The inception of our campaign “Unseen Stories: Behind the Lens” began after we looked at the beautiful images of women from around the world taken by photographers Tara Moller, Mary Quincy and Tara Todras-Whitehill. Prompted to consider the role of the photographer to bring unseen stories to light, we felt compelled to create an informative panel discussion that went to the core of why some women are not seen or heard in global discourse. Given The Circle’s ongoing COVID-19 appeal to help women disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and as a result of the kindness and generosity of our photographers, we were thrilled to be able to launch an auction of exclusive photographs in tandem with our panel event.
“ I love being a part of a progressive and passionate movement….” – Tara Moller
As members of The Circle, which aims to empower women globally and act as a mouthpiece for vulnerable women and girls around the world, the evocative images demonstrating multiplicity of female experience spoke directly to our concerns around who is seen and who is not, and so we ask again: How is it that today so many women’s stories are still left behind? And, what can we all do to ensure that the global female experience is seen and heard?
“There are so many stories of women that are unheard and unseen and to be able to tell their stories and where they come from is a big opportunity that I am really excited to be a part of” – Mary Quincy
One of the reasons why we are so excited about Unseen Stories is that the women behind the lens also consider themselves feminist photographers and have a wealth of experience and knowledge that they will be sharing with us in the panel discussion hosted by Rashmi Dube tonight. We will be hearing the stories behind their photographs, their experiences in a very male-dominated industry and what working as a photographer means in the current pandemic circumstances.
“The campaign is dear to my heart because I find it hard in my life to be seen in a true sense, in terms of what I have been through or going through. What is in my power is help be an advocate for others. This project is important as it shines a light and a voice to those who are not seen.” Rashmi Dube, Host of Unseen Stories.
Tonight’s event and the week long campaign – to make available select images generously donated by our photographers through auction and download – is an attempt to move forward this conversation and support The Circle’s crucial campaign to raise funds for vulnerable women and girls disproportionately affected by the pandemic as part of its ongoing emergency appeal.
The Unseen Stories project and its launch is a great example of that magic combination of our conscientious members, female collaboration and care. We hope that you will enjoy our panel discussion tonight (re-run will be made available) and take the opportunity to view our fantastic photographs.
“Visual storytelling is a vital part of our narrative in this world.” – Tara Todras-Whitehill
The No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) policy has been catapulted into public awareness recently as it emerges that not only are thousands of law-abiding migrant families inching towards destitution amid COVID-19, but the Prime Minister had apparently never heard of the policy that dates as far back as the 1990s while the Home Secretary refuses to make an exemption during this time of unprecedented crisis.
Although NRPF predates the current Conservative government, it has been severely ramped up in the past decade under the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ endeavour. What it means is that migrants in the UK who are not considered ‘habitually resident’ are blanket banned from accessing public funds, including carers allowance, child benefit, Universal Credit, disability living allowance, housing benefit and jobseeker’s allowance. Yet the path to permanent settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain) for those on a Family Visa can take as long as ten years, during which time applicants must cough up extortionate visa renewals every 2.5 years.
The condition applies to at least 1 million adults and 142,000 children. In the midst of a pandemic where job losses are rife, this NRPF could force as many as 100,000 people into destitution or homelessness according to the Migration Observatory and the Institute for Public Policy Research. However, researchers largely overlook the gendered discriminatory nature of NRPF. Migrant women who are single mothers, pregnant, or are survivors of domestic abuse are overwhelmingly harmed by the benefits ban which, in turn, has an impact on the welfare of their children.
All over the world, women and girls are disproportionately ensnared in domestic duties and childrearing. Whenever the relationship between a mother and father breaks down, women are more likely to become the sole care giver – yet are unable to enter full time work to cover the costs. The UK’s inflexible labour market remains hostile to single mothers, leaving women with little choice but to enter zero hours contracts and other means of insecure work. However, the burden is heavier for migrant single mothers as they are shoved even further into the margins of insecurity and poverty due to the benefit ban. As a result, migrant single mothers are more likely to become trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty; unable to climb the career ladder to earn more money, yet unable to afford childcare costs even if they could work additional hours and no supplementary support in the event they fall into hardship through no fault of their own.
For migrant pregnant women with NRPF, a report published last year by the Unity Project found they are unable to take sufficient maternity leave. Pregnant women with an insecure immigration status are forced to work longer hours both before and after giving birth to cater to the high fees of their new-born baby. Even if the mother-to-be is in a secure job that can provide statutory maternity pay, after the first six weeks the maximum amount is capped at £151.20 per week which without a backlog of savings to rely on, is evidently inadequate to cover rent and other essentials, let alone a child.
