Ashley Kaimowtz and the roots of Nonceba

Photo: Ashley Kaimowtz at Nonceba.

On the International Day of the Girl, I’d like to commemorate a very special young woman called Ashley Kaimowitz.

A beautiful black and white photograph hangs in Nonceba’s entrance hall, made by local craftswomen in honour of an exceptional teenage girl called Ashley Kaimowitz.

In order to fully understand how the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre came into being, it’s important to know Ashley’s story.

In high school, Ashley was an active member of Rotary Interact —Rotary International’s service club for 12-18 year olds.

At the age of 16, she became secretary of her school’s chapter of the club, and she planned a trip to visit Nonceba with her executive committee in the township of Khayelitsha, where 1 in 3 children suffer serious sexual abuse by the age of 18.

Nonceba was originally founded in 2002 by a local resident called Nocawe Mankayi, who had become deeply distressed by how commonplace child rape was in the township, and how little support was available for victims. Nocawe offered children shelter in her own small brick house, feeding them with her meagre income. She dreamed of creating a larger, professionally-equipped, 24/7 safe haven for victims of sexual abuse. Nonceba received no assistance from the government and was being maintained solely by volunteers.

On her visit with Interact, Ashley met a little 4-year old girl who had been raped by her father the night before. Holding the child in her arms, Ashley was overcome with emotion. She felt destined to help manifest Nocawe’s vision —an idea to which she was about to wholeheartedly dedicate herself.

A high achiever, Ashley had long been passionate about filmmaking, something she planned to pursue as a career in the future. While she had never made a film, she conjectured that a documentary about rape in South Africa’s townships would be the perfect fundraising tool for Nonceba’s new centre.

Despite her inexperience, she resolved to script, direct, and produce her own film, underscoring the subject. She told her parents, “If I can’t bring the World to Khayelitsha, then I’m going to take Khayelitsha to the World!”.

In between school and her extracurricular activities, Ashley reached out to family members in the U.S. to help her fund the film, as she knew the dollar would go a long way in her native country. Her grandparents put her in touch with the Board of Directors at Rutgers University, where a couple named Jerry and Lorraine Aresty admired Ashley’s tenacity and idea so much that they offered to sponsor her project with a cheque for $1,000.

When a small film company in Cape Town learned of Ashley’s plan, they lent her all of the necessary film equipment, trained her in its application, and linked her to an editing company and film studio (both of which agreed to help with the documentary for free).

Ashley and a few friends spent their entire winter break filming in Khayelitsha alongside Nocawe.

In September of 2002, after months of steadfast effort on the documentary, “Uthando Labatwana — For the Love of Our Children” celebrated its premiere screening at Ashley’s high school. Her work received a standing ovation, but Ashley had no intentions of stopping there.

Schools in the area began showing Ashley’s documentary, and more individuals and organizations stepped forward with donations for Nonceba.

In 2004, after completing high school, Ashley moved to Japan for a year as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student Ambassador. Despite being far from home, her devotion to Nonceba never wavered. She continued campaigning for the cause by orchestrating film screenings in Japanese venues.

Soon, a professional film studio there offered to subtitle the film so that it would reach a broader audience. It was shown on national television and at film festivals across the country, and the Japanese population was startled into action by the content of Ashley’s work.

It wasn’t long before an entire organization was founded in Kyoto to create awareness about child rape, and raise additional funds for Nonceba.

When Ashley returned home, she set her sights on attending university in Australia, where she had arranged to study filmmaking.

While in the final stages of planning her move, she was tragically killed when a drunk driver hit her car.

Six months after Ashley’s death, Carte Blanche (a South African program similar to 60 Minutes) broadcast her story, and support poured in from people all over the country who were inspired by Ashley’s courage, empathy, and actions —virtues that were even more remarkable given her young age.

As a result of that segment, millions of South African rand were raised for Nonceba’s new centre, and a construction team was assembled.

In 2008, three years after Ashley’s death, Nocawe was able to open the doors of the new Nonceba. This location, unlike its predecessor, is equipped with medical facilities, a counselling clinic, a safe house for children and abused women’s shelter able to accommodate 45 women and children, a community hall, training facilities, multiple offices for doctors, lawyers, social workers and psychologists, an ample playground, and much more. The centre is open all day every day, with live-in staff and an entire team trained in crisis response.

