The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and How You Can Help Achieve Them

Young reporters from the Pikin to Pikin Tok project in Sierra Leone. Photo credit: Child to Child.

The Circle member Shannon Hodge looks at the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how we, as active citizens, can maintain the momentum, push for further progress and achieve these goals by 2030.

On 1 January 2016, the United Nations’ long-awaited — and extensively-researched — Sustainable Development Goals came into effect. And just like the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that came before them, they will last for 15 years.

This time around, there are 17 goals to reach. They are much broader and more inclusive than the eight MDGs were, and include specific targets and indicators to reach the overall goals.

And while the MDGs were largely focused on lower-income countries, the SDGs are designed to apply to all countries, no matter their income.

Proposed goals include ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, ending hunger, and reducing inequality within, and among, countries.

However, the most important Sustainable Development Goal to The Circle — and one which we strive to achieve in everything we do — is Goal 5: to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Specific targets within Goal 5 include eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls, including trafficking and sexual exploitation, eliminating harmful practices including forced marriage and female genital mutilation, and ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

To see how The Circle is working towards specific targets and indicators within Goal 5 and how you can help, keep reading…

5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation

Many of our projects focus on preventing violence against women, including Nonceba: a shelter for survivors of violence and human trafficking in Western Cape. The centre has a shelter for women who have survived domestic violence or have been victims of human trafficking. Most women in the shelter are also HIV positive, struggle to access healthcare, and have limited education and training. By supporting this project, Nonceba can provide these women with a place to stay for a whole year, where they can access counselling, legal support, healthcare, educational programmes and victim empowerment groups.

The Circle also supports a UNICEF project in Nepal which conducts research to gain a deeper understanding of the roots and causes of child trafficking, and offers direct services to thousands of girls who have been affected, including shelter, medical care and counselling.

5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life

Be a part of giving women the chance to learn their rights — and worth — with the leading lights of Myanmar project. In the run-up to the country’s elections, Oxfam worked with local partners to create women’s groups, who informed their communities about their right to vote, ran successful campaigns, gave women the skills and confidence to become local leaders, and taught them how to build their skills and run effective election campaigns.

5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences

The Scottish Circle and the David Williamson Rwanda Foundation have been busy working with vulnerable youth in Rwanda on subjects including gender equality, domestic violence, STDs, teenage pregnancy and business skills. At the end of the four-week-long workshop, all 150 children had been provided with medical insurance and were more familiar with their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

5.A. Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws

In Sri Lanka — and many parts of the world — men own a much bigger proportion of land than women. They also own most of the agricultural equipment, even though it’s often women working in the fields. However, our Planting Hope project with Oxfam is enabling women to take control of their own small business enterprises, support each other by setting up a cooperative to improve their earning power, and raise their status in the community.

A more recent addition to the list of projects we support is a Women Cooperative in Rwanda. With the assistance of Oxfam and a local partner, sixty women (eighty per cent of whom are widows) will create a farming cooperative.

Each woman is given a pig and learns about pig rearing, cooperative management and development of sustainable income-generating activities. Once their pigs give birth, each woman gives a piglet to another woman in their district, thus doubling the number of families benefiting from an increased household income.

To help us continue to work towards achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls worldwide, sign up to be a member here.


5 Life Hacks to Help Change the Fashion Industry

Photo: The Music Circle’s Rumble in the Jumble, London.

Cheap food and fashion often means someone, somewhere, is paying the price.

Organisations like Fairtrade aim to stop this by helping people in the world’s most marginalised communities escape poverty, strengthen their districts and promote environmental sustainability.

A good way to know whether a product has been ethically produced and sourced is by checking whether it has the Fairtrade Mark. While a useful trick, this probably isn’t news to you, and it only works for products that you can find in a supermarket. What happens with clothes or accessories? How can we make sure that we are responsible consumers of fashion?

Here at The Circle, we believe that every woman and girl deserves the right to a fair, living wage — and many companies and governments, at present, are failing to withhold this right.

As well as our report on the living wage in the fashion industry, we look at the ways that we, as consumers, can be more ethical when purchasing everything from coffee and tea, to haircare and knitwear.

1. Shop smart, then do your part

Download the Buycott app. It allows you to select the causes you’re most passionate about, such as supporting Fairtrade, boycotting human trafficking and child labour companies, and ending animal testing.

