Image: Santosh Bhanot at The Asian Circle Chai Day 2019
Chai Day, The Circle’s annual fundraising initiative on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is about gathering to raise funds to support survivors of gender-based violence. Chai Day is an initiative to raise funds and awareness for this issue and since its inception has grown from strength to strength. Its aim to support some of the most vulnerable women and girls and the impact that the work has had is truly a testament to The Circle’s mantra: women empowering women.
Started by The Asian Circle in 2016, Chai Day has remained one of the highlights of The Asian Circle’s calendar. Following the resounding success of their 5th anniversary celebration in 2018 with high chai at the breath-taking LaLit Hotel, The Asian Circle held another impressive event for Chai Day 2019. With the aim of informing and inspiring, the committee held a seminar on ending violence against women, followed by high chai. The seminar, kindly hosted by the Peepul Enterprise in Leicester, brought together activists and the local community to share statistics, data and knowledge on violence against women and raise funds. Key speakers included Santosh Bhanot, Founder and Chair of The Asian Circle, Panahghar and Quetzal.
Image: The Asian Circle’s Chai Day 2019
Panahghar is a specialist service led by BAME women for BAME communities in the West Midlands including Coventry and Leicester, with an aim to promote physical and emotional health, well-being and personal growth opportunities from an intersectional human rights perspective. Although Panahghar originally provided services for just women and girls, in 2014 they have expanded their services to include men and boys, recognising that to reduce violence towards women significantly, men and boys must be included. Panahghar is an Urdu word meaning ‘House of Sanctuary’ or in short ‘Safe House’ and is a voluntary organisation that exists to address all forms of violence and abuse and to respond to distress and maltreatment including instances of domestic and sexual violence, honour-based violence, forced marriage, FGM/C and trafficking. They promote humanitarian, educational, developmental and environmental awareness to relieve poverty and encourage social and economic wellbeing amongst vulnerable groups. In their presentation, Panahghar spoke on the extent of domestic violence within the local area and what the human and financial costs of abuse were and highlighted the lack of funding for BME service providers both locally and nationally.
Quetzal is another Leicester-based organisation working to support vulnerable women and girls. This organisation offers professional counselling service to female survivors of childhood sexual abuse from a passionate team of psychotherapists with specialist training in responding to trauma and sexual assault. Childhood sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported forms of abuse, as the perpetrator is usually, always known to the child – making it the ultimate betrayal of trust. According to Quetzal, one of the communities that consistently under-reports childhood sexual abuse is the South Asian Community as notions of shame and honour make taking the first step particularly difficult. Through their counselling service, they have helped hundreds of women break down their psychological defences and destructive behaviours caused by the childhood sexual abuse. Quetzal used the opportunity to share their Breaking the Silence initiative, a community-based approach to raise awareness of childhood sexual abuse and to increase engagement within the South Asian community in Leicester by collaborating with community groups and other agencies to give the power for recovery back to survivors. It was good to hear about the fantastic work that both Quetzal and Panahghar are doing within and around Leicester to support survivors of gender-based violence.
Image: Speakers at The Asian Circle Chai Day 2019
Since their first meeting in 2013, the inspirational women that formed The Asian Circle were unanimous in their decision to work towards ending violence against women and girls. During the seminar, Santosh recalled this journey and spoke passionately to the audience about the need for this project to support marginalised women and girls. What followed over the next six years was an incredibly ambitious project in partnership with Oxfam India and the grass roots NGO LASS (Lok Astha Sewa Sansthan) that works in rural Adivasi communities in Chhattisgarh to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. Within these communities, baseline research found, that 3 in 4 men believe that it is acceptable to beat their wives and even more shockingly, that 2 in 3 women believe that men have the right to beat them as punishment. The project had three key objectives: to enable female survivors of violence to access counselling, legal aid and other support services; to undertake research for evidence-based programming efforts and advocacy to prevent violence and strengthen community mechanisms against it; and make the wider community aware of violence against women and motivate them to take action to prevent violence against girls and women. Santosh was able to announce that the funds raised over the last 6 years have helped build several women’s support centres and engage over 18,000 women and girls and a further 9,000 men and boys. Through training and the support networks within women’s groups, women have learnt about the different forms of violence and how to tackle them. As a result of this project, in Chhattisgarh there has been a State-Level Consultation on the State Gender Equality Policy and the project partner LASS has been awarded the Chhattisgarh State Level Honour as the Nari Shakti Samma Award for ‘outstanding improvement of the conditions of women at the margins of society’.
