Campaigning Against Fast Fashion

Photo credit: @extinctionrebellion

This month The Circle are focusing on raising awareness of ethical and sustainable concerns within the fast fashion industry. The #SecondHandSeptember campaign being led by Oxfam is something that we are supporting: promoting the importance of vintage and charity shopping as a stand against fast fashion and the poor conditions and pay of workers in the garment industry.

2019 has seen some incredible activism take place on issues concerning the industry. We have seen some powerful strikes and protests on the streets whilst also seeing some moving and alarming documentaries which are showing just how much of a crisis we are in. In April 2019 I wrote an article called ‘Who Made Your Clothes?’ in which I mention Livia Firth’s important argument about the complicated issue of not wanting to buy into the fast fashion industry, whilst also being aware of the fact that many women and girls earn their living from it. We need our governments to start recognising ways of tackling this complicated crisis.

“Activism works…see you on the streets” – Greta Thunberg, September 2019 Ambassadors of Conscience Awards

Second Hand September is all about encouraging consumers to rethink their perspective on the fashion industry by asking questions such as “Where and how was this t-shirt made?” How was it transported? What affect did the transport of this item have on our planet?” . One question leads onto another. The more questions we start asking, the more complicated they become. We find that we cannot find all of the answers because of lack of transparency and this is where it becomes deeply worrying. Not only are workers dying as a result of this industry, but also young children who are living amongst the waste that we have created and developing health issues such as cancer because of it.

This month we have seen millions of people across the world strike, protest and campaign about climate change. Over the past few years we have also seen people standing in solidarity against unethical practices of the fast fashion industry as well as brilliantly made whilst upsetting documentaries which expose them. Carry on reading to find out about these incredible campaigns and people who are taking action. Be inspired to also take action in your everyday life.

On Friday 20th September 2019 millions of people around the world protested the fact that although a climate emergency has been declared, our governments are not responding. So, like Greta, passionate advocates for saving our planet took to the streets. The Guardian called it the ‘biggest climate protest ever’. For the first time adults were asked to join and this led to people leaving their work places, including doctors and nurses. Education chiefs in New York City allowed the 1.1 million children the chance to ‘attend the climate strike and hear Thunberg speak at a rally at the United Nations headquarters.’ Every person on the planet is being called to action and we need to respond.

Photo credit: Film still from The True Cost

“Poverty wages, long hours, forced overtime, unsafe working conditions, sexual, physical and verbal abuse, and repression of trade union rights are all commonplace” – Labour Behind the Label

Labour Behind the Label are challenging the ethical side of fast fashion and they are the ‘the only UK campaign group that focuses exclusively on labour rights in the global garment industry.’ They are dedicated to holding brands accountable for their lack of transparency. This incredible campaign endeavours to form international solidarity. One of the amazing things they have done has been to push UK retailers to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Labour Behind the Label is physically changing peoples’ lives. Another important part of their work are the reports that they research and publish which is vital for ensuring that we hear the truth.

Many incredible campaigns and documentaries are challenging the fast fashion industry and revealing its corrupt and hidden secrets. On 18th September 2019 a documentary called Breaking Fashion aired on BBC Three. The series follows the company In The Style who launch a collection every two weeks in collaboration with fashion influencers. The CEO Adam Frisby states that he likes to challenge anyone who says fast fashion is unsustainable. As the episode unfolded, we witness the problems that the fast fashion industry is criticized for, as being fundamental parts to how this company operates. For example, needing their factory in China to produce a size 12 product and fly it across the world in 48 hours is highlighting issues such as air pollution and the amount of plastic packaging required. What is more, who are the garment workers? We know that clothing is made in both Chinese and UK factories but what are the factory conditions like? What materials are used? If companies like In The Style want to challenge the criticism that the fast fashion industry receives then they need to show more transparency in the manufacturing process. Refinery 29 support this as Jazmin Kopotsha quoted Frisby “When people think fast fashion, that it means it’s not sustainable and it means they don’t care, I like to challenge that,” Adam tells the camera. Kopotsha then argues “In the first episode at least, it’s not explicitly clear how In The Style does so.” How can it be possible for fast fashion and sustainability to work in harmony?

