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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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


Strict Borders Make Vulnerable Women

Photo credit: structuresxx/Shutterstock.com

“It is important to keep in mind that trafficking can happen to anyone, anywhere.”

The Home Office stated in November 2016 that: “The trafficked women from Nigeria end up being healthy and are held in high regard upon their return from Europe.”

Their statement is problematic for a number of reasons, but potentially the most startling is that we can see how hostile the UK is to victims claiming asylum and unworried about their deportation because they return ‘in high regard’. We should be more supportive, accepting, and open to asylum seekers, as they all have reasons they came here for a better future.

Human trafficking is not a recent trend, it has been happening for decades. However, in today’s globalised world there are an estimated 20.9 million victims of trafficking, with the majority being women. While women can be trafficked from anywhere to any country, in Europe most of the victims are from countries in Eastern and Central Europe such as Hungary and Poland, while victims taken outside of Europe concentrate from Nigeria, China, Morocco.

Often, human trafficking is linked to migrant movements and the governmental policies that try to regulate them. As migration increases, especially as it has done to Europe over the last few years – quickly and without general regulation policies– the instances of trafficking increase as migrants become increasingly desperate to cross borders. As David A. Feingold said in 2009,“Trafficking is often migration gone terribly wrong”. When people are not given the opportunity to legally enter the country of destination, desperate people might turn to other possibilities in order to escape unimaginable situations of hardship in their home country. Studies have shown that as borders become stricter, smuggling increases, as people use third parties to get out of the country, and to get into others. The strict laws imposed to reduce migration into the country actually render these people vulnerable exploitation as they are reluctant to go to the police for fear of being deported.

If we want to look at a specific country regarding human trafficking in Europe, Nigeria is a very interesting case. Devastatingly, the UN said that 80% of all Nigerian women who arrived in Italy by boat in 2016 will be trafficked into prostitution. When women arrive in Italy they go through migration receptions, which are used as holding pens for women who are collected and then trafficked across Europe. However, this relationship between Nigeria and Italy has been operating for decades. In 2014, about 1,500 Nigerian women arrived, in 2015 around 5,633, and only in the first six months of 2016 about 3,600. With the increasing numbers of victims, the trafficking network itself in growing as well.

Many women are brought in specially for sexual exploitation purposes, but there are also hundreds who are coming for a better life. The journey itself is very complicated, firstly, because women are often victims of physical abuse, trafficking, and sexual exploitation on the road. Moreover, as it is very expensive, women and up owing money around £40,000 which they are expected to pay back. They are told if they won’t pay, terrible thing will happen to their families, therefore they are forced into prostitution across Europe. However, money is not the only way gangs recruit women, they also use false promises of legitimate employment, and traditional ceremonies to have psychological control over them.

There is a large diaspora of 200,000 legal residents of Nigerians in Europe. Obviously, this number excludes all the women who are being illegally trafficked on the continent. While many legal residents live in the UK, Germany, and Spain, the ultimate trafficking destination is Italy. There are around 10,000 Nigerian sex workers in the country now. While the first Nigerian women working in Italy as sex workers around the 1970s chose to do so, after strengthening the borders and making it difficult to arrive this have changed. As women arrived by having huge debts, and they needed to get rid of that quickly, trafficking for prostitution seemed like a prospect. Young women were usually promised a good job, and then ended up being trafficked for sexual exploitation. Nowadays, Nigerian sex work usually work on the street, and receive low-wage for their work.

Arguably, one way to start reducing trafficking would be to have more open borders of countries, so people could move more freely. Immigration should be viewed positively with more support services for those needed. Additionally, it would also be important that besides preventing trafficking, we should also aim to help those who had suffered trafficking beforehand. There should be more support services for the victims and a promise that they won’t be deported in exchange for going to the police.

It is important to keep in mind that trafficking can happen to anyone, anywhere. While I was focusing on Europe, because female victims here are particularly vulnerable to strict border control and regulations, human trafficking is a global phenomenon, in which the majority of the women can become victims.

This article was written by The Circle Volunteer Csenge Gábeli. Csenge is a university student, a volunteer, and a feminist. She is originally from Hungary, but has started my university in London, which she loves. She is interested in communities, women’s empowerment, LGBTQ+ rights, and children’s rights. 

#GlobalFeminism #WomenEmpoweringWomen


Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Human Rights Violation

Photo Credit: Tim Freccia, World Vision.

“At least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of female genital mutilation or cutting” (UN Women)

This February, news headlines have been focusing a lot on FGM/C due to it being a month in which many individuals, charities and organisations raise awareness of this life-threatening practice.

FGM/C is practiced in at least 30 countries and at least 200 million girls and women have been cut. Over 100 million cases have happened across Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia alone. Despite both the physical and mental health consequences, FGM/C is a practice rooted in tradition. It is a tradition which has been around for hundreds of years which means putting an end to it is a very complex and sensitive issue.

“Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” (World Health Organization)

In February 2018, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women stated for International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM/C that “FGM is an act that cuts away equality”. Women suffer immense pain and a lifetime of complications such as neonatal death. Girls are cut with no opportunity to defend themselves, no voice to say no. This is a human rights violation.

