The Asian Circle members and Rav Bansal (right), from the Great British Bake Off.
The Asian Circle celebrated its fourth birthday with a Chai Day at Montys Nepalese restaurant in Ealing on Saturday 9th December 2017. The Asian Circle was joined by The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) star Rav Bansal, who is supporting The Asian Circle in their fight for gender equality and baked a spectacular cake for the occasion. The Asian Circle founder Santosh Bhanot provided an update on their project in rural communities in east India. In partnership with Oxfam India, The Asian Circle is setting up Women’s Support Centres which provide access to counselling and legal aid to survivors of gender-based violence…
Photo: Fiona at her Chai Day at the University of Bristol.
The Circle volunteer Fiona Gilligan shares her experience supporting a women’s rights NGO in Buenos Aires and how it inspired her to organise a Chai Day at the University of Bristol.
I was fortunate enough to spend the first six months of 2016 in Buenos Aires, combining my interest in fashion and textiles with a cause I feel incredibly strongly about – women’s rights and gender equality.
Therefore, in recent years there has been a rise in the number of NGOs dedicated solely to the needs of women. Mediapila is one such organisation. It is dedicated to empowering and mobilising women through sewing and dressmaking workshops. The overall aim of the foundation is to provide women from underprivileged backgrounds with the skills and, more importantly, the confidence, to be able to find employment in the textiles industry.
The foundation works solely with women, as they believe that women symbolise the root to social change. Working towards a better future for these women enables them to also provide a better future for their children and families, thus changing society on a greater scale.
I was struck by the creativity and tenacity of the women at the foundation, many of whom were in the process of developing their own businesses alongside their studies at the foundation. They all possessed an incredible passion to learn and a genuine desire to change their lives for the better. I formed strong relationships with many of them, in particular María, a former student who had gone on to become a teacher at the foundation. María’s infectious laughter filled the workshop each day and was a reminder to all the women of the power of female strength and beauty. Despite experiencing such hardship in the shape of forced migration, discrimination and poverty, María embraced each day with a smile. I felt privileged to be working with such strong and inspirational women like María on a daily basis.
My experience in Buenos Aires made me very aware that, although we still have a long way to go in terms of gender equality, we have many privileges as women in the UK. All women should have access to the same opportunities in order to reach their full potential in life. This is a joint responsibility, and it is essential that we collectively recognise this in order to achieve gender equality.
This motivated me to get involved with further gender equality projects when I returned to university in Bristol. My friend Erin was doing an internship at The Circle and told me about Chai Day. It is a great initiative that brings people together over a cup of chai in order to raise awareness and funds to combat gender-based violence in the UK, India and South Africa. It was incredibly easy to organise. The Circle provides a detailed information pack, as well as a poster template to advertise your Chai Day around your university, workplace, or wherever you are planning to hold it. All that was left to do was to get baking! I was incredibly pleased with the support from other students and with the amount we managed to collectively raise.
If you would like to hold your own Chai Day to raise awareness about gender-based violence in your community, inspire your friends or colleagues, and raise funds to support women who have survived violence, go to www.chaiday.org.
Peta Barrett, the Relationship Manager at The Circle, on the Chai Day 2017 launch and why you should organise a Chai Day to raise awareness about gender-based violence
Colourful falling leaves, busy squirrels and tea go hand in hand for me. My autumn is always tea-inspired. Tea spiced with meaningful discussions with friends; cosy evenings in with a hot brew as energy levels start to cool with the weather; tea steaming up the windows, and tea’s magically unique comforting warmth, like a hug in a mug.
As a member of The Circle, chai tea and autumn brewed together in November also means confronting hard truths and saying enough is enough. Last month, Chai Day was launched with our members. An inspiring evening with speakers — The Circle Executive Director Sioned Jones, who shared The Circle’s mission; Santosh Bhanot, Chair of The Asian Circle, who started the Chai Day movement and shared her experiences of visiting women supported by funds raised through Chai Day, and Gina Conway of Gina Conway Salons — an inspiring member who shared her experience of hosting Chai Day at her salons in 2016.
