Sexual violence in conflict and the use of women as weapons of war

Photo credit: Jan Dago. Published by Alexia Foundation. Internally-displaced civilians during the Sierra Leone civil war.

In modern wars, it is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier on the front line. Women can endure violence, rape and even see their children killed.

In 2008, the United Nations formally declared rape a “weapon of war”, and Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN force commander, spoke of the spread of rape as a war tactic, saying: “It has become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.”

The first order of business in conflict zones is usually to deprive women of education and health services, restricting any kind of participation in economic and political life. However, in recent conflicts, sexual violence statistics have skyrocketed with staggering levels of mass rapes being reported.

Declared over in January 2002, the civil war in Sierra Leone had raged for more than a decade, leaving half of the pre-war population displaced, 50,000 dead, 100,000 mutilated and over a quarter of a million women raped.

In a three-month time period during the 1994 genocide, more than 250,000 women and girls were raped in Rwanda.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo – also known as the rape capital of the world – 48 women were raped every hour during the 2011 conflict, making the statistics almost one woman per minute.

There’s no denying that rape in wartime is an act of violence that targets sexuality. Moreover, militias quickly discovered that the most cost-effective way to terrorise civilian populations is to conduct rapes of mass brutality. The humiliation, pain, and fear inflicted by perpetrators not only dominates and degrades the individual victim, but also her community.  

Christina Lamb, foreign correspondent for The Times, told in a TEDxExeter talk in May 2017 of some of the things she had witnessed when working in the field.

“Over the last year I’ve seen worse things than I’ve ever seen before,” she said.

“In Northern Nigeria three years ago, around 200 girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok and the story made international news for around two weeks. I went there and found out that, actually, more than 1,000 girls had been abducted, unreported. And when I spoke to these girls, they had terrible stories about being gang-raped by Boko Haram fighters and being forced to marry them.

“Some of them had escaped and were in camps but they told me that their own families wouldn’t take them back because they saw them as being sullied or they were worried they’d been indoctrinated. In fact, one of them – a little girl – had been so badly raped that she couldn’t walk. She shuffled like a crab.”

Modern wars are increasingly characterised by these barbaric acts of sexual violence to terrorise populations and destroy communities.

“And then there was the Yazidi girls. 5,000 of them abducted by ISIS and sold for less than the price of a cigarette packet. I spoke to one of them who had been released and she told me that the worst night of her life was when her captor – a fat judge – brought back a 10-year-old girl and raped her in the room next door to her, as she cried for her mother all night”, said Christina Lamb.

ISIS continues to unleash violence that disproportionately targets women and girls as young as three and the victims are often enslaved, sexually abused and traded like chattel in the human trafficking underworld where their payment is then used to fund the war and further terrorist attacks.

Even after conflict has ended, the impacts of sexual violence persist, with unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and stigmatisation rife in post-war communities. Widespread sexual violence itself may continue or even increase in the aftermath of conflict and meeting the needs of survivors — including medical care, HIV treatment, psychological support, economic assistance and legal redress – often requires resources that most post-conflict countries do not have.

So, what can we do to help?

Advancing women’s rights and empowerment is vital in addressing the needs of female survivors worldwide. Not only do we need to raise awareness of atrocities against women and girls, but we also need to fight for justice and reforms in policy and foreign diplomacy.

We must work to remove the stigma around sexual violence, help women and girls tell their stories and create and help existing support systems for survivors. The Circle strives to achieve all of these.

By supporting projects worldwide, The Circle works with women who have experienced sexual violence in projects such as the Nonceba Women’s Shelter, those fighting domestic violence in India and the courageous female journalists of the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network, who give a voice to the incredible – and undoubtedly brave – survivors of conflict from around the world.

 

 

 

 

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


‘We come in peace, but we mean business’

Photo credit: The Denver Post. | Women March in Barcelona, 2018.

As we start the new year, I want to take a look back at 2017 as one that marks a moment of change in the systemic sexism and a shift of our cultural consciousness surrounding sexual assault. 2017 will be remembered as the year that Donald Trump, a man accused of multiple accounts of assault and recorded describing his behavior towards women using degrading and vulgar language, was elected as 45th president of the United States of America; yet, it will also be the year that hundreds of thousands of women and men took to the streets to protest against his inauguration across the globe in the Women’s March in January. Furthermore, throughout the year the world watched as a watershed of powerful perpetrators were exposed and held accountable for their threatening, and in many cases, illegal behavior. The list of high profile men who have been exposed have held positions spanning across a diverse number of industries, proving how widespread and seemingly universal this problem of bullying and sexism is and how ingrained it is in our society.