FGM/C is usually carried out on young women between infancy and 15 years of age. Before these girls become adults’, the possibility to have a natural childbirth is taken away from them. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), women are at a significant risk of complications such as a post-partum haemorrhage, a prolonged and obstructed labour and worse of all losing their baby. FGM/C has no health benefits; so why are women and girls being forced to suffer such immense pain?

FGM/C is rooted in tradition and culture. Mlambo-Ngcuka stated this month how this practice is a form of gender-based violence and cannot be isolated from other forms of violence against women and girls. Neil Williams of World Vision UK reported for girlsnotbrides.com about travelling to Ethiopia to meet girls at risk of FGM/C and their families. Through the conversations Williams had with the girls and their families, we begin to understand how FGM/C and child marriage are intrinsically linked. Parents fear abduction and pre-marital sex and so remove their daughters from school and arrange to have them cut and married at an early age. Devastatingly, this is considered a safer alternative.

In a statement for the 2017 International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Mlambo-Ngcuka highlighted how children living in communities where FGM/C is practiced will not finish school and will therefore have limited employment prospects. The cycle continues as girls who have mothers without an education are more likely to be subjected to FGM/C. They see their daughters being cut as adding value to their lives, securing a future marriage and family honour. Then again it is also seen as suppressing their sexuality. Young women and girls are cruelly stripped of the opportunity to make their own choices about their future. In some communities’ girls are not educated beyond lower secondary school, leading them to get married as it is believed their future prospects will be greater. There are also a lack of job opportunities and these jobs are prioritized for boys’. But educating girls can prevent the reoccurrence of child marriage and FGM/C. Education can create a future for girls where they are not limited by decisions made about their bodies without their consent.

FGM/C is tied up in a complex web of other human rights issues which we must simultaneously address.

According to UNICEF, in Djibouti where 78% of women and girls are subjected to FGM/C, a woman named Mariam Kako was cut at five years old. A razorblade was used to perform the type of FGM/C called pharaonic. When her daughter was born Kako told her mother that she would be not cut. Her mother ignored those wishes, showing her deeply held belief in this tradition. Kako’s baby girl died 40 days later at six months old. Kako now works to educate the population through encouraging people to tell their stories and refuting the myth that FGM/C is associated with religion. Many communities believe that child marriage and FGM/C are a ‘marker of their religious identity’. However, in religious scripture, this is not a requirement.

Experiences like Mlambo-Ngcuka’s and Mariam Kako’s stories are deeply personal and these women are incredibly brave to speak up about what they have been through to help expose the brutal effect FGM/C has on women and girls;

Photo Credit: Ashenafi Tibebe, The Elders. 2011.

“Public declarations against FGM in 2016 and 2017 helped save nearly 1,000 girls from cutting”

According to BBC News, by 2020 secondary school pupils in England will be educated on FGM as a dangerous practice. This education is incredibly important. According to UNICEF, between 2019 and 2030, 68 million girls will be cut if active steps are not taken to stop this brutal practice.

Many do not realise that FGM/C happens in the UK. Hibo Wadere told her story to the BBC, published on 4th February 2019. As a women she graphically describes the experience she went through as a six-year-old girl; the memories of blood and the screams still distressingly vivid.

UN Women are working with traditional leaders across Africa to increase commitment to ending child marriage and FGM/C. FGM/C is prevalent across 30 countries: 28 of them are in Africa. Queen Mother Best Kemigisa of the Tooro Kingdom, Uganda supports the work of UN Women. The Queen Mother states how people will listen to the religious and traditional leaders who uphold these practices as adding value to the lives of women and girls. The work UN Women are doing is vitally important. We need to work with these leaders and listen to their perspective in order for them to hopefully choose to listen to the reasons why these practices are unnecessary and harmful. If the minds of these leaders are changed, so too will the minds of their communities.

Annie Lennox’s Global Feminism campaign addresses how as feminists we must be looking at gender inequality on a global scale. It is about recognising that “Feminism needs to be relevant, appreciated and respected especially where the needs are greatest —in countries where women and girls are not even near the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of being able to realise the most fundamental of human rights.” – (Annie Lennox). Feminism is about reaching out to individual women and girls and addressing their individual needs which vary depending on where you live in the world. We must make sure to help encourage and strengthen the platform for women to speak up about their experiences of FGM/C and empower social and cultural change.

The UN have made it one of their sustainable development goals to “Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation” (Goal 5.3).

It is incredible that we dedicate February to raising awareness of FGM/C. We need intense periods of time where we gather together to educate people who are not aware of FGM/C or indeed the scale of the problem. But the campaigning cannot occur only in February. In order to continue fighting for women and girls to lead healthy lives, we must carry on discussing the issue and taking action to end it.

“Ending FGM is possible in our generation. It is no longer a dream. It is happening” – Regional UN Women Ambassador for Africa, Jaha Dukureh, at the Opening Session of the European Development Days, Spotlight Initiative section, June 2018

For more information about FGM/C visit the following link

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism

This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is an intern for The Circle. Georgia is a recent English graduate and is passionate about women’s rights and the underlying issues in the fast-fashion industry.


Choose Love this Christmas

Photo credit: Ivers Parish Council

With only a week to go before Christmas you might be wondering where to buy last minute gifts. Well, now might be the perfect opportunity to think outside of the box…

Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of what they are buying. Who made it? How was it was made, and where? These questions are becoming more common amongst those who are seeking to understand the chaos of climate change and forced labour; crises exacerbated by the fast fashion industry and social media which are creating a demand for transparency in companies. So, whilst we can become overwhelmed by the magnitude of these issues, there are small steps, even as individuals we can take to tackle them this Christmas.

