Processions: We have the vote. Now we want equality!

Photo: Peta Barrett at Processions, in London on 10 June 2018.

The Circle Relationship Manager Peta Barrett shares her thoughts on the Processions march that took place in four UK cities on 10 June 2018 to commemorate the Representation of the People Act centenary. Peta marched in the Processions in London along with members of The Circle and thousands of other women and girls.

Central London has never looked as beautiful as it did on Sunday 10 June 2018. The sun lit the greens, purples and whites of the suffragette colours worn by smiling women and girls of all backgrounds gathered to commemorate 100 years since the first women received the vote in the UK. I was thrilled that one of the first banners spotted read “Sisters are doing in for themselves”, lyrics from The Circle’s Founder Annie Lennox. I grabbed the opportunity for photo because it made me feel connected to all the members of The Circle gathered in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff, all of our members who could not be there in person and the women of The Circle connected to us by our projects near and far.

 

I looked around me at the costumes, the banners, the sheer positivity of the crowd and I felt the spirit of the suffragettes with us as we walked in memory of everything they have done for us and for the long road we still need to walk for gender equality. It was wonderful to be surrounded by women and girls of all generations, some of whom had travelled from all over the UK.

The morning after Processions a close friend asked me, “who received the right to vote in the UK one hundred years ago?”

To set the scene… Up until 1918 only men aged 21 or older who owned land had the right to vote in the UK. The suffragette movement lead to the introduction of the Representation of the People Act in 1918. This allowed women over the age of thirty who owned property, or whose husbands did, the right to vote. Not all women could vote. In fact, only 22% of women living in the UK at the time received the right to vote in 1918. It is also interesting and important to mention that the Representation of the People Act also further extended the right to vote to all men over the age of 21 regardless of their property ownership status.

It would be another ten years before the Representation of People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 was introduced into British politics, giving women equal electoral rights as men. What this tells us is that the suffragettes continued to fight together for equal rights. 22% representation was not good enough; the exclusion of any woman was unacceptable. The fight would continue until all women had the same right to vote as men. And finally, in 1928 all women aged 21 and older regardless of property ownership were given the right to vote. Sylvia Pankhurst is quoted in 1931 as saying ‘’as to the suffrage movement, it was a gathering of people of all sorts, united by one simple idea, which necessitated the surrender of no prejudice of race or class”. So, if you were at the Processions celebrations over the weekend, think of this as the dress run for some serious partying in 2028!

“What difference does political independence have?” you might ask. Women in the UK were given the right to vote in 1928 and are living in a country that the World Economic Forum (WEF) considers to be one of the most equal in their Global Gender Gap Report in 2017. By comparison, Saudi Arabia, which is ranked as one of the worst countries globally in the same report, only extended their women citizens the right to vote in 2015. Working for The Circle my focus is on the most marginalised women and girls, but I learnt that, despite having the vote for 100 years, the UK also has a lot of work to do to achieve gender equality. So as one of my favourite banners from yesterday reads – “We Have the Vote. Now We Want Equality’”. Equality for all women. And we will not stop until every woman is empowered to make her own choices and make change happen for herself.

In 2018 we find ourselves in a very different world where the stories of history are being re-examined and often criticised because they have often been told by the same perspective – overwhelmingly that of white heterosexual middle and upper-class men. Looking back on the suffragette movement I am thus further inspired when I really reflect on Sylvia Pankhurst’s words in 1931.

“… as to the suffrage movement, it was a gathering of people of all sorts, united by one simple idea, which necessitated the surrender of no prejudice of race or class”.

Sylvia Pankhurst

With only 22% of women receiving the right to vote and this being reliant on a property ownership, the majority of the women represented by that percentage would have been wealthy white women.  The suffragette movement in the UK wasn’t directly campaigning with a racial agenda to exclude ethnic minorities, which was the case in examples seen in countries like the USA, Australia and South Africa. For example, the suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh, goddaughter of Queen Victoria, was born of Indian and German-Ethiopian ethnicity. Sushama Sen (a woman of Indian ethnicity) recalls in her book Memoirs of an Octogenarian that when the suffragettes heard of her activities campaigning for the women’s vote, they invited her to join their demonstrations in Piccadilly in 1910. However, through my research I have found no evidence to suggest that specific consideration was given to women of ethnic minorities who would have been less able to realise their rights due to the oppression faced in addition to sexism. What is inspiring about the suffragette movement between 1918 and 1928 is that despite the more privileged women in UK society having received the vote in 1918, the fight for political equality continued. It unified women from all walks of life, living in the UK, to stand together for political equality, regardless of who they were. We are celebrating today because together, they won.  