While Ashley isn’t here to witness the fruits of her labour, the centre is dedicated to her memory and the relentless support of Nocawe’s mission.

Thanks to an extraordinary teenager who lost her life far too soon, there is a safe haven of hope in Kahyelitsha.
I’m so proud that The Circle is helping to support Ashley and Nocawe’s dream.

To find out more about the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre and donate, click here.

Watch Ashley’s Documentary:

#OneReasonImAGlobalFeminist #WomenEmpoweringWomen


Facts and Myths about Sex Trafficking in Canada

Photo credit: Matthew S. Browning.

The Calgary Circle, the newest affiliate in our sisterhood of Circles, is supporting ACT Alberta, an organisation that works to end human trafficking in Alberta, Canada. To help end human trafficking it is important to understand the issue better, which is why The Calgary Circle committee members Helen Maguire and Susan Ferner have written this list of facts and myths about human trafficking in Canada. If you’d like to find out more about their work with ACT Alberta and donate, please click here.

FACT: HUMAN TRAFFICKING IS A CRIMINAL OFFENCE

The legal definition of human trafficking requires three elements:
1) the act of recruitment, transportation or harbouring a person;
2) by means of exercising control, direction or influence over their movements;
3) for the purpose of exploiting that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour.

Due to the clandestine nature of trafficking, it is difficult to quantify the number and determine the types of victims, but it is believed that most trafficking victims in Canada are sexually exploited.

MYTH: TRAFFICKING IS THE SAME AS SMUGGLING

Although the idea of trafficking can invoke a nefarious vision of a victim being transported across borders under cover of darkness, the reality is often far different. Trafficking victims are not necessarily moved across international borders and approximately 94% of the cases of sex trafficking identified in Canada have occurred within its borders.

FACT: TRAFFICKING IS BIG BUSINESS

Sex trafficking can be less problematic, easier to conceal and more profitable than selling drugs. On
average, every trafficked woman in Canada generates just under $300,000 for her traffickers per year.

MYTH: ONLY CERTAIN PEOPLE ARE CONSIDERED TO BE “AT RISK”

The major risk factors for being trafficked are living in poverty; having a personal history of violence or neglect; or being otherwise vulnerable to manipulation and coercion. However, the number one risk factor is being female. Women and children from every socio-economic background are at risk and anyone can be targeted and exploited.

FACT: VICTIMS ARE PREDOMINANTELY WOMEN

Approximately 95% of trafficked victims are female: most under the age of 25. Of note, in Canada, indigenous women are disproportionately affected. Although indigenous people make up approximately 4% of the population, they account for approximately 50% of sex trafficking victims.

MYTH: VICTIMS ARE PHYSICALLY FORCED INTO TRAFFICKING

Relationships between traffickers and their victims often begin with what the victim believes to be a friendship or romantic relationship. A common technique used by traffickers is to lure teens and young women into sex trafficking by treating them well, initially. Many victims are recruited through the internet or by an acquaintance. Often, the victim is “groomed” by someone pretending to be her boyfriend or friend who promises her a better life and buys her gifts. The average age of girls who are manipulated in this manner is 13. In the case of older teens or young women, the trafficker also buys gifts and may promise her a good job in a new city. Once a relationship has developed, the trafficker is able to more easily emotionally manipulate the victim and exploit her vulnerabilities. The trafficker often becomes violent and may threaten and isolate the victim but continue to show occasional affection. Through these tactics, the trafficker gains control and the victim can be coerced into selling sex for others’ profit. Because of the nature of the relationship and how it is developed, the victim might not understand that she is being trafficked.

FACT: TRAFFICKING IS A HIDDEN CRIME

Much of the sex trade has moved away from the street to the internet. The solicitation of sex predominantly occurs online through local classified and escort pages, which makes it difficult to locate and identify sex trafficking victims. Victims often do not come forward for many reasons, including fear of retribution and further violence from their trafficker; fear of arrest because they have been coerced into performing illegal activities; lack of knowledge about their legal rights, and lack of understanding that they have been victimized and trafficked.