Christmas is an expensive time of year. We spend our money on gifts for friends and family, but we don’t always need these gifts. Lucy Siegle for the Guardian (2018) referred to a recent survey by Method, an eco-cleaning company; ‘nearly a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds said they would only be pictured in an item one to three times on social media before discarding it.’ Millions of garments are burned or end up in landfill which is having a dangerous effect on our environment. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, ‘one garbage truck of textiles [is] wasted every second’. Rather than buying gifts because it is Christmas, instead we could consider how we can spend more creatively.

Rather than engaging in the consumer culture we can re-direct it towards good causes; turning away from a fast fashion buy towards a pure gift of compassion for someone who truly needs it. What if that blanket you bought your niece went to a refugee instead? Choose Love is the first store to sell practical items for refugees. When you buy any one of the items in the store such as meal ingredients or a warm blanket, a similar item goes directly to someone in need of it rather than you taking it home. When it opened in 2017 “the shop became a beacon of compassion in the heart of central London”.

Choose Love

Choose Love is a part of the charity Help Refugees who ‘fill gaps and act where big NGOs and governments don’t.’ In December 2016 the Guardian reported that a young Afghan refugee was about to go into labour on ‘a remote and windswept hillside’ in Greece. Whilst the UN refugee agency and the government were not able to move her, Crystallynn Steed Brown, a volunteer for Help Refugees, offered that if they couldn’t move the family somewhere else, she would provide shelter in her flat in Thessaloniki.

Whilst Help Refugees provides emergency aid to refugees in countries such as France, Greece and Syria, it also seeks to provide long-term solutions. They ‘create safe spaces for women, provide sexual health clinics and medical units, and support nurseries, schools and youth centres.’ They aim to get people out of refugee camps and into employment and housing. They are helping to re-build the lives of refugees. “Help Refugees are now the biggest distributers of aid of any grassroots organisation in Europe”.

During this Christmas period refugees will be battling life-threatening conditions. How amazing to tell a family member or friend that their gift is helping to make a refugee’s winter a little bit easier. From Choose Love you can purchase an insulated babygrow to help parents keep their newborn babies warm, a ‘support for women’ pack, or even buy medical equipment.

On Monday 10th December a historic international deal was made. It is the first concerning the migration crisis. Karen McVeig, senior news reporter for the Guardian, reported that Marta Foresti, director of the human mobility initiative at the Overseas Development Institute, stated how the deal could help governments cooperate to ensure cross-border journeys are safe and legal. Although many countries are still to come on board, the deal suggests an urgency to act on this crisis. This Christmas we can do something too. We can buy blankets, food, coats, nappies and so much more. We can show refugees we love them and want to support them. We can show them that they are not alone.

If you live in London, you can pop by the store and see the array of items in person. Or if you are not local you can shop online.

SeeMe

In addition to Choose Love you might also like to buy a tangible gift for a friend or family member whilst still supporting global issues. SeeMe is a fair trade verified jewellery brand which might be of interest to you…

Every piece is beautifully crafted, handmade by women in Tunisia who have survived unimaginable violence. Through wearing one of these pieces you are providing the opportunity to open conversations about violence against women, as well as ethical and sustainable practices in the fashion industry. SeeMe enables women to learn the craft of jewellery making. But not only this, they use ancient Tunisian techniques, cultivating their country’s traditions. Furthermore, the women also get emotional support and SeeMe funds their children’s education. Please see an interview by Trusted Clothes with the founder of SeeMe, Caterina Occhio to find out more about the incredible affect this brand is having on women’s lives in Tunisia.

The jewellery is heart shaped which represents the #heartmovement. The heart is at the core of the collection, signifying a desperate need to restore love where a dark and heart-breaking experience has replaced it.

Many designers and artists are joining this movement. SeeMe has collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld for example. Lagerfeld designed a six-piece collection consisting of hand knitted collars and gloves. In 2016 Nicole Kidman wore SeeMe’s Orange Heart, created to signify the 20th anniversary of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.[1]

This year The Circle also collaborated with SeeMe, creating a stunning necklace, cuff and ring. The SeeMe heart is inserted into a circle, representing unity and women’s empowerment.

Fashion is often thought of as a form of expression, an art form. We can use it to express our concern about global issues. Just opening up one conversation about a necklace can spark more and more conversations which can lead to physical change.

Gift a Membership

The Circle membership is also a fantastic to gift anyone who believes in equal rights for women, our values – empowerment, passion, innovation, and respect and equality –  and wants to be actively involved in the global women’s movement. Women are members from all walks of life – lawyers, teachers, students, hairdressers, journalists and many other paths. Through using their own skills and experience they help The Circle to raise awareness about important issues and raise funds to continue amplifying the voices of disempowered women worldwide.

As a member your friend or family member will join the community and be invited to inspiring events during the year. Events involve educational webinars, networking events as well as the Annual Gathering. A six month membership is £30 and a full year is £60.

This Christmas is an opportunity to consider how we can direct our spending towards tackling global crises and do something practical to help.

