Each month, we’ll tell you what we’ve been reading at The Circle to get you feeling engaged, informed, and inspired by the global rights movement. You might find an interview, a long read, a novel, or just a short news update – so, here is our round up for May!
On 5 October 2017, the New York Times published an article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey that helped change the world.Kantor and Twohey out-maneuvered Harvey Weinstein, his team of defenders and private investigators, convincing some of the most famous women in the world – and some unknown ones – to go on the record. Three years later, it led to his conviction. She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Defined a Movement, is a gripping account of this story, but more interestingly, an examination of the structures that allowed Weinstein to repeat the same violence over and over, seemingly unscathed.
This blog collects daily information about how the new Coronavirus COVID-19 is influencing garment workers’ rights in supply chains around the world. It is updated daily as new information comes in from media and the Clean Clothes Campaign global network.
The UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) published an article on 20 April 2020 about the effect that coronavirus is having on victims of domestic abuse around the world. UNHCR explain that isolation policies mean that there is less movement, and this increases the risk of intimate partner violence. Young women “may be forced into survival sex or child marriages by their families.” UNHCR explain what they are doing to support women and girls.
On 6 April 2020 Alice Aedy launched Frame of Mind which is a platform aiming to celebrate incredible female storytellers in documentary film, photography, journalism and writing. Aedy is a documentary photographer, filmmaker and activist focusing on migration, women’s rights and environmental issues. The focus will be about how female storytellers have explored social issues and created social change. Aedy shared a shocking fact from the New York Times that it is estimated only 0.5% of recorded history includes stories by women. Aedy’s project is important, exciting, and definitely one to stay updated with! Freda interviewed Aedy about her work as a female photographer which you can read here
Selections made by Anna Renfrew and Georgia Bridgett.
The Circle’s Living Wage Team consider the impact of COVID-19 on garment workers and the fashion industry and discuss why, more than ever, a living wage needs to be recognised as a fundamental human right.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposes the extreme vulnerability of workers in global garment supply chains as hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs and livelihoods as a result of demand drying up and brands cancelling manufacturing orders.
The pandemic highlights the weak contractual agreements suppliers have with brands and retailers and lays bare the limitations of the current approach to protecting worker’s rights. For years companies have preferred voluntary codes of conduct, arguing that they can self-regulate their behaviour. Recent events show these have failed – and that we need legal mechanisms to strengthen the responsibilities companies have, to uphold the rights of workers in their supply chain. This issue has never been so important. Understanding exactly what those responsibilities entail is key as we go forward into debates about the recovery of garment manufacturing and how to structure a fair and sustainable supply chain. The Circle’s Living Wage Project can play an important role in creating a space for this, providing legal expertise, facilitating discussion and collaborating with key stakeholders to bring legal solutions that will work.
How is COVID-19 impacting garment workers?
The full economic and social impact of COVID-19 on workers in the garment supply chain is as yet unknown, but the effect is global. Economies are slowing, many tipping into recession. Shops have closed, demand for fashion has dried up and companies are facing huge losses in revenue. In an effort to bolster much needed liquidity to keep them afloat, many brands and retailers are aggressively cutting costs overseas, in effect shifting the risk onto their suppliers. As a result, many companies are refusing to honour their contracts with suppliers, either through non-payment of orders already complete or in process, refusal to pay for materials already purchased by factories, cancellation of future orders or forcing the extension of payment deadlines.
There is also the issue of the impact of the pandemic on the workers themselves, who risk exposure and lack essential protection such as face masks. Workers therefore have limited ability to protect themselves and limited access to services such as childcare facilities, medical insurance or hazard pay.
While we recognise that many people are also losing their jobs in the West, here there are regulations around corporate behaviour and employment standards that garment workers in the Global South are not protected by. Additionally, many garment workers live in countries with no social protection mechanisms and having received poverty wages for years have no savings to offer any form of buffer in even the short term, let alone if the crisis continues for months – as is predicted. The nature of global supply chains is such that companies in Western markets have profited for years from cheap labour in production countries and now are able to withdraw without any responsibility towards the millions of workers who have helped generate their huge profits.