Prosecution is often difficult because victims are often frightened and unwilling to testify against the perpetrators. It can also be difficult to prove in court that the woman was, in fact, a victim and not a willing participant due to the coercive nature of the relationship between the victim and trafficker. Because of these reasons and more, most (60%) of trafficking cases in Canada have resulted in a decision of stayed or withdrawn whereas only 30% resulted in a guilty finding.

Written by Helen Maguire and Susan Ferner.


My visit to Nonceba

 

The Circle founder Annie Lennox shares her most recent visit to Nonceba, a family counselling centre and shelter for women supported by The Circle. Nonceba is located in Khayelitsha, a township in Western Cape, South Africa.

Its vast spread of corrugated iron shacks is breathtaking in size and scale, while living conditions are humbling.

The African sun burns at intensely high temperatures, turning shacks into roasting ovens. Fire is a constant hazard, spreading in seconds and devastating people’s lives on a regular basis.

The cold winter season brings freezing winds and heavy rains to flood and soak the thousands of vulnerable dwelling places, which are barely fit for shelter of any kind.

TB, pneumonia and HIV/AIDS are rife in impoverished communities like these, where generations of people survive without decent housing, services and facilities, safety or security, exposed to lack and abuse at every level. According to statistics, more than half the residents are unemployed and living in abject poverty. Criminality, gang violence, alcoholism and drug abuse fester and thrive. Young children growing up in this environment have limited prospects ahead of them as young adults.

As well as all this, there are inordinately high levels of reported rape and violence against women and children. An estimated ONE in THREE children living in Khayelitsha have suffered serious sexual abuse by the age of 18. The lack of effective community emergency intervention facilities, with an over-burdened police force and an under-resourced state welfare system, results in an inability to tackle the burden of child abuse and domestic violence.

In an effort to respond to this terrible situation, the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre started from very humble beginnings in 1997, as a two-room consulting practice run by volunteers from the community.
In 2008, the organization received a major financial boost to create a new purpose built centre —a residential safe house able to accommodate 21 women and children with a play therapy room, counselling suite, training facilities, community hall and offices.

On a recent visit to Nonceba, I witnessed some of the wonderful work they are doing first hand.

On my arrival I was greeted at the entrance with a warm hug and lots of laughter from Pauline, who runs the centre and is an awe inspiring women and children’s champion!

(From left to right) Annie, a former service user at Nonceba and Pauline.

She introduced me to members of the staff team who were working that day, while she showed me around the centre. Nonceba truly is a small oasis of safety, security and healing for women and their children in the midst of a consistently dangerous and threatening environment.

 

 

The range of services Nonceba offers is comprehensive and holistic. Social workers are available to help women seek and receive the support they are entitled to, and counsellors help women and children deal with the traumas they are faced with. There are play spaces and simple bedrooms in the safe houses, where mothers can stay together with their children. Child care is provided. A crèche is run, so mothers have a safe and caring place to leave their children whilst they are at work, and the community hall is a place where past and current service users, as well as staff, can come together for support, encouragement and laughs. Once the women do eventually leave Nonceba, continued support is available after their stay.

Going into the child’s therapy room was a poignant and sobering experience, realising as I did that the children who come here have been hurt and traumatised by adults in an inconcievable way.

Pictured above are some of the dolls used in therapeutic sessions with children who have been sexually abused, so the therapist can gauge a better assessment as to what has actually taken place in a non-invasive way. These dolls really brought the sadly disturbing truth home to me as to what is happening to so many children.

Nonceba understands the need to deal with the underlying issues and give the women the skills and resilience to manage once they leave.

 

It was wonderful to sit quietly in a yoga class, where women could partake in a gently healing session of breathing and stretching their bodies through this beautiful practice with a qualified and experienced teacher. Having opportunities like these are uncommon in townships to say the least. This was a heartwarming and deeply touching moment for me.

Once the class was over I introduced myself and spoke about The Circle and our shared purpose, in the need for respect and empowerment for women everywhere in the world.

Like so many grass-roots NGOs the need for these services is overwhelming, yet funding is neither guaranteed or sufficient to respond to the full requirement.

