinous, violent acts of sexual assault during conquest[2]. Thankfully this began to change with the development of the ‘weapon of war’ narrative, which emerged in the 1990s. This was based on a recognition that rape is not an unfortunate byproduct of war – it is a strategic and systematic act used to undermine the enemy by demoralising and humiliating, instilling terror and devastating communities. The very deliberate nature of this widespread sexual violence was revealed and could no longer be sidelined by international legal institutions.

This development in the interpretation of wartime sexual violence had positive implications for increasing accountability and prosecution of perpetrators. On the 26th April 1995, in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the case of Duško Tadić marked the first international criminal trial to include charges of sexual violence. This was based on evidence that systematic sexual violence had been employed for the purposes of ethnic cleansing – defined by the UN as “rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove from a given area persons of another ethnic or religious group”[3]. It was recognised that in the context of the former Yugoslavia sexual violence had been used in order to present the Bosnian nation as inferior and humiliated, ordered by superiors as a strategy of war. A second landmark case for the prosecution of sexual violence took place in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in September 1998. Jean Paul Akayesu’s guilty verdict for employing rape as a tool of genocide, defined by the UN as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”[4], marked the first time sexual violence had been considered to be a crime of genocide. This judgement was based on a recognition that acts such as forced sterilisation, abortion and forced pregnancy could be strategically used to affect the ethnic composition of a group. The weapon of war narrative, which recognises the deliberate and systematic nature of wartime sexual violence, has therefore been vital in drawing attention to the extent of this violence, and has been celebrated as a key achievement in feminist literature on the subject.

“This rhetoric serves to enforce gendered stereotypes and excludes the vast majority of the women”

The prosecution of wartime sexual violence in international law is something to be celebrated, the weapon of war narrative is not. This rhetoric serves to enforce gendered stereotypes and excludes the vast majority of the women it claims to serve. I make this statement based on two claims: the weapon of war narrative has institutionalised a notion that women are only worth protecting when the violence is aimed against men; and it fails to acknowledge and challenge the role of misogynistic societal norms which justify and provide the logic for wartime sexual violence. There were a mere 34 convictions of sexual violence across all of the UN special courts, including the ICTY and the ICTR, despite the fact that the UN estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped in Rwanda alone in the time frame of 3 months. International law failed the victims of sexual violence in these conflicts by stating that their case was only worth pursuing if they could prove the intention of their rapist – that they were acting with the purpose of ethnic cleansing or genocide. Clearly the outcome is the same for the victim whatever the intent of the attacker. It established strict victim narratives that dictated the ethnicity of the victim, the time frame of the assault, and the level of violence which was deemed sufficient. Further it was regarded as a weapon against only the men in society, attempting to make them seem weak and humiliated for being unable to protect ‘their’ women, resulting in the breakdown of communities. The societal norms which sustain this potential for breakdown are also rendered invisible by the weapon of war narrative – the belief that women are the property of the men in their community and that women are somehow ‘tainted’ if they are victims of rape. Sexual violence can only be weaponised because of these norms, existing on a continuum with peacetime sexual violence, but this is obscured by the notion that sexual violence is merely a strategy of conflict. This is succinctly summarised by Inger Skjelsbaek, who states that “women are raped not because they are enemies, but because they are the objects of fundamental hatred that characterises the cultural unconscious and is actualised in times of crisis.”[5]

Binaifer Nowrojee writes that “of the prosecutions of rape at the ICTR, there were more acquittals than convictions. So there has been a miswriting of history where those responsible for the genocide are absolved of rape.” What accounts for this rewriting? One explanation is that the international community failed to acknowledge the inherently patriarchal nature of the societies themselves. Gendered practices such as giving men exclusive control of family assets, recognising only male heads of households and requiring grooms to pay for brides denigrate and objectify women during peacetime, and have the potential to be translated into the weaponisation of women during conflict. Rape is an effective weapon because of these gendered norms – women are seen as property and therefore by assaulting them military groups undermine the community as a whole. These patriarchal norms also served to silence victims – Maxine Marcus, an investigating attorney at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, found that for many women their trauma was not recognised by the communities because rape was not considered to be a grievous crime. International legal responses failed to dislodge these patriarchal norms, as they reinforced the notion that this was purely a problem during wartime and so failed to expose the magnitude of the violence and ensure that victims voices were heard. In order for international law to prove its genuine commitment to combating sexual violence, there must be a recognition that women’s rights do not warrant protection because their violation threatens national security, but because they are human rights in themselves.

