The pandemic has forced thousands more women into dangerous circumstances. Many are locked in with an abusive partner, others are at risk of violence as they lose their jobs overnight, and young girls are at increasing risk of child marriage.
During the many years I’ve worked in this sector I have had the privilege of spending time with women and girls across the world. From Bangladesh to the Democratic Republic of Congo to Guatemala, I have heard first-hand accounts of violence and exploitation. Knowing that the pandemic is accelerating these dangers for so many women is something we simply can’t ignore.
The statistics tell a frightening story
The UN estimate there will be 15 million more cases of domestic violence worldwide for every 3 months of lockdown
South Africa has the highest rate of rape in the world with 132.4 incidents per 100,000 people. According to a survey conducted by the South African Medical Research Council, approximately one in four men surveyed admitted to committing rape.
This year the UK saw a 25% rise in phone calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline and police were called out to a domestic violence situation every 3 minutes.
But together we can make a difference – through our Big Give Christmas appeal 2020
We urgently want to raise funds for our incredible partner projects who are working tirelessly on the frontline.
At the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre which provides shelter for women in Khayelitsha, a township near Cape Town in South Africa, women and girls who have survived domestic violence or been victims of human trafficking, are offered a place to stay, counselling, legal support and access to healthcare and victim empowerment groups. Your donation will help meet increased demand and allow women and girls to stay in safety.
Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis provides free and confidential support to girls and women suffering from rape, sexual assault and sexual violence. Your donation will help fund their services so they can respond to the growing numbers of women and girls who need them.
£10 could provide an hour of online support and counselling for a survivor of violence.
£25 could provide ten days safe refuge for a survivor of violence.
By donating to our Big Give Christmas appeal – from 12pm 1st December 2020 to 12pm 8th December– your donation will be doubled. That means double the support to help women and girls who rely on our partner projects.Your donationwill mean thousands more women and girls have a lifeline, a counsellor to talk to, a service to find safety in, and a friend. They can’t wait, which is why together we must act now to give the gift of safety.
The Circle is all about solidarity. Women empowering women
These findings are clearly abhorrent, but it does beg the question, if the Home Secretary is so appalled at these conditions in the UK, then why aren’t the Government acting with the same force on those brands working transnationally?
Fashion brands outsource their manufacturing to source globally cheap labour, production is moved to wherever the labour is cheapest. Poorer countries compete against each other for the investment of garment production, selling the labour of the most vulnerable in their society for a price at which they cannot sustain decent lives. Workers’ rights and wages are squeezed to ensure the highest profits for retailers. This is a globally sanctioned system of exploitation that we know is happening yet continue to facilitate. Why are these conditions and wages unacceptable in Leicester, but an unfortunate bi-product of capitalism in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia or Indonesia? It cannot be one rule for ‘us’ and another rule for ‘them’. Fundamental human rights are the same for all humans and need to be upheld across the board with the same rigour.
According to the Clean Clothes Campaign’s report False Promises: Migrant Workers in the Global Garment Industry “the lack of legal protection is at the root of much of the exploitation faced by migrant workers.” These workers are particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of workplace exploitation and The Circle has recently made emergency grants to garment workers in Bangladesh who had been abandoned by retailers who cancelled orders and refused to pay wages; many of whom were migrant workers who were excluded from even the most limited government aid during the Covid-19 crisis. In the UK too, the Government have come under intense scrutiny for the exclusion of migrant women from services and protections offered by the Domestic Abuse Bill that will be discussed today. Allowing systems that exploit the most marginalised members of society, whether that is in the UK or abroad, erodes the standards of basic human rights.
Debbie Coulter warned that multinational fashion companies “act with such impunity it is quite frightening” and we have seen during the Covid-19 crisis that brands have not upheld the rights of their workers, have refused to honour their contracts with suppliers, and yet seem to have emerged unscathed. The fashion industry cannot be a special case and now, more than ever, there is an urgent need to establish legislative change that will ensure a Living Wage for garment workers globally; from Leicester to Dhaka to Phnom Penh. Click here find out more about The Circle’s Living Wage work.
Article written by Anna Renfrew, Projects and Communications Officer at The Circle.
