What We’re Reading: April

Image: Stylist

Each month, we’ll tell you what we’ve been reading at The Circle to get you feeling engaged, informed, and inspired by the global rights movement.  You might find an interview, a long read, a novel, or just a short news update – so, here is our round up for May!

She Said – Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey 

 On 5 October 2017, the New York Times published an article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey that helped change the world. Kantor and Twohey out-maneuvered Harvey Weinstein, his team of defenders and private investigators, convincing some of the most famous women in the world – and some unknown ones – to go on the record. Three years later, it led to his conviction. She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Defined a Movement, is a gripping account of this story, but more interestingly, an examination of the structures that allowed Weinstein to repeat the same violence over and over, seemingly unscathed.  

Live-blog: How the Coronavirus affects garment workers in supply chains – Clean Clothes Campaign 

This blog collects daily information about how the new Coronavirus COVID-19 is influencing garment workers’ rights in supply chains around the world. It is updated daily as new information comes in from media and the Clean Clothes Campaign global network. 

Displaced and stateless women and girls at heightened risk of gender-based violence in the coronavirus pandemic 

The UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) published an article on 20 April 2020 about the effect that coronavirus is having on victims of domestic abuse around the world. UNHCR explain that isolation policies mean that there is less movement, and this increases the risk of intimate partner violence. Young women “may be forced into survival sex or child marriages by their families.” UNHCR explain what they are doing to support women and girls.  

Frame of Mind 

On 6 April 2020 Alice Aedy launched Frame of Mind which is a platform aiming to celebrate incredible female storytellers in documentary film, photography, journalism and writing. Aedy is a documentary photographer, filmmaker and activist focusing on migration, women’s rights and environmental issues. The focus will be about how female storytellers have explored social issues and created social change. Aedy shared a shocking fact from the New York Times that it is estimated only 0.5% of recorded history includes stories by women. Aedy’s project is important, exciting, and definitely one to stay updated with! Freda interviewed Aedy about her work as a female photographer which you can read here

Selections made by Anna Renfrew and Georgia Bridgett.


The Asian Circle: Fighting Violence Against Women

Image: Santosh Bhanot at The Asian Circle Chai Day 2019

Chai Day, The Circle’s annual fundraising initiative on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is about gathering to raise funds to support survivors of gender-based violence. Chai Day is an initiative to raise funds and awareness for this issue and since its inception has grown from strength to strength. Its aim to support some of the most vulnerable women and girls and the impact that the work has had is truly a testament to The Circle’s mantra: women empowering women.

Started by The Asian Circle in 2016, Chai Day has remained one of the highlights of The Asian Circle’s calendar. Following the resounding success of their 5th anniversary celebration in 2018 with high chai at the breath-taking LaLit Hotel, The Asian Circle held another impressive event for Chai Day 2019. With the aim of informing and inspiring, the committee held a seminar on ending violence against women, followed by high chai. The seminar, kindly hosted by the Peepul Enterprise in Leicester, brought together activists and the local community to share statistics, data and knowledge on violence against women and raise funds. Key speakers included Santosh Bhanot, Founder and Chair of The Asian Circle, Panahghar and Quetzal.

Image: The Asian Circle’s Chai Day 2019

Panahghar is a specialist service led by BAME women for BAME communities in the West Midlands including Coventry and Leicester, with an aim to promote physical and emotional health, well-being and personal growth opportunities from an intersectional human rights perspective. Although Panahghar originally provided services for just women and girls, in 2014 they have expanded their services to include men and boys, recognising that to reduce violence towards women significantly, men and boys must be included. Panahghar is an Urdu word meaning ‘House of Sanctuary’ or in short ‘Safe House’ and is a voluntary organisation that exists to address all forms of violence and abuse and to respond to distress and maltreatment including instances of domestic and sexual violence, honour-based violence, forced marriage, FGM/C and trafficking. They promote humanitarian, educational, developmental and environmental awareness to relieve poverty and encourage social and economic wellbeing amongst vulnerable groups. In their presentation, Panahghar spoke on the extent of domestic violence within the local area and what the human and financial costs of abuse were and highlighted the lack of funding for BME service providers both locally and nationally.

Quetzal is another Leicester-based organisation working to support vulnerable women and girls. This organisation offers professional counselling service to female survivors of childhood sexual abuse from a passionate team of psychotherapists with specialist training in responding to trauma and sexual assault. Childhood sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported forms of abuse, as the perpetrator is usually, always known to the child – making it the ultimate betrayal of trust. According to Quetzal, one of the communities that consistently under-reports childhood sexual abuse is the South Asian Community as notions of shame and honour make taking the first step particularly difficult. Through their counselling service, they have helped hundreds of women break down their psychological defences and destructive behaviours caused by the childhood sexual abuse. Quetzal used the opportunity to share their Breaking the Silence initiative, a community-based approach to raise awareness of childhood sexual abuse and to increase engagement within the South Asian community in Leicester by collaborating with community groups and other agencies to give the power for recovery back to survivors. It was good to hear about the fantastic work that both Quetzal and Panahghar are doing within and around Leicester to support survivors of gender-based violence.

Image: Speakers at The Asian Circle Chai Day 2019

Since their first meeting in 2013, the inspirational women that formed The Asian Circle were unanimous in their decision to work towards ending violence against women and girls. During the seminar, Santosh recalled this journey and spoke passionately to the audience about the need for this project to support marginalised women and girls. What followed over the next six years was an incredibly ambitious project in partnership with Oxfam India and the grass roots NGO LASS (Lok Astha Sewa Sansthan) that works in rural Adivasi communities in Chhattisgarh to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. Within these communities, baseline research found, that 3 in 4 men believe that it is acceptable to beat their wives and even more shockingly, that 2 in 3 women believe that men have the right to beat them as punishment. The project had three key objectives: to enable female survivors of violence to access counselling, legal aid and other support services; to undertake research for evidence-based programming efforts and advocacy to prevent violence and strengthen community mechanisms against it; and make the wider community aware of violence against women and motivate them to take action to prevent violence against girls and women. Santosh was able to announce that the funds raised over the last 6 years have helped build several women’s support centres and engage over 18,000 women and girls and a further 9,000 men and boys. Through training and the support networks within women’s groups, women have learnt about the different forms of violence and how to tackle them. As a result of this project, in Chhattisgarh there has been a State-Level Consultation on the State Gender Equality Policy and the project partner LASS has been awarded the Chhattisgarh State Level Honour as the Nari Shakti Samma Award for ‘outstanding improvement of the conditions of women at the margins of society’.