The SA government contributes towards costs for a woman and her family to stay in the facility for up to three months while receiving shelter, counselling and trauma healing, but this isn’t really a long enough time frame for lasting transformation to take place.

On one wall at Nonceba there is a specially sculpted “tree” where they hang “leaves” with the names of donors on them. It was wonderful to see The Circle leaf.

I feel so proud that The Circle is making a significant contribution to Nonceba and the women and children of Khayelitsha, in helping to respond to some of the desperate need, and offer support in a situation where there is so little to be accessed.

To find out more about Nonceba and donate, click here.


SeeMe x The Circle collection

 

See Me and The Circle have launched a beautiful and ethically-made jewellery collection to celebrate ten years of Women Empowering Women.

SeeMe is a fair-trade verified brand that produces sleek heart-shaped jewellery and accessories and provides ethical sourcing for other fashion brands.

SeeMe employs women, often single mothers, who have suffered violence and were ostracized from their communities in Tunisia. Through training SeeMe employees learn the craft of jewellery making following ancient Tunisian techniques. Therefore, while fostering their country’s traditions, they also secure a workplace for themselves and a future for their families.

In our joint collection, SeeMe’s heart is inserted into a circle to represent the unity and the empowerment among women that both SeeMe and The Circle support. All funds raised through the collection will go towards supporting marginalised women and girls.

Click here to shop the collection online.


Menstruation Matters

 

Menstruation matters, especially to the millions of girls being held back by their periods. Some studies show that in some parts of Uganda, 74% of girls believe that period pain is a sign of illness, 50% of girls avoid school because of their period and 43% believe that it is harmful to run or dance during their period.

The Music Circle is raising funds to support Irise International. With a donation from The Music Circle, Irise will be able to educate 2,000 girls about their menstrual and reproductive health and to make a wide range of sanitary products available in their communities, so that every girl has a choice. Help us reach our goal and donate by clicking here.


 
 

Here is what you can do to help…

Raise awareness

On 28 May, Menstrual Hygiene Day, make some noise on social media. Read up on why menstruation matters, be informed, tweet and post.

You can use some of the following Menstrual Hygiene Day signs. Personalise them, print them out, take a selfie with your sign and post it on social media. Don’t forget to tag us and use the hashtags #MenstruationMatters and #NoMoreLimits.


The Lawyers Circle’s 8th anniversary: from the Maputo Protocol to the Living Wage

Proto credit: Nader Elgadi | Melanie Hall QC, co-founder of The Lawyers Circle, alongside Livia Firth, both of whom are ambassadors and founding members of The Circle.

Eight years ago today, Miriam Gonzalez and Melanie Hall QC founded The Lawyers Circle with the aim of bringing together female lawyers who could use their skills to further women’s rights.

To celebrate their anniversary, we’ve rounded up some of their past and ongoing projects.

Influencing change with the Maputo Protocol

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, also known as the Maputo Protocol, provides a comprehensive legal framework to protect the rights of African women, including the end of discrimination, violence, exclusion and poverty. Of the 54 members of the African Union, 51 have signed it and 36 of those have signed and ratified it.

The Lawyers Circle published a report where they reviewed whether the Protocol was reflected in national legal frameworks and was being implemented effectively.

Helping end gender-based violence in Kenya

Helen Mountfield QC, Anna Bugden, Monica Arino, Elsa Groumelle and Cathryn Hopkins of The Lawyers Circle worked with Equality Now to support Kenyan lawyers in developing a test case to establish a broad ambit for positive obligations to protect women from gender-based violence. The research evaluated the relevant instruments and the most significant case law from the United Nations, the Inter-American Court, Africa and the Council of Europe in order to identify, summarise and provide links to potentially useful materials for the Kenyan lawyers to use.

Maternal Health Rights in Tanzania

In Tanzania 398 out of every 100,000 women die from pregnancy or birth-related causes. In the UK, the ratio is 10 out of every 100,000. The Tanzanian government has made promises to its people to improve these rates by setting out its goals to reduce maternal mortality and by signing up to international conventions and initiatives. However, the government’s obligations under these conventions have not been made national law.