What should we expect fashion brands to do?
In the first instance brands and retailers must honour their contracts and ensure that the workers who have made their products are paid, that is the minimum. Secondly, brands need to work with their suppliers and as far as is possible support them to keep their workers employed. For many workers if they lose their employment status, they not only lose their income but also risk falling off the radar completely should any state support to factories become available.
In the coming months, questions around how to establish social protection floors which will support workers will need to be addressed, and brands and retailers must be part of that conversation.
How do I know what brands are doing?
It is difficult to know the details of what individual brands are doing but the Workers Rights Consortium (an independent labour rights monitoring organisation) are tracking brands and their commitment to pay in full for orders completed or in production in countries such as Bangladesh. See here.
Another reliable source of information is Clean Clothes Campaign’s live blog, which is updated daily with news reports, categorised by country, detailing the impact of COVID-19 on garment workers around the world.
Why is this important to the Living Wage Project?
The aim of the Living Wage Project is to bring about legislation in the form of a new EU legal framework, to ensure the payment of a living wage by fashion brands to millions of women and men in global garment supply chains. A living wage is a wage that goes beyond a minimum wage and provides the worker with the means to not just survive but also to put some money aside for education and savings. This means they can provide for their family with a buffer against the worst conditions of poverty. Such legislation is more important than ever going forward. Although we don’t know what supply chains will look like after the pandemic is under control, there is no reason to believe globalisation will markedly change and there is the real possibility that conditions could further worsen for workers in global supply chains as economies move into recession.
Does this change the work of the Living Wage Project?
Yes and No. What the pandemic has shown us more than ever is that voluntarism does not work. The ‘trust’ we have that companies will do the right thing by their workers is misplaced – it’s not enough. Depending upon CSR (corporate social responsibility) to address employment conditions is always going to be piecemeal, and dependent upon the good will and resources of an individual company. To that extent our work going forward on the living wage is critical, strengthening human rights legislation through ensuring workers get paid a living wage.
What can I do to support garment workers?
We must continue to put pressure on fashion brands and retailers to do the right thing by their suppliers and support workers where we can. As individuals it can seem overwhelming and we wonder what role we can play, but brands do listen to customers. Below are some suggestions for action:
Write to the brands
Write to brands that you buy from asking them what they are doing to ensure that garment workers are being paid during this period. Are they honouring their payment for orders already placed? Can they vouch that the payments made are reaching the workers?
For guidance on what to write, you can find a useful template at Fashion Revolution. If you would rather sign a petition, then have Traidcraft Exchange have a letter you can sign your name to.
Donate to The Circle
A donation to The Circle’s Living Wage project will mean we can continue in our work to ensure that workers are paid a living wage. By donating to this project and you are helping to create a “race to the top” to protect the right of millions of workers to receive a living wage. Every contribution will make a difference.
As a result of ongoing campaigns, it has been officially reported that:
Awaj estimates 71% of garment workers were paid in April.
Garment Diaries estimates 86% of garment workers were paid.
According to a Brand Tracker, regularly updated by the Worker Rights Consortium, over a dozen large companies, including Uddin’s buyers, as well as Primark, Bestseller, Walmart (Asda), Under Armour, Kohl’s, Ross Dress for Less, Urban Outfitters, and Gap Inc. (Old Navy, Athleta, Banana Republic), among others, have canceled orders or renegotiated payment terms to demand discounts and payment delays.
Today brings the launch of the Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textile, Garments, Leather and Footwear, a shadow strategy developed by a diverse coalition of 65 social and environmental NGOs.
The Circle is pleased to be a signatory to this document, joining with others to call on the EU to promote and support development of a Textile, Garments, Leather and Footwear (TGLF) industry that respects human rights, creates decent jobs and adheres to high environmental and responsible governance standards throughout its value chain, in the EU and beyond.