Chai Day is an opportunity to gather people around a hot beverage on 25 November — significantly the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women — to look at how gender-based violence manifests in our community and what we can do about it. Last month was also the month when the #MeToo hashtag flooded the internet. With all the awareness scrolled and clicked through on smart phones, tablets and screens, the importance of Chai Day is more significant than ever before. It is the vital next step to engaging and talking about the issue (and I don’t mean via 140 characters in the comments thread).
As a professional working for women’s rights, a friend to many who have experienced more than just a “tap on the arse”, and as someone who can freely identify as a woman in a city where I am more empowered than most, I feel that it is important to facilitate conversations around this topic. Chai Day offers people a platform to do this. If we can ensure that dialogue about gender-based violence in our communities, and those around the world, continue past social media trends, we will be winning one small battle in the current war on women and girls.
The #MeToo storm that has hit social media is important because it has demonstrated that experiences of gender-based harassment and assault are commonplace amongst women, and that it exists across women of all ages, races, culture and class. The #MeToo trend is, in isolation, far from perfect because the victim is still being expected to place herself in a vulnerable position (by speaking out) as well as lead the discussion in a world that still largely blames the victim. It also ignores other genders affected by gender-based violence and is in danger of ignoring the serious disparities that exist between experiences and why these occur.
To prevent the hashtag from existing only as a social media flurry that will fizzle out, we need to be inspired by the overwhelming outcry and use it proactively to initiate and establish dialogues between all genders. This is important not only for the reality of the situation to take hold, but also to ensure that all people are able to reflect on the roles we play in contributing towards the inequalities that exist between genders in 2017. Uniting and talking about experiences to bring about lasting change is the real intention behind the initial Me Too campaign initiated by Tarana Burke ten years ago. It is also the inspiration behind The Circle’s Chai Day as part of the global movement for gender equality.
For these reasons and so many more I will be arming myself with my #ChaiDay and #MeToo hashtags, some hard facts about gender-based violence, videos of The Circle’s inspiring projects and some chai teabags. My invitations have gone out and we will be opening our home in London on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to friends, colleagues and people we would like to get to know better.
I am asking my guests to bring their questions, experiences, opinions and an open mind. If they enjoy the treats, hot drinks and discussions and feel inspired to donate towards projects aimed at ending violence against women – great I’ll have a money box for their small change and a PC ready for any online donations. If they don’t, it’s more important for me that they turn up and be part of the conversation. Why? Because 38% of all men and 34% of all women who participated in a study conducted by the Fawcett Society in 2016 said that if a woman goes out late at night, wearing a short skirt, gets drunk and is then the victim of a sexual assault she is fully or partly to blame. Because across the world 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate male partner. Because globally 71% of human trafficking victims are women and girls. Because I want our daughters to grow up and talk about gender inequality as something that happened in the “olden days”.
At an event at Southbank with Margaret Atwood discussing her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the question of “what can I do” was asked. Margaret simply and eloquently answered, “Imagine the world you want to live in and act accordingly”. I want a world where gender-based violence does not exist. In the meantime, I will imagine a world where women (and other genders) can talk about their experiences of gender-based violence without shame and fear of being blamed.
If my passion for this subject has inspired you and you would like to host your own Chai Day in your home, office, yoga studio, football club or hairdresser, visit our website to find downloadable invitations, promotional materials, helpful tips, videos and facts to use as conversation starters.
I look forward to raising my tea cup with yours on 25 November for a better, safer world.
Peta Barrett is a member of The Circle since 2016 and our Relationship Manager since 2017.
Last week, in Milan, Ilaria Venturini Fendi, a member of The Circle Italia, won The Social Laureate Award at the GCFA, and The Circle founder Annie Lennox delivered a beautiful speech before presenting The Art of Craftmanship award to the seamstresses of Maison Valentino.