Let’s do something a little differently this Christmas and Choose Love for refugees, survivors of violence as well as the millions of other women who are in dire need of our love and support. Join the global fight for equality and give a glimmer of hope to someone who needs it.

[1] Find out more about the trust fund here!

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist

This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is a volunteer for The Circle. Georgia is a recent English graduate and is passionate about women’s rights and the underlying issues in the fast-fashion industry.


Violence Against Refugee Women and Girls

Photo credit: Oxfam Canada.

“Experience of violence can lead to long term physical, mental and emotional health problems; in the most extreme cases, violence against women can lead to death.”  – UN Stats

Every day women and girls face unimaginable circumstances as refugees. They endure an extremely unsafe journey where they are in fear of and at risk of violence only to reach a refugee camp where the fear and risk only continues.

According to the United Nations,  258 million people have crossed international borders to flee violence; almost half of these people are women and girls. During the journey women and girls are put in a number of dangerous situations including walking  along roads in darkness and putting their faith in strangers. This leaves them highly vulnerable to violence and even rape. The Migration Policy Institute has reported that many women, in fear of being raped, ‘take birth control to avoid becoming pregnant.’ Out of those who are victims of violence, ‘only a fraction seek help.’[1]. Most of those who do, appeal to family and friends and ‘only a small proportion of women who sought help did so by appealing to the police.’[2]

The inhumane actions women experience appear to often remain in darkness as so many women feeling unable to share their pain and suffering. This suffering suggests that the distress and trauma of this horrific experience will only continue to fester. Women and girls are seeking a new life only to experience further pain forced upon them. The fear that they will experience gender-based violence is dominating their lives and limited choices. Woman have reportedly starved themselves so that they do not have to use the same bathrooms as men and one women was reportedly abused for asking for extra food for her children. Women and girls are being prayed on as a result of their vulnerable position. This should not be the case.

Women who have escaped their home country due to their sexual orientation are more at risk of violence.

According to Monica Costa Riba for Amnesty International, simple tasks such as showering or going to the toilet in Greek refugee camps ‘become dangerous missions’ which is partly due to a lack of toilets and showers in women-only areas. Women like Simone, a 20-year old lesbian woman who was beaten by her family because of her sexuality felt at risk of rape. Furthermore, according to the UN, women and girls are exposed to the risk of sexual harassment when collecting firewood for the daily chores such as cooking – tasks essential to survival. It has also been reported that some women  ‘engage in survival sex’ to support their daughters.[3]

We need to provide more support and safe spaces for women and girls at refugee camps to allow them to speak about their experiences.

In Dadaab, Kenya there is a project where refugee community workers are helping women and girls to get the help and support they need after traumatic experiences of violence and abuse. Please visit the International Rescue Committee’s record of a diary account written by an amazing young woman helping traumatised women at the Dadaab refugee camp to rebuild their lives whilst also bravely putting her own life at risk to do so. Miriam (name changed to protect her identity) meets with women in private to understand their situations and ask if they require services such as a medical exam if they have been sexually abused. This project highlights the dire situation refugee women and girls are facing every moment and the urgency needed to improve access to things like education which will help to break the cycle of abuse.

Many women refugees who have grown up without an education are more likely to face gender-based violence.

Indeed, the UN Refugee Agency has stated that a lack of education means women and girls are unable to protect themselves against abuse and improve their communities. The UNHCR states that, globally, primary schools enrol less than eight refugee girls per ten refugee boys. In secondary school there are less than seven refugee girls per ten refugee boys. Consequently, without an education the cycle of abuse continues. An education enables women to have the confidence to speak up for their rights and freedoms. Seeing women become doctors, teachers, artists, and lawyers for example allows girls to see that they can also be leaders in their communities. This will encourage young girls to see their potential and that their gender should never restrict them from reaching it. This year the UNHCR published a report entitled “Her Turn” which was a call to action for making refugee girls’ education a priority. This campaign is urging for more female teachers to inspire and teach girls and boys so that they can see that women are also leaders. Through putting reports like these into action and raising awareness of this crisis we can truly make a difference for future generations of women and girl refugees; until one day equal access to education will become a reality. No person should live in fear of violence.

Although the 16 Days of Activism and our Chai Day initiative have come to an end, we must continually demand better for women and girls across the globe, encourage increasing awareness of the desperate situation that refugee women and girls are forced into, and take action.

1. UN Stats, Pg.159

2. UN Stats, Pg.159

3. UN Stats, Pg.158

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist

This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is a volunteer for The Circle. Georgia is a recent English graduate and is passionate about women’s rights and the underlying issues in the fast-fashion industry.


Violence Against Women in Russia

Elena Anasova// Section

Photography series tells the stories of Russia’s female prisoners

Domestic violence against women remains a global issue. According to UN Women, 70% of women worldwide have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual abuse from their partners in their lives. This is over double the number of women who have experienced abuse from a stranger. Statistics like this can often get overlooked, as home is a place associated with safety. However, sadly it is the place that many women are the most vulnerable.

The concept of marriage has changed over time and in most of the developed world is now predominantly associated with love. However, in many countries, marriage is still deeply rooted in patriarchal ideas. The unequal power dynamic this creates is one of the root causes of domestic violence. This is particularly visible in Russia; a society where culture is steeped in patriarchal tradition.

