Why We Need Better Domestic Violence Legislation

Photo Credit: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Domestic violence is the single biggest killer of women globally. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that of the 187,000 women killed in 2017, over half (58%) were killed by intimate partners or members of their families. Yet domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, extends far beyond the fatal – an estimated 30% of women globally have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. It is clear that domestic violence has long been a global epidemic that requires greater international attention, but as of 2018, over 40 countries still have no laws criminalising intimate partner violence. In 2019, and especially in the wake of the recent 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, it is more critical than ever that we fight for legal protection for victims of domestic violence across the world.

Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is defined by the World Health Organisation as “behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours.” The continued absence of any domestic violence legislation in dozens of countries, including the African nations of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Middle Eastern nations such as Iraq and Syria, can be attributed to a variety of social, cultural and religious factors that differ from country to country. The absence of vital legislation places devastating limits on the support offered to victims of domestic violence in these countries – victims do not have the option to report the crime to the police, to receive support or protection from the police, or to seek punishment for the perpetrator. Importantly, legislation also serves to send a symbolic message to a society that violence is not tolerated. The citizens of these countries suffer in the absence of condemnation of domestic violence from their government, and do not get the chance to benefit from the deterrent effect that laws provide.

Unsurprisingly, human rights organisations and international legal bodies have a lot to say on the global domestic violence epidemic and the critical nature of domestic violence legislation. The landmark United Nations treaty signed in 1979, The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), states that violence against women is a violation of the right to not be “subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The right this refers to is Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, commonly regarded as a global benchmark for human rights standards. The CEDAW document explicitly outlaws violence against women, a group who form a significant proportion of the victims of domestic violence, and has been ratified by 189 states globally.

Violence against women and domestic violence more generally have also been the subject of several UN Resolutions over recent decades – another notable step in the right direction being the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which asserts not only that state actors should refrain from committing violent acts against women, but also that states should take active measures to prevent and punish acts of violence against women in both the public and private sphere.

Yet despite the importance of domestic violence legislation as endorsed by organisations such as the UN, the continued prevalence of domestic violence globally – including within many countries that have laws in place addressing the practice – makes it clear that our current laws simply aren’t enough.

A common issue affecting many states is that while some domestic violence laws are in place in that country, the legal scope of those laws are lacking, and/or law enforcement officers and other relevant bodies don’t fulfil their obligations to prevent and punish domestic violence as set out in their country’s legislation. One country for whom these issues are a reality is Tajikistan, the Central Asian nation that introduced laws regarding domestic violence for the first time in 2013. While this milestone led to positive progress in the area of violence prevention, such as awareness-raising campaigns and the hiring of more specially-trained police staff, reports from Tajikistan indicate that this progress is not nearly enough – domestic violence is vastly underreported in the country, but UN figures still estimate that at least 1 in 5 women and girls were victims of domestic abuse as of 2016. A recent report from Human Rights Watch, a leading international human rights charity, identifies the failure of the Tajik police officials to consistently fulfil their obligations to domestic violence victims, for example by refusing to properly investigate claims of domestic violence, as one factor behind this epidemic. The report also highlights the ineffectiveness of the Tajik law itself, pointing out that the 2013 law doesn’t go as far as to actually criminalise domestic violence but merely makes provisions regarding it. Having ratified CEDAW in 1993, Tajikistan is legally obligated to protect women and girls from domestic violence and to punish perpetrators of such violence – but the Tajik government is continually failing to meet these obligations.

Laws around the world in their current state often let victims down, and in any case legalisation alone isn’t sufficient to protect victims of domestic violence if it is not properly enforced or accompanied by progressions in societal views. Despite this, legislation is still a necessary first step to improving the outlook for domestic violence victims globally. Change in societal attitudes towards domestic violence often occurs before changes in law, but it is only legislation that can formally enshrine the support, protection and punishments associated with domestic violence, which in turn provide a deterrent to potential perpetrators. The causal effect can also flow in the opposite direction, with changes in legislation often accelerating developments in societal attitudes by sending a strong message from the state that certain behaviours are morally unacceptable. Whichever comes first, societal change or legal change, it’s clear from the data that laws make a difference – the average rate of domestic violence in countries with domestic violence laws is 10.8%, compared to 16.7% in countries without such laws.  To make significant progress in tackling domestic violence as a global community, a key step is working to reform legal systems wherever possible rather than operating in spite of them.