Funds raised from Chai Days that happened across the UK, in addition to the money raised by The Asian Circle, will go towards supporting this project in addition to The Circle’s ending violence against women projects in the portfolio. For 2019, this included the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in South Africa, ACT Alberta in Canada and Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis in the UK. Thank you to everyone who attended The Asian Circle’s Chai Day Seminar and for those who supported our projects working to tackle gender-based violence. Without our members and the Circles that they have formed, The Circle would not be able to continue empowering marginalised women and girls across the globe.
The Circle is inspired by the notion that when women come together and organise, they can be a powerful force for change. The Asian Circle, who have managed to raise a huge amount of funds for marginalised women and girls over the years, are a shining example of that force.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of press concerning the experience of victim-survivors reporting instances of sexual assault in the UK as organisations attempt to shine a light on the monumental and often fruitless task of taking to trial crimes of rape and sexual assault. There is little chance of the perpetrator being brought to justice, and time and time again women have described how traumatic navigating this system can be. Of course, there are many who have found closure through this process and have had positive experiences with the police and legal professionals. Last week Cosmopolitan published the article What really happens when you report a rape detailing the experiences of 15 people across the UK, including the testimony of one woman who stated that “I think reporting this crime and going through the justice system has really aided my recovery and I am so pleased that I did it” after her perpetrator received a nine year sentence. However, for many women this is not the case.
Repeatedly, victim-survivors have described instances of inadequate communication from officials, concerns for their personal safety and perceptions of the system being weighed in favour of the accused all as challenges in their own justice journeys. The majority of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported to the authorities as the legal process can be a lengthy and daunting one. However, systemic failures to reporting victims are at the heart of such low confidence in the current system as one that fairly and adequately represents the interests of women taking the brave step to report.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition, one of the projects funded by The Circle’s Chai Day initiative, is in the process of taking the Crown Prosecution Service to court over the ‘catastrophic’ drop in rape prosecutions (down by 44% since 2014) whilst the increase in the number of rapes reported to the police is up by 173%. The lobbying organisation ‘have heard from many women who have decided to report rape to the police; have endured what can be very gruelling questioning and possibly medical examinations; have had to sacrifice their phone, computer and personal records; endure an agonising wait; to then be told that the case has been dropped’ whilst the Guardian reported last year that a training session at the CPS encouraged prosecutors to take the ‘weak cases out of the system’ to improve its conviction rate.
A culture that discourages victims from speaking up to report their abuse is not one that supports its most vulnerable. Global Feminism is a movement designed to highlight the rampant inequalities across the globe that women and girls still face, drawing attention and encouraging action to the abuses suffered by women globally.
For the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, The Circle wanted to examine the process of reporting for victim-survivors around the world and the enforcement of women’s right to be free from harm through The Circle’s projects providing front-line services to victims of violence. Despite the increased our exposure and awareness of the issue of sexual violence in the aftermath of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, victims of rape and sexual assault are still being victimised and consistently let down by the criminal justice system.
We see victim-survivors being discouraged at every stage of the process, impeding their access to justice. It is clear that negative attitudes and prejudices are influencing the way that woman are treated in the judiciary system resulting in not only a woefully low number of convictions but also a prevalence of shame placed on the victim.