“This strategy is more relevant now than ever, as the coronavirus pandemic impacts global supply chains and increases the vulnerability of garment workers in some of the world’s poorest countries,” says Dr Sharon McClenaghan of The Circle’s Living Wage Project. “Stronger regulation is needed to address the negative impact this industry has on the environment and to protect workers around the world from the harmful employment practices of brands and retailers.”
Press Release: Coronavirus strengthens case for new EU textile laws – 65 civil society groups publish joint vision
Executive summary: Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, Garments, Leather & Footwear
“The current crisis is unprecedented,” added Sharon. “At the moment no one knows quite what the industry will look like when the pandemic ends. Our concern is that when supply chains open up again these workers will be more vulnerable to exploitation than before. We desperately need regulatory mechanisms in place to ensure that does not happen.”
COVID-19 is a threat to every country and community, but refugee camps are dealing with impossible circumstances and are housing some of the most vulnerable people in the world. They are nowhere near equipped to deal with a pandemic. This year the Guardian have been very focused on documenting the current conditions in the Moria camp in Lesbos, Greece. One article by Harriet Grant on 11th February 2020 – ‘UN calls for urgent evacuation of Lesbos refugee camp’ – makes no mention of Coronavirus. But when we consider the devastating conditions that refugees are already facing daily, one cannot help but wonder how it is possible for them to survive coronavirus once it enters the camps. Refugees are already some of the most vulnerable people on the planet right now. How can we protect them against coronavirus when healthcare is already at crisis point? This is a question which is incredibly concerning for women and girls especially.
Image: Santosh Bhanot at The Asian Circle Chai Day 2019
Chai Day, The Circle’s annual fundraising initiative on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is about gathering to raise funds to support survivors of gender-based violence. Chai Day is an initiative to raise funds and awareness for this issue and since its inception has grown from strength to strength. Its aim to support some of the most vulnerable women and girls and the impact that the work has had is truly a testament to The Circle’s mantra: women empowering women.
Started by The Asian Circle in 2016, Chai Day has remained one of the highlights of The Asian Circle’s calendar. Following the resounding success of their 5th anniversary celebration in 2018 with high chai at the breath-taking LaLit Hotel, The Asian Circle held another impressive event for Chai Day 2019. With the aim of informing and inspiring, the committee held a seminar on ending violence against women, followed by high chai. The seminar, kindly hosted by the Peepul Enterprise in Leicester, brought together activists and the local community to share statistics, data and knowledge on violence against women and raise funds. Key speakers included Santosh Bhanot, Founder and Chair of The Asian Circle, Panahghar and Quetzal.
Image: The Asian Circle’s Chai Day 2019
Panahghar is a specialist service led by BAME women for BAME communities in the West Midlands including Coventry and Leicester, with an aim to promote physical and emotional health, well-being and personal growth opportunities from an intersectional human rights perspective. Although Panahghar originally provided services for just women and girls, in 2014 they have expanded their services to include men and boys, recognising that to reduce violence towards women significantly, men and boys must be included. Panahghar is an Urdu word meaning ‘House of Sanctuary’ or in short ‘Safe House’ and is a voluntary organisation that exists to address all forms of violence and abuse and to respond to distress and maltreatment including instances of domestic and sexual violence, honour-based violence, forced marriage, FGM/C and trafficking. They promote humanitarian, educational, developmental and environmental awareness to relieve poverty and encourage social and economic wellbeing amongst vulnerable groups. In their presentation, Panahghar spoke on the extent of domestic violence within the local area and what the human and financial costs of abuse were and highlighted the lack of funding for BME service providers both locally and nationally.