While the progress still needed to ensure appropriate criminalisation of domestic violence around the world can be daunting, we cannot forget the array of positive legal developments that have occurred in recent years. In the last decade, 47 economies have introduced new laws on domestic violence, bringing the total number of countries with some form of domestic violence laws to over 140. Scotland saw the introduction of a transformative new law this summer, criminalising psychological, financial and sexual abuse with a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment. In August this year, Italy also welcomed a new law designed to fast-track the investigation of domestic violence reports, which saw a significant increase in the number of reported cases in the first month alone. These new laws,  amongst many others, have been to the benefit of survivors and potential victims of domestic violence across the globe. They show us that the goal of providing adequate protection against domestic violence is a constant and ongoing process, and they provide inspiration for other countries looking for ways to refine and improve the robustness of their domestic violence legislation.

We are entering a new decade, with the target of achieving the UN Global Goals by 2030 within our sights. This importantly includes Goal 5, aimed at achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. As a global community in pursuit of this Goal, we can only hope that the legal standpoint of governments around the world continues to improve in the coming decade, and adequate justice and protection can be given to domestic violence victims globally.

This article was written by Holly. Holly is 23 years old from Hastings, England. Since graduating with a degree in Politics & 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. 


Reporting Rape: How the Justice System is Failing Victims of Violence

Photo credit: Reuters

Violence against women and girls remains one of the most prominent and pressing issues of inequality globally, with at least one in three women around the world becoming a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. In the UK, one in five women have experienced some type of sexual assault, according to official analysis of violent crime figures by the Crime Survey for England and Wales. Despite the fact that the UK comes in at 14th on the Gender Inequality Index (1st being most equal), 173 women were killed at the hands of their partners over the last year and more than 85,000 were raped.

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.

Scotland

Rape Crisis Scotland estimates that one in ten women in Scotland has experienced rape and one in five women in Scotland has had someone try to make them have sex against their will. Furthermore, according to Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2014 collected evidence to suggest people believe that in certain situations women are at least partly to blame if they are raped. Only 58% said a woman who wore revealing clothing on a night out was ‘not at all to blame’ for being raped and 60% said the same of a woman who was very drunk. The survey found that around a quarter of people agreed that ‘women often lie about being raped’. These findings are shocking and indicate a level of blame put on victims of violence that permeates the processes within the criminal justice system.

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Glasgow produced a report on justice journeys and found that while positive experiences were identified, victim-survivors continue to face challenges at each stage of the criminal process. The testimonies described a disparity between survivor expectations and experiences: perceptions of the system being weighted in favour of the accused, that the prosecutor did not adequately represent their interests and a sense of being marginal to the process. None of the victims were given back their personal possessions taken as evidence, an invasive practice in the first place, nor did they know what happened to their items. In addition, some felt that crucial evidence had been overlooked, taken incorrectly, or in some cases not taken at all.

I was made to feel that I was hysterical […] when you’ve been in a domestic abuse situation and these types of men, they tell you you’re hysterical or you’ve got mental health issues or you’re nuts or you’re crazy or you’re a fruitcake. That’s the language they use. So […] when the authorities use it, what does it do? It puts up a brick wall.  – Beth

One could argue that these challenges are not particular to rape cases and that the judiciary system could be confusing and long-winded for those not versed in legal jargon or suffering from anxiety as a result of the crime in question. However, it remains the case that in Scotland and the rest of the UK, courts have consistently low conviction rates for gender-based violence crimes and a system that discourages victim-survivors to come forward. In the instances of the research undergone by University of Glasgow, many have been faced with a lack of respect, information and support within the justice system and under-funded services such as Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis assume must step in and assume responsibility for this support. Overwhelmingly, the services of a counsellor were considered invaluable throughout the judiciary process. The counsellors from services such as Rape Crisis provide emotional support but also detail the process of going to court with victim-survivor in an attempt to prepare them for what can be an intimidating prospect.

With support from The Circle and Chai Day, Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis has been able to extend their drop-in service for survivors and launch The Rosey Project, providing support for young women who are survivors of rape, sexual assault or sexual bullying in response to an increasing demand for services for women aged 13 to 25.

Siyanda and her son, who stayed at the Nonceba Centre after leaving an abusive relationship.

South Africa

The most recent data from the World Health Organisation shows that South Africa’s femicide rate was almost five times higher than the global average in 2016. Despite national outcry from protestors around the country and the #TotalShutdown movement, violence remains high and in recent weeks the media in South Africa has and continues to report stories of victims who have been murdered and attacked. According to the One in Nine Campaign, although 66,000 rapes are reported to the police in South Africa annually, the total number of rapes is much higher and is estimated to be between 600,000-1,650,000; of these, a fraction lead to convictions.