The Circle supports the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in South Africa, located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside Cape Town. For years, unemployment and crime rates have been high, particularly around violence against women and children with little services and support for the victims. The centre has a shelter for women who have survived domestic violence or have been victims of human trafficking. Most women in the shelter are HIV positive, are struggling to access healthcare and have received limited education and training.
Violence against women is the most common form of human rights violation in India. Shame, stigma and a lack of support from the police and legal system prevent many women from reporting domestic violence and seeking help.
Whilst there is a level of shame ascribed to victims of sexual assault in India, for those who do come forward and choose to make an allegation to the police the process can result in further shaming and dismissive responses.
“The doctor said to my daughter ‘If they had forced themselves on you, there should have been marks on your body – but you don’t have any. You must have done this of your own free will.” – Palak’s mother, Palak (name changed to protect her identity), a Dalit woman, was 18 when she reported being kidnapped and raped in Madhya Pradesh, in June 2013.
Human Rights Watch also found that police were often reluctant to file allegations, particularly for victims from a socially and economically marginalised community. Citing that ‘police sometimes pressure the victim’s family to “settle” or “compromise”’. Often, Dalit or other “low-caste” families are encouraged to drop their case if the perpetrator is of a higher caste.
One of the projects funded by last year’s Chai Day was a number of survivor centres in rural communities of Chhattisgrah and Odisha to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. In Chhattisgarh, there has been State-Level Consultation on the State Gender Equality Policy, which had not been revisited for more than a decade. Projects and community building like this are essential to support victim-survivors who feel they are unable to approach or are refused help by the police.
Bina and her son were offered counselling and legal support.
ACT Alberta is an anti-trafficking organization in Canada working collaboratively law enforcement, government agencies and non-governmental organisations to identify and respond to human trafficking in Alberta. One of their primary operations is providing victim support services for victims of sexual trafficking, in which they delivery trauma recovery, improve access to the justice system and obstacles within that system for victims. It is important to note here that the service receives funding from the Canadian government for those victims who are willing to go through the judiciary system, however, as we have seen in previous countries, women often feel that this isn’t an option, particularly those from marginalized communities and those whose immigration status may be at risk. Victims who do not have permanent right to live in Canada are often wary of approaching the police for concern that they will be deported, believing that their current situation is preferable to returning to their country of birth.
In cases across the world, even those women and girls who come forward are being dismissed and let down.
Tina Fontaine’s great-aunt, Thelma Favel showing a photo of the girl. Photo credit: Aaron Vincent Elkaim for The New York Times.
Across the globe, attitudes towards victims of rape and a prevailing tolerance for rape and serious sexual assault is resulting in a lack of justice for victim-survivors. Women are reluctant to come forward and when they do, their experiences can be traumatic. Front-line services delivered by our Chai Day projects are so important because the judiciary system is failing women who make the brave decision to come forward and report rape and serious sexual assault.
It falls on projects like Rape Crisis, ACT Alberta and the Nonceba Centre to fill the gaps in services that the judiciary system is failing to provide, to support victim-survivors through their navigation of the criminal justice system and ensure that their rights are being observed. These organisations are woefully underfunded and often receive incredibly limited or no funding from the government.
“I guess, the, kind of, base point for all of that was [local] Rape Crisis believed me. They never questioned me. They never challenged it. They’ve never said, well I don’t know, when the police seem to think different. They’ve always believed me and they have gone from that perspective, and so I knew I could trust them. And that trust has, you know, built and remained … they worked at putting, sort of, coping mechanisms in place for when I couldn’t manage” – Rebecca
Chai Day is about gathering together with friends, family or colleagues to raise funds to support survivors of gender-based violence. November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the sixteen days that follow is your chance to host a Chai Day.
This article was written by Anna Renfrew. Anna is The Circle’s Projects and Communications Officer and has been heading up preparations for our Chai Day campaign. She has written a number of articles for The Circle, taking a particular interest in the global issue of violence against women.
Filmed in Cape Town’s notorious Lavender Hill, Waves explores the perspective of three young girls as they grow up together in South Africa. We spoke to Jessie Ayles about this incredible project and the issue of gender-based violence.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?