The significance of The Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ being awarded to the ‘Silence Breakers’, the women and men who have spoken out against those who used their positions of power to intimidate and abuse, is so incredible as it has provided a platform through which they can share their story. In addition, the success of the #MeToo campaign that hit social media platforms by storm is another indicator that victims of such behavior do not have to fear the same scrutiny and prejudice that they have done in the past. The campaign, which was started by Tarana Burke almost a decade ago, epitomizes the importance of a shared experience of victims in order to overcome the inequality that they face.

The Circle focused on #WidenYourCircle as their campaign this January, to stress what women can achieve when they come together and how women benefit from being part of a network of support. This solidarity amongst women and their fellow feminists is an integral part of the process of changing attitudes towards victims of sexual assault and creating an environment in which they are able to come forward and confront their abusers without fear or stigma.

Although this open discussion of previously taboo subjects and the ‘revolution of refusal’, as The Times has coined it, is a huge step for many of the women and men who have suffered from such horrific abuses, we must now focus on how this reckoning can be further used to change perceptions and address the underlying problem of abuse. These were not isolated incidents. Women and men face intimidation and sexual assault on a daily basis and to the extent that if it were reported in the same manner as, say, gun violence, the media would be describing it as an epidemic of such. So why has it taken this long for large organisations and media outlets to speak out? Much of the reporting focused on the financial implications for the men who were accused of bullying, assault and, in some cases, of rape. Public figures are still skeptical about the validity of a woman’s testimony of abuse if she is under the influence of alcohol and huge corporations are still spending millions to cover up and play down incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. Women everywhere, who are not in the same privileged position as many of those who came forward with their testimony are unable to stand up to those in a position of power as they are stuck in a system of inequality and, if the #MeToo campaign has succeeded in demonstrating anything, it is that women are under threat. Rape Crisis UK reports some shocking statistics concerning sexual violence towards women including 1 in 5 women aged 16 – 59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 and only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police.

In a TIME/SurveyMonkey online poll of American adults conducted on November 28-30, 82% of respondents said women are more likely to speak out about harassment since the Weinstein allegations. Meanwhile, 85% say they believe the women making allegations of sexual harassment. This is an encouraging statistic but if we are to make the events of the last year meaningful for the marginalized in a larger sense and as part of a process of changing the environments in which this form of abuse is possible as opposed to penalizing those at fault on an individual basis, then we must use the momentum of 2017 to continue supporting victims and refusing to accept this behavior of intimidation. In everyday terms, this means that we need to accept that the people responsible can be found amongst our friends and colleagues; understanding that harassment and assault is not restricted to rich and famous men who seem very far from our own lives but something we may need to stand up to within our own circles. Barbara Kingsolver put it succinctly in a recent Guardian article; ‘Let’s be clear: no woman asks to live in a rape culture: we all want it over, yesterday.’

The Circle supports a number of projects that benefit women who have suffered from sexual violence, including the Nonceba Women’s Shelter in Cape Town and Chai Day, an initiative started by The Asian Circle that aims to raise awareness and funds to support survivors of gender-based violence. Look out for our upcoming projects this year to see how you can get involved in making 2018 an even greater step towards equality.

 

 

 

 

Written by @AnnaRenfrew. Anna is a student at The University of Edinburgh and a volunteer at The Circle.


What we learn from our members: dental health and its link to poverty and education

Children taking part in the Live Smart project, in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Credit: Dental Wellness Trust.

I am very lucky. My job entails working closely with members of The Circle. And this means that I am constantly learning about their areas of expertise and how they apply them to further gender equality.

They are also women who appear to exceed the limitations of time, which they manage to give so generously to empowering women and girls, in addition to the significant commitments of their professional and personal lives.