Elena Anasova// Section

An old Russian proverb states: “if he beats you, it means he loves you”. Dating back to the 15th Century, this phrase has long told Russian women to be proud of their bruises, suggesting that they are the outward symbol of a loving relationship. It suggests that a wife is her husband’s property; and her primary function is his emotional release.

Worryingly, recent reports have found that this turn of phrase is being used increasingly often. Women are referring to it when asked why they are staying with their abusive husbands, and victims of domestic violence are citing it when questioned on trial. It seems that Russian culture embraces domestic abuse; which makes it very difficult for women who are seeking help to come forward.

Elena Anasova // Section

This condoning of domestic abuse is also reflected in government policy. Previously in Russia, a man engaging in domestic violence could be sentenced to two years in jail. However, things took a frightening turn for the worse in 2017, when the Russian government passed the controversial ‘slapping law’.

The new legislation meant that men no longer faced prison sentences for beating their wives; so long as no bones were broken and it was a first-time offence. Instead, they would have to pay a fine – a move that would financially impact the whole family and leave the woman still vulnerable to her husband’s wrath. Most importantly, it sent out the worrying message that the Russian government were not prepared to take domestic abuse seriously.

Consequently, it is estimated that only 30% of domestic abuse cases in Russia are reported. Women receive little sympathy from the authorities, who commonly believe that domestic violence is a trivial issue that should be resolved within the home. Being unable to turn to the authorities, many women find themselves trapped in a frightening and isolating situation.

Elena Anasova // Section

If a woman decides to run, she will not have anywhere to go. In the capital city of Moscow, which has a population of 12 million, there is only 1 sanctuary for women fleeing situations of domestic violence. This does not even nearly cater for the staggering 36,000 women whom the Moscow Times estimate get beaten by their partners every day. Therefore, many women who flee end up living on the streets; putting themselves in as much danger as they were in at home.

Equally, if a woman decides to stay and fight, the outcome is just as bleak. Many women find themselves in jail for fighting back against their abusive husbands. In result, they will be separated from their children, and left with a criminal record that will stigmatize them for life.

Elena Anasova// Section

Elena Anasova is a photographer from the Baikal region of North Eastern Siberia. She works with subjects of borders, identity, and collective memory. As part of a trilogy on Russian women in closed institutions, she has captured the stories of female convicts incarcerated in a Siberian prison. Through her images, she explores isolation and confinement. She is interested in how identities are often disfigured and traumatized whilst in confinement; and particularly the impact that the constant 24hr surveillance has upon women.

“There are a lot of women in the colonies convicted for excessive self-defense; cases related to protecting themselves, their families or children, [and] standing up to domestic violence” – Elena Anasova

Her images not only show the physical incarceration of her female subjects, but also allude to the wider issue of female confinement in Russian society. Anasova suggests that the prisons can be interpreted as microcosms of wider society, in which many women have a claustrophobic lack of autonomy within their relationships.

“Almost half of Russians believe that victims of violence are the ones to blame for what happened. Half of Russians are also convinced that public statements about violence destroy traditional values such as family, loyalty, love” – Elena Anosova

Elena Anosova // Section

Anasova is interested in how the stigma of prison conviction is much more powerful for women than for men. Male convicts are statistically more likely to have a supportive family waiting for them on the outside. The majority of female convicts are left by their husbands, meaning they have little stability to return to in the outside world. This often leads to a cycle of re-offence.

“The worst thing is that society and ordinary people don’t see [them as] people any more” – Elena Anasova

Also, men have a much higher chance of finding employment post-sentence. Anasova explains that this is mainly because men in Russia tend to have jobs that use their hands – such as mechanics and taxi drivers. These professions are far less likely to screen for criminal convictions than predominantly female professions such as childcare and nursing.

Elena Anasova // Section

In Russia, there is no rehabilitation program for women leaving prison. They are often left completely isolated from their friends, family, and society. In some cases, they are even left without clothes, with the original clothes they were convicted in having been lost many years ago.

“Only around page 20 the viewer realizes it’s [images] of a colony, and almost every second person who looked at the book couldn’t believe these young beautiful women from the start of the book exist in prison” – Elena Anasova

Through ‘Section’, Anasova aims to show the humanity and vulnerability of her subjects. She wishes to show that the prisoners are mothers and daughters and wives, each with their own story, in hope of removing the stigma against female convicts. Through her images, she breaks their isolation. She invokes both sympathy and empathy from the viewer; and makes the prisoner human again.

To raise awareness and funds for the victims of gender-based violence, take part in The Circle’s upcoming campaign Chai Day. Download your pack today!

Written by Emily Earnshaw. Emily is a freelance writer with a particular interest in human rights and environmental issues.

 

#ChaiDay #WomenEmpoweringWomen #OneReasonImWhyAGlobalFeminist


Our member Efe on #ChaiDay

 

Why did you decide to organise a Chai Day?

To help raise funds for victims of domestic violence, rape and sex trafficking. To join in and support them so they too can begin to heal and return to their world stronger.

What did organising a Chai Day make you learn about gender-based violence?

That there are different forms of gender-based violence and all of them need our attention. Because it is a major public health and human rights issues. I learned that young girls around the same age as my sister are been taking away from their mother’s arms and subjected to prostitution, been raped and abused physically and emotionally, and it needs to stop. I learned that if I can gather fierce and determined women in a room to support my cause, then we are one step closer to ending this for someone.