I’m a documentary filmmaker based in London – I’ve always been motivated by imbalances or injustices in the world, and try to pursue projects that reflect on these types of issues to create an impact or some form of change or conversation.
Why did you decide to focus on the issue of gender-based violence for your project?
Women, in all walks of life, often draw the short straw, whether you’re looking at gaps in wages, structures of society, education or more urgent matters like gender based violence. Women in these communities, as we know, suffer huge amounts of gender based violence and attacks, there is still a very strong patriarchy in these communities that place young girls at the bottom of the ‘food chain’ – I was interested in exploring the feelings of young girls there, to translate their point of view, and their own experiences so that people would really be able to empathise and understand the extent that this affects a life.
One of The Circle’s EVAWG projects is located in South Africa, but violence against women is a global issue, why did you decide to focus on this country and community in particular?
My parents are South African and I have dual citizenship, but I actually grew up in London, so i’ve always had a connection to South Africa and interest to understand the country and its complexities.
I think what also really motivated me to work with this community is that most South African’s ordinarily would never really enter these communities due to fear of crime, and in turn never really understand what life is like for the most vulnerable there. It’s a country largely still divided by wealth, and I wanted to create something that would offer an insight from marginalised voices we ordinarily wouldn’t be able to get access to, especially as young girls, and break down these barriers.
What was the experience of filming on such a difficult subject? Particularly with such young women.
I was lucky to be able to really take my time making this film, I spent a lot time just getting to know the girls at surf lessons, and listening, so by the time we started filming we just felt like friends hanging out. I think this really helped them feel comfortable with me, and also meant the filming days were never too intense. It was difficult and shocking for me to hear how these girls felt, but to be honest, for them, I think this type of violence had become quite normal that they were almost used to talking about it.
There was another aspect to filming, and that was that I was able to offer the girls a voice – I think that they felt special by being a part of the film, that their story and feelings were important.
So, despite the subject matter of the film being so sensitive, the girls were at the end of the day still just young girls, they loved getting extra time surfing, playing, laughing, going on trips with me that they normally wouldn’t be able to get access to – and I really loved that experience too.
The film is incredibly beautiful and moving, what did you find most challenging about the process?
I think the biggest challenge with this film, and filming in the community was safety and access. The area that the girls live in is Lavender Hill, it’s notorious in Cape Town for gang violence and crime, it’s really not a safe area to drive in, you roll the dice every time you enter. This being said, I couldn’t get any funding to make this film so wasn’t able to hire security or special transportation. So that was very limiting, we would have to work out which days and times would be less of a risk to go into the community and set our self time limits filming on the streets etc I think we got everything we needed for the film, but I would have loved to embed myself a little more into their daily home life if the limitations weren’t there.
The Circle is an organisation of women empowering women. Is that motivation something that you feel plays a role in your work?
Yes definitely. I think I spent quite a long time not really honing in on what I care most about – I was making a documentary about a Burmese guerilla fighter about 5 years ago, someone who had rebelled against the Burmese military and gone into exile in Chiang Mai, he had given up everything for what he believed in. He kept on asking me why I was interested in making a film about him, he couldn’t quite understand – I told him it was because he was fascinating, but he was still confused, he kept on telling me ‘Jessie, you’ve got to find your people’. At the time it didn’t register, I just thought ‘What people…I don’t have the same sort of authoritarian government to overthrow like you did, ’. But then it clicked, by highlighting women’s stories and voices – whose injustices I can personally relate to – I feel more like I have found ‘my people’ to fight for.
What would you encourage those watching the film to do in order to support women and girls across the globe who are survivors of gender-based violence?
The scale of this issue is so large that it can feel a little daunting sometimes at where to start or what can be done to help. But in my experience working with NGOs on the ground, I see how much of a difference these organisations can make to someone’s life. The surfing that offers these girls an outlet in the film was organised by an NGO called Waves for Change – a small thing like a surfing lesson once a week can make all the difference to someones life – it can give them that breath of air they need or support to keep going.