Jackie Nategaal wrote that one of the reasons that the criminal system is ‘failing survivors’ is a pervasive rape culture that still exists. Arguing that victims are often treated dismissively because there is an expectation of, even an inevitability of violence towards women. Amnesty International supports this argument as the Executive Director in South Africa, Shenilla Mohamed, released a statement stating that ‘it is nothing short of a national emergency that femicide and rape rates are increasing countrywide’ and that the first steps for making change would be:

ensuring that police officers are properly trained to sensitively and objectively investigate incidents of gender-based violence … ensure that gender-based violence is taken seriously at every level of the justice system, including by challenging discriminatory stereotypes about victims and survivors.”

Similarly, in a reflection paper from the International Commission of Jurists, it was stressed that although there has been a domestic violence legislation in the country since 1998, there is a lack of implementation of the act in the process of reporting a crime. The paper states that ‘the burden of pursuing a claim falls onto victims who are given documents from the court with the onus to progress these themselves despite their uncertainty in how to do so’.

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.

India

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.

In 2012, the rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi, prompted protests across the country that were demanding huge reform in the criminal justice system to and protect future women across the country. Despite promises by the government to take concrete action, it seems that sexual violence is as common as ever. India’s National Crime Records Bureau reveals that 38,947 cases of rape were registered in 2016 9 increasing by 12.4 from the previous year. World Politics Review has observed that at this rate, ‘a woman is raped in India about every 15 fifteen minutes’ and goes on to state that an estimated 99 percent of rape cases in India go unreported. As in Scotland and South Africa, women do not feel confident and safe in reporting their assault.

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.

A number of sources have described demeaning medico-legal care for survivors of sexual violence, including the ‘two finger test’, in which ‘a doctor notes the presence or absence of the hymen and the size and so-called laxity of the vagina of the rape survivor, to access whether girls and women are “virgins” or “habituated to sexual intercourse”’. Although this practice is now punishable under section 166B of the Indian Penal Code, a Human Rights Watch investigation found that treatment and examination such as this was still occurring in recent cases of serious sexual assault. This practice can be traumatic, particularly for those who have recently suffered rape and sexual assault and seeks to dismiss claims based on supposed sexual history, placing blame on the victim themselves.

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.

Canada

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.

Indigenous women and girls are widely identified as being at particular risk of experiencing various forms of gender-based violence in Canada, including human trafficking. By comparison, an Independent article from last year states that ‘94 per cent of Native American women living in Seattle say they have been raped or coerced into sex at least once in their lifetime’ and The New York Times indicates that ‘indigenous women and girls make up about 4 percent of the total female population of Canada but 16 per cent of all female homicides’. According to ACT, this is due ‘in part to the effects of historical and ongoing colonialism, and the legacies of the residential school system, dispossession of identity and culture, violence, racism, and marginalization.’

Not only are the support services few and far between for these women but the judiciary system is also failing them. In the case of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old girl from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Canada, ‘she was seen by provincial child welfare workers, police officers and healthcare professionals yet within 24 hours she was found dead’. The Times quote her great-aunt Thelma Favel who claimed that “Canada and the system failed Tina at every step”.

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.

All you have to do is invite a few friends, brew a pot of chai and raise funds to make a difference for women around the globe. Head to The Circle’s website for more information and to download your online resources!

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.


Waves: Interview with Jessie Ayles

Photo credit: Waves

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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


Sioned Jones for Inspiring Girls

“I feel really proud of what I’ve achieved and I think that is really good for your self-esteem”

This International Day of the Girl why not do something practical to help young girls around the world? Be part of the Inspiring Girls video hub and share some of your knowledge and experience in a short film. It’s very easy – here’s our CEO, Sioned Jones’ submission!

To find out how to submit your own video follow this link to Inspiring Girls video hub and get recording!

Make sure to tag us in your submissions!

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #DayoftheGirl


Cry Power Podcast

Listen below to catch Annie on the first episode of Hozier’s new podcast series Cry Power in partnership with our friends at Global Citizen. You can listen here!

The Cry Power podcast is hosted by Hozier in partnership with Global Citizen, talking to inspirational artists and activists about how to change the world. In its inaugural episode, Hozier talks with Annie Lennox about why feminism must be inclusive of men; how her personal story of activism is rooted in her family; and how music can make change happen. But it’s not all talk — you can join the Global Citizen movement and take action below to end gender inequality all over the world. Subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Acast now.

“I’m absolutely delighted to be part of ‘#CryPower’ – the brand new ‘Hozier – Global Citizen’ podcast in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Goal Number 5 (Gender Equality) represents the urgent need for transformation and empowerment in every aspect of the lives of millions of women and girls everywhere around the world. From education to protection against gender based abuse and violence. There is a desperate need for #GlobalFeminism everywhere!”