Once you’ve picked the causes important to you, you can scan any potential purchases to see how ethical the company that you’re buying from is and avoid the ones with conflicting campaigns.

2. Ask brands to do better

Never underestimate the power that you have as a consumer. From using things such as the Buycott app, it will soon become clear that some of the brands you use have exploited workers in the past, or still do.

A great way of voting for change is by supporting the brands that are eco-conscious and treat their workers fairly, and avoiding the ones that are not. However, you should also use your voice. The wonderful world of social media makes it easier than ever to make large brands aware of consumers’ wishes, so hop on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and ask these brands to reform. Whether it’s with hashtags, petitions, or even a viral video — make your voice heard.

3. #30wears Challenge

Historically, clothing has been something we have held onto for a long time, but with cheap clothing now available in abundance, clothes are beginning to be seen as disposable.

A good way of avoiding the “buy and discard” trap is the #30wears challenge, popularized by The Circle co-founder Livia Firth. Next time you’re going to buy an item of clothing or accessory, ask yourself: “Will I wear this at least 30 times?”. If the answer is “yes”, buy it. That way, you will be building a sustainable wardrobe full of clothes that you love and will keep forever.

4. Recycle and upcycle

Even the most conscientious fashion consumers grow out of their clothes sometimes, or their clothes grow out of fashion. Next time you’re having a wardrobe clear-out, consider the following options:

  • Donate the garments to charity or a women’s refuge.
  • Recycle them properly at a clothing/textile bank (often found in supermarket car parks).
  • Fancy getting nifty with a needle? Why not give your clothes a new lease of life? For example, turn an old patterned dress into a new tube skirt, or even a fancy new cushion cover.
  • 5. Support a project

    Whether you host a fundraising coffee morning with friends or donate to a project of your choice, there are many ways you can help prevent the exploitation of workers worldwide.

    For example, The Lawyers Circle, in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign, published a report in spring 2017 that set out the legal argument to defend the living wage as a fundamental right, and the duties of companies and governments to uphold this right. The report argues the need to develop a global standard for a living wage.

    This, however, is just the beginning of the work The Circle plans to do to ensure that garment industry workers — who are predominantly women — earn a living wage. We are planning a two-year campaign to stop the current “race to the bottom” and to propose a new architecture for the garment industry to ensure compliance and accountability for workers to receive a living wage.

    To read the report or to make a donation to help create a “race to the top” by protecting the rights of millions of workers and push to getting them a living wage, please visit our website.


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


    Six ways in which educating girls benefits their wider community

    The Circle member and volunteer Shannon Hodge looks at how educating girls can help tackle everything from child marriage to world poverty

    Today, more than 263 million children are out of school, with 202 million of those of secondary school age. 130 million of them are girls. And despite all the efforts and progress made in previous years, more girls are still denied an education than boys — with 15 million girls of primary-school age estimated to never set foot in a classroom.

    Investing in the education of girls brings high returns in terms of breaking cycles of poverty and aiding economic growth — but it also improves children’s and women’s survival rates and health, delays child marriage and early pregnancies, empowers women both in the home and the workplace, and helps tackle climate change.

    In proposed target 4.1 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the UN said: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”, meaning that each of the 263 million children currently out of education will be entitled to twelve years of quality, fee-free primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education by 2030.

    Achieving universal access to those twelve years of education is both a matter of human rights and a huge investment in the overall development and economic growth of the world. Here are just a few of the ways in which unlocking the potential of millions of girls can have a wider impact…

    1. Preventing child marriage and early pregnancy

    An estimated 15 million girls a year are married before they are eighteen. Many are forced to marry by their families in exchange for a dowry — which is seen as a way of alleviating poverty within the family. Once married, many girls wanting to continue their education are often denied this right, due to traditional roles they are expected to play in the home, such as childbearing and cleaning.

    Education is one of the most powerful tools to enable girls to avoid child marriage and fulfil their potential. And the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married before the age of eighteen and have children during her teenage years.

    It also gives girls the chance to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions including when, and whom, they will marry.

    With twelve years of quality education, girls are up to six times less likely to marry as children — compared to those who have little or no education. Estimates show that if all girls had access to secondary education, child marriage would drop by 64%.

    2. Preventing female genital mutilation

    Over 140 million girls worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) — a form of gender-based violence where parts or all of the external female genitalia are removed or injured for no medical reason.

    Education is integral to any strategy to reduce FGM, as it can play a key role in changing individual and societal views.