In 2018 there are huge inequalities that exist between women and men. The experiences of those inequalities between women are also worlds apart. As a South African woman, the challenges I have faced because of my gender are hardly a drop in the ocean when compared to Siyanda, a woman who is committed to self-empowerment at the Nonceba Women’s Shelter in South Africa, a project supported by The Circle. The difference between us is that, in addition to sexism, Siyanda has faced challenges connected to her ethnicity, lack of access to education and financial independence, which are all beyond her control. Now in 2018 we have more knowledge, we have the gift of hind sight and we can see how the road to gender equality is longer for women who are facing discrimination on multiple fronts. I am part of the small percentage of women who are closer to equal rights than most. The suffragettes focused on women in the UK, but they did not have the internet to connect them to their global sisters. The suffragettes had bells to make noise, we have various forms of media. As women today, we also have networks and influence that the suffragettes could only dream of in 1918. With the inspiration of the suffragettes behind us and the winds of change in the global movement for gender equality powering our sails —I ask you to remember where we have come from and to please join me as we continue to fight for equality for all women, especially those who are still treated as far less equal than you or I.

 

 

 

@PetaBB
Peta Barrett is a member of The Circle since 2016 and our Relationship Manager since 2017.


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.


What we learn from our members: dental health and its link to poverty and education

Children taking part in the Live Smart project, in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Credit: Dental Wellness Trust.

I am very lucky. My job entails working closely with members of The Circle. And this means that I am constantly learning about their areas of expertise and how they apply them to further gender equality.

They are also women who appear to exceed the limitations of time, which they manage to give so generously to empowering women and girls, in addition to the significant commitments of their professional and personal lives.

On 4 and 5 November I had the pleasure of experiencing a night and day in the world of one of our newest members, Dr Linda Greenwall. Linda is a dentist on the commendable mission to save kids’ teeth. She founded the Dental Wellness Trust in 2011, fulfilling a life goal of setting up a dental health charity for those in need. It was the start of an incredible journey that now reaches 5,000 children enrolled in school programmes and a further 2,000 who are enrolled in the LiveSmart Evening Health Programme, run by mothers in the community of Khayelitsha, South Africa. Khayelitsha is the same township where the Nonceba women shelter is based, which The Circle supports. And for those of you who joined us at the launch of this project on South African Women’s Day, on 8 August, you’ll remember Linda as our exceptional guest speaker of the night.

I am not a dentist. In fact, as I sat taking in all the information about children’s dental wellbeing, I was acutely aware that I hadn’t been to the dentist for over five years. I also had an Oprah Winfrey moment of gratitude for the education and the significant time and financial investment my parents made to ensure my dental health was the best that it could be.

So, what does a general member of the public with a professional interest in empowering women and girls take away from the wealth of knowledge presented by some of the best industry experts at the Saving Kids Teeth 2017 conference?

Way more that I can squeeze into this blog post! So, I am going to tell you about three fundamental things:

1. Tooth decay

Tooth decay is preventable. Wholly and completely preventable. Prevention is the only real solution to avoid pain, expensive procedures and a multitude of ripple effects that will impact on a child’s health, wellbeing and development from tooth to toe, body and mind.

Give a child a tooth brush and teach them how to use it and not only do you prevent dental issues, you also ensure children aren’t going to miss school because of unnecessary toothache, aren’t going to be bullied or experience low self-esteem because of the appearance of their teeth. It also won’t inevitably lead to painful, expensive procedures in the future.

There are many obstacles that stand in the way of girls accessing an education, which you can find out more about in our project supporting Educate Girls, India. So, it’s even more important to do what we can to avoid adding more obstacles to that list, especially if they are preventable!

2. Let’s talk about sugar

There is a clear, undeniable link between tooth decay, obesity and poverty in children. All of the speakers, talking from very different professional standpoints, clearly identified the same cause — sugar.

I’ll repeat that — despite their different focus points and experiences treating children with a multitude of different issues, they all identified sugar as the problem. Financial limitations, convenience of cheap products (generally high in sugar) and a lack of education about dental hygiene are the main reasons for the severe lack of dental wellbeing in children globally. In areas of poverty where addiction to sugar is high (because it is accessible, affordable, tasty, considered a treat or a reward, and easily shipped from western countries) tooth decay is much higher.