You can read the full speech below:
It’s a wonderful and unique experience to be here with you all this evening at La Scala and I want to thank you so much for your incredible donation to our Italian Circle and for having actively contributed to transformational change for women around the world.
The Circle is a group of women who feel passionately about justice and rights of women all around the world, where, for example, at least one in three women have been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in their lifetime.
Where 41 million girls worldwide are still denied an education, and HIV/AIDS is one of the leading causes of death in girls and women of reproductive age across the continent of Africa.
These are just a few of the issues we are involved with as fundraisers, advocates and contributors to the Global Women’s Movement and the United Nation’s Goal number 5. And this year we have also launched the first ever legal report on the right to a living wage for garment workers worldwide.
Which brings me onto the award I will present tonight— The Art of Craftsmanship.
Behind every great house of fashion, there are thousands of exceptional women. Women so dedicated, professional and gifted that they represent everything it means to be an artisan.
What they create is spellbinding and they are indeed a circle of women.
I’m delighted to be honouring them with this award tonight.
The winners are… the seamstresses of Maison Valentino.
Thank you to the Green Carpet Fashion Awards for their generous donation to The Circle Italia.
On Monday, we were thrilled to see The Circle founder Annie Lennox receive the George Harrison Global Citizen Award at the Global Citizen Festival in New York. The award honoured her contribution to music and activism throughout her career.
Olivia Harrison presented the award. Annie then followed her acceptance speech with a surprise performance with Harrison’s son Dhani.
You can read her acceptance speech in full below:
Thank you so much Olivia. And thank you so much to the Material World Foundation for this incredible award.
I’m moved, humbled and honoured to receive it.
The beauty and power of George Harrison’s music continues to inspire millions of people with its social, political, universal message for a more sustainable, peaceful world.
I have always loved George’s music and everything he stood for, not only as a brilliant artist, but also as a highly intelligent, sensitive and compassionate man — deeply committed to the issues of human rights, freedom and justice.
In 1971, The Concert for Bangladesh was an innovative, groundbreaking event where he fearlessly created a global platform for advocacy through music, to raise awareness and inspire action in response to a desperate situation.
In 2017 — 46 years later, the Global Citizen Movement is boldly carrying the same torch forwards, with the same ethics and values — that we are all citizens of the world, each with a part to play in facing our complex interconnected global challenges.
The list of challenges is endless, but please bear with me while I name just a few.
The toxic effects of man-made pollution on Earth’s natural environment — the air, the rivers, lakes and seas.
The catastrophic effects of wantonly plundering Earth’s natural resources, risking the sustainability of human existence on this planet.
Deforestation, desertification — Ancient glaciers melting into the sea, sea levels rising exponentially.
The ongoing decimation of indigenous peoples and their traditional ways of life.
The decimation of animal species up to the point of virtual extinction.
The horrendous destruction of human lives through unspeakable crimes of warfare and genocide.
As I speak, 65 million people are displaced or living as refugees.
The vicious trap of poverty and the endemic misery it creates, with its dehumanising cyclic effects.
The rising trends of divisive bigotry, hatred, prejudice, racism, misogyny and violence in a world where one in three women have experienced abuse.
The challenges of global health epidemics — HIV/AIDS, Ebola, tuberculosis, malaria, etc.
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop at this point before you become despairing or simply immune.
My thinking is… if we can distribute Coca Cola to every corner of the world, and send men and women into space, then surely there are solutions to these problems.
We are used to thinking that we don’t count individually. That is why it is so important to identify and engage with whichever piece of action you want to support, because, believe me, collectively everyone can make a difference.
But you need to choose hope over despair, responsibility over indifference, feminism over misogyny, and respect, love and kindness over bigotry, division and hatred.
So here’s what you can do just as one person. Inform yourself, choose a cause and give it your commitment. Support an organisation and join them. Donate what you can afford, or persuade others to raise money. Speak up, write, blog, march… Just do something!
