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.


Six ways in which educating girls benefits their wider community

The Circle member and volunteer Shannon Hodge looks at how educating girls can help tackle everything from child marriage to world poverty

Today, more than 263 million children are out of school, with 202 million of those of secondary school age. 130 million of them are girls. And despite all the efforts and progress made in previous years, more girls are still denied an education than boys — with 15 million girls of primary-school age estimated to never set foot in a classroom.

Investing in the education of girls brings high returns in terms of breaking cycles of poverty and aiding economic growth — but it also improves children’s and women’s survival rates and health, delays child marriage and early pregnancies, empowers women both in the home and the workplace, and helps tackle climate change.

In proposed target 4.1 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the UN said: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”, meaning that each of the 263 million children currently out of education will be entitled to twelve years of quality, fee-free primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education by 2030.

Achieving universal access to those twelve years of education is both a matter of human rights and a huge investment in the overall development and economic growth of the world. Here are just a few of the ways in which unlocking the potential of millions of girls can have a wider impact…

1. Preventing child marriage and early pregnancy

An estimated 15 million girls a year are married before they are eighteen. Many are forced to marry by their families in exchange for a dowry — which is seen as a way of alleviating poverty within the family. Once married, many girls wanting to continue their education are often denied this right, due to traditional roles they are expected to play in the home, such as childbearing and cleaning.

Education is one of the most powerful tools to enable girls to avoid child marriage and fulfil their potential. And the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married before the age of eighteen and have children during her teenage years.

It also gives girls the chance to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions including when, and whom, they will marry.

With twelve years of quality education, girls are up to six times less likely to marry as children — compared to those who have little or no education. Estimates show that if all girls had access to secondary education, child marriage would drop by 64%.

2. Preventing female genital mutilation

Over 140 million girls worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) — a form of gender-based violence where parts or all of the external female genitalia are removed or injured for no medical reason.

Education is integral to any strategy to reduce FGM, as it can play a key role in changing individual and societal views.

In fact, data shows that girls and women with no education are significantly more likely to be in favour of the existence of FGM — for example, in Kenya, approximately 38% of women and girls with no education support the continuation of the practice, in comparison to approximately 6% of women and girls with secondary or higher education.

3. Building more stable communities

Education builds resilience, enabling countries to recover from conflict faster once peace is established. In fact, inclusive, quality education can even help prevent conflict in the first place through lessons on problem-solving, social skills and critical thinking.

And whilst primary education is vital to girls, it’s secondary education that can be transformative. In certain countries, doubling the percentage of students finishing secondary school would halve the risk of conflict.

4. Tackling climate change

Following on from the fact that education can create more stable communities, research also suggests that girls’ education reduces a country’s vulnerability to natural disasters. As a matter of fact, education is one of the most cost-effective strategies to mitigate carbon emissions and tackle climate change.

In 47 countries covered by the 2005-2008 World Values Survey, the higher a girl’s level of education, the more likely she was to express concern for the environment. Furthermore, in the later 2010-2012 World Values Survey, when forced to choose between protecting the environment versus boosting the economy, those respondents with secondary education favoured the environment more than those with less than secondary education.

5. Strengthens economies and advances the fight to end poverty

Research in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries found that level of education has a “substantial impact on employment prospects”.

On average, across these countries, 74% of those with the proposed twelve years of education up to upper secondary are employed, as opposed to 56% of those without an upper secondary education.

Generally, secondary school graduates enjoy higher earning potential than early school leavers, contributing to the growth of the national economy through full-time employment and tax.

And if all children in low-income countries completed upper secondary education by 2030, per capita income would increase by 75% by 2050 and advance the fight to eliminate poverty by ten years.

6. Better health, longer lives

Girls’ education has wide-ranging and transformative health benefits, which can be passed on through generations. Every additional year of school a girl completes cuts rates of infant mortality — the death of children under one year — by five to ten per cent. And if all girls received the proposed twelve years of fee-free, quality education, the frequency of early births would drop by 59% and child deaths would decrease by 49%.

Furthermore, women with post-primary education are also better able to protect both themselves and their families against other health risks. For example, they are five times more likely than illiterate women to be educated about the risk of HIV and AIDS and know how to practice safer sex and prevent infection. Educated mothers are also more likely to vaccinate their children.

These are just some of the positive impacts that educating girls can have on both girls and their communities, and here at The Circle we believe that girls are the untapped solution to many of the world’s problems. To help improve the world, we must educate girls.

That’s why we work with Educate Girls to address issues facing young girls in India.