To make matters worse, NRPF is putting women’s lives at risk. Migrant women are at an increased risk of domestic abuse when compared to British women, and already figures are reaching eyewatering heights: during COVID-19 lockdown, five women a week have been murdered by the hands of their abuser. Yet NRPF serves to intensify the precarity of migrant abuse victims’ circumstances as without public funds, they can be turned away from refuges. The 2017 Nowhere to Turn Project by Women’s Aid discovered only one refuge space was available to women with NRPF per every region of England, yet the recent Domestic Abuse Bill fails to extend support for women with NRPF or to prevent this from happening again. Campaigners such as The Step Up Migrant Women coalition argue the Bill deliberately ignores migrant women with NRPF, claiming the Government knows they exist but that “it is deliberately choosing to ignore their needs.”There is one, marginal escape route on offer to migrant victims of domestic abuse. The Destitute Domestic Violence Concession opens a shortcut to permanent residency for survivors with a Spouse Visa, however, the process is littered with obstacles and the paperwork is beyond reasonable. Women must jump through hoops to gain a mere three months of public funds while Scottish Women’s Aid even found some councils were advising victims to remain with their abusive partners due to a lack of support. Even so, this backdoor exit is only left ajar for migrant women under Partner Visas; other migrant women under different visa categories are offered no such escape route.
Children to migrant parents are at a clear disadvantage when compared to their peers; they cannot receive free school meals while they are more likely to face destitution and even homelessness as a consequence of their parents’ NRPF. In the event the child does not gain British Citizenship by the time they reach 18, they face international tuition fees to study in a UK university in the country that they have called home their entire lives.
One recent landmark case is exemplary of how NRPF trickles down to affect the standard of life for children. The court heard the heart-wrenching testimony of an eight-year-old British boy who had been plunged into severe poverty his whole life and even street homelessness with his mother, who has NRPF but works as a carer. The court decided NRPF breaches Article 4 of the Human Rights Act in the child’s case, and new guidance has since been issued. However, the new amendment doesn’t go far enough: only those who entered the UK via the family route may apply for protection, and even then, they have to prove that they are at risk of ‘imminent destitution’.
Already, a similar system is in place to protect the welfare of children, which is evidently failing. Local councils have a duty to safeguard its residents and issue Section 17 support in dire circumstances, yet lawyers at Garden Court Chambers have found that not only are applications “onerous, difficult and slow” as a result of austerity and budget cuts, but destitute families have even been told they are not eligible and that their kids may be taken into care. A shocking 6 in 10 families who attempt Section 17 access are refused – and even successful applicants can receive as little as £1.70 a day.
What this shows us is that whenever aid is devolved into the hands of local authorities, vulnerable people become victim to the ‘postcode lottery’ and migrant women with NRPF in particular pull the short straw. The Unity Project goes as far to argue that the Government is failing in its obligation to the Equality Act 2010, finding that NRPF serves as “indirect sex-based discrimination”.
For a country that considers itself propped up by the pillars of civility and justice, this policy that causes new-born babies and children to grow up in extreme poverty, while leaving women with the impossible choice of homelessness or domestic abuse, is in direct conflict with the UK’s commitment to human rights. It is high time the benefits ban is lifted, allowing vulnerable people to access welfare support in the same way Britons can. Until then, No Recourse to Public Funds will continue to unnecessarily spiral thousands of hard-working and ordinary women and their children into misery and hardship.
If you are concerned about the impact NRPF is having on migrant women and children, contact your local MP today to encourage Boris Johnson and Priti Patel in changing this damaging, hostile policy.
This article was written by Olivia Bridge who is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service.
Wan Fei, the founder of an anti-domestic violence NGO in China reported a huge increase in the country’s domestic violence cases in February. Jingzhou, a province in Hubei, received 3 times more reports in February 2020 than in the previous year. As cases of Covid-19 began to climb around the world, so did cases of domestic violence.
As the world’s attention was focused on the pandemic, women’s rights activists and service providers warned us that domestic violence victims would be overlooked, survivor services would be de-prioritised and the fear and tension during the crisis would result in a sharp increase in cases. As we saw the numbers of domestic violence cases rapidly increase in China where the pandemic started, we could assume that this pattern would follow in other countries. This assumption was proven to be true, as there has been an increase in domestic violence cases as lockdowns started all over the world.