On 4 and 5 November I had the pleasure of experiencing a night and day in the world of one of our newest members, Dr Linda Greenwall. Linda is a dentist on the commendable mission to save kids’ teeth. She founded the Dental Wellness Trust in 2011, fulfilling a life goal of setting up a dental health charity for those in need. It was the start of an incredible journey that now reaches 5,000 children enrolled in school programmes and a further 2,000 who are enrolled in the LiveSmart Evening Health Programme, run by mothers in the community of Khayelitsha, South Africa. Khayelitsha is the same township where the Nonceba women shelter is based, which The Circle supports. And for those of you who joined us at the launch of this project on South African Women’s Day, on 8 August, you’ll remember Linda as our exceptional guest speaker of the night.

I am not a dentist. In fact, as I sat taking in all the information about children’s dental wellbeing, I was acutely aware that I hadn’t been to the dentist for over five years. I also had an Oprah Winfrey moment of gratitude for the education and the significant time and financial investment my parents made to ensure my dental health was the best that it could be.

So, what does a general member of the public with a professional interest in empowering women and girls take away from the wealth of knowledge presented by some of the best industry experts at the Saving Kids Teeth 2017 conference?

Way more that I can squeeze into this blog post! So, I am going to tell you about three fundamental things:

1. Tooth decay

Tooth decay is preventable. Wholly and completely preventable. Prevention is the only real solution to avoid pain, expensive procedures and a multitude of ripple effects that will impact on a child’s health, wellbeing and development from tooth to toe, body and mind.

Give a child a tooth brush and teach them how to use it and not only do you prevent dental issues, you also ensure children aren’t going to miss school because of unnecessary toothache, aren’t going to be bullied or experience low self-esteem because of the appearance of their teeth. It also won’t inevitably lead to painful, expensive procedures in the future.

There are many obstacles that stand in the way of girls accessing an education, which you can find out more about in our project supporting Educate Girls, India. So, it’s even more important to do what we can to avoid adding more obstacles to that list, especially if they are preventable!

2. Let’s talk about sugar

There is a clear, undeniable link between tooth decay, obesity and poverty in children. All of the speakers, talking from very different professional standpoints, clearly identified the same cause — sugar.

I’ll repeat that — despite their different focus points and experiences treating children with a multitude of different issues, they all identified sugar as the problem. Financial limitations, convenience of cheap products (generally high in sugar) and a lack of education about dental hygiene are the main reasons for the severe lack of dental wellbeing in children globally. In areas of poverty where addiction to sugar is high (because it is accessible, affordable, tasty, considered a treat or a reward, and easily shipped from western countries) tooth decay is much higher.

It felt very forward-thinking to hear the connections being made between dental decay and obesity in children. Encouraging approaches to integrated health are increasing our knowledge of how sugar affects the teeth and the gut, two crucial parts of the digestive system that aren’t traditionally considered together. And it seems obvious from the outside looking in that more integrated healthcare discussions need to be happening across specialisations to ensure a child’s wellbeing.

In my opinion, there is a third prong missing in this triangle, and that is mental wellbeing. Both Dr Sandra White and Prof Terence Stephenson spoke about a lack of confidence and the likelihood of bullying in children who are living with tooth decay and obesity. Sugar is the common enemy, regardless of the side of the health sector from which the story is being told.

Sugar is also the wolf in sheep’s clothing acting as the comforter and temporary solution to anxiety, stress and depression. The little comfort and happiness craved when a child has low confidence is being bullied. I think it would be interesting to bring in a mental health specialist to the table who specialises in understanding how living in poverty, experiencing pain and being bullied all contribute to how and why we make the choices we do, so that we can educate children and their parents to make good choices about their teeth and their food. And, simultaneously, raise the bar on what food is made available and why, for reasons pertaining to health instead of profit.

It is important to talk about issues that negatively impact children. Sugar is a common enemy and we need to be talking about how bad it is for children’s teeth, childhood obesity and the options available to those living below the poverty line globally.

3. Spit, don’t rinse

Finally, I learnt lots of science about fluoride and that water and fluoride don’t mix. The formula for healthy teeth is more fluoride and less sugar. So, remember — SPIT, DON’T RINSE!

Together Linda and I are exploring how our two worlds can meet to further empower women and girls, so if you have a connection to the dental sector, please contact us, sign up as a member if you haven’t already and watch this space in 2018!

 

 

 

@PetaBB
Peta Barrett is a member of The Circle since 2016 and our Relationship Manager since 2017.


5 Life Hacks to Help Change the Fashion Industry

Photo: The Music Circle’s Rumble in the Jumble, London.