The Lawyers Circle has made a commitment to our partner the UN Every Woman Every Child Campaign to assist the Tanzanian government in the process of ratifying and introducing international conventions on maternal health rights into the national institutions and legal system.

A living wage for garment workers in the fast fashion industry

In some countries, 80% of garment workers are women. Very often, they only earn a fraction of what they need to live.

Multinational fast fashion companies are able to quickly move their production to countries with lower wages. The risk of losing this investment acts as a disincentive for countries to improve their labour laws and provide fair minimum wage rules. The result is labour protection is kept to a minimum, and essential rights to freedom of association are not guaranteed.

The Lawyers Circle, in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign, has written a report that argues that a living wage is a fundamental right and that companies and governments have a responsibility to uphold this right.

We are planning a two-year campaign to stop the current trend of keeping wages as low as possible and to propose a new architecture for the garment industry which will ensure that companies pay a living wage and will hold them accountable when they don’t. Our first step was to take the report to the European Parliament, where it was debated on 20 February 2018.


8 Inspiring Quotes by War Correspondent Marie Colvin

As part of The Circle’s month celebrating women in journalism, today we remember the incredible Marie Colvin, one of the bravest foreign correspondents of our time and a passionate advocate of women’s rights and influencing change.

If blinded in one eye by shrapnel, many journalists would consider a career change or at the very least avoid working on the front line. But Marie Colvin’s tenacious attitude and drive to give a voice to those caught in conflict helped her overcome her injury, which she sustained while reporting in Sri Lanka for The Sunday Times. The American-born reporter returned to the field donning a black eye patch to continue reporting on some of the world’s largest atrocities including 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza and the Arab Spring.

Known to plunge to the point of deepest conflict and remain there for longer than anyone else, Marie had been stranded on a 12,000-foot mountain in Chechnya after escaping Russian paratroopers, chased by a mob of around 100 men in Egypt, interviewed the infamous Colonel Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat and reported from some of the world’s most brutal conflict zones during her 25-year career for The Sunday Times. She sadly died in a rocket attack reporting the uprising in Syria in February 2012.

Risking her life over and over again, Marie Colvin was not only a courageous and tireless reporter across the world, she was also an incredible inspiration to women in her profession. In fact, her determination to portray the stories of in her own words “innocents” around the world and her passionate belief in the rights of women is what influenced the creation of The Marie Colvin Circle.

Marie took every opportunity to offer advice and mentoring to young female journalists just starting out, as well as being a well-loved friend to her fellow, experienced reporters.

Not long before Marie’s death, she was introduced to The Circle—so her friends Lyse Doucet, Lindsey Hilsum and Jane Wellesley wanted to commemorate Marie by setting up The Marie Colvin Circle, to continue her practical support for women producing quality, independent journalism.

To celebrate the life and work of Marie Colvin, we’ve rounded up our favourite inspirational quotes from the exceptionally brave, warm, intelligent and formidable woman the world grew to love.

1. “Simply: there’s no way to cover war properly without risk…”

“…Covering a war means going into places torn by chaos, destruction, death and pain, and trying to bear witness to that. I care about the experience of those most directly affected by war, those asked to fight and those who are just trying to survive. Going to these places, finding out what is happening, is the only way to get at the truth. Despite all the videos you see on television, what’s on the ground has remained remarkably the same for the past 100 years. Craters. Burnt houses. Women weeping for sons and daughters. Suffering. In my profession, there is no chance of unemployment. The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that someone will care.”

The Sunday Times, 21 October 2001. Bravery is not being afraid to be afraid.

2. “These are not just numbers. I want to tell the stories of each person.”

2005, Bearing Witness documentary.

3. “Our mission is to speak the truth to power…”

“…We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians.”

November 2010. A speech Marie gave on the importance of war reporting during a service for war wounded at St Bride’s church, London.

4. “Bravery is not being afraid to be afraid.”

A speech Marie gave when she accepted an award for her work in Sri Lanka.

5. “War reporting is still essentially the same—someone has to go there and see what is happening…”

“…You can’t get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you. The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people, be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen. We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference.”