Click here to watch a short video about The Asian Circle’s visit to the project.

Funds raised from Chai Days that happened across the UK, in addition to the money raised by The Asian Circle, will go towards supporting this project in addition to The Circle’s ending violence against women projects in the portfolio. For 2019, this included the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in South Africa, ACT Alberta in Canada and Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis in the UK. Thank you to everyone who attended The Asian Circle’s Chai Day Seminar and for those who supported our projects working to tackle gender-based violence. Without our members and the Circles that they have formed, The Circle would not be able to continue empowering marginalised women and girls across the globe.

The Circle is inspired by the notion that when women come together and organise, they can be a powerful force for change. The Asian Circle, who have managed to raise a huge amount of funds for marginalised women and girls over the years, are a shining example of that force.

Image: Oxfam India

Notes kindly made by Ayesha Sehgal. 


A Year of Global Feminism

Image: Annie Lennox and Eve Ensler at The Circle’s Annual Gathering 2019

We kicked off the year at our Annual Gathering encouraging everyone to be courageous and confident in their actions to empower women and ‘Just do it’.  The day was full of inspiration and especially from Annie Lennox, Founder of The Circle, and Eve Ensler who talked about their activism and passion for women’s rights and left us all energised by their drive and commitment to ensure the world is an equal and just one for women. Since then our wonderful members, volunteers, allies and supporters have truly taken the words to heart and the past year has been incredibly successful and impactful for The Circle. We’d love to share with you some of the highlights of our year!

Global Feminism Campaign

 Last International Women’s Day, in partnership with Annie Lennox and Apple Music, we released a short film in support of our Global Feminism campaign. Both the short film and the campaign highlight the injustices still experienced by millions of women and girls the world over from misogyny, rape and violence to pay disparity. Every women and girl, no matter where they live, no matter the colour of 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 to every woman and girl in every corner of the world.

Annie drew support from some of the biggest names in music, film and beyond to help us, including Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Richard E Grant, Emeli Sande, Hozier, Farhan Akhtar, Richa Chada, Eddie Izzard, Gwendoline Christie, Beverley Knight and Mary J Blige. The film was shared far and wide and gave us the chance to remind the world of the huge inequalities and injustices that remain for millions of women and girls across the world. On the need for this campaign, Annie Lennox has said that:

‘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 the lowest rung of the ladder.”

Image: Dua Lipa/Global Feminism Film

An Evening of Music and Conversation with Annie Lennox

In September we and 3,000 fans of Annie travelled to Scotland for An Evening of Music and Conversation with Annie Lennox in the SEC Armadillo, Glasgow. Following an incredible similar evening held in 2018 at Sadler’s Wells, Annie once again took to the stage to share thoughts, memories, and reflections in addition to treating the audience to a phenomenal musical performance. It was wonderful to see so many members and supporters there, many of which had travelled from far and wide to join us for this magical evening.  We were very honoured and thrilled that Annie was willing, once again, to deliver this wonderful event and raise valuable funds and awareness for The Circle and our work.  Using her platform on the stage to address the audience on some of the issues faced by women globally and to highlight the need for us all to be Global Feminists. A huge thank you to all who were involved, including the onstage and backstage teams, The Hunter Foundation, The Scottish Circle, our wonderful volunteers and all those that bought tickets.  It was our largest net fundraiser to date and all the proceeds go directly to empowering marginalised women and girls across the globe.

A Living Wage

It was a year of significant achievements for our Living Wage work.  We published our latest report, Fashion Focus: Towards a Legal Framework for a Living Wage, which sets out a proposal for a new legislative framework for ensuring a living wage for garment workers.  The report was launched in November at the Living Wage Symposium we held at the offices of Pinsent Masons in London.  There we were joined by incredible change-makers from the legal, investment, corporate and NGO sectors as well as academics, and policy makers including Jessica Simor QC, ASOS, Continental Clothing, BMO Global Asset Management, ASN Bank, Kempen, ACT, Fair Wear, Livia Firth and Clean Clothes Campaign among others. The need for a significant change in the area of a Living wage, after decades of small-scale pilots and gradual changes along with more transparency were the key themes throughout the day and came up again and again across all of the panels and discussions. Moving forward, we were reminded by our Ambassador Melanie Hall that:

“Everyone has a part to play, everyone in this room today is a consumer.”

This was significant step in the project in gaining significant buy-in to the need for legislative change and input and contribution about the type of legal framework needed to ensure manufacturing brands, retailers, and importers introduce a living wage within their supply chains.  Our Living Wage team have continued working to develop this work further and deliver our outline for a legislative framework to policy-makers and experts within the EU and beyond. We are excited for what the year ahead holds for our Living wage work and will press ahead to find a legislative solution to improve the lives of garment workers who struggle daily to provide for themselves and their families.

Image: Female garment worker

 The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network

The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network (MCJN) has continued in its incredible work supporting its 170 network members who are female journalists working in conflict and fragile states across the Middle East and North Africa region. The network has given them access to training, emergency assistance, and legal aid.