Producing clothing fast means something has to give. Manufacturers don’t want to shut down or raise their prices. So, ultimately, that something is a human life. Andrew Morgan, director of the film The True Cost (2015) states that “cutting corners and disregarding safety measures had become an accepted part of doing business” until the Rana Plaza collapse. The footage of the collapse is harrowing to watch and shines a serious light on the hidden and corrupt side of fast fashion. People were saying that they could still hear screaming underneath the rubble. They were crying out for help. Lucy Siegle, one of three Executive Producers of the film asks us to question why these businesses are not able to support human rights “whilst generating these tremendous profits[…]Is it because it doesn’t work properly? That is my question.”

“The whole system begins to feel like a perfectly engineered nightmare for the workers trapped inside of it.” – Andrew Morgan

Photo credit: Film still from The True Cost

When we compare Breaking Fashion with The True Cost it is hard to look at fast fashion in the same way again. According to Lucy Siegle for The Guardian, Andrew Morgan and producer Michael Ross “have joined the dots between fashion, consumerism, capitalism and structural poverty and oppression, and will never shop in the same way again”. For those of you who have not seen this documentary I would really urge you to. The film reveals the human cost of fast fashion in which we are all complicit. We are all responsible. And we are all capable of stopping this “engineered nightmare” .

If you would like to learn more about fast fashion, please read further into the following and be inspired by the collective voice of fast fashion activists and campaigns striving to make their governments listen.

Some of the people to follow:

– Livia Firth, one of the Founders of The Circle and Eco-age and Executive Producer of The True Cost.
– Lucy Siegle, Journalist and author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?
– Greta Thunberg, Climate Activist
– Vandana Shiva, Environmental Activist and author
– Tansy Hoskins, author of Stitched Up
– Stacy Dooley, BBC documentary Fashion’s Dirty Secrets

Campaigns:

– The Circle’s advocacy work arguing that the living wage is a fundamental human right, which you can donate to here.
The Clean Clothes Campaign is based in the UK and represented by Labour Behind the Label.
Extinction Rebellion who are inviting you to join them at 10am Monday 7th October for a two week peaceful protest the streets of central London as they demand change from our British Government.
Centre of Sustainable Fashion at UAL

Photo credit: @extinctionrebellion

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism

This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is an intern for The Circle. Georgia is a recent English graduate and is passionate about women’s rights and the underlying issues in the fast-fashion industry.


Interview with our Living Wage Project Manager

 

Earlier this year, Sharon McClenaghan joined The Circle as the project manager for our Living Wage work. For September, we are focusing on the progress we’ve made with this project and wanted to give our readers this chance to hear from Sharon herself. We sat down and asked her a few questions.

Welcome! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi Anna, thank you for the welcome. I joined the Circle in April 2019 as the part-time project manager of the Living Wage project. I have a background in labour rights having worked at Christian Aid for over 10 years as private Sector advisor and in that capacity as a director on the board of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) for 2.5 years. During that time I helped lead the work on improving conditions for workers in supply chains in South Africa in the fruit sector, working with high street supermarkets such as Sainsburys Waitrose and Co-op. Before that I worked on a DFID project focused on developing supermarket codes of conduct sensitive to the conditions of women workers and before that again I worked on a PhD looking at the conditions of women workers in ‘maquiladoras’ (or sweatshops) in the Dominican Republic. I also work in a team of consultants evaluating UN projects.

What have you been working on since starting at The Circle?