Activists in Italy reported a drop in calls to the helpline centre only to receive a record amount of text messages and emails. As victims are forced to be in the same rooms as their abusers they often cannot voice their problems out loud and this is the only way they can let others know what is happening. It is also important to remember that if women are afraid to ring helplines, but numbers of reports are still increasing globally, how many more cases are happening that goes unreported.
Although we’re nearing the end of the UK’s nearly three-month lockdown, this wave of domestic violence the effects on the survivors will be long-lasting. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that support services are available to them. The Circle has supported Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis with its new text helpline, in order to reach vulnerable women and girls who may not be able to speak on the phone. We have also made grants to Irise Uganda, to support them with their emergency relief and domestic violence prevention work.
Some general and specific advice for people living in the UK
England: The National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You can visit their website for more information.
England: The Respect phone line 0808 8024040 is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. You can visit their website for more information.
Scotland: The Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is 0800 0271234 24, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Visit their website here.
Northern Ireland: The 24-Hour Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline is 0808 8021414, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. More information here.
Wales: The Live Fear Free Helpline is 08088010800, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They also have a website.
If you are a man experiencing domestic abuse call 0808 8010327 or visit their advice line.
You can make silent 999 calls to the police by waiting for the call handler to pick up making some kind of a cough or any sound at all and pressing 5,5.
The app can be disguised for people worried about partners checking their phones, provided support and information for victims.
Here are some precautions you can take to look out for each other:
If you are a postal worker, delivery driver, food delivery company or a carer who still visits houses, keep an eye out for any signs of abuse and to report any concerns to the police.
Neighbours should pay extra attention in hearing shouts, cries, or any noise that could be associated with violence. In case you suspect something bad is happening in a neighbouring house/flat please call the police.
Each month, we’ll tell you what we’ve been reading at The Circle to get you feeling engaged, informed, and inspired by the global rights movement. You might find an interview, a long read, a novel, or just a short news update – so, here is our round up for May!
On 5 October 2017, the New York Times published an article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey that helped change the world.Kantor and Twohey out-maneuvered Harvey Weinstein, his team of defenders and private investigators, convincing some of the most famous women in the world – and some unknown ones – to go on the record. Three years later, it led to his conviction. She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Defined a Movement, is a gripping account of this story, but more interestingly, an examination of the structures that allowed Weinstein to repeat the same violence over and over, seemingly unscathed.
This blog collects daily information about how the new Coronavirus COVID-19 is influencing garment workers’ rights in supply chains around the world. It is updated daily as new information comes in from media and the Clean Clothes Campaign global network.
The UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) published an article on 20 April 2020 about the effect that coronavirus is having on victims of domestic abuse around the world. UNHCR explain that isolation policies mean that there is less movement, and this increases the risk of intimate partner violence. Young women “may be forced into survival sex or child marriages by their families.” UNHCR explain what they are doing to support women and girls.
On 6 April 2020 Alice Aedy launched Frame of Mind which is a platform aiming to celebrate incredible female storytellers in documentary film, photography, journalism and writing. Aedy is a documentary photographer, filmmaker and activist focusing on migration, women’s rights and environmental issues. The focus will be about how female storytellers have explored social issues and created social change. Aedy shared a shocking fact from the New York Times that it is estimated only 0.5% of recorded history includes stories by women. Aedy’s project is important, exciting, and definitely one to stay updated with! Freda interviewed Aedy about her work as a female photographer which you can read here
Selections made by Anna Renfrew and Georgia Bridgett.
On November 25th, 2019 – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – the streets of Santiago, Chile, were filled by thousands of women joined in protest. The Chilean women sang an anthem entitled “Un violador en tu camino” (“A Rapist in Your Path”), a song dedicated to the widespread sexual violence and human rights violations suffered by women in the country. The message of the song has resonated not only with Chileans, but with women across the globe – by the end of December, the song and its associated dance moves had been performed by protest groups as far as Nairobi and Tokyo but what inspired the viral feminist anthem that has swept across six continents?