Many of the MCJN’s members and mentors have been instrumental in covering historic events in countries from Iraq to Yemen, to Egypt and Morocco. Unlike foreign reporters who are sent in to report on a story and then taken out to either go elsewhere or because it’s too difficult to stay many of the MCJN members remain, in the communities they live in, with war and violence around them and dealing with the aftermath. So, we have provided counselling for members and are part of a wider community of organisations supporting journalists to deal with the issues of mental health. Dima, the MCJN Editor, and one of our counsellors spoke about the issue and action we are taking to deal with it at the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism Forum in Jordan last Autumn.

This has been a huge year for the Network and they have grown from strength to strength. Dima had this to say on their growth and success:

“We started with a concept four years ago that has now grown into a vibrant online community of more than 170 Arab, female journalists. Not only are we proud of this achievement, but also humble and grateful to have had the chance to support amazing and resilient women who battle against the odds every day to speak truth to power.”

The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre

Another one of our project highlights was to continue our strong relationship with the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre. The centre is located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside of 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 Centre was established to make up for the lack of effective intervention services and has a shelter for women who have survived domestic violence or have been victims of human trafficking. We have been supporting Nonceba for the past few years and have been inspired by their resilience and determination to empower their community and to ensure that the centre can provide a place of safety for women and their children. Most of the women in the shelter are HIV positive, are struggling to access healthcare and have received limited education and training. Thanks to our phenomenal members, The Circle have been able to continue to fund the shelter so that women can stay as long as they need rather than for the few weeks that the Nonceba Centre receive government funding for.

Image: Siyanda at the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre

More broadly our impact has been felt through a number of projects aiming to address Global Goal 5: Gender Equality including, but not limited to, expanding Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis’ service capacity for young survivors of gender-based violence, improving quality education for girls with Educate Girls in remote areas of India by providing 301 learning kits that will impact over 7,000 children, providing funding for the cost of 425 casework hours that enable ACT Alberta to carry out their Victim Support Services for survivors of trafficking which include trauma recovery, advocating for victims and improved access to the justice system, and training educators and entrepreneurs in Uganda to provide affordable sanitary products and educate girls and boys about menstrual health with Irise International.

Events

Of course, none of this would have been possible without our wonderful members, supporters, allies, and volunteers who have been fundraising and using their expertise and platforms to empower marginalised women and girls.

Great River Race

 Some members of The London Circle truly took ‘just do it’ to heart and at the Annual Gathering put a shout out for others to join together and form a team to enter the Great River Race in London last September. 17 women came together for this huge challenge to paddle a dragon boat 21 miles down the River Thames and to raise valuable funds for the women’s shelter at the Nonceba Centre. Although a few of them were experienced rowers, none of them had ever paddled in a dragon boat before and regardless of ability, they all trained hard and work together to achieve their goals. They had a wonderful race and raised over £20,000. Everyone at The Circle found it incredibly motivating and inspiration to watch the team throughout their training and fundraising. It costs just £125 to allow a woman and her child to stay at the Nonceba centre for one month, so the money they raised will be able to make a huge impact to the lives of women at the centre and we couldn’t be prouder!

Image: Friends and Members of The London Circle for The Great River Race

Jumble Fever

After the huge success of The Oxford Circle’s Jumble Fever in 2019, the team held an event even bigger and more ambitious this year. Having outgrown its original location, this year’s event was held in Oxford Town Hall and raised over £11,000 for the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre and the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network. Special guests included commentator, activist and TV presenter Caryn Franklin MBE and performances from Oxford bands The Mother Folks and The Kirals, DJs, and MC for the day Her Who. The volunteer team were incredibly busy in the months before the event and on the day to ensure the day was a success and all the people who came could find a great bargain in mountains of donated items. There were numerous stalls selling everything from women’s clothes, children’s items, books and bric a brac and there were celebrity donations including those from Colin Firth and Annie Lennox.

Chai Day

We would like to thank each and every one of our supporters who held a Chai Day this year. Chai Day is a fundraising initiative beginning on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to bring people together over a cup of Chai and raise funds for survivors of violence. This year, we will use the funds raised to support the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre, ACT Alberta, Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis and the End Violence Against Women Coalition. Our amazing supporters held Chai Days in schools, universities, churches, community halls and offices and we really appreciate their support.

Image: Chai Day

This year The Healthcare Circle was launched at their first event welcoming speakers from various specialism and expertise from the healthcare sector. FGM/C specialist midwives Joy Clarke and Huda Mohamed, Obstetrician Dr Brenda Kelly ad Psychotherapist and Activist Leyla Hussein joined the for the panel discussion Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: How best we can support women and girls?

Other highlights included being joined by Lorna Tucker and Charon Asetoyer for our screening of Amá to shed light on the important story of abuses committed towards Native American in the 1960s and also at our launch of Chai Day 2019, at which we were also incredible privileged to have our friends from Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis in attendance.

The Music Circle also took on the ambitious challenge of organising a series of fundraising events in collaboration with record label Trash Like You. Tallulah, a new member of The Music Circle, brought together fellow members and fantastic womxn artists for some incredible performances to support The Circle’s project with Irise International.

Image: Members and guests at the launch of The Healthcare Circle

Thank you!

We want to say a huge thank you to all of you for your continual support over the last year to help us change the odds stacked the most disempowered women.


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle member Saz

“I want to open up discussion in the community to these issues honestly, and without repercussion, to allow women to express their voices.”

As part of Widen Your Circle, we have spoken to a number of our members about their involvement with The Circle and what it means to be a member!

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I am a daughter of twice migrants from India. My parents migrated from Gujarat, India to Tanzania, after partition, my father leaving in the late ‘40s and my mother and older sister joined him in the ‘50s. I was born in Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania before it decided that it too wanted independence for the British Empire. My father decided to move us, by then we were a family of five, to India for a short period of time while he established himself in England. My mother, two sisters and my brother arrived in 1967, and we settled in Coventry. My father had arrived earlier and had secured a job in a car factory, using his skill as a car upholstery on the production line.