Since April, we have been busy working on the next stage of the Living Wage
project and building on the very strong report which The Circle produced in 2017 with the aim of producing a second report later in the year. The first report clearly establishes the living wage as a fundamental right, making the argument that production can move to other countries where wages are cheaper. In order to counter this, the second report will provide the basis of a new legal directive that will oblige garments/fashion companies to pay a living wage throughout the supply chain in all jurisdictions. New research was commissioned by the Lawyer`s Circle Steering group in April and May and this was developed into a proposal (which will form the basis of the report). In June we held a Roundtable with invited guests, the majority of whom were lawyers from academia and companies, at Matrix Chambers to discuss this and to help us think through the next stages of a legal framework on living wages and and what support we need to develop to enable this to happen.


What can we expect from the Living Wage project over the coming months?

We have a lot planned for the next few months. We are currently writing the second living wage report, due to be completed in September. In October I will attend the PLWF conference (a Dutch based initiative representing the investor sector in Holland) which encourages and monitors investee companies to address the non-payment of living wage in their global supply chains. We have worked with PLWF before to support their work and plan to strengthen this partnership. In November Jessica Simor and Livia Firth, members of the Steering group of the Living wage project will speak at the Trust conference London 2019, a global human rights forum in which they will `soft launch` the report. Towards the end of the year we are planning a Living Wage Symposium which will bring together all those working on the Living wage as well as those working on the wider issue of mandatory human rights due diligence as it relates to companies. The focus of the symposium will be to discuss the legal framework for a living wage as proposed in the report and the different work and initiatives related to this. The symposium will be ‘solutions orientated’ in focus.

What have you found most surprising about the conditions of women working
in the factory industry?

Probably most surprising and depressing s the fact that conditions remain so poor for so many women working in supply chains after so long. Initially, 20 years ago, there was a lot of hope that company codes of conduct would improve conditions but time has shown that this is just not the case. If anything the lack of a legal imperative to change has meant that for many companies, corporate social responsibility, CSR, is a rue and its `business as usual` despite promoting commitments to change.

Are you hopeful about the future of the industry?

I am cautiously hopeful (as is my nature!) about the future of the industry. I see the growing phenomena of `fast fashion` and its dependence upon cheap labour as alarming especially examples where clothes are produced here in the UK for a few pounds. However, at the same time I see a growing trend in the UK and other European countries to call companies to account for their human rights and to push for a legal solution to ensure that they take responsibility for workers`s rights. In that context I think the Circle`s legal work on the living wage is critical- while there are those working on mandatory `human rights due diligence` as it relates to companies and their supply chains, only the Circle is working on that as it relates to Living wage.

What can we do, as consumers, to support women across the globe working in the garment industry?

As consumers the most important thing is be thoughtful and questioning as to the conditions in which clothes are made. Ask questions of brands as to the conditions under which garments are produced. What is their policy on labour standards and in particular on the Living Wage? Do they have full disclosure of their supply chains and are they transparent about this? How do they investigate allegations of abuse? Ask these questions of all brands. I think its very hard to know currently which brands are `good` and which are `bad` especially since there is still no way to ensure that clothing has been produced in an ethical way with living wages paid to workers. By asking questions and demanding answers of brands we can help push them further along that road and when there is a campaign for binding legislation.

Finally, what does ‘Women Empowering Women’ mean to you?

I love the idea of women empowering women and it was that which first attracted me to The Circle. I have always been very proud to call myself a feminist and one with a lovely husband and two lovely boys so there isn’t anything remotely anti-male about the idea to me, despite it being threatening to some men. However, yes, the focus is on women making changes happen for themselves and for other women in a non hierarchical way and in a way where there is no competition or threat just the desire to improve the conditions of all women, which benefits everyone, men and women.

To support our Living Wage work click here. Sharon McClenaghan will be hosting The Circle Connects: Living Wage on 24 September for our members to find out more about the project – register here.


Who Made Your Clothes?

 

Over the last few years the words ‘sustainability’ and ‘ethical’ in relation to the fashion industry, have been taking the headlines by storm. On 24th April 2013, it was reported that a factory had collapsed in Bangladesh, leading to the deaths of more than 1,000 workers. Bangladesh is one of the largest garment producers in the world. When we shop on the high street there are no signposts signalling that slavery may be prevalent within their supply chains. We see these amazing garments and are excited to try them on and shop the latest trends but, we do not see the faces of the women who make these garments.