While the implementation of lockdowns across the globe have successfully prevented even greater rates of infection and death, they unfortunately bring with them an unintended, deadly consequence – an increase in domestic violence. An upsurge in violence has been reported in all corners of the globe: in Hubei, the Chinese province at the epicentre of the original outbreak, domestic violence reports rose by over 300% during February.In Malaysia and Lebanon, calls to hotlines have doubled on the previous year. A recent report by the United Nations Population Fund explores the recognised increase in domestic violence cases since the onset of lockdown around the world, stating the primary reason for increased rates of violence as the simple fact that stay-at-home orders and restrictions on movement increase women’s exposure to violent partners. An increased amount of time in the presence of an abuser increases the likelihood that a victim will be subject to a violent attack.
The economic pressure felt in households worldwide resulting from COVID-related involuntary unemployment, reduced salaries and redundancies also contributes to this phenomenon, as financial stress increases incidences of domestic violence. Nearly 60% of women globally are employed in service industries (such as childcare, retail and hospitality) and countless numbers in the informal economy, which are disproportionately affected by current restrictions due to the difficulty of fulfilling such roles remotely. In South Africa, over one third (35.9%) of women who are employed are employed informally. This means women are uniquely impacted by the economic consequences of COVID. This loss of financial security decreases a woman’s economic independence, further reducing their freedom from violent partners and giving them even fewer resources with which to flee a setting of violence.
The increased strain on domestic violence support services is another factor contributing to this ‘second pandemic’ in countries around the world. Lockdown measures and transport restrictions reduce the ability of domestic violence workers to physically meet survivors, or for survivors to access friends and family who act as their support networks. Domestic violence shelters and meeting spaces have in some cases been shut down or repurposed as intensive care clinics or homelessness shelters, with technical issues and staff illness further reducing their capacity to assist victims.
Secondly, the strict nature of lockdown rules in South Africa mean that it is more difficult for victims to report cases and some women are simply unable to do so, meaning the reported number is highly likely to be an underestimate of the true figures. Restrictions on movement outside of the home mean women intending to report abuse or flee may have no valid excuse to give their abuser for leaving the house, and as highlighted earlier, they may be unable to seek refuge in a shelter or other safe space due to those spaces being repurposed or temporarily shut down. Fear of harsh punishment if caught breaching lockdown regulations by one of the 25,000 security personnel enforcing the policy may also deter women from seeking help outside the home. Within the home, many women may now be spending 24 hours a day in the presence of their abuser, rendering it often impossible to make phone calls seeking help or reporting abuse. While some NGOs are striving to establish online and text message services and national hotlines remain open, this only partially mitigates the problem. Intimate partner violence has always been a grossly underreported crime, with a reporting rate of under 40% before COVID-19, so reporting may be far below 40% now due to the unique difficulties presented by lockdown measures. In recognition of this dilemma, the United Nations has stated that “in the case of restricted movement and limited privacy, women are finding it difficult to phone for help. So, the likelihood is that even these figures represent only a fraction of the problem.”
Earlier this month South Africa implemented the first relaxation of its lockdown measures to a ‘level three’ response, sending an estimated 8 million people (of a population of 58 million) back to work. There are hopes that this will provide some respite for domestic violence victims, allowing them more time away from their abuser and a better chance to contact support networks if they or their abuser are now returning to work. Domestic violence services will also benefit from an increased capacity to help victims, but the resumption of sales of alcohol from June 1st as part of this first phase of relaxation casts doubt upon whether the safety of women in South Africa will improve as a result of these measures. One thing that is certain is the importance of South Africa, and all other countries, ensuring they employ and prioritise a gender-responsive strategy within their COVID-19 responses for the duration of the pandemic. If they fail to do so, and instead choose to de-prioritise gender-based violence during this crucial time, the overall indirect death toll from COVID-19 will be much, much higher.
This article was written by Holly. Holly is 23 years old from East Sussex, England. Since graduating with a degree in Politics and Economics in 2018 she has worked and volunteered in Africa and Asia and is currently living in China. Her interests include human rights, international security and development.