It felt very forward-thinking to hear the connections being made between dental decay and obesity in children. Encouraging approaches to integrated health are increasing our knowledge of how sugar affects the teeth and the gut, two crucial parts of the digestive system that aren’t traditionally considered together. And it seems obvious from the outside looking in that more integrated healthcare discussions need to be happening across specialisations to ensure a child’s wellbeing.

In my opinion, there is a third prong missing in this triangle, and that is mental wellbeing. Both Dr Sandra White and Prof Terence Stephenson spoke about a lack of confidence and the likelihood of bullying in children who are living with tooth decay and obesity. Sugar is the common enemy, regardless of the side of the health sector from which the story is being told.

Sugar is also the wolf in sheep’s clothing acting as the comforter and temporary solution to anxiety, stress and depression. The little comfort and happiness craved when a child has low confidence is being bullied. I think it would be interesting to bring in a mental health specialist to the table who specialises in understanding how living in poverty, experiencing pain and being bullied all contribute to how and why we make the choices we do, so that we can educate children and their parents to make good choices about their teeth and their food. And, simultaneously, raise the bar on what food is made available and why, for reasons pertaining to health instead of profit.

It is important to talk about issues that negatively impact children. Sugar is a common enemy and we need to be talking about how bad it is for children’s teeth, childhood obesity and the options available to those living below the poverty line globally.

3. Spit, don’t rinse

Finally, I learnt lots of science about fluoride and that water and fluoride don’t mix. The formula for healthy teeth is more fluoride and less sugar. So, remember — SPIT, DON’T RINSE!

Together Linda and I are exploring how our two worlds can meet to further empower women and girls, so if you have a connection to the dental sector, please contact us, sign up as a member if you haven’t already and watch this space in 2018!

 

 

 

@PetaBB
Peta Barrett is a member of The Circle since 2016 and our Relationship Manager since 2017.


Relationship Manager Musings: Teabags and Hashtags

 

Peta Barrett, the Relationship Manager at The Circle, on the Chai Day 2017 launch and why you should organise a Chai Day to raise awareness about gender-based violence

Colourful falling leaves, busy squirrels and tea go hand in hand for me. My autumn is always tea-inspired. Tea spiced with meaningful discussions with friends; cosy evenings in with a hot brew as energy levels start to cool with the weather; tea steaming up the windows, and tea’s magically unique comforting warmth, like a hug in a mug.

As a member of The Circle, chai tea and autumn brewed together in November also means confronting hard truths and saying enough is enough. Last month, Chai Day was launched with our members. An inspiring evening with speakers — The Circle Executive Director Sioned Jones, who shared The Circle’s mission; Santosh Bhanot, Chair of The Asian Circle, who started the Chai Day movement and shared her experiences of visiting women supported by funds raised through Chai Day, and Gina Conway of Gina Conway Salons — an inspiring member who shared her experience of hosting Chai Day at her salons in 2016.

Chai Day is an opportunity to gather people around a hot beverage on 25 November — significantly the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women — to look at how gender-based violence manifests in our community and what we can do about it. Last month was also the month when the #MeToo hashtag flooded the internet. With all the awareness scrolled and clicked through on smart phones, tablets and screens, the importance of Chai Day is more significant than ever before. It is the vital next step to engaging and talking about the issue (and I don’t mean via 140 characters in the comments thread).

As a professional working for women’s rights, a friend to many who have experienced more than just a “tap on the arse”, and as someone who can freely identify as a woman in a city where I am more empowered than most, I feel that it is important to facilitate conversations around this topic. Chai Day offers people a platform to do this. If we can ensure that dialogue about gender-based violence in our communities, and those around the world, continue past social media trends, we will be winning one small battle in the current war on women and girls.

The #MeToo storm that has hit social media is important because it has demonstrated that experiences of gender-based harassment and assault are commonplace amongst women, and that it exists across women of all ages, races, culture and class. The #MeToo trend is, in isolation, far from perfect because the victim is still being expected to place herself in a vulnerable position (by speaking out) as well as lead the discussion in a world that still largely blames the victim. It also ignores other genders affected by gender-based violence and is in danger of ignoring the serious disparities that exist between experiences and why these occur.

To prevent the hashtag from existing only as a social media flurry that will fizzle out, we need to be inspired by the overwhelming outcry and use it proactively to initiate and establish dialogues between all genders. This is important not only for the reality of the situation to take hold, but also to ensure that all people are able to reflect on the roles we play in contributing towards the inequalities that exist between genders in 2017. Uniting and talking about experiences to bring about lasting change is the real intention behind the initial Me Too campaign initiated by Tarana Burke ten years ago. It is also the inspiration behind The Circle’s Chai Day as part of the global movement for gender equality.