– Annie Lennox

In Global Citizen’s piece on the podcast, James Hitchings-Hales writes “The last time Annie Lennox met Hozier, they were rehearsing a duet together in a Los Angeles hotel room — without yet realising that their shared vision for the world around them stretched further than music.

Years later, the two are in a recording studio across central London, relaxing into a dark leather sofa. They’re talking about how art has often defined activism throughout history — in conversation for the first episode of the Cry Power podcast in partnership with Global Citizen.

“Music defines change,” Lennox says, later pointing to Childish Gambino’s This Is America as a music video that truly woke people up, a moment Hozier agrees is an “arresting piece of work.” He suggests that music can tell the truest stories about human experience: “It’s a real vehicle for the zeitgeist.”

Lennox and Hozier, now close friends, talk for over an hour. The topic: global feminism, pertaining to the fifth of the UN’s Global Goals — achieving gender equality to empower all women and girls. They touch on everything from education and HIV/AIDS, to #MeToo and gender violence. ”

Read the rest of the article here!

#GlobalFeminism


South Africa’s Gender-Based Violence State of Emergency

Uyinene Mrwetyana

I’d like to share a bit about my week as The Circle’s Relationship Manager, as dual South African / British citizen and as an empowered woman lucky enough to be born into a reality seemingly more equal than others. I spend most of my professional time and energy connecting inspiring women to each other and finding ways that they can support some of the most vulnerable women and girls globally. The voices we amplify through The Circle tell stories of injustices that are so far removed from my own life experiences that I desperately want them to not be real. But they are.

The women whose stories we share are more than just statistics, they are women like you and me. I could be her; she could be you. As a member of The Circle, I have found many avenues to transform the shock of these stories and my own denial, grief and anger into activism. This is not enough, but is something, and when connected with the energy and action of the other members and seeing women empowered because we are choosing to do something instead of nothing, that feels like claiming back the power to bring about the change we so desperately need. Outside of work I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by kind, supportive people, who have set high expectations for how we should be as human beings. Professionally and personally people in my life give me space to express my passion for equality, to rant, to cry, to rage and this support is essential to my mental health and wellbeing.

The first week in September 2019 has been a dark one. Media in South Africa has and continues to report stories of victims who were brutally murdered, exposing the epidemic of gender-based violence across the land. Blood of South Africa’s women spilled by men who knew them intimately or not at all. This week the echoing silence of those in power was heard loudly over the lamentations of the people. We have watched as that silence was broken with language blaming the victims for the crimes committed against them. The public lashed back as women and men shared the governments official statement with corrections made in red font, like a learned response from a teacher to a pupil whose work missed the point of the exercise entirely, the only thing missing was a red letter F circled in the top corner.

To many, South Africa represents the most progressive country on the continent. Colonisation instilled the western ideologies and systematic structures as a foundation familiar to tourists from the West. So why shine a light on country with more financial stability that its neighbours? Let’s begin with August 2018. South Africa’s Women’s Day is held on the 8 August and is meant to be a month of celebration of the mothers and daughters of the country in remembrance of the women uprising against the Apartheid Pass Laws in 1956. Instead, thousands of my South Africa sisters halted the empty celebratory tokenisms to unite their voices in protest against the gender-based violence, which currently holds more than half the population hostage to fear and threat of violence, assault and femicide. The #TotalShutdown movement saw uprisings across the country with the clear message #MyBodyNotYourCrimeScene. Fast forward to 1 April 2019, South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa declared that gender-based violence in South Africa as a ‘national crisis’. A declaration was signed with a promise to eradicate the femicide that is taking the lives of South Africa’s women on a daily basis. 2016 data from the World Health Organisation reports that the femicide rate in South Africa was 12.1 per 100,000, almost 5 times higher than the global average of 2.6 per 100,000. In his address to the Nation, Ramaphosa stated that ‘’According to the SAPS Crime Statistics report of 2018, femicide increased by 11% over the last two years,” he told the assembled crowd. “Stats SA reports that 138 per 100,000 women were raped last year, the highest rate in the world.”