My parents were typical Indian parents of their generation, telling us education is a key to success and encouraged us regardless of our gender to study.

My life has been good, fortuitous opportunities have come my way, I was given a commission straight after university to illustrate a book, a job offer at the BBC in the Creative Arts Department followed where I worked on and off until 2006. I began working as a freelancer for BBC, Sky and other production companies as a motion graphic designer and interactive TV designer. My personal life is great I have a wonderful husband and two gorgeous sons. But, not everything has been smooth sailing and I am glad that I have experienced some lows as well as some highs.

Why did you decide to become a member of The Circle?

I was introduced to Oxfam and The Circle by Santosh Bhanot, the Chair of The Asian Circle. Santosh and I have known each other since our sons were in the same reception class. We have spent many a time over tea and PTA meetings discussing how we could give back to the community. We both had a similar upbringings that included lots of volunteering at the temple helping others. I believe that The Circle’s mission fits well with my goals in life.

In the summer of 2013, a group of high energy women sat around a table at the Oxfam office to discuss ideas on how to bring our vision “to work with vulnerable women in South Asia who haven’t had the opportunities and means to support themselves” to fruition. Since then I’ve been a core committee member, organised fundraising events, and spoken to other Asian Women’s groups about our work. I dipped out from full involvement whilst I went back to university to get my Qualified Teacher Status in 2014.

You’ve been involved with The Asian Circle for a while, can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve achieved with them?

Since its inception, The Asian Circle has grown from strength to strength. We have highly motivated, passionate British Asian women who give their time generously to organise our events, for example, launch at Houses of Parliament, screening and Q&A of True Cost at SOAS, screening and Q&A of Bhaji On the Beach, Chai Day at the LaLit to name a few. We arrange to speak to organisations, universities, women’s societies and we recently hosted a conference with Peepal Enterprise in Leicester on issues of domestic violence and the lack of funding and support here and in India.

Over the last five years, The Asian Circle have worked hard to raise awareness and funds to support a pilot project, created with Oxfam India and local NGOs, amongst the tribal communities of Chhattisgarh, India – to end domestic violence and empower women and girls. We have helped provide support centres for counselling and legal aid, created ‘vigilance networks’ of women to support each other and training programmes for the police. We also have engaged with different organisations, the state government, police and community groups to highlight issues with violence against women. We were thrilled that the local NGO LASS received a prestigious State Award- ‘Nari Shakti Samman’ for outstanding improvement of conditions of women at the margins of society’. This project is now being supported by International funders for state wide deployment of the project.

We are currently sending the sum of £11,500 to Oxfam India on Violence Against Women & Gender Justice Programme in Chhattisgarh – a further build on the VAW project with a focus on Gender Equality.

The new programme will focus on education and change in the community on gender inequity.

● Meeting with a community-based group, using two curriculums “Gendernama” (About Gender) “for men and boys and “Jago and Jagao Badlao ki Aur” (Wake and Awaken for change) for women and girls is being successfully executed in the groups.

● Awareness camps are also being set up in the community, to discuss gender stereotypes in the community and legal services for women.

● Engagement with youth in colleges to discuss various gender related topics like, gender stereotypes, gender and sexuality, patriarchy and gender, power and privilege etc. The BNS (Bano Nayi Soch), champions selected from these youth groups are used to spread the message further afield.

● Running 2 women support centres in Chhattisgarh. These 2 centres are run in space given by the NGO’s partners to provide socio-legal support to survivors of domestic violence.

The Circle is an organisation of women empowering women. How does your upcoming book seek to empower other women?

As I mentioned before, I have had some lows in my life too, and 28 years ago we had the fortune to have a special child join our family. He lived for 8 weeks and we are grateful that he came into our lives.

The first couple of years after his death, I buried my feelings. I have always felt sad in January to March and I have put it down to the worst time of the year for everyone who lives in the Northern hemisphere, short dark days, grey cloud-filled skies. Two years after his birth, we had a healthy baby boy, and three years later another. January become a time of celebration, all our children are born in January. Work, motherhood, life, in general, took me to new levels. I held down a successful, but a stressful job working for BBC News and Current Affairs, my sons were bright and healthy.

As the year’s passed, I heard about other women who also dealt with issues of postnatal depression, anxiety and guilt. Any woman who has had a sick child knows of the guilt, the what if I did this, what if I did that, is it my fault? My mind went into overdrive, and every year the thoughts kept flooding back, that it was all my fault.

In 2006 after leaving the BBC and starting work as a freelancer, we were given the news that my father was diagnosed with bone cancer. I grieved for my father, but I grieved for our son. I joined a creative writing group and the novel just spilt out of me, I remembered every comment, every incident in vivid colour, the feeling of inadequacy, the search for a miracle to prolong his life. Again, life got in the way, my father who had been given 3 months lived for 3 years, so we savoured every minute with him.

In late 2016, I suffered from my first panic attack, and it left me shattered. I am known for my can-do attitude, had retrained to be a teacher and was enjoying seeing my students make good progress and grow into confident young adults. I couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t go into the classroom. I started counselling again, and things had moved on from my first session in the ‘90s.

It is important when you have counselling, that the counsellor understands, this time when I mentioned my extended family, she knew. In the ’90s, when I talked of the nuances of Indian families and how I felt my counsellor told me to stop all ties with the people who made me feel this way. Her words still ring in my ears. You don’t have to see your family if you don’t want to, you can always decline the invitation. She had no idea of the cultural pressure and significance of that remark.

My new sessions dealt deeply with my emotions through the lens of my upbringing. She told me to reread my novel and use it as a way to understand my feelings to move beyond grief.