Quetzal is another Leicester-based organisation working to support vulnerable women and girls. This organisation offers professional counselling service to female survivors of childhood sexual abuse from a passionate team of psychotherapists with specialist training in responding to trauma and sexual assault. Childhood sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported forms of abuse, as the perpetrator is usually, always known to the child – making it the ultimate betrayal of trust. According to Quetzal, one of the communities that consistently under-reports childhood sexual abuse is the South Asian Community as notions of shame and honour make taking the first step particularly difficult. Through their counselling service, they have helped hundreds of women break down their psychological defences and destructive behaviours caused by the childhood sexual abuse. Quetzal used the opportunity to share their Breaking the Silence initiative, a community-based approach to raise awareness of childhood sexual abuse and to increase engagement within the South Asian community in Leicester by collaborating with community groups and other agencies to give the power for recovery back to survivors. It was good to hear about the fantastic work that both Quetzal and Panahghar are doing within and around Leicester to support survivors of gender-based violence.
Image: Speakers at The Asian Circle Chai Day 2019
Since their first meeting in 2013, the inspirational women that formed The Asian Circle were unanimous in their decision to work towards ending violence against women and girls. During the seminar, Santosh recalled this journey and spoke passionately to the audience about the need for this project to support marginalised women and girls. What followed over the next six years was an incredibly ambitious project in partnership with Oxfam India and the grass roots NGO LASS (Lok Astha Sewa Sansthan) that works in rural Adivasi communities in Chhattisgarh to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. Within these communities, baseline research found, that 3 in 4 men believe that it is acceptable to beat their wives and even more shockingly, that 2 in 3 women believe that men have the right to beat them as punishment. The project had three key objectives: to enable female survivors of violence to access counselling, legal aid and other support services; to undertake research for evidence-based programming efforts and advocacy to prevent violence and strengthen community mechanisms against it; and make the wider community aware of violence against women and motivate them to take action to prevent violence against girls and women. Santosh was able to announce that the funds raised over the last 6 years have helped build several women’s support centres and engage over 18,000 women and girls and a further 9,000 men and boys. Through training and the support networks within women’s groups, women have learnt about the different forms of violence and how to tackle them. As a result of this project, in Chhattisgarh there has been a State-Level Consultation on the State Gender Equality Policy and the project partner LASS has been awarded the Chhattisgarh State Level Honour as the Nari Shakti Samma Award for ‘outstanding improvement of the conditions of women at the margins of society’.
Funds raised from Chai Days that happened across the UK, in addition to the money raised by The Asian Circle, will go towards supporting this project in addition to The Circle’s ending violence against women projects in the portfolio. For 2019, this included the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in South Africa, ACT Alberta in Canada and Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis in the UK. Thank you to everyone who attended The Asian Circle’s Chai Day Seminar and for those who supported our projects working to tackle gender-based violence. Without our members and the Circles that they have formed, The Circle would not be able to continue empowering marginalised women and girls across the globe.
The Circle is inspired by the notion that when women come together and organise, they can be a powerful force for change. The Asian Circle, who have managed to raise a huge amount of funds for marginalised women and girls over the years, are a shining example of that force.
Image: Annie Lennox and Eve Ensler at The Circle’s Annual Gathering 2019
We kicked off the year at our Annual Gathering encouraging everyone to be courageous and confident in their actions to empower women and ‘Just do it’. The day was full of inspiration and especially from Annie Lennox, Founder of The Circle, and Eve Ensler who talked about their activism and passion for women’s rights and left us all energised by their drive and commitment to ensure the world is an equal and just one for women. Since then our wonderful members, volunteers, allies and supporters have truly taken the words to heart and the past year has been incredibly successful and impactful for The Circle. We’d love to share with you some of the highlights of our year!
Global Feminism Campaign
Last International Women’s Day, in partnership with Annie Lennox and Apple Music, we released a short film in support of our Global Feminism campaign. Both the short film and the campaign highlight the injustices still experienced by millions of women and girls the world over from misogyny, rape and violence to pay disparity. Every women and girl, no matter where they live, no matter the colour of their skin, no matter what religious faith, no matter what – must have access to the same basic human rights. Global Feminists believe in equality of rights, with empowerment and justice made available to every woman and girl in every corner of the world.