Our story continues on 3 September, the date on which the body of a young women, Uyinene Mrwetyana, was found dumped in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Uyinene, a daughter, sister a friend was violently assaulted and raped before being bludgeoned to death with scales at a post office in Cape Town. The horror of crime against a woman who was simply trying to collect a parcel from the Clareinch post office has sparked a national outcry from the people of South Africa . Uyinene’s body was found a mere 15-minute drive from The Circle’s partner project, Nonceba Family Counselling Centre, a refuge for women who are victims of sexual violence and assault. Personally, this fact has hit a nerve for me. I share stories about the women empowered by the life changing work this shelter on a daily basis and our members inspire me with their ideas on how to raise funds essential to continuing this work. Even more importantly, I have heard women tell me personally about how Nonceba has literally saved their lives. Their voices are my beacon of hope this week, knowing that they are reclaiming their lives back from the violence a mere 15 minutes down the road from where Uyinene’s body was found.

I have spilled many tears this week. I have had very difficult, but important conversations with the men in my life, I have listened to the rage of women, and I have grieved for the lives of women taken by men and gender-based violence, especially in South Africa. I took some time yesterday afternoon to cry for the lives lost and those left behind, irrevocably changed forever. I had a cup of tea, put my Relationship Manager hat on and joined a conference call. I listened as members in the USA shared their thoughts with me on how they want to do more to help victims of sex trafficking by supporting our partner project ACT Alberta. Another member reached out to tell me about a series of music events she has lined up to support our projects, one of which will be a Chai Day to raise funds to support victims of gender-based violence. My inbox is full of inspiring ideas and hope from people who are unequivocally demanding change. The women I work with have, without even knowing it, pulled me from my own personal despair this week and I am forever grateful for the connections I have as a member of The Circle.

These glimmers of hope reminded me that in moments of tragedy doing something positive is always better than doing nothing.

So I took action.

I made a donation to Nonceba in the hope that I can help safe another life.

I shared stories of victims with people, in person and online, to help raise awareness and break the taboos.

I signed this petition calling for South Africa’s  parliament to declare gender-based violence as a state of emergency. According to the Change.org petition, the number of women murdered by men in South Africa is approximately 3000 per year, while approximately 50,000 women will experience sexual assault or physical violence per year. By comparison, Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency in February 2019 when the more than 8500 cases of rape were reported in 2018.

I registered to host a Chai Day for The Circle to raise essential funds needed to empower victims of gender-based violence to reclaim their lives and to be part of the movement to raise awareness and end the violence.

I wrote this blog post to share the pain and stories of our global sisters.

Finally, I am asking you to join me in doing something small too, so that our small actions can collectively be part of something powerful and life changing for a woman or girl facing injustices that no human being should have to face.

The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre: Siyanda and her son

#WomenEmpoweringWomen#GlobalFeminism


On the Road to Iran

 

Susan Ferner is a member of The Calgary Circle who has channeled her experience of coming close to traffickers and her subsequent heightened awareness of the issue into a beautiful creative writing piece. Since becoming a member, she has formed The Calgary Circle and focused their attention on addressing the huge issue of sex trafficking within her own country. This piece and the efforts of their circle on the other side of the pond are testament to Susan’s determination to use her own experience to empower other women.

On a warm September evening in 2017, I walked along a single lane highway that led to the border of Iran and took photos of the Zangezur Mountains and Voghi River valley. I had embarked on an off-the-beaten-track trip in Armenia just two weeks prior. Armenia is a tiny Christian country in the Caucasus that boasts home to the oldest churches in the world, with mysterious monasteries dating back to 200 AD. After spending days exploring ancient churches and fortresses, I set out with two friends to discover the more isolated Syunik Region. My friends were at the hotel when I ventured down the road for a short walk, armed only with my camera.

Transport trucks and buses lumbered by sporadically as they wound their way up the mountain pass, confined by a wall of rock on one side and a steep slope on the other. The borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed, but goods pass freely between Russia, Armenia, Georgia and Iran. One hot commodity is women. We had long ago left behind the red neon lights and silhouettes of naked women that adorn the strip clubs in the outskirts of the country’s capital, Yerevan.

The heat of the day had broken and my shadow formed a long black silhouette ahead of me. Engulfed in a dusty haze, the mountains rose up around me. Dead grass swayed back and forth in the breeze along the steep slopes. I heard a car whizz by, followed by the sound of the

engine as it ground into second gear. I turned to watch a white Lada pull a U-turn before a hairpin curve, a blind spot in the road. The car drove slowly back towards me. Dark tinted windows lowered and four men stared hard-eyed at me. They appeared to be in their early twenties. The car came to a dead stop thirty feet down the road. The front passenger, with black hair, fair skin and dark eyes, got out of the car and walked slowly towards me. He tugged on his cock, unexposed, and called, “Russa?”

“Nyet Canada.” I yelled. I backed away quickly and faced the man.

“Russa!”

“NO! Canada.”

“Russa!” he insisted.