So my advice would be to do some research on NGOs, like The Circle’s EVAWG projects, and donate whatever you can to help keep them going. You could also volunteer at NGOs if you live near one that’s making a difference to women’s lives, or even keep spreading the message and raising awareness to keep the conversation going.
What is the situation in South Africa like now?
Unfortunately since the filming of Waves the situation in South Africa has become even more volatile for women. A spate of recent sexual assaults, murders and kidnappings of young girls and women caused outrage and saw country-wide protests – demanding the government to effectively tackle the issue. While some policies have been amended, like the retraction of bail for rape suspects, there is still a huge space for work needed to help support victims, prevent violence and create gender equality and awareness. This is why I believe NGOs are so important right now for those South Africans who have to live through this on a daily basis.
You can watch Jessie’s award-winning short film here:
One of our Chai Day projects is located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside Cape Town. Khayelitsha is the largest township in the Western Cape province and has a high level of overcrowding and poverty. For years, unemployment and crime rates have been high, particularly around violence against women and children with little services and support for the victims. The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre offers survivors offers a place to stay, individual and family counselling, legal support, access to healthcare, educational programmes and victim empowerment groups. Find out more about hosting a Chai Day to support women and girls across the globe here.
Jessie is a South African and British filmmaker. Her work shines a light on female-centred stories and marginalised voices, bringing a cinematic and fresh perspective to socially conscious stories. She studied Film & Literature at Warwick University, then went onto a Masters in Screen Documentary at Goldsmiths University where she won a One World Media Bursary.
Jessie’s interest in impact and stories that highlight morals or human rights, with her distinctive style, led her to work with the social impact arm of many brands and NGOs, creating poignant film campaigns for clients such as Nike, Google, M&C Saatchi & Always.
The Circle is an organisation of women empowering women and through our Chai Day campaign, Shana wants to support survivors of gender-based violence. Shana and family are survivors of honour-based domestic violence and we asked her to share our moving story ahead of her Chai Day event …
“I am hosting a Chai Day event because I know first-hand how much it hurts when you feel trapped in the abuse. I know how lost you feel, how you begin to justify the perpetrators actions and how trapped you are because you have nowhere to go and your children only know their home; even though that home is hell.
Once you look for help, you must struggle through a system that isn’t fit for purpose, relying on complete strangers and constantly repeating yourself to different organisations, being sign posted from here to there. All you know is pain and trauma and the only thing that kept me going was faith. For me, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
I am hosting the event because my family and I were nearly killed by the perpetrator. I was so lost and confused due to the fear of cultural and societal pressures that I put myself and my family at danger. We would have been killed if I didn’t leave when we did and we were left with nothing.
I want to raise awareness because domestic violence and those who encounter it, end up normalising it and this attitude can be passed down for generations. I grew up witnessing domestic abuse and this was normal in my community, finally I entered a relationship that was also abusive. I never want my daughter be in a relationship like that and I want to teach my sons to understand that the only thing they need to control is themselves, not others. I would like all the other women suffering in silence to break the silence. I want our story to be the story of hope. It’s everyone’s duty because it effects all of society. It’s time to break the cycle.
I can’t do it alone and I want to empower others to take collective and collaborative action.”
Shana and her family have recently won an award at the Pride of St Helens Awards for their bravery and determination not to give up after fleeing domestic violence. They will continue to do what they can to support other survivors within their community. Shana is very clear that “we are not victims, but survivors and our story is something to be proud of, we believe our circumstances do not define us. We are now a campaigning family trying to bring positive changes.”
Shana’s Chai Day is happening on Monday 25th November from 12.30-2.30pm at Park Farm ACYP Community Centre, 54 Kentmere Avenue, Carr Mill, St Helens, WA11 7PG. Join her and her family to support survivors of violence across the globe.