    In fact, data shows that girls and women with no education are significantly more likely to be in favour of the existence of FGM — for example, in Kenya, approximately 38% of women and girls with no education support the continuation of the practice, in comparison to approximately 6% of women and girls with secondary or higher education.

    3. Building more stable communities

    Education builds resilience, enabling countries to recover from conflict faster once peace is established. In fact, inclusive, quality education can even help prevent conflict in the first place through lessons on problem-solving, social skills and critical thinking.

    And whilst primary education is vital to girls, it’s secondary education that can be transformative. In certain countries, doubling the percentage of students finishing secondary school would halve the risk of conflict.

    4. Tackling climate change

    Following on from the fact that education can create more stable communities, research also suggests that girls’ education reduces a country’s vulnerability to natural disasters. As a matter of fact, education is one of the most cost-effective strategies to mitigate carbon emissions and tackle climate change.

    In 47 countries covered by the 2005-2008 World Values Survey, the higher a girl’s level of education, the more likely she was to express concern for the environment. Furthermore, in the later 2010-2012 World Values Survey, when forced to choose between protecting the environment versus boosting the economy, those respondents with secondary education favoured the environment more than those with less than secondary education.

    5. Strengthens economies and advances the fight to end poverty

    Research in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries found that level of education has a “substantial impact on employment prospects”.

    On average, across these countries, 74% of those with the proposed twelve years of education up to upper secondary are employed, as opposed to 56% of those without an upper secondary education.

    Generally, secondary school graduates enjoy higher earning potential than early school leavers, contributing to the growth of the national economy through full-time employment and tax.

    And if all children in low-income countries completed upper secondary education by 2030, per capita income would increase by 75% by 2050 and advance the fight to eliminate poverty by ten years.

    6. Better health, longer lives

    Girls’ education has wide-ranging and transformative health benefits, which can be passed on through generations. Every additional year of school a girl completes cuts rates of infant mortality — the death of children under one year — by five to ten per cent. And if all girls received the proposed twelve years of fee-free, quality education, the frequency of early births would drop by 59% and child deaths would decrease by 49%.

    Furthermore, women with post-primary education are also better able to protect both themselves and their families against other health risks. For example, they are five times more likely than illiterate women to be educated about the risk of HIV and AIDS and know how to practice safer sex and prevent infection. Educated mothers are also more likely to vaccinate their children.

    These are just some of the positive impacts that educating girls can have on both girls and their communities, and here at The Circle we believe that girls are the untapped solution to many of the world’s problems. To help improve the world, we must educate girls.

    That’s why we work with Educate Girls to address issues facing young girls in India.

    An estimated three million girls are out of school in India and the situation is worse in rural areas of Rajasthan, where girls are three times more likely to be out of school than other children in India. The female literacy rate in Rajasthan is 52%, the lowest in the country, and six in ten girls in Rajasthan marry as children.

    The Circle supports Educate Girls in increasing girls’ enrolment and retention rates and improving the quality of education in India with the use of Creating Learning and Teaching kits. You can read more about the project or  donate on our website.

    “We can gain peace, grow economies, improve our public health and the air that we breathe. Or we can lose another generation of girls.” — Education activist Malala Yousafzai, speech to Canadian Parliament, 2017.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


    8 Women’s Rights Documentaries to Watch on Netflix

    Photo credit: India’s Daughter.

    Storytelling through film — a combination of human interest stories, compelling visuals and an emotional narrative — is becoming increasingly popular among those advocating for human rights, due to its success in putting injustice under a spotlight and giving a platform to those who are usually silenced.

    At The Circle, one of our four key goals is to amplify the voices of women and girls, so they can tell their story and we can learn about the issues that they face.

    From illegal abortions and the women’s liberation movement in the 60s, to first-hand accounts of girls who have been trafficked, we have selected the top women’s rights documentaries available on Netflix that highlight these issues and provide a much-needed voice to the women of the world.

    1. Finding Home, 2014

    finding home

    Photo credit: Finding Home.

    Telling the stories of three brave Cambodian women who were victims of sex trafficking at a young age, Finding Home highlights the difficulties and complexities of learning how to deal with life after horrific abuse by slave owners.

    If you’re interested in helping children who have been trafficked, please consider donating to our project to stop child trafficking in Nepal.

    2. The Testimony, 2015

    testimony

    Photo credit: The Testimony.