So that is when my novels, My Heart Sings Your Song and Where Have We Come became a reality. I researched and read books to gauge the market, did I want to write a self-help book, should I write a blog and tell people of my experience. Then I came across a group of writers Cecilia Ahern and Jojo Moyes to name a few, who didn’t always write the typical tale of happy ever after. I read books published by South Asian authors, many with experiences that resonated with me, but none that I could identify with. I have grown up in England, I straddle both cultures, I’m a British Asian, foremost. My Gujarati background is the icing on the cake. My parents didn’t once blame me for my child’s illness. Many others did, my reluctance to follow rituals, customs, every superstitious belief, the alignment of planets, anything to beat me with to justify their anger at seeing our child as he was. I believe it’s in the psyche of the South Asian community to first and foremost blame the women. What annoyed me most as I was researching was that nearly thirty years after my experience, women were still being subjected to the same superstitions and customs in Britain. Some of the families that practised this were the third generation out of India. Women who were my age, telling their daughters, daughters-in-law that their child was disabled because of what they had or hadn’t done.

I sent a couple of chapters and an outline to people and received favourable comments, encouraging me to write it, but no-one was interested in taking me on as a writer. The book became a monster, both in its desire to be fed and its size. I edited scenes out, created chapters and asked people to help structure the story. My journey isn’t typical, I decided I would self-publish, whilst I waited for my early readers to get back to me with comments and alterations. I learnt what I could about publishing, the drafting, the formatting, the editing, and eventual publishing. I chose to have all the processes in my hand, after all, it is my story and I didn’t want comment or edits from people who didn’t know it or understand the cultural relevance of it.

My only aim is to tell the story, that was the goal I had set myself, but I’d also set another which has helped me through the difficult process. If I can help one woman, someone who is in or has been through a similar situation understand that they are not alone, then I have done my job.

So what’s next for me, I have got the writing bug, I have stories that I want to tell, stories about multicultural Britain, about friendships that grow regardless of background and race. I want my stories to be read by a broader readership, not just aimed at South Asian readers. The University Series that I’m planning deals with issues, such as bereavement, depression, disability, cancer, infertility, caste, interfaith relationships, infidelity, divorce, homosexuality, sex before marriage, topics that are still taboo in the community. I want to grow as a writer, learn the craft, tell stories of women from different communities, stories that people like me can identify with.

As for my anxiety and depression, I’ve heard things have changed; more and more support groups are being set-up in communities up and down the country to deal with depression in the South Asian community. It is a taboo subject that hardly has any airing. No-one, who has a thriving career, a big house, healthy and happy families can get depression. It’s good that finally, we are talking about it. I want to open up discussion in the community to these issues honestly, without repercussion, to allow women to express their voices.

Mostly I want people to realise that there are ways to express your emotions. For me it was storytelling, but it can be music, art, anything that allows you to deal with your emotions. If all you want to do is rage at a mountain than rage at it, it is your right to do what helps you cope. Anything is achievable if you put your mind to it.

What does Global Feminism mean to you?

When I started to work in a male dominant newsroom in the ‘80s I was optimistic that finally women were given the same opportunities as men. As the years’ progress, I began to realise that feminism explores the idea of equal rights for women but not necessarily equal rights to all women in all society.

The world is getting smaller and we hear more and more about the injustices faced by women across the world, how patriarchal societies, poverty, governments perpetuate the inequalities faced by women. Global Feminism for me means the right for every woman to equality at home, in the workplace and in society. It is about giving women opportunities to assert their rights. It is about making change happen by giving our voice to those who do not have one.

For more information about My Heart Sings Your Song & Where Have We Come click here

Or find Saz on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

 


One Member’s Take on Global Feminism

“I am now proud to call myself a Global Feminist and I would invite others to do the same.”

Previously I hadn’t wanted to call myself a feminist, I felt the word was tainted and outdated, a clichéd stereotype excluding men. However, if you look at the facts it’s obvious that things aren’t right. Women make up two thirds of the world’s illiterate people, 1 in 3 women will experience physical or sexual violence, a woman dies in childbirth every two minutes, and so the list continues. I realised how wrong I was and how important it is to fight for change. I also realised how important it was to reverse these preconceived notions of what feminism is and promote a feminism that is inclusive of all.  

After graduation, having always wanted to travel, I went to India. Growing up I sometimes sensed being female put me at a disadvantage and struggled with feelings of frustration and limitation – despite being born in the UK – a country that remains high on global gender equality indexes. Gender inequality is visible throughout the world, but witnessing first-hand the obstacles experienced by women and girls in low-income countries in the Global South, I realised the importance of Global Feminism.  

I found The Circle unintentionally through fundraising for Girls Education in India a few years ago. Since then, I have learnt that feminism equates to respect, equality, and the importance of including people of all genders to achieve this. Joining The Circle has been empowering. I have spent much of my life thinking “I’m just … I’m just a girl, a woman, a mother … where is my voice?” Last March I went to The Circle’s Annual Gathering slightly underprepared and suddenly found myself in a network of inspiring women. From the outside, it is easy to see others as strong, successful and powerful but not see these qualities in yourself; we often hold ourselves back with our own perceived inadequacies. When I stepped inside The Circle, I saw female power and realised my own strength. I left the meeting with the phrase ‘just do it’ ringing in my ears, replacing the ‘I’m just’ and I knew that together we could achieve real change. I am now proud to call myself a Global Feminist and I would invite others to do the same.  

My personal interests focus on girls’ education in India and ethics within the garment industry, particularly The Circle’s Living Wage work. Over twelve years ago I started buying clothes in India to sell in the UK and have been visiting India annually since then. Today I run a business that wholesales our unique clothing range to independent shops across the UK and work closely with tailors to ensure that no one is exploited in the production of our garments and that there is transparency throughout our supply chain. The majority of my clothing is made by the same family I have worked with since I met them in 2005 in rural Rajasthan, Northern India. Together our businesses and families have grown, and a strong friendship has developed. Over the years I have returned to India as a solo woman, with my daughter as a single mother and this year I was blessed to take my own mother.  