November 2010. A speech Marie gave on the importance of war reporting during a service for war wounded at St Bride’s church, London.

6. “When it stops mattering to me, I’ll stop doing it.”

2005, Bearing Witness documentary.

7. “These are people who have no voice…”

“…I feel I have a moral responsibility towards them, that it would be cowardly to ignore them. If journalists have a chance to save their lives, they should do so.”

Marie said in one of her BBC broadcasts in 1999 in East Timor, where she reported from a besieged compound containing 1,500 women and children. They were later freed after Marie’s broadcasts made international leaders put pressure on the Indonesian government to let them all go.

8. “Be passionate and be involved in what you believe in, and do it as thoroughly and honestly and fearlessly as you can.”

BBC, 22 February 2012. Her mother on Marie Colvin’s legacy.

 

The Marie Colvin Circle is currently running the Marie Colvin Journalists Network project, which provides a network for female journalists working in the Middle East and North Africa, to create a vibrant online community that provides practical support, mentoring and lively discussion.


Written by @shanhodge.
Shannon is a Journalism graduate and a volunteer at The Circle.

 


Our film about Nonceba, with voice over by The Circle founder Annie Lennox

Image: Siyanda and her son in Khayelitsha.

Watch our short film about the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre, in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. The Circle is supporting Nonceba’s shelter for women who have survived gender-based violence.

Many women at the shelter are HIV-positive. This is because suffering violence increases a woman’s risk of becoming HIV-positive by three.


The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and How You Can Help Achieve Them

Young reporters from the Pikin to Pikin Tok project in Sierra Leone. Photo credit: Child to Child.

The Circle member Shannon Hodge looks at the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how we, as active citizens, can maintain the momentum, push for further progress and achieve these goals by 2030.

On 1 January 2016, the United Nations’ long-awaited — and extensively-researched — Sustainable Development Goals came into effect. And just like the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that came before them, they will last for 15 years.

This time around, there are 17 goals to reach. They are much broader and more inclusive than the eight MDGs were, and include specific targets and indicators to reach the overall goals.

And while the MDGs were largely focused on lower-income countries, the SDGs are designed to apply to all countries, no matter their income.

Proposed goals include ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, ending hunger, and reducing inequality within, and among, countries.

However, the most important Sustainable Development Goal to The Circle — and one which we strive to achieve in everything we do — is Goal 5: to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Specific targets within Goal 5 include eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls, including trafficking and sexual exploitation, eliminating harmful practices including forced marriage and female genital mutilation, and ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

To see how The Circle is working towards specific targets and indicators within Goal 5 and how you can help, keep reading…

5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation

Many of our projects focus on preventing violence against women, including Nonceba: a shelter for survivors of violence and human trafficking in Western Cape. The centre has a shelter for women who have survived domestic violence or have been victims of human trafficking. Most women in the shelter are also HIV positive, struggle to access healthcare, and have limited education and training. By supporting this project, Nonceba can provide these women with a place to stay for a whole year, where they can access counselling, legal support, healthcare, educational programmes and victim empowerment groups.

The Circle also supports a UNICEF project in Nepal which conducts research to gain a deeper understanding of the roots and causes of child trafficking, and offers direct services to thousands of girls who have been affected, including shelter, medical care and counselling.

5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life

Be a part of giving women the chance to learn their rights — and worth — with the leading lights of Myanmar project. In the run-up to the country’s elections, Oxfam worked with local partners to create women’s groups, who informed their communities about their right to vote, ran successful campaigns, gave women the skills and confidence to become local leaders, and taught them how to build their skills and run effective election campaigns.

5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences

The Scottish Circle and the David Williamson Rwanda Foundation have been busy working with vulnerable youth in Rwanda on subjects including gender equality, domestic violence, STDs, teenage pregnancy and business skills. At the end of the four-week-long workshop, all 150 children had been provided with medical insurance and were more familiar with their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

5.A. Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws

In Sri Lanka — and many parts of the world — men own a much bigger proportion of land than women. They also own most of the agricultural equipment, even though it’s often women working in the fields. However, our Planting Hope project with Oxfam is enabling women to take control of their own small business enterprises, support each other by setting up a cooperative to improve their earning power, and raise their status in the community.