    Chronicling the largest rape trial in Congo’s history, The Testimony takes an unprecedented glimpse into the lives of women standing up and fighting for justice against the soldiers accused of a brutal rampage on their own citizens. A truly moving, yet short, film on the unbreakable strength of the human spirit.

    3.Born into Brothels, 2004

    born into brothels

    Photo credit: Born into Brothels.

    This Oscar-winning documentary follows the lives of poverty-stricken children born to prostitutes in Calcutta’s worst slums. Given the opportunity to take up photography and document their own lives, the young boys and girls excel in the face of adversity.

    4.India’s Daughter, 2015

    NEW DELHI, INDIA -

    Photo credit: India’s Daughter.

    This haunting but incredibly important documentary recounts the brutal gang rape of medical student Jyoti Singh in 2012 and how, in its wake, the people of India took a stand to start changing the country’s attitudes and laws on gender-based violence.

    Our Brave New World project is raising awareness about gender-based violence in rural communities in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, India, and is setting up shelters for women who have survived domestic violence. Click here to learn more about the project

    5. #chicagoGirl: The social network takes on a dictator, 2013

    #Chicagogirl

    Photo credit: #chicagoGirl.

    Running an entire Syrian revolution from her bedroom in Chicago, 19-year-old Ala’a Basatneh is an inspiration to everyone wanting to help make a difference in the world. Armed with Facebook, Twitter, Skype and camera phones, she helps her friends on the ground in Syria show the world the human rights atrocities of a dictator, by arranging protests, sending videos to news organisations and smuggling in vital supplies to those in her social network.

    6. The True Cost, 2015

    true cost 2

    Photo credit: The True Cost.

    Insightful and heartbreaking, this film looks at the price workers around the world have to pay in order to keep the cost of clothing down. Including footage of the Rana Plaza collapse which killed 1,129 people in 2013, the groundbreaking documentary unravels the unseen world of the fast fashion industry.

    The Lawyers Circle recently published Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage. This cutting-edge report sets out the arguments to defend the living wage as a fundamental right, and the duties of companies and governments to uphold this right. Please click here to find out more and donate.

    7. The Vessel, 2014

    vessel 1

    Photo credit: The Vessel.

    Horrified by the realities created by anti-abortion laws around the world, activist and doctor Rebecca Gomperts set sail with her project, Women on Waves, to provide legal abortions in offshore waters to those in need. Beginning as a flawed spectacle faced with governmental, religious and military blockades, the doctor transformed what seemed an impossible task into a global movement.

    8. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, 2014

    she's beautiful when she's angry

    Photo credit: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.

    Focusing on the women’s liberation movement from 1966 to 1971, the film recounts the stories of women who fought for their own equality and in the process, created a world-wide revolution. Covering topics such as unequal pay, sexual harassment, domestic violence and reproductive rights, it’s an important story that will still resonate for women today.


    Chatterbox: The Social Enterprise Unlocking the Skills of Women Refugees

    Patuni, founder Mursal’s mum and the inspiration behind Chatterbox. Photo credit: P. Hedayat.

    Shannon Hodge, member of The Circle, meets the women behind Chatterbox, a charity employing refugees as language tutors

    An estimated 117,234 refugees have resettled in the UK after fleeing their homes—and countries—due to fear of violence or persecution. Many are highly-qualified professionals who are forced to leave their families and careers—and finding a job here can be challenging.

    Wajed Basha, an Arabic school teacher from Syria, has joined a growing number of newly-arrived degree-educated refugees that a new start-up, Chatterbox, has employed to use their language skills to not only benefit the UK’s language skills deficit, but to benefit them too.

    Wajed, 31, fled war in Syria almost three years ago and now lives in Wales with her husband and two children, aged 7 and 9. She studied Education at Tishreen University in her hometown of Latakia, Syria, where she went on to work for eight years in primary education before being appointed as a pedagogue in the Educational Directorate in Latakia.

    Following the uprising in Syria that descended into a country-wide civil war, over 4.5 million were forced to flee the country—Wajed and her family included.

    “Almost three years ago, we fled the war in Syria. There were explosions, bombs and extremists everywhere”, she said.

    “My husband came to the UK alone first to seek safety and then later, my children and I joined him by travelling through Lebanon, before arriving at Heathrow, where we were then resettled in Cardiff.”

    Describing her initial few months in the UK, Wajed said “It was very difficult at first. I didn’t choose to live so far away from my country so it was hard adapting to a new place, new people, a different culture and, on top of that, a new language”.