Despite sharing food and spending time together in the home it has been hard to form close friendships with the women I meet in India. Within my tailor’s family the women are always introduced as sister, wife or mother and whether it is the language barrier, shyness, or fear of speaking out of turn, it has been hard to go deeper in our relationships. In the family home I meet Laxmi, a sturdy bejewelled older woman, proud mother to her three sons (who manage the family tailoring business), all of whom live with her and her husband in the family home with their wives and children. In the domestic sphere it is clear she is in charge. Her daughters in law are beautiful young women and I sit with them in the home as they chat and giggle in Hindi. They cook the most delicious meals to share with me, presenting me with dish after dish of tasty treats. Between them they have eight children aged 1 – 18 years, all of which grow up in the house together. The women work together to bring up the children and keep the home and when I ask them how they are and what they want in life I am met with a coy smile or neutral expression. Of the eight children the eldest girl is 16 and is due to go to college next year to study engineering. She will be one of the first girls in the family to receive further education, but her father is very clear that as soon as she finishes college she will be married. For the men in the family tradition is very important and although they can see the importance of all the children receiving a good education, they feel strongly their traditional values and family life must be upheld.  

In the market square you will regularly meet strong women; these women have been working on the streets since childhood, selling anklets and henna tattoos to tourists. Always dressed immaculately in traditional Rajasthani costume, these women are always happy to share their stories and regularly invite tourists to their makeshift homes on the edge of the dessert. This is a combination of Indian hospitality and entrepreneurship, these women have generally been married young but often have no financial support from their husbands (stories of domestic abuse and alcoholism are common, as well as the inability to find work due to disability or illness) and the impossibility of finding employment themselves with little or no education and children to bring up leaves them no alternative but to tout on the streets. There is no social security for these women and their voices are not often heard. 

Unfortunately, gender inequality in still deeply ingrained in many aspects of culture in India. Sadly, girls are at a disadvantage from before birth with increasing incidents of gender-based abortion. Domestic violence, sexual harassment, female illiteracy and child marriage are all common problems. In rural India, 70% of girls are married before they reach 18. The country is experiencing a wave of awareness surrounding the prevalence of sexual violence occurring, a woman is raped every twenty minutes.   

Women’s rights in India have reached a crisis point and education, unemployment and gender discrimination are forming a barrier to women’s empowerment. As well as campaigning for political reform, there needs to be a focus on education for girls. In rural areas of Rajasthan, girls are three times more likely to be out of school than other children in India and the female rate of literacy in Rajasthan is the lowest in the country and six in ten girls in Rajasthan marry as children.  

The Circle works with Mumbai based NGO Educate Girls, a charity focused on getting girls into school and providing them with the support needed to stay in school. They use a Creative, Learning and Teaching curriculum to aid girls, particularly if they have fallen behind or have missed periods of school due to having been kept home for domestic work. Support from The Circle has enabled Educate Girls to provide CLT learning kits to 301 schools, improving the education of 7,000 children. As well as previously fundraising for this, this year I visited the Fior Di Loto Foundation, a private girl’s school in the village in which I work. The Foundation was founded in 2003 to provide education for some of the poorest girls living in and around Pushkar. The school provides everything a child needs to attend school, such as transport, uniform, school meals, and books. There are government schools in India but children from the poorest communities are often unable attend due to these constraints. For some families, the school provides extra support with food so that girls are not encouraged to drop out to look after the home or to marry. The foundation has also started a new project to support women during and after childbirth, providing a clean and safe environment. Through the foundation, I sponsor a girl to ensure she receives a full education and I am committed to promoting and fundraising for girls’ education in Rajasthan.  

I live in Somerset and it is my aim to introduce The Circle to my local community. Last year I hosted a fundraising event, talked to people about The Circle’s work and promoted the organisation through social media by sharing the #GlobalFeminsm campaign and provoking articles. This year we will be marking International Women’s Day and continuing to spread the word about Global Feminism. 

This article was written by member of The Circle, Emma Chance. To find out more about becoming a member click here. You can also hear the stories of some of our members on our blog.


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle member Misha

“For me, Global Feminism means lifting up the voices and visibility of the most vulnerable women and girls around the world and contributing to a healthy and empowered future for all women.”

As part of Widen Your Circle, we have spoken to a number of our members about their involvement with The Circle and what it means to be a member! We recently sat down with Misha, a member based in the US, to talk about her journey with us.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I’m a musician, filmmaker, and creativity mentor as well as a painter and writer. I create genre-pushing multimedia music works with a focus on feminist retellings of myth and fairytale. I’m interested in empowering women to be their own visionaries and to realise the strength of their unique creative voices. I’m based in Houston, Texas with artistic connections across the US and UK.

Why did you decide to become a member of The Circle?

I recently came to The Circle through Annie Lennox’s social media presence and then I started following The Circle online. I strongly support the focus of the organisation in its advocacy for the most vulnerable women and girls globally.

Are there any of The Circle’s projects that are particularly close to your heart and can you tell us a bit more about your involvement?

I’m deeply supportive of The Circle’s emphasis on the international epidemic of gender-based violence and I have a keen interest in advocating for universal healthcare access and reproductive education for women and girls. As a new member of a growing contingent of US-based members, I hope to spread awareness in my city, region, and beyond, about the positive impact of The Circle’s mission.

What does Global Feminism mean to you?

For me, Global Feminism means lifting up the voices and visibility of the most vulnerable women and girls around the world and contributing to a healthy and empowered future for all women.

How have you used your professional skills or knowledge as a member of The Circle?

Because of my production experience, I hope to bring my artistic, organisational, social media, technical media, and writing skills to The Circle, as well as using my voice as a music artist to support the work of the organisation.

Misha online — Facebook: @MishaPentonMusic // Instagram: @mishadiva / / Twitter: @divergencediva // website: mishapenton.com

You can become a member of The Circle here.