For these reasons and so many more I will be arming myself with my #ChaiDay and #MeToo hashtags, some hard facts about gender-based violence, videos of The Circle’s inspiring projects and some chai teabags. My invitations have gone out and we will be opening our home in London on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to friends, colleagues and people we would like to get to know better.

I am asking my guests to bring their questions, experiences, opinions and an open mind. If they enjoy the treats, hot drinks and discussions and feel inspired to donate towards projects aimed at ending violence against women – great I’ll have a money box for their small change and a PC ready for any online donations. If they don’t, it’s more important for me that they turn up and be part of the conversation. Why? Because 38% of all men and 34% of all women who participated in a study conducted by the Fawcett Society in 2016 said that if a woman goes out late at night, wearing a short skirt, gets drunk and is then the victim of a sexual assault she is fully or partly to blame. Because across the world 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate male partner. Because globally 71% of human trafficking victims are women and girls. Because I want our daughters to grow up and talk about gender inequality as something that happened in the “olden days”.

At an event at Southbank with Margaret Atwood discussing her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the question of “what can I do” was asked. Margaret simply and eloquently answered, “Imagine the world you want to live in and act accordingly”. I want a world where gender-based violence does not exist. In the meantime, I will imagine a world where women (and other genders) can talk about their experiences of gender-based violence without shame and fear of being blamed.

If my passion for this subject has inspired you and you would like to host your own Chai Day in your home, office, yoga studio, football club or hairdresser, visit our website to find downloadable invitations, promotional materials, helpful tips, videos and facts to use as conversation starters.

I look forward to raising my tea cup with yours on 25 November for a better, safer world.

 

 

 

@PetaBB
Peta Barrett is a member of The Circle since 2016 and our Relationship Manager since 2017.


On being a member of The Circle — a message from our Relationship Manager

Peta Barrett, The Circle Relationship Manager, at our South Africa’s Women’s Day celebration.

South Africa’s Women’s Day was celebrated in London, on 8 August, even with the grey sky that relentlessly drenched the city! Together we watched our new short film, featuring the life of Siyanda. I am pleased to say that Siyanda’s voice was heard over the sound of the rain beating down in the UK. Siyanda’s strength, courage and determination inspired all the guests who had gathered to launch The Circle’s new project supporting the Nonceba women’s shelter, in Khayelitsha.

Watch Siyanda’s story here:

I shared with our guests how it can be challenging to define exactly how our Circles work and how members power our projects and events. The challenge exists because when women come together their achievements are often unpredictable and tend to far exceed expectations. Each member has their own journey with us and you’ll know from the wide range of projects and events of The Circle over the past nine years, there is no set formula to how we do what we do best!

I wanted to share my musings and a bit of my own journey with you in the hope that they will offer more understanding of how members of The Circle work, inspire some ideas and encourage you to connect with us further.

The Circle South Africa’s Women’s Day celebration — how our members made it happen

On 13 July I met Laura, a Senior Associate at Stewart’s Law LLP, at a members-only event hosted by The Lawyer’s Circle in support of the Living Wage report. During our conversation, I mentioned to Laura that I was hoping to increase the number of events and networking opportunities for us to connect with our members. Laura handed me her business card and said that they would offer me a venue whenever I needed one. With momentum building for the Nonceba project and SA Women’s Day on the horizon we decided to leap at the chance to connect with Laura, our members and our newest project on a day that felt most apt! I am so glad we did because the event was a huge success across so many levels and all thanks to the women in the room.

Running in parallel to my meeting with Laura, The Circle Executive Director Sioned Jones met Dr Linda Greenwall. Linda is a South African dentist living in the UK and the driving force behind the Live Smart project. Live Smart was set up in Khayelitsha in 2013 to combat the issue that 80% of the half a million children in Khayelitsha are living with tooth decay. Linda agreed to speak at the event and shared her journey and experiences setting up a charitable venture in Khayelitsha. Linda is now also a member of The Circle, and we are exploring the possibilities for creating a new Circle together.

Joining Linda as a speaker was our very own Dr Becky Cox. Becky is the chair of The Oxford Circle and has her own incredible journey within The Circle. Amongst her many life achievements Becky is raising awareness for The Circle and our end violence against women campaigns by running thirteen half marathons throughout 2018.