“CANADA. AMERICA.”

My heart raced. My mind was clear. These men thought that I was Russian. A prostitute. Fair game. Then the driver got out of the car and walked slowly towards me. “Russa! We police. You come here!”

I knew the police in Armenia did not look anything like him. I also knew that sometimes pimps pretend to be the police to frighten women to come closer. “Fuck off! Fuck you!” I screamed.

My heart pounded. I ran across the road, seized a large rock on the side of the highway and hurled it in the direction of the driver. It fell purposely short of my target. I picked up another and winged it closer to his feet. I grabbed a third and sprinted back across the highway.

I faced the two men and felt the heavy weight of the rock in my hand, ready to launch it. Surprised, the driver stopped. Angry, the passenger cursed me. “Bitch!”

“Fuck off! Go away. STAY AWAY,” I yelled.

Silence. The men looked me up and down. Was that the sound of a motor in the distance? I was not sure, but maybe that is why they got back into their car. As they drove away, an uncontrollable wave of anger slammed into me. Furious, I raised my camera and zoomed in. I took two photos. One of the driver’s profile with a sneer on his face and his third finger raised high in the air. And one of the license plate. Brakes slammed. Doors flung open. The passenger in the front seat jumped out and came straight at me.

My mind was focused on one thing, and that was getting away alive. I distinctly remember thinking that I am not ending my life in Armenia. I rested my hand on the highway guardrail and leapt over it. I hunched down low and – half running, half skiing – slid down the steep slope. I did not look up until I moved into deeper brush and thorny bushes, fiercely seeking a place to hide. I scanned the top of the slope and guard rail. No one. I scoured the brush. The men were nowhere to be seen.

I had one hour to get off the mountain before dark.

Calm down. Breathe. Think! Which way to go? The steep climb back up was not an option, the white Lada might be waiting for me further along the highway. I had no choice but to angle further down towards the town. My steps were firm and deliberate. I did not want to trip and fall into the empty space – the void – that lay between the top of the bushes and the ground below. My pace slowed as I struggled through the brambles and stinging nettles. I thrashed along as red welts and deep gashes appeared on my hands and legs and ankles. At last, I saw signs of civilization. The rails of an abandoned railroad gleamed red in the failing sunlight. I followed the tracks which led me to an isolated cemetery. The graves were marked by the somber portraits of men and women, their faces etched into the granite and star at me. They reminded me of the eyes of those four men in the white Lada. Dispassionate and cold.

This was not the place for me.

I continued through the cemetery and followed a rough dirt road that led to the outskirts of town. I heard shouts of laughter from children who played in the streets. Three young girls and a boy chased a dog and threw small rocks at it. I slowed down and passed by row upon row of heavy grey Soviet-style apartments. Apart from a few Toyota trucks, all I saw were white Ladas, but no sign of the four men. I am not sure if I would have recognized them. The entire episode on the side of the road felt like an eternity, but I believe it all happened in less than four minutes.

Seated on the plaid sofa in our hotel room, my friends turned pale as I recounted my story. My arms and legs were dirty, scratched and bloody. Peter looked grim, and gave me a long hug and said, “Those bastards.” Sonia could not believe that I jumped the guardrail. “I would freeze,” she said.

Years ago, I said, I read a story in the Globe about a woman who was forced into a car, repeatedly raped and then murdered. The RCMP say that if you think someone is going to attack you, swear and scream and throw things. An attacker is looking for someone who freezes. He does not want a fight. He wants an easy target. And anyone who wants to drag you

into a car is going to do terrible things, so it’s best to fight and run. Even if he has a gun. Run! It’s hard to shoot a moving target. I never forgot that article.

Although friends at home questioned why I walked alone on the road to Iran, neither Sonia or Peter wondered why. We had been told that Armenia is safe for tourists, a new frontier for backpackers and travelers. Until that moment on the road, I had experienced only gracious and generous hospitality from the local people. It was not too late in the day nor was it too dark. I may be a seasoned traveler, but perhaps I was naïve in this case? Or perhaps it was just bad luck.

We went to the local station and a serious policeman looked over the photographs and noted the license plate. Twenty hours later, the same policeman informed me that he had visited the “boys” that evening and it was all a cultural mistake. He said that the boys thought that I was Russian. They were young and drunk and stupid. The policeman reminded me that Armenia is a safe country and things like this never happen here. Then he said, “This can happen anywhere in the world, can’t it?”

“Yes,” I said. “It can.”

“Did you really throw rocks at them?”

“Yes, I did.”

“What do you want to do now?” he asked.

“Do now?”