Non-essential retail shops in England re-opened today and garment retailers including Primark, TK Maxx and Nike were met with long queues of eager shoppers. Although for many this will signal the beginning of the end in terms of the UK’s nearly three-month lockdown, for the workers who produce our clothing, the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic will be long lasting.
We have seen many brands and retailers abandon their suppliers in time of need, as clothing orders dwindled and factories in large garment producing countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia, were forced to close. Although some brands have made commitments to pay workers for orders already fulfilled, many have shown a complete disregard for the rights and livelihoods of the most vulnerable in their supply chain and some point blank refused to pay, including Kohl’s who used force majeure clauses in contracts to avoid paying for clothing already made and ready to ship. We cannot forget their actions and fall back into our old consumer driven behaviours. Now is the time for change.
Now more than ever, we are examining the inequalities that persist throughout our society and nowhere is that more apparent than in the garment industry. Of the some 74 million textile workers worldwide an estimated 80% are women, many of whom are women of colour, single and migrants. In Pakistan, it has been predicted that 1 million workers will lose their jobs as a result of the crisis and in Bangladesh some 2.27 million workers have been affected by cancelled orders. Many of these workers are young women who are often the family’s primary breadwinner. For them, and for all those employed in the fast fashion industry, the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic must not be forgotten.
Now more than ever is the time to introduce legal mechanisms that will protect these workers from weak contractual agreements that have been exposed over the last few months, poverty wages that do not allow them to save for periods of uncertainty, and unsafe working conditions that put their lives at risk.
The Circle has provided grants to partners in Bangladesh to provide immediate emergency relief to garment workers and their families who have been left destitute, but core to our work is the goal of building robust legal frameworks to ensure that these women can work with the dignity and rights that they are entitled to. With The Lawyers Circle, we are advocating for the fundamental right of a living wage to be introduced for garment workers by bringing about legislation that will ensure that a living wage is paid by fashion brands to the millions of women and men in their global supply chains. This legislation is vital to prevent further poverty as global economies move into recession.
“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!
Photo credit: Annie Lennox and Janice Forsyth on stage during An Evening of Music and Conversation
“This felt like Glasgow was the locus for an international event”
Janice Forsyth and journalist Paul English discuss Annie Lennox: An Evening of Music and Conversation at SEC Armadillo on BBC Sounds, speaking to audience members from all over the world and recalling highlights of the night. The Circle are so incredibly grateful to Annie, the audience and everyone who was involved in the running of this spectacular event.
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 Apple, Spotify, 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. ”
This month The Circle are focusing on raising awareness of ethical and sustainable concerns within the fast fashion industry. The #SecondHandSeptember campaign being led by Oxfam is something that we are supporting: promoting the importance of vintage and charity shopping as a stand against fast fashion and the poor conditions and pay of workers in the garment industry.
2019 has seen some incredible activism take place on issues concerning the industry. We have seen some powerful strikes and protests on the streets whilst also seeing some moving and alarming documentaries which are showing just how much of a crisis we are in. In April 2019 I wrote an article called ‘Who Made Your Clothes?’ in which I mention Livia Firth’s important argument about the complicated issue of not wanting to buy into the fast fashion industry, whilst also being aware of the fact that many women and girls earn their living from it. We need our governments to start recognising ways of tackling this complicated crisis.
“Activism works…see you on the streets” – Greta Thunberg, September 2019 Ambassadors of Conscience Awards
Second Hand September is all about encouraging consumers to rethink their perspective on the fashion industry by asking questions such as “Where and how was this t-shirt made?” How was it transported? What affect did the transport of this item have on our planet?” . One question leads onto another. The more questions we start asking, the more complicated they become. We find that we cannot find all of the answers because of lack of transparency and this is where it becomes deeply worrying. Not only are workers dying as a result of this industry, but also young children who are living amongst the waste that we have created and developing health issues such as cancer because of it.
This month we have seen millions of people across the world strike, protest and campaign about climate change. Over the past few years we have also seen people standing in solidarity against unethical practices of the fast fashion industry as well as brilliantly made whilst upsetting documentaries which expose them. Carry on reading to find out about these incredible campaigns and people who are taking action. Be inspired to also take action in your everyday life.