As a person who is highly interested in the craftmanship of clothes and the reinvention of trends, I am conflicted by how I can invest in this industry without contributing to the continuing unethical practices of the fashion industry. We need to make changes in how we make, source, and produce the clothes. Government bodies and retailers need to be made accountable: Eco-age is doing just that.

In an interview for the sustainability consultancy Eco-age, our very own Livia Firth who co-founded The Circle, describes the first time she visited a factory in Bangladesh. In 2013 Firth travelled with Oxfam and says it “changed my entire life”. They were “smuggled” into a factory where there were “armed guards at the doors so no one could come in and out”, “armed bars at the windows, no fire escape […] the floor was full of women who had to produce 100 pieces an hour and these women had no rights” such as no sick leave and only two toilet breaks a day. Even if their child was sick, not working would result in a loss of their jobs. As Livia Firth goes on to say, we are so far-removed from this horrific situation that it is hard to believe that the clothes we wear everyday are linked to this inhumane treatment.

Bangladesh is “such a vibrant, beautiful country, and the women deserve so much more” – Livia Firth

 

I love what Livia Firth also says in this EcoAgeTV video which you can watch on YouTube (see link above). The responsibility lies in all of us, not just the retailers and government bodies who have an immense responsibility to make changes.

The day after the crack was discovered in the factory, the garment workers did not want to go inside but they were threatened. The factory was under pressure to fulfil the orders. Nazma Aktar, Founder and Executive Director of the Awaj Foundation says, “the previous night, everybody knew the factory was not safe. The politicians and the manufacturers forced the workers to enter. It is murder.”

The garment industry is a complicated web of problems that are hard to solve. Aktar goes on to say that out of 4 million workers in the garment industry, 80% are women coming from very poor families who live in the countryside and entering into the urban economy. These jobs are very important for them. If their salaries go up, the factory will close down.

“The multi-nationals always said, if you price more we will leave this country, we will leave this business from Bangladesh.” – Nazma Aktay

 

 

On 11th May 2017 The Circle launched The Living Wage report in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. It is the first report to demand the Living Wage for garment workers.

The report sets out the legal argument that a living wage is a fundamental human right, and that companies and governments have a responsibility to uphold this right.

The report starts by clearly stating how efforts to prevent labour exploitation have been non-binding. They have been ‘voluntary codes and initiatives designed, implemented and monitored by the retail companies that control the supply chain, and normally developed in response to negative publicity generated by investigations carried out by NGOs or the media.’ This behaviour is corrupt. It is utterly inhumane that retailers are not upholding their responsibility to protect their workers. This is where the work that The Circle are doing is fundamental to making progress in the debate about the living wage. The Circle are combining activism and research within a legal framework. This report could really shake up the debate.

Ultimately though, as Firth reminds us, we all have a responsibility to change the face of fashion. We live in a throw-away society and when we discard a garment after only a couple of wears, we are not taking a moment to remember who made it. When we buy and buy and buy, we are giving these companies the means to produce more, faster; “we are completely complicit in the system”. But when we do not buy into this industry, we are taking away work from these women.

We “cannot boycott or stop buying because they need to work”

 So, we need to be actively seeking ways to go to the source of the problem, expose the corruption and improve the lives of these women who deserve so much more.

Firth tells Harper’s Bazaar Netherland of some useful tips for how we can shop differently and not treat these women like slave labour. We need to show them that “we really respect their work and we value the things that they make. So, when they sweat on their production line, producing 150 pieces an hour, make them know that we value them, that we are not going to wear them once or twice and then throw them away”

I would highly recommend reading the report (it’s a long one so grab a cup a tea and a couple of biscuits) and get ready to be thoroughly inspired.

Be part of the change. This is just the beginning.

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism

This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is an intern for The Circle. Georgia is a recent English graduate and is passionate about women’s rights and the underlying issues in the fast-fashion industry.

 


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.