Cheap food and fashion often means someone, somewhere, is paying the price.

Organisations like Fairtrade aim to stop this by helping people in the world’s most marginalised communities escape poverty, strengthen their districts and promote environmental sustainability.

A good way to know whether a product has been ethically produced and sourced is by checking whether it has the Fairtrade Mark. While a useful trick, this probably isn’t news to you, and it only works for products that you can find in a supermarket. What happens with clothes or accessories? How can we make sure that we are responsible consumers of fashion?

Here at The Circle, we believe that every woman and girl deserves the right to a fair, living wage — and many companies and governments, at present, are failing to withhold this right.

As well as our report on the living wage in the fashion industry, we look at the ways that we, as consumers, can be more ethical when purchasing everything from coffee and tea, to haircare and knitwear.

1. Shop smart, then do your part

Download the Buycott app. It allows you to select the causes you’re most passionate about, such as supporting Fairtrade, boycotting human trafficking and child labour companies, and ending animal testing.

Once you’ve picked the causes important to you, you can scan any potential purchases to see how ethical the company that you’re buying from is and avoid the ones with conflicting campaigns.

2. Ask brands to do better

Never underestimate the power that you have as a consumer. From using things such as the Buycott app, it will soon become clear that some of the brands you use have exploited workers in the past, or still do.

A great way of voting for change is by supporting the brands that are eco-conscious and treat their workers fairly, and avoiding the ones that are not. However, you should also use your voice. The wonderful world of social media makes it easier than ever to make large brands aware of consumers’ wishes, so hop on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and ask these brands to reform. Whether it’s with hashtags, petitions, or even a viral video — make your voice heard.

3. #30wears Challenge

Historically, clothing has been something we have held onto for a long time, but with cheap clothing now available in abundance, clothes are beginning to be seen as disposable.

A good way of avoiding the “buy and discard” trap is the #30wears challenge, popularized by The Circle co-founder Livia Firth. Next time you’re going to buy an item of clothing or accessory, ask yourself: “Will I wear this at least 30 times?”. If the answer is “yes”, buy it. That way, you will be building a sustainable wardrobe full of clothes that you love and will keep forever.

4. Recycle and upcycle

Even the most conscientious fashion consumers grow out of their clothes sometimes, or their clothes grow out of fashion. Next time you’re having a wardrobe clear-out, consider the following options:

  • Donate the garments to charity or a women’s refuge.
  • Recycle them properly at a clothing/textile bank (often found in supermarket car parks).
  • Fancy getting nifty with a needle? Why not give your clothes a new lease of life? For example, turn an old patterned dress into a new tube skirt, or even a fancy new cushion cover.
  • 5. Support a project

    Whether you host a fundraising coffee morning with friends or donate to a project of your choice, there are many ways you can help prevent the exploitation of workers worldwide.

    For example, The Lawyers Circle, in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign, published a report in spring 2017 that set out the legal argument to defend the living wage as a fundamental right, and the duties of companies and governments to uphold this right. The report argues the need to develop a global standard for a living wage.

    This, however, is just the beginning of the work The Circle plans to do to ensure that garment industry workers — who are predominantly women — earn a living wage. We are planning a two-year campaign to stop the current “race to the bottom” and to propose a new architecture for the garment industry to ensure compliance and accountability for workers to receive a living wage.

    To read the report or to make a donation to help create a “race to the top” by protecting the rights of millions of workers and push to getting them a living wage, please visit our website.


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


    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.


    On being a member of The Circle — a message from our Relationship Manager

    Peta Barrett, The Circle Relationship Manager, at our South Africa’s Women’s Day celebration.

    South Africa’s Women’s Day was celebrated in London, on 8 August, even with the grey sky that relentlessly drenched the city! Together we watched our new short film, featuring the life of Siyanda. I am pleased to say that Siyanda’s voice was heard over the sound of the rain beating down in the UK. Siyanda’s strength, courage and determination inspired all the guests who had gathered to launch The Circle’s new project supporting the Nonceba women’s shelter, in Khayelitsha.

    Watch Siyanda’s story here:

    I shared with our guests how it can be challenging to define exactly how our Circles work and how members power our projects and events. The challenge exists because when women come together their achievements are often unpredictable and tend to far exceed expectations. Each member has their own journey with us and you’ll know from the wide range of projects and events of The Circle over the past nine years, there is no set formula to how we do what we do best!