Surprised, I stopped to think. In Canada, I would not press charges because there is no case. The men approached me, I swore and yelled at them, the situation escalated, but they did not touch me. I kept my distance, threw rocks, jumped the guard rail and scrambled down the mountain. In my mind, there was no legal battle and even if according to an Armenian law there was a case, it was my word against theirs.

“Nothing,” I said. “I don’t want to do anything. I’m leaving Armenia in a few days and I won’t be coming back for a court case.”

It was only later that I learned from an Armenian friend that prostitutes walk the roads and highways. The prostitutes are Russians. Girls and women who are baited with the promise of work and opportunities and lured away from Russia. They are transported thousands of miles away from home. Enroute and in the new country, they are repeatedly raped, beaten and threatened by pimps who lock them into rooms and brothels and put them on the streets and highways.

When I arrived back in Canada, one thing struck me. Viscerally. I have the freedom to yell and swear and run. I can hurl rocks and I can howl. But the girls and teens and women who are trafficked out of Russia do not have that freedom. They cannot run, and if they flee, where will they go? A Russian woman on the side of the highway has no choice but to climb into that car with four drunk men because a pimp is holding a gun to her head.

A few weeks after I got home, a friend at work told me a story. His wife’s friend, Claire was shopping at Market Mall with her 15-year-old daughter, Emily. They were eating at the food court and Emily went to the washroom. Claire waited and waited. Emily was taking a long

time, so Claire went to check on her. She found the teen slumped semi-unconscious between two women.

“What’s the matter”?

“Oh nothing,” one of the women replied. “Our friend is sick and we are taking her outside.”

“Your friend? Sick?? That’s my daughter!”

The women dropped Emily and ran. Claire later learned from the police that abductions happen in Calgary and across Canada. She also learned that a teenage girl has a street value of $260,000 a year to a pimp and an organized crime ring.

Late in October of that year, I saw a young Indigenous girl on the downtown streets of Calgary on a cold rainy night. She was on the corner of an intersection with an older man. The traffic light glowed neon red on the wet pavement. The man walked between a few cars and panhandled until the light turned green. The girl waited on the sidewalk. Feeling utterly useless, I drove off. Then I pulled over about a block away and stopped. I paused. Then I called 911. After I explained the situation, the woman on the emergency line asked me if I thought the girl was in imminent danger? Was she being prostituted?

“I don’t know,” I said. “All I know is that it is late at night and the girl is so young, only about thirteen. She seems excited to be there, wide eyed and innocent. She’s not tough and beaten up. She’s alone with a man who is in his forties. It’s a rough corner. So yes, I think that she is in imminent danger.”

The 911 operator promised to send a car over. As I drove away, I thought about how the girl should be at home, sleeping, and going to school the next day. She would be in Grade 7. I have no idea if that phone call made any difference. All I know is that the policeman in Armenia was right, sex slavery is happening everywhere in the world, hundreds of thousands of miles away. And right here in Canada. Just a few kilometers down the road from home.

If you are feeling inspired by Susan then click here to find out more about becoming a member!

This short story was written by Susan Ferner. Susan presently works in the areas of stakeholder engagement and social impact assessments for industrial developments in Canada and around the world, which have a human rights component. Susan started her career in the late 1980’s with a focus on women’s equality and poverty alleviation. When Susan joined The Circle in 2017, she felt that she was coming back ‘full circle’ to where she started – devoting time and energy to join like-minded women to address the brutal reality of the human rights violations that women suffer, including gender discrimination, domestic violence, rape, sex trafficking and poverty. In her spare time, Susan is happiest hiking to the top of a mountain, snorkeling in the sea and dancing to classic rock.

 

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #WidenYourCircle


Interview with Hoda Ali

“Whatever you do, please don’t turn away and pretend we don’t exist. And don’t, for one second, think it couldn’t have been you.”

We interviewed human rights activist Hoda Ali about what it means to be a refugee working in the UK.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

My name is Hoda Ali and I am a nurse and human rights activist. My focus is defending the rights of girls through campaigning to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in the United Kingdom. FGM is one of the most extreme forms of violence against girls and women. It involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia and has devastating lifelong consequences for survivors. FGM is usually carried out on girls before they reach puberty. It is child abuse.

I currently lead a 3-year project working as a Community Outreach Project Manager for Safeguarding in Perivale Primary School, one of the first schools to set up an outreach programme on FGM. Education is critical in preventing FGM and through our outreach programme we educate in the school and run workshops for parents and the wider community. The feedback is overwhelmingly positive, and we are working together to ensure the safety of all the girls in our schools.