The Healthcare Circle Hosts The Goddess Space

Photo credit: The Goddess Space

Chair of The Healthcare Circle, Alice Sinclair is teaming up with Anoushka Florence of The Goddess Space for an evening of goddess vibes for a good cause. We spoke to both Alice and Anoushka to find out more about this event to raise funds for The Circle’s projects and what you can expect from the session.

Alice, what advice would you give to someone thinking of fundraising for The Circle’s projects? What inspired you to collaborate for this workshop with Anoushka?

People like to get behind a project, especially if they can really see the benefit of it. So Clarity is important, such as where the funds are going and how they are directly help. The cardinal rule of fundraising is that if you don’t ask, you won’t get anything! When Anouska and I  met to discuss the possibility of collaborating to raise funds for The Healthcare Circle, it was serendipitous; when we both came to the meeting with similar thoughts as to what we wanted to do and how we wanted to work together on fundraising.

Fundraising takes time and you need to consider what time you can afford to invest in trying to raise funds, my preferred way to manage projects is to figure out how much time i would like to dedicate (or can spare) then see where i can fit it in (usually at weekends) then i plan accordingly. Drawing on local resources is also very helpful, turn you head to who you know and don’t be afraid to approach when an opportunity arises.

I think its fairly self explanatory as to why team up with Anoushka, she has been holding these wonderful supportive circles for years, empowering women. 

Anoushka can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?

I founded The Goddess Space 5 years ago, seeking to create safe and sacred space for women. My work is based on the ancient feminine practice of The Women’s Circle and seeks to revive these spaces around the world. Helping women remember and access the deep power within. 

Can you tell us a little bit more about your upcoming event with Healthcare Circle and Goddess space?

Working with the energy of the Full Moon and harnessing the glow from International Women’s day you will be invited into a dreamy, magical space to reconnect back to yourself, your sisters and the universe. From meditation to intention setting, sharing, and energy cleansing it will be an evening filled with magik.

What inspires you to work with women, and what does global feminism mean to you?

My inspiration in working for women lies in my deep knowing that to empower ourselves and each other will lead us back to the remembering of our true nature.

How would you describe this gathering to someone who hasn’t experienced it before?

It’s like a big hug; a space for you to leave the outside world behind, to just be, exist and reconnect to your true essence. 

Empowering women is clearly something that is at the heart of your work. At The Circle, we aim to empower some of the world’s most marginalised women and girls. In your opinion, how important is it for women to come together and make change happen?

I believe this is the very thing that will, in fact, heal the world. 

To book your place at The Goddess Space fundraiser on 10 March click here!


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle ally Brett

“Besides the incredible women who were my role models throughout my life, I was also inspired by my favourite singer, Annie Lennox, and her passion for equal rights and gender equality.”

At The Circle, we are of the strong belief that the fight for gender equality has to be inclusive. To reach it, men can and must stand next to us as allies to the Global Feminist movement. Brett is one of our male allies and supports our work in a number of ways. As part of #WidenYourCircle, we wanted to catch up with him to discuss what it means to be an ally of The Circle.

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire surrounded by two strong and fearless female role models, my mother and my older sister, Karen. Another woman who had a huge impact on my life was my Aunt Elizabeth, who could toss together an amazing dandelion greens salad and lived by her own rules until she was well past 100! As a school teacher for over 50 years, Elizabeth was adamant about the importance of educating girls all over the world. In addition to teaching me about global feminism at an early age, she introduced me to the visual arts which has lead me to my career as a designer today. One of the most meaningful things Elizabeth taught me is that with the right tools, I can make change happen for myself and others. A perspective that has led me to this great organisation.

Why did you decide to become an ally of The Circle?

Besides the incredible women who were my role models throughout my life, I was also inspired by my favourite singer, Annie Lennox, and her passion for equal rights and gender equality. It was through Annie’s social media posts that I first learned about The Circle and their fight for marginalised women. After winning tickets to an Annie Lennox concert and being lucky enough to meet her in person, I knew that I wanted to become a part of this cause. Just as she is, I’m passionate about the organisation’s legal assistance and education efforts and want to help this worthy cause in any way I can.

How have you used your professional skills or knowledge as an ally of The Circle?

I’ve been in the world of graphic design for 30 years.  In an effort to increase visibility for the Circle, I use my creative skills to assist with web and book design, posters, and really whatever graphic design work they need. You may have seen my creativity on display with The Circle’s e-vites and Christmas cards. Contributing my work and expertise to a greater cause is very meaningful to me. And I think it would be to my Aunt Elizabeth as well.

Find out more about the different ways you can become an ally of The Circle by clicking here.


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle member Diane

This month, as part of Widen Your Circle, we have spoken to a number of our members about their involvement with The Circle and what it means to be a member!

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I am the Chair of The Music Circle, a mother, partner, daughter, sister, woman in music, strong woman, student and local council officer!

I am a mother of two teenagers, which has its challenges, but I am so mega proud of them. Initially a working single mum with two kids under the age of two and suffering with severe post natal depression, it was tough. So when the opportunity came up to do what I had always dreamed of, which was work in the music industry, I jumped at it. Within two years I had started my own business RM2 Music, a management company, and live music agency. I’ve been doing this ever since!

A few years ago, I will admit that the industry had left me a bit jaded and so made the decision to take a step back. I have scaled back on the operations and my own responsibilities and now work for my council helping to support local businesses, which I love. Taking that step back helped me fall back in love with music so I can be very selective on what I take on; RM2 Music lives!

To relax I love strength training and have competed in a few strong woman competitions. It is so empowering and reminds you what awesomeness there is within the female form. As well as being physically fit, I am now exercising the brain and have just started studying for my Masters degree which is very scary – I’m still trying to understand the title of my first assignment!

Why did you decide to become a member of The Circle?