Annie drew support from some of the biggest names in music, film and beyond to help us, including Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Richard E Grant, Emeli Sande, Hozier, Farhan Akhtar, Richa Chada, Eddie Izzard, Gwendoline Christie, Beverley Knight and Mary J Blige. The film was shared far and wide and gave us the chance to remind the world of the huge inequalities and injustices that remain for millions of women and girls across the world. On the need for this campaign, Annie Lennox has said that:
‘We need to stand shoulder to shoulder in support of human rights, justice and equality for women and girls everywhere in the world, especially in countries where they are not even the lowest rung of the ladder.”
Image: Dua Lipa/Global Feminism Film
An Evening of Music and Conversation with Annie Lennox
In September we and 3,000 fans of Annie travelled to Scotland for An Evening of Music and Conversation with Annie Lennox in the SEC Armadillo, Glasgow. Following an incredible similar evening held in 2018 at Sadler’s Wells, Annie once again took to the stage to share thoughts, memories, and reflections in addition to treating the audience to a phenomenal musical performance. It was wonderful to see so many members and supporters there, many of which had travelled from far and wide to join us for this magical evening. We were very honoured and thrilled that Annie was willing, once again, to deliver this wonderful event and raise valuable funds and awareness for The Circle and our work. Using her platform on the stage to address the audience on some of the issues faced by women globally and to highlight the need for us all to be Global Feminists. A huge thank you to all who were involved, including the onstage and backstage teams, The Hunter Foundation, The Scottish Circle, our wonderful volunteers and all those that bought tickets. It was our largest net fundraiser to date and all the proceeds go directly to empowering marginalised women and girls across the globe.
A Living Wage
It was a year of significant achievements for our Living Wage work. We published our latest report, Fashion Focus: Towards a Legal Framework for a Living Wage, which sets out a proposal for a new legislative framework for ensuring a living wage for garment workers. The report was launched in November at the Living Wage Symposium we held at the offices of Pinsent Masons in London. There we were joined by incredible change-makers 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, Fair Wear, Livia Firth and Clean Clothes Campaign among others. The need for a significant change in the area of a Living wage, after decades of small-scale pilots and gradual changes along with more transparency were the key themes throughout the day and came up again and again across all of the panels and discussions. Moving forward, we were reminded by our Ambassador Melanie Hall that:
“Everyone has a part to play, everyone in this room today is a consumer.”
This was significant step in the project in gaining significant buy-in to the need for legislative change and input and contribution about the type of legal framework needed to ensure manufacturing brands, retailers, and importers introduce a living wage within their supply chains. Our Living Wage team have continued working to develop this work further and deliver our outline for a legislative framework to policy-makers and experts within the EU and beyond. We are excited for what the year ahead holds for our Living wage work and will press ahead to find a legislative solution to improve the lives of garment workers who struggle daily to provide for themselves and their families.
Image: Female garment worker
The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network
The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network (MCJN) has continued in its incredible work supporting its 170 network members who are female journalists working in conflict and fragile states across the Middle East and North Africa region. The network has given them access to training, emergency assistance, and legal aid.
Many of the MCJN’s members and mentors have been instrumental in covering historic events in countries from Iraq to Yemen, to Egypt and Morocco. Unlike foreign reporters who are sent in to report on a story and then taken out to either go elsewhere or because it’s too difficult to stay many of the MCJN members remain, in the communities they live in, with war and violence around them and dealing with the aftermath. So, we have provided counselling for members and are part of a wider community of organisations supporting journalists to deal with the issues of mental health. Dima, the MCJN Editor, and one of our counsellors spoke about the issue and action we are taking to deal with it at the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism Forum in Jordan last Autumn.
This has been a huge year for the Network and they have grown from strength to strength. Dima had this to say on their growth and success:
“We started with a concept four years ago that has now grown into a vibrant online community of more than 170 Arab, female journalists. Not only are we proud of this achievement, but also humble and grateful to have had the chance to support amazing and resilient women who battle against the odds every day to speak truth to power.”