    I wanted to share my musings and a bit of my own journey with you in the hope that they will offer more understanding of how members of The Circle work, inspire some ideas and encourage you to connect with us further.

    The Circle South Africa’s Women’s Day celebration — how our members made it happen

    On 13 July I met Laura, a Senior Associate at Stewart’s Law LLP, at a members-only event hosted by The Lawyer’s Circle in support of the Living Wage report. During our conversation, I mentioned to Laura that I was hoping to increase the number of events and networking opportunities for us to connect with our members. Laura handed me her business card and said that they would offer me a venue whenever I needed one. With momentum building for the Nonceba project and SA Women’s Day on the horizon we decided to leap at the chance to connect with Laura, our members and our newest project on a day that felt most apt! I am so glad we did because the event was a huge success across so many levels and all thanks to the women in the room.

    Running in parallel to my meeting with Laura, The Circle Executive Director Sioned Jones met Dr Linda Greenwall. Linda is a South African dentist living in the UK and the driving force behind the Live Smart project. Live Smart was set up in Khayelitsha in 2013 to combat the issue that 80% of the half a million children in Khayelitsha are living with tooth decay. Linda agreed to speak at the event and shared her journey and experiences setting up a charitable venture in Khayelitsha. Linda is now also a member of The Circle, and we are exploring the possibilities for creating a new Circle together.

    Joining Linda as a speaker was our very own Dr Becky Cox. Becky is the chair of The Oxford Circle and has her own incredible journey within The Circle. Amongst her many life achievements Becky is raising awareness for The Circle and our end violence against women campaigns by running thirteen half marathons throughout 2018.

    As a members-based charity, The Circle recognises that in order to bring about lasting change to women’s lives we all need to work together. At The Circle, we do that by connecting our members to each other and to women around the world who cannot realise their human rights in the same way that you and I can, here, in the UK. Together we use our skills, knowledge and influence to raise awareness, raise funds, but, most importantly, find ways of doing what we do best to make a difference that can last.

    Each of our members has their own unique journey with The Circle and I want to highlight that, because in the past month I have been asked countless times ‘what can I do?’ or ‘how can I be more involved’. The answer to that question lies within you. We all have something different to offer and opportunities for us to be involve ebb and flow around our day-to-day lives and that’s ok.

    My journey as a member

    I heard Annie speak at the WOW festival in 2015 thanks to my friend Faye, who is also a member. Faye and I were shocked by the HIV/AIDS statistics in South Africa quoted by Annie. Facts that are simply unacceptable and that I would like to share with you here:

    • HIV is the biggest killer of women in reproductive age.
    • Women between 15 and 24 years old are twice as likely to become infected with HIV than men in the same age group.
    • Globally, in 2015 there were an estimated 17.8 million women (aged 15 and older), living with HIV, constituting 51% of all adults living with HIV.
    • “5% of pregnancy-related deaths worldwide and 25% in sub-Saharan Africa are attributable to HIV.”

    Those statistics are devastating on their own. What was more alarming to me personally is that so little has changed from my time as a student living in South Africa twelve years ago. I signed up as a member of The Circle a few weeks later, which involves registering on our website and pledging a monthly or annual donation. For what felt like the longest time I simply paid £5, read the monthly newsletter and shared a couple of tweets. It’s only now that I realise how vitally important that donation and those tweets shared are to sustain the work done by The Circle.

    In September last year, I made a business decision in my previous role as Director to work with The Circle as our charity partners for an annual awards ceremony in November. The Circle’s team raised funds that night to support Nonceba and we have already sent them enough to run the shelter for two months — making a real difference to women in the country that I grew up in.

    Our members, the driving force behind everything we do

    The example of using my position to connect with the women of The Circle obviously appears more impressive than telling you I tweet daily; however, examples like this are less consistent because they demand time, determination and planning. The consistency we need comes from our members, our followers, our ‘retweeters’. We are able to do what we do because of the members joining us at events and carrying the messages about women’s rights into conversations with their own circles of family, friends and colleagues. Those messages and conversations grow into further connections and become the opportunities for annual events, fundraisers, a new project, a new Circle.