    This is where Chatterbox—a new language learning service delivered by refugees—comes in…

    The London-based start-up works with skilled refugees to provide training, contacts and work experience in the languages sector and helps them rebuild their professional lives using their existing skills, while simultaneously tackling the UK’s language skills deficit, which loses the economy an estimated £48 billion each year.

    The initiative is the brainchild of 26-year-old Economics graduate, Mursal Hedayat, who now employs more than thirty tutors; teaching languages from Arabic and Farsi to Swahili and Korean, both online and in person.

    Mursal watched her own mother struggle as a refugee when her family fled Afghanistan when she was just four years old. A civil engineer by practice, her mother used her language skills to find meaningful employment in the UK, following her decade-long search for a job.


    Founder Mursal with Syrian dentist and Chatterbox Arabic language tutor Eiad. Photo credit: Chatterbox.

    “Despite knowing languages such as English, Dari, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi dialect and Pashto, as well as having a highly-trained skill in civil engineering, my mother could only get basic low-skilled work in the UK”, said Mursal.

    “Eventually, after ten years of searching, she completed a qualification in teaching so that she could use her language skills to get a job as a classroom language assistant; helping students for whom English wasn’t their first language to access education.

    “She then went on to set up a supplementary school to teach core curriculum subjects, as well as Afghan culture, to the Afghan community in the area of London we live in.”

    Mursal’s mother’s experience was—and is—shared by many other talented people in the refugee community, and in August 2016 Mursal drew on this inspiration to launch Chatterbox.

    “Chatterbox was distinctly designed for the situation of a refugee mother who is having employment troubles and for us it’s important to help these women access work.

    “We’re currently over-represented by women, whereas, in other refugee interventions, they really struggle to get women and I think part of that is the flexibility of the work and training we provide, but also the cultural barriers that stop some women from seeking work.”

    Wajed agrees with Mursal’s point: “For some female refugees in the UK, it is difficult for them to get the education they need. For me, it is fine—I am a free lady—but some women would like to attend English classes so they can go on to get a job but they can’t. This is because many services helping refugees have mixed-gender classes, which some Muslim women feel uncomfortable attending—or are simply not given permission by their husband.”

    With the backing of the SOAS University of London, Chatterbox launched a pilot which ran from January 2017 to May 2017. The pilot was described as a “resounding success” by both students and tutors, with the Nesta innovation foundation awarding Chatterbox £40,000 of funding to further develop the programme.

    “With the funding, our aim is to train and build up a team of around 500 refugees by January next year”, said Mursal.

    And for many of the current tutors, Chatterbox has been a lifeline—helping them meet new people from all over the world, improve their overall employability and support themselves and their families.

    “We came here with no wage, no money, and I only had basic English—but it was not enough. I have worked hard to improve my English over the years and I’m so proud of my progress through working with Chatterbox”, said Wajed.

    Discussing her future plans, Wajed said she intends on continuing her career as a teacher and is currently studying at Cardiff and Vale College, where she has been offered a Level 2 Support Teaching and Learning Course which she plans to complete in the next year.

    “It’s also a long-term goal of mine to complete a master’s”, she laughs: “I am very ambitious!”

    And it appears the ambition is contagious at Chatterbox HQ, with a growing female refugee community including Jihyun, a maths teacher and human rights activist from North Korea, and Sudanese human rights and women’s rights lawyer Hekma, who is currently deciding on which of her many UK university offers to choose from.


    Sudanese human rights lawyer and Chatterbox Arabic language tutor Hekma. Photo credit: Chatterbox.

    Mursal concluded: “A really important part of the progress that Chatterbox has made comes from the fact that I have an intimate knowledge and understanding of what my mum went through. I was in the front seat of that and not only has that propelled and created a real drive within the organisation but that sort of level of insight into a problem will lead to better solutions ultimately.

    “I’d encourage all charities and social enterprises to develop solutions for refugees by engaging with them and create and develop solutions with them, rather than for them.

    “Let them be the leaders and creators of their own change.”

    One of The Circle’s objectives is to amplify the voices of women who are often silenced or forgotten. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram and like us on Facebook and don’t miss future interviews with inspiring women who are making a difference.

    The Circle supports a broad range of projects that help women to become independent and confident, able to stand up for their rights and influence change.

    If you’d like to become a member of The Circle, please click here.