And if you’re listening to this and you haven’t already done so, go to the Global Citizen website and take your first step into transformative change through positive action.
As a global feminist, I am very grateful to be able to share and amplify this message, and I am truly honoured to be part of the Global Citizen’s ethos, which I endorse with all my heart. Thank you.
So now, ladies and gentlemen, I’m thrilled and delighted to welcome to the stage Dhani Harrison.
Annie Lennox’s interview about the Global Citizen Festival
The Asian Circle Summer Party, 2017 — press release
The Asian Circle Summer Party is beginning to become a bit of a tradition. The annual bonanza was hosted once again at the fantastic Bangalore Express restaurant near Bank Station, in central London. A prime location for an evening of inspirational, thought-provoking speeches and laughter.
The evening started with guests arriving and mingling, with complementary drinks and light snacks. Designers Natasha Khushi of Opuline and Geeta Handa of C-Atomic showcased their collections to guests, with items available for purchase on the night.
This year, The Asian Circle was delighted to welcome guest speaker Caroline Sweetman from Oxfam and a very special guest headliner, the award winning comedian and columnist Shazia Mirza. As Shazia arrived, the photo opportunities and fanfare flowed. Half an hour after her arrival, the speeches began. Opening was by Santosh Bhanot, founder of The Asian Circle, who ended her speech with a video showing the importance of the work The Asian Circle is doing supporting the impoverished Adivasi communities in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, in India.
Caroline followed with some inspiring words on why over twenty years after she took up her role, fighting against the injustices that women face across the world remains such an important part of her work.
Finally, it was time for headliner Shazia, who brought the house down with laughter during her half-hour set.
The Asian Circle’s project
Of course, this event, like all of The Asian Circle’s, was held to raise awareness and much needed funds for the our current project in the Chhattisgarh region of east India.
The Asian Circle’s main objective is to tackle the issue of violence against women, which is the most common form of human rights violation in India. It is such a deeply-ingrained, socially-accepted ‘right’ for men to physically, sexually or mentally abuse their wives in the country, that women are trapped in a life of violence, shame and stigma. They suffer from lack of support from the police and the legal system. This lack of support prevents many women from reporting domestic violence and seeking help. The Asian Circle is working with Oxfam in the tribal Adivasi communities in India to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women.
Progress so Far
In Chhattisgarh, there has been a state-level consultation on the State Gender Equality Policy, a policy that had not been revisited in more than a decade. Women from across the state took part, reflecting their concerns and issues with the policy gaps.
Notably, our partners that are working on the ground have received an award for the positive outcomes of their work and for helping to forge happier communities.
In Odisha, Gender Times sessions were organised at colleges, which increased engagement of adolescents and youth groups with gender issues.
This fantastic evening was held to generate much needed donations. Here is a breakdown of how funds can help with different aspects of the existing project:
£100 could provide vital legal aid to five women.
£300 would cover monthly counselling sessions for twenty women facing violence.
£500 would cover setting up a support network for survivors.
£1,000 would cover awareness-raising sessions for 100 men, to educate them on violence against women and challenge entrenched attitudes and beliefs about women.
The Asian Circle was delighted to be the charity partner at this year’s Karigari London exhibition. The event took place at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan centre, in West Kensington, London, between 22 and 25 June 2017.
The term ‘karigari’ in Hindi means a craftsman who specialises in traditional arts. Six like-minded women entrepreneurs have come together, creating the first UK-based collective to celebrate and showcase the rich craftsmanship of Indian artisans. The collective is based on their love for preserving traditional heritage and slow sustainable fashion.
Curations included handwoven fabrics, embroideries, artworks, silver and gemstone jewellery, traditional clothes, rugs and other homewares from India and South Asia.