The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre
Another one of our project highlights was to continue our strong relationship with the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre. The centre is located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside of 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 Centre was established to make up for the lack of effective intervention services and has a shelter for women who have survived domestic violence or have been victims of human trafficking. We have been supporting Nonceba for the past few years and have been inspired by their resilience and determination to empower their community and to ensure that the centre can provide a place of safety for women and their children. Most of the women in the shelter are HIV positive, are struggling to access healthcare and have received limited education and training. Thanks to our phenomenal members, The Circle have been able to continue to fund the shelter so that women can stay as long as they need rather than for the few weeks that the Nonceba Centre receive government funding for.
Image: Siyanda at the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre
More broadly our impact has been felt through a number of projects aiming to address Global Goal 5: Gender Equality including, but not limited to, expanding Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis’ service capacity for young survivors of gender-based violence, improving quality education for girls with Educate Girls in remote areas of India by providing 301 learning kits that will impact over 7,000 children, providing funding for the cost of 425 casework hours that enable ACT Alberta to carry out their Victim Support Services for survivors of trafficking which include trauma recovery, advocating for victims and improved access to the justice system, and training educators and entrepreneurs in Uganda to provide affordable sanitary products and educate girls and boys about menstrual health with Irise International.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without our wonderful members, supporters, allies, and volunteers who have been fundraising and using their expertise and platforms to empower marginalised women and girls.
Great River Race
Some members of The London Circle truly took ‘just do it’ to heart and at the Annual Gathering put a shout out for others to join together and form a team to enter the Great River Race in London last September. 17 women came together for this huge challenge to paddle a dragon boat 21 miles down the River Thames and to raise valuable funds for the women’s shelter at the Nonceba Centre. Although a few of them were experienced rowers, none of them had ever paddled in a dragon boat before and regardless of ability, they all trained hard and work together to achieve their goals. They had a wonderful race and raised over £20,000. Everyone at The Circle found it incredibly motivating and inspiration to watch the team throughout their training and fundraising. It costs just £125 to allow a woman and her child to stay at the Nonceba centre for one month, so the money they raised will be able to make a huge impact to the lives of women at the centre and we couldn’t be prouder!
Image: Friends and Members of The London Circle for The Great River Race
After the huge success of The Oxford Circle’s Jumble Fever in 2019, the team held an event even bigger and more ambitious this year. Having outgrown its original location, this year’s event was held in Oxford Town Hall and raised over £11,000 for the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre and the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network. Special guests included commentator, activist and TV presenter Caryn Franklin MBE and performances from Oxford bands The Mother Folks and The Kirals, DJs, and MC for the day Her Who. The volunteer team were incredibly busy in the months before the event and on the day to ensure the day was a success and all the people who came could find a great bargain in mountains of donated items. There were numerous stalls selling everything from women’s clothes, children’s items, books and bric a brac and there were celebrity donations including those from Colin Firth and Annie Lennox.
We would like to thank each and every one of our supporters who held a Chai Day this year. Chai Day is a fundraising initiative beginning on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to bring people together over a cup of Chai and raise funds for survivors of violence. This year, we will use the funds raised to support the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre, ACT Alberta, Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis and the End Violence Against Women Coalition. Our amazing supporters held Chai Days in schools, universities, churches, community halls and offices and we really appreciate their support.
Image: Chai Day
This year The Healthcare Circle was launched at their first event welcoming speakers from various specialism and expertise from the healthcare sector. FGM/C specialist midwives Joy Clarke and Huda Mohamed, Obstetrician Dr Brenda Kelly ad Psychotherapist and Activist Leyla Hussein joined the for the panel discussion Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: How best we can support women and girls?
Other highlights included being joined by Lorna Tucker and Charon Asetoyer for our screening of Amá to shed light on the important story of abuses committed towards Native American in the 1960s and also at our launch of Chai Day 2019, at which we were also incredible privileged to have our friends from Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis in attendance.