An estimated three million girls are out of school in India and the situation is worse in rural areas of Rajasthan, where girls are three times more likely to be out of school than other children in India. The female literacy rate in Rajasthan is 52%, the lowest in the country, and six in ten girls in Rajasthan marry as children.

The Circle supports Educate Girls in increasing girls’ enrolment and retention rates and improving the quality of education in India with the use of Creating Learning and Teaching kits. You can read more about the project or  donate on our website.

“We can gain peace, grow economies, improve our public health and the air that we breathe. Or we can lose another generation of girls.” — Education activist Malala Yousafzai, speech to Canadian Parliament, 2017.

@shanhodge
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.


“Education is about more than just textbook learning. It gives me the freedom of choice”

Project: Educate Girls

Suhani* is 11 years old and lives in rural Rajasthan. A few years ago, Suhani was struggling to learn how to read and write. Her parents decided that she was not gaining much from going to school and she dropped out. Suhani was then confined to cooking, cleaning, fetching water and taking care of her younger siblings.

When the Eduate Girls’ community volunteers and staff first talked to her parents, they said that they didn’t think that Suhani would benefit much from going to school and that excelling at household chores would be far more useful. Other parents who took part in the community meetings shared the same view.

“When Narayan [the Field Coordinator] spoke to my parents, it had been three years since I dropped out of school”, Suhani says. “I did not know the importance of or feel the need for education. Most of the girls in my village were working at home, like I was, or were already married. I didn’t know there was something else I should or could be doing… Domestic work was my responsibility. I was preparing for my future.”

Educate Girls staff and volunteers organised community meetings and told parents about a nearby state school for girls with all-female staff. The school also offers extracurricular tuition after school. Suhani’s mother went to visit the school and meet the teachers and staff.

Her parents agreed to send her to school, so Suhani took a bridge course to catch up with her level and is now studying with other girls her age.

When Educate Girls staff travelled from Mumbai to Suhani’s village, she told them that “education is about more than just textbook learning. It gives me the freedom of choice. I’m not sure yet what I aspire to be, but one thing’s clear –I want to study for as long as I can!”

About Educate Girls

Educate Girls is a Mumbai-based NGO that has been working to increase girls’ enrollment and retention rates and improve the quality of education in the government-run schools of rural India since 2007.

Their Creative Learning and Teaching curriculum is designed for children studying in grades 3, 4 and 5. The learning curriculum is activity-based, child friendly and caters to the need of the most marginalized children in rural India.

With a donation from The Circle, Educate Girls has supplied 47 schools in Rajasthan with CLT kits, improving the education of 1,410 children.

*Name has been changed to protect the minor’s identity.


South Africa’s National Women’s Day — a message from The Circle founder Annie Lennox

 

As this is National Women’s Day in South Africa I wanted to share how proud I am of our short film clip which was made for The Circle with love, passion and dedication by the South African film maker Jo Higgs. I’ve been aware of the challenges in South Africa reaching back many years to when I was part of the international community of musicians who contributed to the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Over the years, through having spent time in the country with direct exposure to many grass-roots projects, I came to realise that violence against women and children is endemic — playing out on an unprecedented scale every single day. This short film is the story of a young woman called Siyanda, but her personal experience represents the lives of millions of women and girls. The Circle is supporting the work of Nonceba towards creating positive transformation. We hope this film inspires you to make a contribution to the Global Women’s Movement.

Nonceba is a shelter for women who have survived domestic violence, rape and human trafficking. The Circle is delighted to be supporting Nonceba for a whole year.

The story behind South African National Women’s Day

When women come together, things change — often drastically. That is exactly what happened on 9 August 1956, when 20,000 women stood in silence in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria, to show their opposition to a change in legislation that required black and minority women to carry internal passports.

These passports were introduced during the apartheid era under the Urban Areas Act of 1950, more commonly know as “pass laws”. Black and minority ethnic men were forced to carry an internal passport as a way to maintain population segregation and control migrant labour. With the new changes to the legislation, women would be forced to carry them too. But these changes were met with strong, women-led political resistance.

A song was composed in honour of the occasion — Whathint’Abafazi Whathint’imbokodo! — Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock!

The song has turned into the chant “you strike a woman, you strike a rock”, which is voiced in South Africa every National Women’s Day to commemorate the women’s march of 1956.

National Women’s Day is a national holiday that raises awareness about gender inequality and its multiple manifestations, which include domestic violence, sexual harassment, unequal pay, unequal access to education for girls and sexual violence.