As a members-based charity, The Circle recognises that in order to bring about lasting change to women’s lives we all need to work together. At The Circle, we do that by connecting our members to each other and to women around the world who cannot realise their human rights in the same way that you and I can, here, in the UK. Together we use our skills, knowledge and influence to raise awareness, raise funds, but, most importantly, find ways of doing what we do best to make a difference that can last.

Each of our members has their own unique journey with The Circle and I want to highlight that, because in the past month I have been asked countless times ‘what can I do?’ or ‘how can I be more involved’. The answer to that question lies within you. We all have something different to offer and opportunities for us to be involve ebb and flow around our day-to-day lives and that’s ok.

My journey as a member

I heard Annie speak at the WOW festival in 2015 thanks to my friend Faye, who is also a member. Faye and I were shocked by the HIV/AIDS statistics in South Africa quoted by Annie. Facts that are simply unacceptable and that I would like to share with you here:

• HIV is the biggest killer of women in reproductive age.
• Women between 15 and 24 years old are twice as likely to become infected with HIV than men in the same age group.
• Globally, in 2015 there were an estimated 17.8 million women (aged 15 and older), living with HIV, constituting 51% of all adults living with HIV.
• “5% of pregnancy-related deaths worldwide and 25% in sub-Saharan Africa are attributable to HIV.”

Those statistics are devastating on their own. What was more alarming to me personally is that so little has changed from my time as a student living in South Africa twelve years ago. I signed up as a member of The Circle a few weeks later, which involves registering on our website and pledging a monthly or annual donation. For what felt like the longest time I simply paid £5, read the monthly newsletter and shared a couple of tweets. It’s only now that I realise how vitally important that donation and those tweets shared are to sustain the work done by The Circle.

In September last year, I made a business decision in my previous role as Director to work with The Circle as our charity partners for an annual awards ceremony in November. The Circle’s team raised funds that night to support Nonceba and we have already sent them enough to run the shelter for two months — making a real difference to women in the country that I grew up in.

Our members, the driving force behind everything we do

The example of using my position to connect with the women of The Circle obviously appears more impressive than telling you I tweet daily; however, examples like this are less consistent because they demand time, determination and planning. The consistency we need comes from our members, our followers, our ‘retweeters’. We are able to do what we do because of the members joining us at events and carrying the messages about women’s rights into conversations with their own circles of family, friends and colleagues. Those messages and conversations grow into further connections and become the opportunities for annual events, fundraisers, a new project, a new Circle.

In a world of instant access, we often forget that real change takes time. The Circle members are taking their valuable spare time to share the stories of women without a voice while scrolling through social media, and take action when opportunities present themselves to make more significant leaps. Spreading the word, using one’s influence… these are all needed. Sometimes, because our life demands our time and attention, simply being connected is enough.

To all our members I ask you to please keep doing what you are doing because even if at times it feels like nothing it is something — the connection is there. I also want to invite you to share your thoughts with me and with the other women in your life. Talk about and support the projects that inspire you. When something enrages you let’s turn that into a positive action together.

If you have yet to become a member I invite you to join us because making change starts with you and we are here to facilitate the positive and much need change in the life of women and girls.

I have a voice where Siyanda does not. For me, knowing that was the first step. Asking my friends and networks to help me to support Siyanda was step two. By simply asking I am pleased to say my network has helped to ensure one of the twenty-one women at Nonceba Women’s Shelter is able to be there for another month. What can your network do?

 

 

 

 

@PetaBB
Peta Barrett is a member of The Circle since 2016 and our Relationship Manager since 2017.


International Women’s Day, part i: #March4Women

Photo credit: Care International.

When I was younger I loved to swim. I was never a fast swimmer, my swimming teacher told me that I had stamina rather than speed. I remember there being an aggression, an impatience and an exclusion in swimming heats if you weren’t one of the main competitors. I remember feeling disappointed and frustrated every time I didn’t swim fast enough, despite hours of training. I was born with stamina over speed in a world where power and strength is perceived to be fast paced, aggressive, impatient and exclusive. Stamina seemed less ‘strong’ by comparison.

In reflecting on the Care International #March4Women event held in London on Sunday 5 March 2017, I am reminded of the strength of stamina when seeing Helen Pankhurst, who continues to hold the flame of her great-grandmother, who in turn had carried it for all the women before her. Protester banners and signs reading ‘Why do I we still need to protest this shit’ and ‘Same shit different century’ voice the frustration that is being felt even more by people living in the world today. For me this frustration and the events of Sunday marked a moment of solidarity, which Billy Brag aptly described as what happens when ‘we mix empathy with action’.