On Friday 20th September 2019 millions of people around the world protested the fact that although a climate emergency has been declared, our governments are not responding. So, like Greta, passionate advocates for saving our planet took to the streets. The Guardian called it the ‘biggest climate protest ever’. For the first time adults were asked to join and this led to people leaving their work places, including doctors and nurses. Education chiefs in New York City allowed the 1.1 million children the chance to ‘attend the climate strike and hear Thunberg speak at a rally at the United Nations headquarters.’ Every person on the planet is being called to action and we need to respond.
Photo credit: Film still from The True Cost
“Poverty wages, long hours, forced overtime, unsafe working conditions, sexual, physical and verbal abuse, and repression of trade union rights are all commonplace” – Labour Behind the Label
Labour Behind the Label are challenging the ethical side of fast fashion and they are the ‘the only UK campaign group that focuses exclusively on labour rights in the global garment industry.’ They are dedicated to holding brands accountable for their lack of transparency. This incredible campaign endeavours to form international solidarity. One of the amazing things they have done has been to push UK retailers to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Labour Behind the Label is physically changing peoples’ lives. Another important part of their work are the reports that they research and publish which is vital for ensuring that we hear the truth.
Many incredible campaigns and documentaries are challenging the fast fashion industry and revealing its corrupt and hidden secrets. On 18th September 2019 a documentary called Breaking Fashion aired on BBC Three. The series follows the company In The Style who launch a collection every two weeks in collaboration with fashion influencers. The CEO Adam Frisby states that he likes to challenge anyone who says fast fashion is unsustainable. As the episode unfolded, we witness the problems that the fast fashion industry is criticized for, as being fundamental parts to how this company operates. For example, needing their factory in China to produce a size 12 product and fly it across the world in 48 hours is highlighting issues such as air pollution and the amount of plastic packaging required. What is more, who are the garment workers? We know that clothing is made in both Chinese and UK factories but what are the factory conditions like? What materials are used? If companies like In The Style want to challenge the criticism that the fast fashion industry receives then they need to show more transparency in the manufacturing process. Refinery 29 support this as Jazmin Kopotsha quoted Frisby “When people think fast fashion, that it means it’s not sustainable and it means they don’t care, I like to challenge that,” Adam tells the camera. Kopotsha then argues “In the first episode at least, it’s not explicitly clear how In The Style does so.” How can it be possible for fast fashion and sustainability to work in harmony?
Producing clothing fast means something has to give. Manufacturers don’t want to shut down or raise their prices. So, ultimately, that something is a human life. Andrew Morgan, director of the film The True Cost (2015) states that “cutting corners and disregarding safety measures had become an accepted part of doing business” until the Rana Plaza collapse. The footage of the collapse is harrowing to watch and shines a serious light on the hidden and corrupt side of fast fashion. People were saying that they could still hear screaming underneath the rubble. They were crying out for help. Lucy Siegle, one of three Executive Producers of the film asks us to question why these businesses are not able to support human rights “whilst generating these tremendous profits[…]Is it because it doesn’t work properly? That is my question.”
“The whole system begins to feel like a perfectly engineered nightmare for the workers trapped inside of it.” – Andrew Morgan
If you would like to learn more about fast fashion, please read further into the following and be inspired by the collective voice of fast fashion activists and campaigns striving to make their governments listen.
Some of the people to follow:
– Livia Firth, one of the Founders of The Circle and Eco-age and Executive Producer of The True Cost.
– Lucy Siegle, Journalist and author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?
– Greta Thunberg, Climate Activist
– Vandana Shiva, Environmental Activist and author
– Tansy Hoskins, author of Stitched Up
– Stacy Dooley, BBC documentary Fashion’s Dirty Secrets
This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is an intern for The Circle. Georgia is a recent English graduate and is passionate about women’s rights and the underlying issues in the fast-fashion industry.
“I remember in primary school being taken into a separate room along with the rest of the girls to talk about periods whilst the boys did something else. No wonder it is seen as a taboo subject and no wonder men are not at ease talking about it!”
Sophia is a member of The Circle and a GP based in London. She’s been involved in organising our upcoming Menstruation Matters event!
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I am a GP based near London Bridge who also works in Medical Aesthetics and Sports Medicine.