Between April and December 2016, almost 110 rape cases were reported in South Africa per day.


A new lease of life for the Pink (Rickshaw) Ladies

Nasreen Ghafoor, one of the first drivers at The Pink Rickshaw. Photo credit: The Environment Protection Fund.

With a video call full of laughter, female empowerment and even tears, some of the members of The Circle caught up with the women of The Pink Rickshaw Initiative, a project envisioned and implemented in Lahore, Pakistan, by The Environment Protection Fund (TEPF).

The project has two goals: to enable women to become economically independent and to provide a safe public transport option to the women of Lahore.

Zar Aslam, founder of The Pink Rickshaw Initiative and President and CEO at TEPF, started by introducing some of the women involved in the project, including single, mother-of-one Ansa Noreen, who has now been driving her pink rickshaw for over a year.

Women such as Ansa are trained to become rickshaw drivers and leased a pink rickshaw to work with for two years. During that time, they are expected to contribute back to the scheme with an affordable part of their income so that other women can join the project and become rickshaw drivers too. At the end of the two years, they become the sole owners of their pink rickshaw.

For Ansa Noreen, things weren’t easy when she first received her rickshaw.

“My family were extremely angry with me at first but I was not disheartened. I thought, ‘I have just been given a new life, I don’t care if no one speaks to me’. People even told me to sell the rickshaw but I won’t part with it till death”, she said.

Ansa, who lives with her daughter, has also faced problems from male rickshaw drivers: “They often start arguments and try not to let people on my rickshaw but I stand my ground, keep myself to myself and wait for customers to come to me. When women and girls see me, they get excited and scream ‘wow a pink rickshaw, we will take this one!’ – it makes them happy”.

According to Stop Street Harassment, 92% of women surveyed in Islamabad said they would like to have access to women-only public transport, and a report published by the ILO Country Office for Pakistan in 2011 showed that the lack of safe transport for women in Pakistan “has exacerbated socioeconomic exclusion”. The Pink Rickshaw Initiative is trying to address this issue by offering a women-only public transport service.

Having driven the women and girls of Pakistan around for a year, Ansa’s tenacity and hard-work led to her being given the Token of Appreciation award from Lahore University of Management Sciences, where she received a standing ovation after sharing her story.

“Some women got emotional and cried and told me that I am a very strong woman and that I am to stay like this and not to relent to the pressures of society. I really liked and appreciated that.”

Speaking on how The Pink Rickshaw Initiative has changed her life, Ansa concluded: “Now I have a good life, a very good life, and I am very happy and grateful to you all [The Circle members] and to the Madame [Zar Aslam] for that. May Allah bless you all and may you all help lots of other women to be happy the way I am.”

Another beneficiary of the scheme is 36-year-old Rehana Kausar, who lives with her four children and husband in a joint family system, where 28 people live in one 1,600-square-foot house.

Having received her keys for her rickshaw in December 2016, Rehana joined the scheme to provide a brighter future for her children.

“I have learnt to drive the rickshaw so that my children can get the best education I can provide them with. Thanks to all of you, I am already more financially secure and have covered my children’s school fees. What more can I ask for?” she said.

The Pink Rickshaw Initiative aims to challenge gender roles and help bring down stereotypes in Pakistan by helping women learn to drive and earn a living. And we are achieving it together.

42-year-old Sanya Noordin says her rickshaw, which “flies like an aeroplane”, has not only helped her to regain her economic independence, but also pushed her to help others.

“I was doing my usual run picking up fares when an elderly, disabled man approached me. He had no legs and nobody would take him, so I told him to get in”, she said.

“It was a three-hour journey but I ended up making fares both on the way there and the way back — and the best part was helping somebody in need, that makes me happy.”

Other beneficiaries pointed out how the benefits of the scheme have a ripple effect that reach their wider community too. Malika Nisreen believes it has helped her stand on her own two feet and not have to depend on the support of her children, increasing their overall family income, and 35-year-old domestic cook Nasreen Ghafoor believes her rickshaw (aptly nicknamed Pinky) has helped bring good luck and opened more doors for women in Lahore, as well as making women and girls feel safer when travelling with a female driver.

The empowering, inspiring chat with the lovely ladies of Lahore ended with these kind words from Zar Aslam: “I have always said ‘be each other’s strength, be of help to each other and pave the way for each other’ — like the women at The Circle have paved the way for us”.

To learn more about The Pink Rickshaw Initiative or to make a donation, please go to The Pink Rickshaw Initiative.


@shanhodge
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.