It is not yet time to celebrate the mere acknowledgement of wartime sexual violence in international law. Greater emphasis on breaking down institutional socio-economic gender inequality in peacetime society is vital and support must be provided for victims of such violence regardless of the broader circumstances. To do so, we can support initiatives such as GAPS, which provides consultations on how governments and organisations can fulfil their gender equality commitments. We must increase accountability for governments, and support groups such as End Violence Against Women Coalition, which lobbies the UK government to improve policy around violence against women. International law has the potential to be a powerful force for punishing perpetrators of wartime sexual violence, but it must work in tandem with other initiatives. Regardless of whether the abuser is held to account in a court of law, victims still suffer long-term physical and psychological consequences such as PTSD, depression and the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Hosting a Chai Day is a way that you can take part in efforts to raise funds to support projects working to end violence against women and ensure that survivors are provided with the services and support they may require.

This article was written by Iona Cable. Iona is currently doing an MSc in Human Rights at the LSE, with a specific interest in gender and international law. She has experience in human rights organisations and undertook a project this summer researching how NGOs in the field work to tackle gender-based violence and post-conflict reconstruction. She also works for a London-based charity which seeks to improve social mobility by teaching key employability skills in schools.

 

[1] Brownmiller, Susan “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape”, Bantam Books (1975), p15

[2] Crawford, Kelly “From Spoils to Weapons: Framing Wartime Sexual Violence” in Gender and Development Vol 31 No 3 (2013), p511

[3] United Nations, Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to SCR 780 S/25274 (1992), p16

[4] United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article II (1951)

[5] Skjelsbaek, Inger “The Elephant in the Room: An Overview of How Sexual Violence Came to be Seen as a Weapon of War” Report to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2010), p2


Global Feminist Calendar November 2019

Photo: Angela Davis. Join the Left Book Club for a discussion of her remarkable autobiography.
There are many fantastic events happening across the country so get inspired!

1 November – She Grrrowls: Feminist Arts Night (London)

She Grrrowls is a feminist arts night featuring “poetry, comedy, music and everything in between”. Running since 2013, the night has featured hundreds of poets, musicians, writers and more.

4 November – Left Book Club – An Autobiography by Angela Davis (London)

Join the Left Book Club for a discussion on Angela Davis’s remarkable autobiography. The book is a powerful call for the universality of struggles against oppression as Davis reflects on her intellectual journey, her activism in the Communist Party and her fight for Black liberation.

The discussion will be facilitated by cultural and intellectual historian, Dr Sara Marzagora. Sara teaches critical theory, global theories of modernity, and the history of colonial and anticolonial political thought at SOAS. Participation in the conversation is very much encouraged!

6 November – The Healthcare Circle Launch (London)

Join us for the launch of The Healthcare Circle at The Canal Café Theatre! The Healthcare Circle is committed to hosting events that inspire and inform communities about important healthcare injustices facing some of the most disempowered women and girls globally. In support of The Circle’s key objective to end violence against women and girls, our first official event is to raise awareness of FGM/C.

We are delighted to welcome an expert panel if speakers from various specialisms and expertise from the healthcare sector, including FGM/C specialist midwives Joy Clarke and Huda Mohamed, Obstetrician Dr Brenda Kelly, Psychotherapist and Activist Leyla Hussein and Co-Founder of Vavengers Mabel Evans. Panel Discussion topic is Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: How can we best support women and girls? 

As members of The Circle we are committed to raising funds for The Circle’s project partners working to support victims of gender based violence. To be part of this important discussion we kindly ask for a ticket donation of £15, all proceeds will go to the projects supported by The Circle’s Chai Day Campaign for 2019.

6 November – The Circle Connects Online: Maternal Health (Online)

To round of our month’s focus on maternal health rights, we will be hosting an online panel discussion with Karis McLarty and guests to discuss The Circle’s maternal health project in Tanzania and the wider issue.