 

What are your top tips to organise a Chai Day?

Don’t do it alone. It is a ‘team’ event. So gather your friends, their friends, members of your family and their friends and host a Chai Day, because it will be so worth it when you include people in your world to support a great cause.

To find out how you can organise a Chai Day visit www.chaiday.org

#ChaiDay #WomenEmpoweringWomen


Feminist Calendar: September and October 2018

Photo credit: People’s History Museum

Our volunteer Anna Renfrew’s guide to feminism this autumn!

13 September — Indian Suffragettes, Female Identities and Transnational Networks (London)

Dr Sumita Mukherjee looks at the activities of Indian campaigners for the female vote in Asia, Europe, USA, Britain and other parts of the British Empire, and how they had an impact on campaigns in the Indian subcontinent.

In the context of her new book, she discusses the experiences of the Indian suffragettes who travelled around the world to lobby the British parliament, attend international women’s conferences and conduct speaking tours to gather support for Indian women.

Dr Mukherjee will demonstrate the ways in which the suffrage movement was a truly global enterprise, not solely confined to Britain or America, that involved and affected women from a range of diverse backgrounds.

Come to listen to this fascinating talk, have a bite to eat in the Pay What You Can Cafe and view The Women’s Hall exhibition at the same time!

14 September — The True Cost Screening (London)

As part of London Fashion Week, The Circle and the UK Asian Film Festival are organising a one-night-only screening of “The True Cost”, produced by The Circle founding member Livia Firth.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Livia Firth, author of “Slave to Fashion” Safia Minney and Jessica Simor QC, co-author of The Lawyers Circle report “Fashion Focus: the Fundamental Right to a Living Wage”.

20 September — The Women’s Movement in Pakistan: Activism, Islam and Democracy (London)

Ayesha’s book details the history of women’s social, legal and political status in Pakistan as contested through its urban-based modern women’s movement. Since the 1980s, a small but influential group of activists have been advocating for their rights, the restoration of democracy and a secular state.

This began in response to the state’s growing use of Islam for political purposes, which peaked under General Zia-ul-Haq’s military rule (1977-88), during which the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan and rise of political Islam worked in favor of his domestic policy of Islamization. Pakistan became an increasingly exclusionary state, with religious minorities and women facing growing discrimination.

Despite setbacks, such as another period of military rule and rise of the Taliban, activists succeeded in winning back some of their rights. Recent years have seen unprecedented legislative reform, policy changes to reverse discrimination and the first substantial increase in women’s political participation.

23 September — Women Making Change (Glasgow)

Explore the place of women in change-making with this empowering and celebratory event, presented in partnership with the Glasgow Women’s Library.

Through an afternoon of talks, panel discussions and workshops we will celebrate the achievements women have made in shaping a fairer and more balanced political, social and cultural landscape —and, in keeping with Take One Action’s raison d’être, explore current challenges in civil society, politics, media and international development.

Hear from Naila Ayesh, protagonist of “Naila and the Uprising” and founder and director of the Women’s Affairs Centre in Gaza, as she reflects on her personal experience of being on the frontlines of political change; explore how we can achieve better representation for women in policy, environmentalism, culture and academia through an inclusive panel discussion; and develop your own practical skills and understanding of activism and creative resistance through a selection of interactive workshops.

27 September — Slay In Your Lane (Glasgow)

“Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible” by Yomi Adegoke & Elizabeth Uviebinené —in Conversation with Tomiwa Folorunso at Glasgow Women’s Library

Black women today are facing uniquely challenging experiences in all aspects of their lives. Yet when best friends Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené searched for a book that addressed these challenges they realised none existed. So “Slay in Your Lane” —the lovechild of exasperation and optimism— was born.

From education, to work, to dating, to representation, money and health, this inspirational, honest and provocative “Black Girl Bible” explores the ways in which being black and female affects each of these areas —and offers advice and encouragement on how to navigate them.

Illustrated with stories from Elizabeth and Yomi’s own lives and from interviews with dozens of the most successful black women in Britain —including Amma Asante, Charlene White, Jamelia, Denise Lewis, Malorie Blackman and Dawn Butler MP— “Slay in Your Lane” recognizes and celebrates the strides black women have already made, whilst providing practical advice and inspiration for those who want to do the same and forge a better, visible future.

9 October — How Science Got Women Wrong, with Angela Saini (Oxford)

Shedding light on controversial research and investigating the ferocious gender wars in biology, psychology and anthropology, Angela Saini, to mark Ada Lovelace Day, will talk about how women are being rediscovered. She will explore what these revelations mean for us as individuals and as a society, revealing an alternative view of science in which women are included, rather than excluded.

This talk will be followed by a drinks reception, book sale and signing.

11 October — Womens’ Lives Leeds Drop-In Session (Leeds)

Womens’ Lives Leeds are holding a weekly drop-in session in the GATE every Thursday morning for women who’d like to speak to someone in confidence about their health, wellbeing or relationships.

No appointment needed, just call in to the GATE any time between 11 am and 12 pm on Thursday mornings.

Women are also welcome to their weekly women-only walk, which sets off from the GATE at 10 am.