My passion for human rights comes from my own experience as a survivor of FGM and being a child refugee. In 1988 my family had to flee from its home when the first civil war broke out in Somaliland and 1991 after the second civil war started in Mogadishu, we had to leave Somalia. Eventually, I came to the UK and I have now lived here for 21 years.

After qualifying as a nurse, I worked in the sexual health clinic at Ealing hospital and after taking part in the Channel 4 documentary The Cruel Cut in 2012 I started campaigning against FGM. In 2013 I co-founded the Vavengers, an FGM awareness-raising group and we ran the first anti-FGM billboard campaign in the UK.

In March 2018 I was nominated as an Amnesty International Human Rights Defender and I was honoured to be included on the Suffragette Spirit Map.

This month we are focusing on women in conflict; from displaced peoples to the women working in conflict zones as journalists and medics. How can we be more aware of their experiences?

It can be easy to rush through life, focusing on our personal priorities and not taking time to think about life from another person’s perspective. In a country like the UK it can be hard to imagine suddenly losing everything, but it is the reality for millions of people whose lives are torn apart by war, famine or other disasters. Women and children are especially vulnerable in all conflicts and suffer terribly. Try and think about if that was you, imagine leaving everything you know behind, your country, your home, your friends, your school and everything familiar. These things are gone forever, and you no longer feel safe. What would you do? Who would you turn to for help?

We should all try to be more aware of what is happening in the world and pay attention to the stories of those living in or escaping from war zones. Follow the work of journalists who go to the refugee camps and allow the voices of the injured and homeless to be heard. When you hear the heart-breaking personal stories and not just the political posturing of warring leaders you start to understand what war really means.

If you are lucky to live in safety and prosperity, treasure it and use your advantaged position to support those who need your empathy and help.

Can you tell us a little bit about the challenges that refugees face whilst living in the UK?

Leaving everything behind in one life and beginning another in a new country with different laws, different education and health systems, different languages and different cultural expectations is frightening and requires a period of adjustment.

For people who seek refugee status the process is one of the most difficult things they go through due to the circumstances under which they leave their home country. It is administratively complicated and can feel dehumanising and many refugees are deeply traumatised, so this difficult process is even more challenging.

One of the worst things is feeling isolated. Refugees may be separated from family and friends and everything around them is unfamiliar. Communication may be difficult or even impossible due to language barriers and this makes integrating into a new community very hard. Food, clothes and all the daily things we take for granted seem strange and can get overwhelming when you are suddenly in a new country.

There is also a lot of ignorance and racism towards refugees. It is exhausting and soul destroying to have to constantly justify yourself. Settled refugees contribute greatly to their new homes but this is rarely acknowledged.

Being a refugee is especially hard for children. You lose everything including your sense of safety and may be separated from your parents which has a huge psychological impact. Many refugee children also have interrupted education and need support to catch up. However, given security and support most go on to shine!

If you could share one thing with our supporters, what would it be?

Some days, just hearing the news makes it hard to breathe. Like everyone else, I want to shut my ears whenever the word refugee is mentioned. Switch stations on the radio; turn off the TV and pretend it isn’t happening. But unlike most people, I can’t. You see, I know what war is. The words ‘bombs’ and ‘massacre’ are not something I’ve only ever heard in the news. I am a refugee and I always will be.

While EU Governments debate whether to give shelter and to how many, my hope lies in people. Everyone can help. There are things we can change in the long-term, and we have the resources to respond immediately to help those in crisis now. Write to your MEP/MP and tell them the UK has a responsibility to offer sanctuary. If we stay silent it is assumed that we don’t want to help refugees so do not let them think that you don’t care. Write to the papers and the BBC whenever you hear the word ‘migrant’ being used to describe those fleeing war. Tell them the word is ‘refugee.’ Tell them words matter when people’s lives are at stake.

Whatever you do, please don’t turn away and pretend we don’t exist. And don’t, for one second, think it couldn’t have been you.

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism


Annie Lennox for The Times

Rarely does a moment occur when, as an activist, I sense that seismic change might be in the air. This week will be one of those moments. I’m writing to say that we must seize it.

“I have spent years campaigning on social justice issues concerning the rights of women and girls. I feel driven by the conviction that it is essential to try, with the hope that with collective effort, things can be improved — while motivated by a combination of outrage and empathy .

But rarely does a moment occur when, as an activist, I sense that seismic change might be in the air. This week will be one of those moments. I’m writing to say that we must seize it.”

Annie Lennox calls on governments to take action against sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. You can read the full article here: Annies Lennox Times article 20 June

#GlobalFeminism #WomenEmpoweringWomen