Why did you decide to become a member of The Circle?
The ethos of The Circle fits in with the kind of difference I want to make as a Global Feminist. Initially it was a charity I only donated to but then I was invited to join a group of members with a shared interest in healthcare to set up a new circle. Over the coming weeks, I will be getting involved with the launch of The Healthcare Circle as one of the co- chairs which I am super excited about!
How are you involved with the upcoming Menstruation Matters event and what has that been like?
I am working with a very inspirational group of women in planning the Menstruation Matters event. We are all volunteers on this project and all in full time jobs, so it has been challenging! However it has been great to meet the other members and work together for a common goal and for something we all truly believe in.
Why do you think the work of Irise International is so important?
So many of my young female patients in London don’t know enough about their menstrual cycle, or are worried about their periods and fertility. It is sad that even in the UK, it is not commonly talked about and women are not fully enlightened about something that is normal human physiology.. I remember in primary school being taken into a separate room along with the rest of the girls to talk about periods whilst the boys did something else. No wonder it is seen as a taboo subject and no wonder men are not at ease talking about it! Periods, fertility , childbirth etc are the essence of life- literally! There should be no myths, no stigma and no embarrassment surrounding it. This is why I strongly support and admire the work Irise International do. It is sad to think that women in Uganda are not living normal lives because of misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding their periods. Education is key and the most valuable asset anyone can have.
If you would like to attend our Menstruation Matters event this month then book your ticket here. Events like this just wouldn’t happen without our wonderful members. They are truly the lifeblood of The Circle!
As the women’s rights movement pushes forward, internationally acclaimed singer, songwriter, performer and Human Rights activist Annie Lennox and the NGO she founded, The Circle, have partnered with Apple Music for a Global International Women’s Day initiative launched today.
Together with Sammy Andrews and her team at Deviate Digital, they have created a short film in support of Global Feminism, an umbrella term inclusive of all approaches to women’s equality.
To help her, Annie has drawn support from some of the biggest names in music, film and beyond, including Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Richard E Grant, Emeli Sande, Hozier, Richa Chadha, Eddie Izzard, Gwendoline Christie, Farhan Akhtar, Beverley Knight and Mary J Blige. Watch and share the short film below:
While we celebrate and acknowledge the advancement in women rights over the past 100 years, we must make sure it’s inclusive for all. The short film aims to highlight the injustices still experienced by millions of women and girls the world over – from misogyny, rape and violence to pay disparity.
Every woman and girl, no matter where they live, no matter the colour their skin, no matter what religious faith, no matter what – MUST have access to the same basic human rights. Global Feminists believe in equality of rights, with empowerment and justice made available for every woman and girl in every corner of the world.
Annie Lennox:“Disempowerment creates an appalling way of life for millions of women and girls around the world. While physical or sexual violence affects one in three women, and two thirds of the world’s 757 million adults who cannot read or write are women … these are only two on a long list of disparity and injustice. We cannot ignore the fact that feminism must have a global reach.”
“At a time when there seems to be so much polarity and division in the world, the term ‘global feminism’ offers an opportunity for people from every walk of life, colour of skin, gender or sexual orientation to understand and identify with the bigger global picture. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder in support of human rights, justice and equality for women and girls everywhere in the world, especially in countries where they are not even near the lowest rung of the ladder.”
Rachel Newman (Apple Music Global Head of Editorial): “Annie Lennox is not only one of the most prolific women in music, but one of the most dedicated and passionate women’s rights advocates of our time. Her efforts to better this world are truly inspiring and her impact is undeniable. This International Women’s Day we are thrilled and honored to support this incredible artist and share her message of #globalfeminism with our global audience.”
Sioned Jones (Executive Director, The Circle): “Global Feminism is at the heart of what we do as we strive for a more equal and fairer world for women and girls. On this International Women’s Day having a chance to remind us all of the huge inequalities and injustices that remain for millions of women and girls across the globe is important in ensuring no one is left behind in being able to realise their basic human rights. We thank Annie, Apple Music and all the contributors who have given up their time and support to this film and we all stand together as Global Feminists.”
Share your own #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist on social media and tag @thecirclengo and Annie Lennox!