13 and 14 October — WOW Festival Exeter

The Circle is proud to announce that we will be part of the second annual Women Of The World Festival in Exeter. The festival is taking place on 13 and 14 October across three venues —RAMM, Exeter Phoenix and Exeter Library. The programme is jam packed with artists, writers, politicians, comedians and activists. It is bound to be an inspiring and thought-provoking weekend.

The Circle’s Relationship Manager Peta Barrett will be joining a panel discussion focused on “Building the Sisterhood”. We will also be sharing information about the important part we play in the global movement for gender equality at the WOW Market Place.

We hope to see you there!

If you are based in or around Exeter and are interested in becoming a member, get in touch before the event and come say hi.

18 October — Women of Colour in UK Labour History: Film + Discussion (London)

Join us for a documentary screening about the 1976 Grunwick Strike, which was led largely by migrant women workers of South Asian origin.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion about the overlooked contribution of WOC in labour history, as well as interactions of race, class and gender in industrial action and activism.

Throughout autumn, until 31 December — A Woman’s Place: Ambleside’s Feminist Legacy (Leeds)

This exhibition at Armitt Museum in Cumbria celebrates the pioneering women who lived in the local area in times gone by —from journalist Harriet Martineau, often described as the first female sociologist, to the author and conservationist Beatrix Potter.

Until 2019 — Represent! Voices 100 Years On (Manchester)

This exhibition reflects on those who campaigned for better representation, most famously the suffragists and the militant suffragettes. The recently acquired Manchester suffragette banner will be displayed for the first time alongside sashes, brooches, photographs and cartoons, helping to paint a picture of what representation meant in 1918.

This family-friendly exhibition also questions how far we have really come in 100 years. It gives a platform to individuals and communities, including LGBT+ youth charity The Proud Trust and Safety4Sisters, who are still fighting to make their voices heard today. Crowdsourced items, including placards from the 2017 Women’s Marches and a jumpsuit from the Sisters Uncut 2018 BAFTA protest, tell the very personal stories of today’s movements and campaigns.


Interview with Josie George, founder of social entreprise AMMA Sri Lanka

 

“I would rather sell less at a fair price and stand by my values”

“Mother made, naturally dyed, handcrafted” are the values of AMMA Sri Lanka, a social enterprise founded by the British couple Josie and Warren in the Sri Lankan highlands. Josie’s qualification and expertise in the field of textile together with the local charity Child Action Lanka helped AMMA to become a successful ethical label that supports women in the community. The Circle member Dushy, who lives in Sri Lanka, caught up with Josie to talk about ethical values in business, the living wage and natural dyes.

At The Circle, we work on projects that create jobs for women and help them start businesses. The unemployment rate in Sri Lanka is much higher among women than among men and most of your employees are women. Why is employing women important to you?

The high unemployment rate amongst women in Sri Lanka, particularly mothers living on Sri Lanka’s tea estates, was the initial problem we wanted to address by starting AMMA. Working with women is important to us because we see them as key change makers within their community; by employing and training mothers we are directly impacting their children and families. It is much more sustainable and inspiring for children if they experience their mother grow in confidence, earn a fair wage and learn new skills as a solution to breaking out of poverty. It also makes sense for us to employ women —all of our women have shown a great desire to work and contribute to the family finances. These are hard working women who still complete their household responsibilities before and after work. Bringing these women together provides them with a space outside of the home to connect and support each other.

You pay a living wage to your female employees. How does it impact on the product’s prices and organisation?

Yes, our starting wage is double that of the starting wage of other local industries in Hill Country, such as tea picking or garment factory work. I believe that it gives our Amma makers value for the skills they have obtained with us and it adds value to our products. It does increase the price of what we make but I would rather sell less at a fair price and stand by my values than get swayed by the few who don’t understand our ethics and what handmade is truly worth.

AMMA is a social entreprise. How do you reinvest back into the community?

AMMA has been running for one year, which we view as a pilot year. This has given us time to explore different models of working and become accustomed to the particular needs of the tea picking communities. We broke even during our pilot year and once we start to turn a profit we plan to reinvest that money back into our new partner NGO Tea Leaf Trust who work extensively with young people living on Sri Lanka’s tea estates through their centers of professional development.

What do you have to do to make sure the product meets and end-to-end eco-friendly approach, within a fair and safe environment for your employees?

For us, as a young start up it means constantly working towards improving our supply chain. We have just started working with a women’s cooperative in the North of Sri Lanka who weave all our raw unbleached cotton fabric. This means we employ more women in the process of making our products and we have greater knowledge of where our fabric comes from. We dye this fabric naturally using plants (eucalyptus leaves, madder root, indigo, Nelli fruit) and food waste (onion skins, avocado stones, pomegranate skins) some of which we forage locally or collect from hotels and cafes. Using plant dyes means its safer for our employees, safer for our customers and doesn’t pollute water ways. It is also a good way to repurpose waste produce before composting. Our employees work in a nice environment, with child care provided by Child Action Lanka, a local NGO. They work 9 am – 1 pm whilst the children are in school. We pay them a fair wage for their work, and because of this we have many women each month asking if we have vacancies.

Can you tell us about the women you employ and what they like about working at AMMA?