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


    Feminist Calendar: May and June

    We are delighted to share with you the first issue of our Feminist Calendar. In this series of articles we will attempt to keep you posted on talks on feminist theory, art and poetry events, protests, and key dates in past and future struggles for gender equality.

    the guardian
    Photo credit: The Guardian.

    13 May—Surround Yarls Wood

    On Saturday, Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary is calling for the eleventh Surround Yarls Wood demonstration.

    Staff at the privately-run Yarls Wood have been accused of humiliating and abusing the 400+ women who are indefinitely detained in the centre.

    Join women on both sides of the notorious detention centre’s fences and demand the closure of all immigration detention centres.

    24 May—Decolonizing ‘the angry Black woman’: Black feminist theory and practice in ‘post-race’ university spaces (London)

    As feminism gains traction, it is essential to become aware of one’s own privilege and to understand that different women experience different kinds of oppression due to overlapping identities, including race, class, sexual orientation and disability.

    Dr Shirley Tate, a Cultural Sociologist and Professor of Race and Education at Leeds Beckett University, is giving a free lecture at Birkbeck, University of London about how Black women ‘cope with silencing and erasure within white feminism whilst maintaining personal and Black feminist community cohesiveness’.

    9 June (9 a.m.-12 p.m.)—The Scottish Circle Coffee Morning

    The Scottish Circle, a network of members of The Circle that are based in Scotland, are hosting a Coffee Morning fundraiser at the Kilmalcolm Community Centre, in The Cargill Centre (Kilmalcolm).

    For £2 you get entry to the event, coffee and cakes!

    There will be a small market, and anyone can apply for a stall! Each stall costs £10 plus a 10% donation of your revenue to The Scottish Circle. All funds raised will be donated to Rape Crisis Glasgow.

    For more information, please contact The Scottish Circle at poonamgupta178@gmail.com or Lana95@gmail.com.

    9–14 June—Doc/Fest (Sheffield)

    Comprising of inspirational documentary films from across the globe, controversial discussion panels and more, Sheffield Doc/Fest is a great place to go to see original films, which in the past have included films on women’s rights issues, and to meet brilliant female film-makers from around the world.

    16–18 June—Grrrl Con 2017 (Manchester)

    Write Like a Grrrl and For Books’ Sake created Grrrl Con to champion emerging women writers of all levels. Get inspired by top women writers—including Scarlett Thomas, Patience Agbabi and Jenn Ashworth—, attend workshops and collaborate with other aspiring writers.

    This is what previous attendees have to say about Grrrl Con: ‘Before Grrrl Con I thought I’d never have a book but now apparently I’ve got two to finish. It showed me the ability I have, and how not to shy away from it!’

    22–24 June—Feminist Emergency: International Conference (London)

    This major international conference will bring together academics, activists, writers, professionals and policy makers to tackle the challenges that feminism faces in 2017, such as ‘austerity policies, increasing social inequalities’ and the increasing worldwide visibility of violence against women, including domestic violence, rape as a weapon of war, ‘honour’ killings and female genital mutilation. It will combine poetry readings with panels, in an interdisciplinary attempt to analyse how these issues affect feminism and ‘establish the forward looking nature of modern feminist expression and thought’.


    International Women’s Day, part ii: Widening Our Circle at the WOW festival

    On 10 and 11 March, The Circle and our team of fabulous volunteers set up shop at the Southbank Centre’s WOW — Women of the World festival with the aim of meeting as many women as possible, discussing our current projects and our goals for the future, listening to the incredible line-up of speakers and, of course, widening our circle. Here’s a little look at what we got up to…

    We met…

    Hundreds of inspirational women who were not only keen to learn about The Circle but also wanted to share the ways in which we work to empower women worldwide. This included one of our lovely new members Katie Rose from Sing For Water, who joined after being inspired by our founder Annie Lennox’s talk at #March4Women on 5 March.

    We also chatted with women like Nazzy Amin from Restless Development about our accountability in pushing for gender equality and shaping the future for women. Carolyn Thom, from Their Voice Modern Slavery, told us about their Day 46 initiative, which aims to help protect and rehabilitate victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK, once their financial support and assistance from the Home Office ends after 45 days.

    Our time at WOW ended with us meeting the brilliant Gemma Cairney, who has supported The Circle in the past and was there signing her brand new book Open.