The Music Circle also took on the ambitious challenge of organising a series of fundraising events in collaboration with record label Trash Like You. Tallulah, a new member of The Music Circle, brought together fellow members and fantastic womxn artists for some incredible performances to support The Circle’s project with Irise International.
Image: Members and guests at the launch of The Healthcare Circle
We want to say a huge thank you to all of you for your continual support over the last year to help us change the odds stacked the most disempowered women.
We know that there is a lot of information regarding COVID-19 and the impact that it will have on marginalised women and girls on the internet right now. We thought we’d share with you some of the articles and reports that we’ve been reading to help you keep informed.
Marginalised people can become even more vulnerable in global health emergencies such as the current COVID-19 pandemic due to a number of factors including limited access to health services. Previous epidemics have illustrated that primary caregivers to the ill are predominately women and that women and girls experience increased risks of gender-based violence including sexual exploitation.
There are a number of factors that put women and girls at disproportionate risk in public health emergencies, including:
Women make up large parts of the health workforce;
Primary caregivers to the ill are predominately women. This caregiving burden is likely to cause their physical and mental health to suffer and impede their access to education, livelihood sources, and other critical support;
Women are more likely to be engaged in the informal sector and be hardest hit economically by COVID-19;
Women experience increased risks of gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation;
Cultural factors may exclude women from decision-making spaces and restrict their access to information on outbreaks and availability of services;
Women might experience interrupted access to sexual and reproductive health services, including to family planning;
In some cultural contexts, gender roles may dictate women cannot obtain health services independently or from male service providers.
Social isolation policies can also put a disproportionate pressure on women and girls due to:
Additional childcare responsibilities, that more commonly fall on women;
Women and girls who are in abusive relationships may be unable to leave a dangerous environment;
Services supported survivors of violence are unable to offer shelter or in person counselling sessions.
We are fully aware that there will be some disruptions to what we and our project partners want to accomplish over the coming months. However, both they and us are taking measures to ensure that our teams and the beneficiaries are supported in their work and that the risks are minimised as much as possible. It goes without saying how proud and inspired we are by the unending commitment, flexibility and drive that is being shown by everyone to ensure our impactful projects continue as best they can. Saying that, we want to keep you as informed as possible about this issue and what the impact may be on marginalised women and girls around the globe.
Violence Against Women and Girls
Public health, the economy, and women and girls’ safety and bodily autonomy are inextricably linked.
Social Development Direct, following a request from the UK Department for International Development, reviewed the evidence of how COVID-19 might impact on violence against women and girls and lessons learnt from recent epidemics.
Emerging evidence suggests that COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to increase the risks of:
Domestic violence, with police reports in China showing that domestic violence tripled during the epidemic.
Violence against healthcare workers, due to the serious stress that the pandemic places on patient, their relatives and other healthcare workers. Racial and sexual harassment (both online and offline), with anecdotal reports targeted sexualised attacks against women of East Asian appearance.
Abuse and exploitation of vulnerable women workers, including street-based sex workers and migrant domestic workers.
Sexual exploitation and violence by state officials and armed guards.
Nonceba Family Counselling Centre
South Africa has gone into lockdown in an attempt to avoid a “catastrophe of huge proportions” said the president. This is a difficult time for everyone, but services such as the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre are facing additional challenges. The Centre support a community where there is high-population density, a high level of overcrowding and poverty that makes it extremely difficult to self-isolate. Women and girls in Khayelitsha are already vulnerable to intimate partner violence, but the fear, tension and stress related to the COVID-19 outbreak will only intensify the risks they face.
In addition to this, most of the women in the shelter are HIV positive and rely on the Nonceba Centre for access to healthcare. With the additional pressure on healthcare services globally, the Centre is working to ensure the safety of all of the women and children using its services.
Image: Siyanda at The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre
“Access to support for women and children may also shrink further due to social isolation and those in poverty will be severely impacted.”
Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis are working to adapt and prepare for the potentially increased pressure on their services and also the restrictions on the services that they are able to offer. As a result of the crisis, they are currently unable to offer face-to-face support in any capacity and will therefore be running increased hours on their helpline. They can now be reached Monday to Friday, 11am to 4pm.
A Living Wage
Public health emergencies can have a tremendous, sustained impact on livelihoods. This can be particularly true for women, who are more likely to be engaged in informal or low-wage activities or migrant work. The global pandemic has caused chaos and suffering for millions of garment workers across the Global South. Many factories in garment-producing countries have closed due to a shortage of raw materials from China and cancelled orders from clothing brands across the world.
The Clean Clothes Campaign is asking brands to ensure that workers who contract the virus are allowed to take sick leave without repercussions and continue to receive wages throughout self-isolation. There have also been reports of garment workers being forced to work in cramped conditions, without protective wear, despite governments introducing social distancing policies across the globe.
Although our Living Wage Project will be able to continue remotely throughout this crisis, the women and girls that it is working to empower will be severely impacted by the short-term decisions being made by brands and retailers, not only for their own personal safety, but for their livelihoods in the long-term.
Image: A Female Garment Worker/Labour Behind the Label
The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network
For the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network, their preparations to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on both their members and their activities are still speculative at this stage. In the MENA region, there are comparatively few confirmed cases right now, but states have taken early-stage measures to prevent the spread of the virus including social distancing and curfews. However, the Network has over 130 local members in more than 15 countries across the region, so the impact will vary greatly.
The pandemic could result in a number of challenges for the local, female journalists in the Network including limited job opportunities and a greater demand for mental health support during this difficult time, which will be even more difficult to provide remotely.
However, the Network is working hard with donors and partner organisations to ensure that they can respond flexibly to the needs of their members as best as they can and to strengthen the capacity of their remote activities.
To support the Network and the journalists who are at the frontline, reporting stories of global importance from some of the most dangerous places in the world, head to their website.
It is clear that COVID-19 is continuing to spread throughout India, and at a rapidly accelerating rate. In addition, Maharashtra state is emerging as the epicentre for the pandemic in India.
Educate Girls reached out to us to inform us of the steps they are taking to ensure the safety of both their staff and the communities that they serve. They confirmed that the implications of this lockdown will be severe on the communities they work in, particularly on girls. This is because most of the communities are severely marginalised and zero mobility and loss of income streams will put immense pressure on families.
Not only have they created an internal task force and provided a helpline number to assister their field team members, but they have committed to additional financial support for employees and are working with contacts at the District level Government officials, village-based influencers and parents of out of school children to ensure there is no drop in their communication. Finally, they will continue to deliver trainings whilst all teams are working from home and hope that this will enable them to emerge improved and ready to deliver better.
Evidence suggests that during past public health emergencies, resources have been diverted from routine health care services toward containing and responding to the outbreak. These reallocations constrain already limited access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, such as clean and safe deliveries, contraceptives, and pre- and post-natal health care. As a charity that exists to support vulnerable young people and their communities, our project partners Irise are enormously concerned about the impact COVID-19 is having and will continue to have on their community in East Africa.
“We know that our work is likely to be disrupted, and as one of our funders and partners, I wanted to assure you that we are putting in place a series of mitigation and adaptation plans as we learn more about the impact and scale of this pandemic.
We are worried about our staff. The majority of our team are women and face a disproportionate burden as primary caregivers to their children and wider families.
We are worried about the communities they serve who are struggling to access accurate health information and adequate healthcare.”
The organisation is running an emergency appeal to protect their staff and communities from COVID-19 and its impact. This special fund will be set aside to keep their staff and their families safe and enable them to access healthcare and other support over the coming week. This fund will ensure that every Irise member of staff’s income is secure and that they will get help to access healthcare if they need it, so that they can focus their energy on supporting families and communities during this difficult time.