The women we employ are currently aged between 24 and 27 and are all mothers to young children. They live on Sri Lanka’s tea estates in line rooms, which are simple concrete structures comprising of two rooms. These buildings haven’t changed much since the British built them at the height of the tea industry, when people of Tamil Indian origin were brought over to work on the plantations. The estates are hard places to live in, with 80% of tea estate men being alcoholics and 83% of women suffering from domestic violence (of which 20% is sexual). The women we employ have decided against working as tea pluckers, all have married young. Some had not worked previously and other worked at garment factories across Sri Lanka.

The whole process of extracting colours from natural sources sounds interesting and challenging. What is your drive to persist in order to give us an ethical and sustainable output?

Natural colour is a delicate ever-changing medium to work with; so many factors contribute to the final outcome —water quality, light, diversity of plant matter, time and the mordant used. It takes a lot of patience and experimentation to achieve the colors you want. The difference in our dyeing practice when we started a year ago to now is huge. Day by day it feels like we grow more aware of the process and the various elements that need to harmonize to produce the final outcome. The drive and patience to build a social enterprise using natural dyes comes from a belief that true sustainability is growing, from our desire to harvest and cultivate our colour from the land and from the prospect of how many jobs this can offer to a region with high unemployment levels. We aren’t there yet, these things take time and my belief is that you just need to start somewhere and the rest you’ll work out along the way.

Written by Dushy Rabinath, a member of The Circle with an interest in sustainable fashion and The Lawyers Circle’s Living Wage project.


Facts and Myths about Sex Trafficking in Canada

Photo credit: Matthew S. Browning.

The Calgary Circle, the newest affiliate in our sisterhood of Circles, is supporting ACT Alberta, an organisation that works to end human trafficking in Alberta, Canada. To help end human trafficking it is important to understand the issue better, which is why The Calgary Circle committee members Helen Maguire and Susan Ferner have written this list of facts and myths about human trafficking in Canada. If you’d like to find out more about their work with ACT Alberta and donate, please click here.

FACT: HUMAN TRAFFICKING IS A CRIMINAL OFFENCE

The legal definition of human trafficking requires three elements:
1) the act of recruitment, transportation or harbouring a person;
2) by means of exercising control, direction or influence over their movements;
3) for the purpose of exploiting that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour.

Due to the clandestine nature of trafficking, it is difficult to quantify the number and determine the types of victims, but it is believed that most trafficking victims in Canada are sexually exploited.

MYTH: TRAFFICKING IS THE SAME AS SMUGGLING

Although the idea of trafficking can invoke a nefarious vision of a victim being transported across borders under cover of darkness, the reality is often far different. Trafficking victims are not necessarily moved across international borders and approximately 94% of the cases of sex trafficking identified in Canada have occurred within its borders.

FACT: TRAFFICKING IS BIG BUSINESS

Sex trafficking can be less problematic, easier to conceal and more profitable than selling drugs. On
average, every trafficked woman in Canada generates just under $300,000 for her traffickers per year.

MYTH: ONLY CERTAIN PEOPLE ARE CONSIDERED TO BE “AT RISK”

The major risk factors for being trafficked are living in poverty; having a personal history of violence or neglect; or being otherwise vulnerable to manipulation and coercion. However, the number one risk factor is being female. Women and children from every socio-economic background are at risk and anyone can be targeted and exploited.

FACT: VICTIMS ARE PREDOMINANTELY WOMEN

Approximately 95% of trafficked victims are female: most under the age of 25. Of note, in Canada, indigenous women are disproportionately affected. Although indigenous people make up approximately 4% of the population, they account for approximately 50% of sex trafficking victims.

MYTH: VICTIMS ARE PHYSICALLY FORCED INTO TRAFFICKING

Relationships between traffickers and their victims often begin with what the victim believes to be a friendship or romantic relationship. A common technique used by traffickers is to lure teens and young women into sex trafficking by treating them well, initially. Many victims are recruited through the internet or by an acquaintance. Often, the victim is “groomed” by someone pretending to be her boyfriend or friend who promises her a better life and buys her gifts. The average age of girls who are manipulated in this manner is 13. In the case of older teens or young women, the trafficker also buys gifts and may promise her a good job in a new city. Once a relationship has developed, the trafficker is able to more easily emotionally manipulate the victim and exploit her vulnerabilities. The trafficker often becomes violent and may threaten and isolate the victim but continue to show occasional affection. Through these tactics, the trafficker gains control and the victim can be coerced into selling sex for others’ profit. Because of the nature of the relationship and how it is developed, the victim might not understand that she is being trafficked.

FACT: TRAFFICKING IS A HIDDEN CRIME

Much of the sex trade has moved away from the street to the internet. The solicitation of sex predominantly occurs online through local classified and escort pages, which makes it difficult to locate and identify sex trafficking victims. Victims often do not come forward for many reasons, including fear of retribution and further violence from their trafficker; fear of arrest because they have been coerced into performing illegal activities; lack of knowledge about their legal rights, and lack of understanding that they have been victimized and trafficked.

Prosecution is often difficult because victims are often frightened and unwilling to testify against the perpetrators. It can also be difficult to prove in court that the woman was, in fact, a victim and not a willing participant due to the coercive nature of the relationship between the victim and trafficker. Because of these reasons and more, most (60%) of trafficking cases in Canada have resulted in a decision of stayed or withdrawn whereas only 30% resulted in a guilty finding.

Written by Helen Maguire and Susan Ferner.