    We listened to…

    Sandi Toksvig’s 2016 Year in Review, where—all while wearing a #pinkpussyhat—she discussed everything from Boaty McBoatface and Brexit to Trump’s inauguration, which paved the way for the ‘first truly global feminist movement’ with January’s worldwide Women’s Marches.

    We heard from Iona Lawrence, director of the Jo Cox Foundation and best friend of the well-missed MP Jo Cox, who was tragically murdered last year. She told the audience how Jo never asked ‘what do you think?’ but simply said ‘what can we do?’, continuing on to say that ‘Jo was a true activist and a passionate force for good in this world’.

    We also listened to the remarkable stories of three extraordinary women in the Honourlogues: Shame performance, which was moved to the Royal Festival Hall due to the huge crowds of women queuing.

    Founder of Karma Nirvana Jasvinder Sanghera CBE discussed how at sixteen she ran away from her home in the UK after her parents tried to force her into marrying a stranger from India and hasn’t spoken to them in 36 years since, after they told her that she was dead to them for dishonouring the family. Her sister later committed suicide by setting fire to herself after her family shamed her for divorcing the man she was forced to marry and who abused her. Jasvinder now runs a charity which supports victims of honour crimes and forced marriages.

    Irish Times journalist Róisín Ingle spoke about how her own country turned its back on her when she was in need of an abortion and how, after fifteen years of staying silent due to shame, she decided to write a column on her abortion, which in turn helped thousands of Irish women stand up and say ‘me too’. She is now campaigning as part of the #Repealthe8th movement.

    Last but not least, Fiona Broadfoot spoke on her experience being trafficked from Bradford to London as a fifteen-year-old girl, where she was forced into prostitution for eleven years of her life before escaping. She discussed how her past still follows her today, as her criminal convictions for prostitution have led her to being frog-marched out of jobs, denied by colleges and even recently by two male councillors when she launched her Build A Girl programme, who said they would keep a copy of her criminal record ‘just in case’. Since launching her programme she has helped empower dozens of girls, and speaking out about her past has helped her reclaim the shame that consumed her for so many years. Her final statement ‘and still I rise…’ was met by a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.

    We cried at…

    The Women on the Move Awards. The awards are held every year at the festival and, as Southbank Centre Artistic Director Jude Kelly MBE says, ‘it wouldn’t be WOW without it’.

    The ceremony had four incredible winners, including 17-year-old Yazidi teen Rozin Khalil Hajool, who moved to the UK with her family in 2008 after it became too dangerous to live in Iraq and launched an online petition to help Yazidi women and girls who have been kidnapped by ISIS. The petition has gained over 275,000 signatures and continues to rise.

    Sunday Times foreign correspondent Christina Lamb OBE was awarded the Sue Lloyd-Roberts Media Award for her series of articles on refugees in 2016. She has reported from some of the world’s most dangerous hotspots and shared some emotional stories with the audience, which left both Christina and us a little bit tearful to say the least.

    Lord Alfred Dubs won the Champion Award for his work championing and winning support for The Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act of 2016, which compelled the UK government to resettle and support unaccompanied refugee children from other countries. Coming to the UK at the age of 6 as one of 669 children who escaped the holocaust, Dubs has spent most of his life being an advocate for refugee rights and continues to fight for the implementation of The Dubs Amendment today.

    The final award of the night was given to Eritrean journalist Eden Habtemichael, for her work with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. After seeking refuge in the UK with her daughter in 2004, with only a few words of English and no one to help her, Eden has worked tirelessly to welcome and support asylum seekers and refugees who have lost everything. She also helped establish Refugee Week and hosts a scheme for refugees in Oxford, where she has been named a ‘hero’ by the young people she has helped.

    We also…

    Played the drums with Girls Rock London—an NGO that creates opportunities for women and girls to make music—, took part in the dinahvagina lucky dip and each came away with our very own ceramic clitorises (as you do!), made personalised The Circle placards at the Activism in the Archive corner, made cut-out versions of ourselves for the Globella feminist zine, got Mehndi on our hands at our neighbouring stall Asha Projects, signed a petition at the 50:50 Parliament stand to get better gender balance in Parliament, left a note of love to rape survivors at the My Body Back stall, and bought lingerie from Taylor and Rani which gives back to girls around the world—whether that be with a pair of knickers, sanitary products or a monetary donation—with each purchase.

    But most importantly, we met wonderful women who we hope will join The Circle and help us in our mission to empower women around the world and stand up to all forms of discrimination against women.

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