I am also reminded by my good friend Cara, an MBA student at the University of Oxford, that real change in society doesn’t happen in bursts, but in the moments connecting those bursts and through a persistence in shifting societal perceptions and norms. On Sunday 5 March, in London, there was a much-needed burst joining the message of activists including Bianca Jagger and Muzoon Almellehan with the status of celebrities from the UK and abroad. Emeli Sandé performed a new release for the first time to mark the occasion, while Annie Lennox spoke as an activist (re-enforcing the strange idea that a woman can be a feminist and a musician and an activist simultaneously!). There was a genuinely communal feel as the sound technology awkwardly failed VV Brown, Preeya Kalidas, Natasha Bedingfield, Kate Bush and Mel C, but they persisted in raising their voices to the rhythm of Aretha Franklin’s iconic Respect, in a unison call for gender equality. The singers then joined Bianca Jagger, Helen Pankhurst and Annie Lennox as they led thousands of people across Tower Bridge. I believe that in reflecting on these short, fast, prominent ‘bursts’ and carrying the messages heard at these events into every day discussions, we will continue to connect them to be the change that is needed.

During her interview with Gemma Cairney I was struck by Muzoon’s simple request for empathy. Muzoon, an eighteen-year-old activist who came to the UK in 2015 as a Syrian refugee and had begun advocating for refugees and their right to education at the age of fourteen, is wise beyond her years. During her interview, Muzoon answered the question I and many of my western friends ask ‘what can I do?’ with a simple ‘change your perception of who refugees are’. When we see refugees as people, we put the personal into the political and we can relate to them as our fellow-humans. In extending empathy to refugees we can begin to understand that their refugee status is a label masking the consequence of war that has forcibly taken them away from their homes, their livelihoods, their material securities and we can begin to imagine how that might feel and acknowledge that it could happen to anyone.

The energy on the day was positive and welcoming, so much so that when a man yelled ‘march for men’ someone yelled back ‘sure! How about you march for women now?’ I thus disappointed when I read some of the online responses to the event. Disappointed because of the lack of surprised I felt, but more because of the sheer ignorance of the posts. The common thread through most of the comments and tweets cage women into restricted identities where we can exist only as one or the other, but never more than one identity simultaneously. The tweet ‘When have women in Tooting ever been marginalised’ suggests that by living in London women cannot possibly be mistreated on the grounds of gender. If you, despite your gender, find yourself asking this question, I encourage you to discuss this with your female friends. I can assure you, you will be surprised to learn that simply being ‘an empowered woman living in London’ does not exclude you from gender-based harassment. From inappropriate commentary about her physical appearance, to a lower pay cheque in comparison to her male peers, to sexist views embedded in the unconscious bias of white men who remain at the top of the UK government and most commercial sectors, gender equality has yet to be achieved in this very ‘first world’ city.

Women who gather to march are sometimes criticised for being ’empowered and cosseted’ and told to ‘shut up’ or told to ‘march for girls in the Middle East being married off at ten…’, ignoring that many women marching across the bridge were in fact well-aware of the privilege we enjoy and the importance for us to use our empowerment to amplify the voices of those disempowered by gender-based inequality. The attacks on the intentions and physical appearance of the women taking part in the march are old and boring and shamefully uninformed and it makes the call for empathy all the more relevant.

I will therefore raise my educated, privileged, middle class, western English voice to echo the words of Annie Lennox, regardless of what you might say about my intentions, my class or my physical appearance, to amplify the voices of the women with less or without, in saying:

  • Globally one in three women will be beaten or coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their life time.
  • Every thirty seconds thirteen girls under the age of eighteen are entered into child marriage. This is a gross human rights violation that keeps girls out of school, endangering their health and sentencing them to a lifetime of poverty.
  • Around the world seventeen million girls will never have the opportunity to enrol in primary education.
  • Globally women are still paid less than men, earning on average only 60-75% of men’s wages.
  • Out of an estimated 3.8 million young people aged 15-24 living with HIV, 60% are female.
  • HIV is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age in the continent of Africa.

To the women who will never read this blog post, I promise to use my stamina and my strength to keep marching and using my voice to amplify the voice you may not even know you have. To the people, regardless of your gender, who have taken time to read this, I implore you to keep marching and raising your voices until gender inequality is something future generations, globally, will struggle to comprehend while sitting in their history lessons. ‘Inequality because of reproductive organs?’ they’ll laugh, ‘weird’.

peta
@PetaBB
Peta Barrett has experience in the arts and in Data, Research, Events and Operations and is a member of The Circle.