A deeper look at the lyrics of “A Rapist in Your Path” can illuminate the issues that women in Chilean society are facing today. These roots are deeply political, with the song’s creators – the feminist theatre group Lastesis, based in the coastal city of Valparaíso – aiming to draw attention to the role of institutional actors like the police, the courts and politicians in upholding the structure of violence in Chile. For example, the choice of title by the group is a reference to “A friend in your path”, the official slogan of the Chilean Carabineros police force during the 1980s-1990s. That the song alludes to police as perpetrators of violence is an accurate reflection of reality in Chile; the Carabineros have been the subject of numerous controversies and accusations of brutality in recent decades. The violent history of this police force has been reignited since the onset of the current period of widespread protest in Chile. Beginning in October in response to rising subway fares and severe income inequality in the country, the movement has since expanded to include gender issues among the various causes motivating protestors. Chile’s National Human Rights Institute (NHRI) reports that the state’s crackdown on ongoing peaceful protests has produced “the most serious and multiple human rights violations” committed in 30 years, since the country was ruled by military dictatorship. Since the protests began hundreds of cases of legal actions for torture and other forms of violence have been filed against the government and as of December at least 26 protest-related deaths have been recorded. Some of this brutality has taken the form of sexual and gender-based violence. From the beginning of the protests in October until late November, the NHRI filed criminal complaints relating to 166 cases of alleged sexual violence within the context of the protests. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch documents reports of forced stripping in police custody and the observation that “the police appear to be more likely to force women and girls to strip than men”, making the message of Lastesis’ chant even more unsettling: “Over your dreams smiling and sweet, watches your loving cop.”
The likeness the NHRI draws between recent levels of violence from government forces with those seen in Chile 30 years ago – during the right-wing dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled the country from 1973-1990 – can help shed light on the sources of the Carabineros’ power and abusive tendencies. During Pinochet’s regime, an estimated 40,000 Chileans were the victims of political detention, torture and extra-judicial execution, human rights violations in which the Carabineros were directly involved. Women suffered in particular as victims of sexual abuse by Pinochet’s forces – sexual assault, rape and forced pregnancy were common acts of torture used in Pinochet’s numerous detention centres across Chile. The dictator was arrested for crimes against humanity in 1998, although he was never sentenced for his crimes.
Chile’s unfavourable relationship with women’s rights extends beyond the direct actions of government agents, to the conditions experienced by women in Chilean society more generally. Chile’s 28-year-old ban on abortion came to an end in 2017, however the circumstances under which it is permitted are still restricted, and doctors can still refuse to perform abortions on ‘moral grounds’. Latin America has been named as the most dangerous region in the world for women according to a 2017 UNDP report, home to 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world – a reality which has sparked protest movements across the region, most recently and notably Monday’s protest in Mexico which saw women nationwide go on strike in protest of the country’s rampant gender-based violence. 42 cases of sexual abuse are reported to the police in Chile alone each day, but only ¼ of these result in judicial rulings. This contributes to the shocking fact that over a third (35.7%) of women in Chile who have experienced either physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime. Positive news came earlier this week with the signing in of a landmark gender-based violence law, named the ‘Gabriela Law’, which expanded the definition of femicide and increased the range of sentence that can be handed down for the crime in Chile. This milestone was somewhat overshadowed, however, by Chilean President Sebastian Piñera’s controversial statement that “sometimes it’s not just that men want to commit abuse, but also that women put themselves in a position where they are abused.” Piñera’s regressive and victim-blaming comments, alongside the abysmal conviction rate of sexual violence cases by Chilean courts summarise a patriarchal culture in which “it’s the cops, the judges, the state, the president” who are complicit; “the oppressive state is a rapist”.
The summer months of January and February marked a pause in civil unrest in Chile, but 8th March saw over 1 million women take part in International Women’s Day marches across the country. Rallies and marches continued into 9th March as a combined force of feminist groups, students and others protested for wider change. In cities like Antofagasta, the protests were eventually shut down by the Carabineros with the use of tear gas to disperse crowds. Gender-based violence is clearly not a stand-alone cause in Chile, but rather a movement being fought alongside the broader social issues driving Chileans to protest and demand significant institutional reform. As we continue into March, a month often noted for experiencing high levels of unrest in the country as it marks the anniversary of the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship, the international community will watch on as the people of Chile fight for systemic change.
This article was written by Holly. Holly is 23 years old from East Sussex, England. Since graduating with a degree in Politics and Economics in 2018 she has worked and volunteered in Africa and Asia and is currently living in China. Her interests include human rights, international security and development.
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
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. 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”. 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”, 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.”
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.
 Brownmiller, Susan “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape”, Bantam Books (1975), p15
 Crawford, Kelly “From Spoils to Weapons: Framing Wartime Sexual Violence” in Gender and Development Vol 31 No 3 (2013), p511
 United Nations, Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to SCR 780 S/25274 (1992), p16
 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article II (1951)
 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
“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.
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.
“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;
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.