A more recent addition to the list of projects we support is a Women Cooperative in Rwanda. With the assistance of Oxfam and a local partner, sixty women (eighty per cent of whom are widows) will create a farming cooperative.

Each woman is given a pig and learns about pig rearing, cooperative management and development of sustainable income-generating activities. Once their pigs give birth, each woman gives a piglet to another woman in their district, thus doubling the number of families benefiting from an increased household income.

To help us continue to work towards achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls worldwide, sign up to be a member here.


8 Things You Should Know about Fast Fashion

 

The fast fashion industry has been a hot topic at The Circle this year. Back in May, The Lawyers Circle published a report that sets out the legal argument that a living wage is a fundamental right. We are now planning a two-year campaign to ensure accountability in the fashion industry, to tackle the poverty wages that blight garment workers’ lives.

With that in mind, here are eight facts you should know about the clothes you wear…

1. The global apparel industry is worth $3000,000,000,000,000

Yes, you read that right: the fashion industry has global revenues of three trillion US dollars. To put that into perspective, you could buy seven million Ferraris with that money, or put fifty million students through university. There’s a lot of money to be made.

2. Much of this revenue comes from fast fashion

Fast fashion is a globalised business strategy which aims to get low-price clothes to the consumer as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Designs seen on the catwalk one week might hit the shops a fortnight later. This is a relatively recent phenomenon (global clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014) and an incredibly lucrative one. For fast fashion companies, that is.

3. While companies profit, their workers suffer

Transnational fashion corporations (the big brand names in fashion) are the real winners in this situation. They can quickly move their production to the lowest-wage states to maximise their profits. Meanwhile, the economies of producer companies have become highly dependent on the sector. This has created a “race to the bottom”, whereby states allow poverty wages in order to attract investment. Garment workers earn just $140 per month in Cambodia, $171 in parts of China and $315 in Romania.

4. Poverty wages aren’t just an issue in South Asia

The Lawyers Circle’s report on the living wage looks at clothing production in a range of countries, from Bangladesh to Morocco, from Portugal to Romania. Garment factories are spread across the globe, but their geographical diversity belies a fundamental similarity: they offer some of the lowest wage rates and worst labour conditions on earth.

5. It is mainly women who are affected

Between 60 and 75 million people work in the textile, clothing and footwear sector worldwide. Almost three quarters of them are women — 3.2 million in Bangladesh alone. Unfortunately, women are easier targets for exploitation and discrimination: they are more vulnerable to intimidation and sexual violence, and less likely to agitate for their rights.

6. Garment workers have been forced to develop coping strategies

Struggling to survive on the minimum wage, garment workers have to cut corners wherever they can. They might take out high-interest loans to pay for school books, or do extensive overtime to cover their utility bills. Many workers are foregoing vital medical treatment in order to save money, and thousands are cutting back on food (one campaigning organisation found that female garment workers could only afford to eat half the calories they needed, and would frequently faint at work as a result).

7. Paying the minimum wage is not enough

Plenty of well-known fashion companies argue that they pay their workers the national minimum wage, and should therefore be exempt from criticism. They do this knowing that the minimum wage (the lowest wage permitted by law) falls far short of the living wage (the amount needed to maintain a normal standard of living). In Cambodia, for example, garment workers can legally be paid just 6% of what they need to live a normal life. Paying the minimum wage is not enough: workers need an income that can comfortably feed their families; they need better working conditions and protection.

8. But there is hope!

Since the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh, which killed 1,334 garment workers, some progress has been made on improving conditions and wages in the garment industry. There have been numerous reports, initiatives, roadmaps and pilot projects, though most of these have yet to be implemented on a wide scale. Major brands have committed to paying the living wage, albeit with a temporal disclaimer – “eventually”, “at some point in the future”.

The Circle and The Lawyers Circle are working to accelerate the process, to ensure that companies accept responsibility for their actions and make concrete improvements to workers’ lives.

The facts in this article have been drawn from the report Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage, produced by The Lawyers Circle in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign. Click here to read the full report, and donate to help us guarantee a living wage for all garment workers.