The three-day event kickstarted with a launch reception on the Thursday evening. Speakers included The Asian Circle founder Santosh Bhanot, who talked about the importance of the work that The Asian Circle is doing alongside Oxfam in South Asia. Santosh said that ‘The Asian Circle’s ethos of “women empowering women” is very much at the forefront in this partnership. Much of the art comes from the talent in small villages where traditional arts skills are practised to form beautiful creations with fine sensibilities’.
Complimentary drinks and snacks flowed as the evening went on before the first day of the exhibition came to a close.
The next day, visitors started arriving from 11 am to see some of the best Karigari work on show in London. Guests were so impressed with the work on show that competition was rife for who would end up taking home some of the clothing on display!
The Asian Circle had a constant presence at the event to raise awareness about violence against women and funds for their project in central and east India. The Asian Circle sold handmade chokers designed by C-atomic, and raffle tickets to win a beautiful Gond tribal bronze statue, handcrafted by the leader of one of the women support groups that The Asian Circle has helped set up in India.
A massive thank you has to go to the designers for inviting The Asian Circle, as well as pledging a very generous donation to the project. We look forward to next year’s Karigari!
The Asian Circle’s work in India
The Asian Circle and Oxfam are supporting survivors of gender-based violence in rural areas of Chhattisgarh and Odisha. Oxfam and The Asian Circle are setting up support groups and shelters for survivors and organising debate groups to challenge the social acceptance of violence against women.
On 10 and 11 March, The Circle and our team of fabulous volunteers set up shop at the Southbank Centre’s WOW — Women of the World festival with the aim of meeting as many women as possible, discussing our current projects and our goals for the future, listening to the incredible line-up of speakers and, of course, widening our circle. Here’s a little look at what we got up to…
Hundreds of inspirational women who were not only keen to learn about The Circle but also wanted to share the ways in which we work to empower women worldwide. This included one of our lovely new members Katie Rose from Sing For Water, who joined after being inspired by our founder Annie Lennox’s talk at #March4Women on 5 March.
We also chatted with women like Nazzy Amin from Restless Development about our accountability in pushing for gender equality and shaping the future for women. Carolyn Thom, from Their Voice Modern Slavery, told us about their Day 46 initiative, which aims to help protect and rehabilitate victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK, once their financial support and assistance from the Home Office ends after 45 days.
Our time at WOW ended with us meeting the brilliant Gemma Cairney, who has supported The Circle in the past and was there signing her brand new book Open.
We listened to…
Sandi Toksvig’s 2016 Year in Review, where—all while wearing a #pinkpussyhat—she discussed everything from Boaty McBoatface and Brexit to Trump’s inauguration, which paved the way for the ‘first truly global feminist movement’ with January’s worldwide Women’s Marches.
We heard from Iona Lawrence, director of the Jo Cox Foundation and best friend of the well-missed MP Jo Cox, who was tragically murdered last year. She told the audience how Jo never asked ‘what do you think?’ but simply said ‘what can we do?’, continuing on to say that ‘Jo was a true activist and a passionate force for good in this world’.
We also listened to the remarkable stories of three extraordinary women in the Honourlogues: Shame performance, which was moved to the Royal Festival Hall due to the huge crowds of women queuing.
Founder of Karma Nirvana Jasvinder Sanghera CBE discussed how at sixteen she ran away from her home in the UK after her parents tried to force her into marrying a stranger from India and hasn’t spoken to them in 36 years since, after they told her that she was dead to them for dishonouring the family. Her sister later committed suicide by setting fire to herself after her family shamed her for divorcing the man she was forced to marry and who abused her. Jasvinder now runs a charity which supports victims of honour crimes and forced marriages.
Irish Times journalist Róisín Ingle spoke about how her own country turned its back on her when she was in need of an abortion and how, after fifteen years of staying silent due to shame, she decided to write a column on her abortion, which in turn helped thousands of Irish women stand up and say ‘me too’. She is now campaigning as part of the #Repealthe8th movement.