Because women are awesome! There is nothing like a strong sisterhood when we come together in solidarity there is a magic and a strength that manifests which lifts and inspires you. To be able to help and provide a voice for those less fortunate than yourself is an honour. I’ve always been a strong advocate for women, whether that be in business or in music, so joining The Circle seemed a natural move.

Are there any of The Circle’s projects that are particularly close to your heart and can you tell us a bit more about your involvement?

When I became the Chair of The Music Circle we were already supporting Irise, an project partner addressing the taboo and shame of periods, not just in Uganda but in the UK too.  It has been great what Tallulah and Ava have been doing, holding music evening raising the profile of the issues and funds for the charity. As a survivor of abuse the statistic that 1 out of 3 women are victims of the crime touched me deeply. Not a lot of women have the opportunity or strength to get their apology or justice so to be able to give them the support and break the silence is very important to me.

I recorded a video in late 2019 to share my story of abuse as a girl, the apology I sought out and received, and my journey with The Circle:

What does Global Feminism mean to you?

Highlighting the inequalities against women and opening the conversation to all, including men, as it’s important they are part of the solutions.

How have you used your professional skills or knowledge as a member of The Circle?

Project management and industry contacts have been pulled upon to bring events together and help reinvigorate The Music Circle which is our priority for the next year.

To find out more about The Music Circle and what their members have been doing to empower women and girls, click here.


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle Member Leanne

“I cannot put into words the magic that makes The Circle what it is, but I do know this – when women come together we can make amazing things happen and together we have the power to change the world.”

This month, as part of Widen Your Circle, we have spoken to a number of our members about their involvement with The Circle and what it means to be a member! Leanne is the Chair of The Oxford Circle and has taken on the role with a tour de force. The Oxford Circle are planning to host 20 events through 2020 and will be fundraising for the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in South Africa. We sat down to ask her some questions about why she became a member and her involvement in the organisation.

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m Australian and moved to the UK 6 years ago with my husband and two sons. I have lived in various places in Oz (including a year on a island on the Great Barrier Reef), America (the year Trump was voted in, the sheer horror!) and the UK. My background is in fashion, digital media and technology, but after moving to the UK I returned to studying and am now in my final year of a BSc (Hons) Psychology. I’m also Chair of The Oxford Circle and founder of Happy Larder Co, which sells a range of ethically and sustainably sourced loose leaf teas. 100% of Happy Larder Co’s profits go to support female survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking with 20% of our Chai sales going towards The Circle.

I’m curious by nature, a self-confessed chatter box, and love a good challenge. I’ve trekked Peru, the Great Wall of China, and Mount Kilimanjaro for charity, and for the last four years my friend Jane and I have been doing 100km ultra challenges.  This year we are completing another 100k  challenge to raise money for The Oxford Circle. We aim to complete this one in under 25 hours, which is a big change from last years 35 hours. Watch this space…..!

Why did you decide to become a member of The Circle?

Serendipity. In 2018 I purchased a ticket for an a talk on domestic violence via Eventbrite. Paying little attention, I had no clue that it was an event for The Circle or that it was actually for the previous month! The Circle’s wonderful Relationship Manager Peta Barrett called to let me know and we ended up talking for ages about The Circle and the amazing work they do supporting disempowered women. I loved Peta and the whole ethos of The Circle and signed up on the spot.

Since then I have met such an amazing group of women, some of which have become lifelong friends. The Circle members bring such passion and diverse skills to the mix and the variety of events and initiatives that have come out of that has been amazing.

Are there any of The Circle’s projects that are particularly close to your heart and can you tell us a bit more about your involvement?

All of them! The Oxford Circle supports the Nonceba Centre in South Africa, which supports victims of domestic violence and trafficking. ACT Alberta, which is supported by The Calgary Circle, also work with victims of trafficking. I can’t imagine having someone take away my freedom and subject me to the level of trauma these women have experienced. I think the work that all of The Circle’s projects is doing is incredible but it saddens me that they have exist in the first place. With  The Circle, I love that we can do something tangible to help women less fortunate than us.

What does Global Feminism mean to you?

Audre Lorde said it perfectly when she said “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

I believe we all have an obligation to speak up against inequality and injustice, and to help amplify the voices of those less fortunate than us. The liberties we experience today are the result of those who have fought before us. We owe it to women all around the world and to future generations who will look back on the things we do today and the battles we fight and thank us for it.

How have you used your professional skills or knowledge as a member of The Circle?

I have to say, The Circle members are so inspiring that sometimes I feel like my skill set is completely lacking in comparison! However, it’s important to remember that we all have important skills to bring to the mix. I think BIG and I love taking on a challenge, which the poor Oxford Circle committee have had to get used to. We’re running 20 events in 2020 and I couldn’t have done it without them. Amy and Hannah are amazing event planners and Sue is such a depth of knowledge and kindness. I’m no good at getting things done on my own and that’s what’s I love about The Circle. You can have an idea and before you know it there’s a group of women wanting to help make it happen. A perfect example of this is late last year we ran an Active Bystander Training Workshop in collaboration with Active Bystander. Su is a member of The Circle and had kindly offered for her and Scott to run a workshop and raise money for The Circle. A few interested members pulled together and we managed to find a corporate sponsor, Adobe, who not only provided the venue but also very kindly put on a selection of food and wine. The event was a huge success. Another example is Jumble Fever happening in Oxford Town Hall on Saturday 18 January.  Claire, one of The Circle’s Trustees, started this event last year and it has already grown to a much larger venue with an incredible list of people helping to run it, collect goods for sale, model the clothes, take photographs, and promote the event. We’ve got local DJ’s and bands on the day and some amazing raffle prizes and items for sale donated by Annie Lennox and Colin Firth.

I cannot put into words the magic that makes The Circle what it is, but I do know this – when women come together we can make amazing things happen and together we have the power to change the world.

To find out more about becoming a member of The Circle, click here!