Since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, Tanzania has experienced a substantial reduction in child mortality rates. However, avoidable maternal mortality remains high. Women die due to pregnancy or birth-related causes at a ratio of 398 per 100,000. The main direct causes of maternal death are haemorrhages, infections, unsafe abortions, hypertensive disorders and obstructed labours. The presence of these causes is exacerbated by the prevalence of HIV and of malaria, Tanzania’s number one killer.

Attend to find out more about The Circle’s commitment to our partner the UN Every Woman Every Child campaign to assist the Tanzanian government in the process of ratifying international conventions on maternal health rights and how you can help.

6 November – Building a Feminist Data Set: Workshop (Leeds)

Can data collection itself function as an artwork? Can it act as a form of protest? The first workshop focuses on collecting feminist data beginning with an introduction to machine learning, data, and design thinking, and leading into a collaborative and facilitated process with the objective of building a feminist data set from the ground up.

The Feminist Data Set project will result in a large scale data set, a re-imagining of a mechanical turk system to create a feminist mechanical turk, then creating an algorithm. All of this will then be a part of the Feminist AI system. But to get there, you need data. The majority of AI and chatbot projects think of the AI component and the algorithms used as the entire project, but Feminist Data Set focuses equally on creating a data set that’s never existed before, and then using that data set to create Feminist AI.

6 November – Fighting political backlash: creative ways to resist, survive and thrive (Birmingham)

The phenomenon of political backlash is not new. Across social media, toxic voices are blaming feminists, immigrants, people of colour and other marginalised groups for today’s problems in society. It is important to understand how we can resist, survive and thrive in hostile environments both online and offline.

This event will provide a platform for an informed and respectful dialogue through a roundtable discussion and the opportunity to explore supportive and productive responses on this topic. Following the discussion, there will be a reception and exhibition of Dr Saara Särmä’s installation, Underbelly, which explores the nature and volume of online hate mail and abuse experienced by feminist activists.

9 November – Black Feminist Transference: On Pleasure & Power(lessness) (London)

Poet, essayist and former Young People’s Laureate for London Momtaza Mehri presents a new essay on the slipperiness of female power, agency and identification.

Touching on the affective and communal pleasures Black womxn wring from cultural/political juggernauts such as Beyoncé, Michelle Obama and Oprah – and the limitations of representational over-identification, as pleasurable as it may be, with power –Mehri interrogates the joys and critical failures of these moments, and their relation to the lack of agency that characterises the lives of so many working-class Black womxn.

13 November – Be on a Feminist Board (Edinburgh)

Would you like to contribute to the work of women’s organisations, but don’t know how?

Have you ever looked at an advert for board members and thought ‘I’d like to be involved, but that’s not for people like me‘?

If so, attend this event to explore what it takes to be on a feminist board, and how you can utilise your skills to advance women’s equality. Hear from board members of women’s organisations, and discussing what organisations can do to make it easier for you to join their board.

16 November – Feminism in Schools Conference 2019 (London)

An inspiring list of speakers and workshops lined up!

WomenEd; National Education Union; Women’s Equality Party; UKFeminista; Gender Action; Feminist Library; 50:50 Parliament; Be Her Lead; She Is Clothed; The Heroine Chronicles; Fullham Cross Girls School; The Great Men Project; Birmingham University. 

Enjoy panel discussions, ‘How to be a teenage activist’, ‘Getting political’, and teacher-focused workshops on develoing your own leadership ambition (WomenEd) and supporting girls in your school to lead (Be Her Lead)

23 November – Men Supporting Women’s Rights (Glasgow)

Men’s violence against women is a men’s problem that has traditionally been left for women to tackle. This can’t go on.

A group of men in Glasgow and encouraging you to meet and discuss how to resist and lessen the restrictive influences of masculinity, making life better – in the process – for women, girls and other men.

This meeting will have a specific emphasis on practical ways that men can support women in their various current political struggles to secure and further their rights – rights that men, as a sex-class, consciously seek to erode or carelessly jeopardise by under-valuing them.

Watch out for our Chai Day Calendar next week!