Last but not least, Fiona Broadfoot spoke on her experience being trafficked from Bradford to London as a fifteen-year-old girl, where she was forced into prostitution for eleven years of her life before escaping. She discussed how her past still follows her today, as her criminal convictions for prostitution have led her to being frog-marched out of jobs, denied by colleges and even recently by two male councillors when she launched her Build A Girl programme, who said they would keep a copy of her criminal record ‘just in case’. Since launching her programme she has helped empower dozens of girls, and speaking out about her past has helped her reclaim the shame that consumed her for so many years. Her final statement ‘and still I rise…’ was met by a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.
We cried at…
The Women on the Move Awards. The awards are held every year at the festival and, as Southbank Centre Artistic Director Jude Kelly MBE says, ‘it wouldn’t be WOW without it’.
The ceremony had four incredible winners, including 17-year-old Yazidi teen Rozin Khalil Hajool, who moved to the UK with her family in 2008 after it became too dangerous to live in Iraq and launched an online petition to help Yazidi women and girls who have been kidnapped by ISIS. The petition has gained over 275,000 signatures and continues to rise.
Sunday Times foreign correspondent Christina Lamb OBE was awarded the Sue Lloyd-Roberts Media Award for her series of articles on refugees in 2016. She has reported from some of the world’s most dangerous hotspots and shared some emotional stories with the audience, which left both Christina and us a little bit tearful to say the least.
Lord Alfred Dubs won the Champion Award for his work championing and winning support for The Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act of 2016, which compelled the UK government to resettle and support unaccompanied refugee children from other countries. Coming to the UK at the age of 6 as one of 669 children who escaped the holocaust, Dubs has spent most of his life being an advocate for refugee rights and continues to fight for the implementation of The Dubs Amendment today.
The final award of the night was given to Eritrean journalist Eden Habtemichael, for her work with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. After seeking refuge in the UK with her daughter in 2004, with only a few words of English and no one to help her, Eden has worked tirelessly to welcome and support asylum seekers and refugees who have lost everything. She also helped establish Refugee Week and hosts a scheme for refugees in Oxford, where she has been named a ‘hero’ by the young people she has helped.
Played the drums with Girls Rock London—an NGO that creates opportunities for women and girls to make music—, took part in the dinahvagina lucky dip and each came away with our very own ceramic clitorises (as you do!), made personalised The Circle placards at the Activism in the Archive corner, made cut-out versions of ourselves for the Globella feminist zine, got Mehndi on our hands at our neighbouring stall Asha Projects, signed a petition at the 50:50 Parliament stand to get better gender balance in Parliament, left a note of love to rape survivors at the My Body Back stall, and bought lingerie from Taylor and Rani which gives back to girls around the world—whether that be with a pair of knickers, sanitary products or a monetary donation—with each purchase.
But most importantly, we met wonderful women who we hope will join The Circle and help us in our mission to empower women around the world and stand up to all forms of discrimination against women.
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.
The Asian Circle celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) at the European premiere of Chalk n Duster, a film starring Shabana Azmi. With this year’s IWD theme of Be Bold for Change, we turned to Chalk n Duster, its fascinating story and an all-star cast, to learn about the commercialisation of the Indian private education system.
The film was screened to a full house at the Regent Street Cinema, in London, on 11 March 2017. The event was organised by Tongues on Fire in partnership with The Asian Circle.
Legendary actress and social and women’s rights activist Shabana Azmi made a special guest appearance to meet the audience and talk about the film. On the topic of International Women’s Day, Shabana said: ‘We live in a patriarchal society and we need to still do a lot more to change attitudes. Men and women are different. Not better or worse. Just different. In the UK charities like The Asian Circle are doing very good work but if all such charities could work as one that would be tremendous’.
The event was organised as part of the London Asian Film Festival, an independent film and arts festival organised by Tongues on Fire that has been showcasing South Asian films since 1999. Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry, Director and Founder of Tongues on Fire and the London Asian Film Festival, and a member of The Asian Circle Executive Board, said that ‘Tongues on Fire champions the rights of Asian women and celebrates South Asian culture’.