    In a world of instant access, we often forget that real change takes time. The Circle members are taking their valuable spare time to share the stories of women without a voice while scrolling through social media, and take action when opportunities present themselves to make more significant leaps. Spreading the word, using one’s influence… these are all needed. Sometimes, because our life demands our time and attention, simply being connected is enough.

    To all our members I ask you to please keep doing what you are doing because even if at times it feels like nothing it is something — the connection is there. I also want to invite you to share your thoughts with me and with the other women in your life. Talk about and support the projects that inspire you. When something enrages you let’s turn that into a positive action together.

    If you have yet to become a member I invite you to join us because making change starts with you and we are here to facilitate the positive and much need change in the life of women and girls.

    I have a voice where Siyanda does not. For me, knowing that was the first step. Asking my friends and networks to help me to support Siyanda was step two. By simply asking I am pleased to say my network has helped to ensure one of the twenty-one women at Nonceba Women’s Shelter is able to be there for another month. What can your network do?

     

     

     

     

    @PetaBB
    Peta Barrett is a member of The Circle since 2016 and our Relationship Manager since 2017.


    8 Women’s Rights Documentaries to Watch on Netflix

    Photo credit: India’s Daughter.

    Storytelling through film — a combination of human interest stories, compelling visuals and an emotional narrative — is becoming increasingly popular among those advocating for human rights, due to its success in putting injustice under a spotlight and giving a platform to those who are usually silenced.

    At The Circle, one of our four key goals is to amplify the voices of women and girls, so they can tell their story and we can learn about the issues that they face.

    From illegal abortions and the women’s liberation movement in the 60s, to first-hand accounts of girls who have been trafficked, we have selected the top women’s rights documentaries available on Netflix that highlight these issues and provide a much-needed voice to the women of the world.

    1. Finding Home, 2014

    finding home

    Photo credit: Finding Home.

    Telling the stories of three brave Cambodian women who were victims of sex trafficking at a young age, Finding Home highlights the difficulties and complexities of learning how to deal with life after horrific abuse by slave owners.

    If you’re interested in helping children who have been trafficked, please consider donating to our project to stop child trafficking in Nepal.

    2. The Testimony, 2015

    testimony

    Photo credit: The Testimony.

    Chronicling the largest rape trial in Congo’s history, The Testimony takes an unprecedented glimpse into the lives of women standing up and fighting for justice against the soldiers accused of a brutal rampage on their own citizens. A truly moving, yet short, film on the unbreakable strength of the human spirit.

    3.Born into Brothels, 2004

    born into brothels

    Photo credit: Born into Brothels.

    This Oscar-winning documentary follows the lives of poverty-stricken children born to prostitutes in Calcutta’s worst slums. Given the opportunity to take up photography and document their own lives, the young boys and girls excel in the face of adversity.

    4.India’s Daughter, 2015

    NEW DELHI, INDIA -

    Photo credit: India’s Daughter.

    This haunting but incredibly important documentary recounts the brutal gang rape of medical student Jyoti Singh in 2012 and how, in its wake, the people of India took a stand to start changing the country’s attitudes and laws on gender-based violence.

    Our Brave New World project is raising awareness about gender-based violence in rural communities in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, India, and is setting up shelters for women who have survived domestic violence. Click here to learn more about the project

    5. #chicagoGirl: The social network takes on a dictator, 2013

    #Chicagogirl

    Photo credit: #chicagoGirl.

    Running an entire Syrian revolution from her bedroom in Chicago, 19-year-old Ala’a Basatneh is an inspiration to everyone wanting to help make a difference in the world. Armed with Facebook, Twitter, Skype and camera phones, she helps her friends on the ground in Syria show the world the human rights atrocities of a dictator, by arranging protests, sending videos to news organisations and smuggling in vital supplies to those in her social network.

    6. The True Cost, 2015

    true cost 2

    Photo credit: The True Cost.

    Insightful and heartbreaking, this film looks at the price workers around the world have to pay in order to keep the cost of clothing down. Including footage of the Rana Plaza collapse which killed 1,129 people in 2013, the groundbreaking documentary unravels the unseen world of the fast fashion industry.

    The Lawyers Circle recently published Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage. This cutting-edge report sets out the arguments to defend the living wage as a fundamental right, and the duties of companies and governments to uphold this right. Please click here to find out more and donate.

    7. The Vessel, 2014

    vessel 1

    Photo credit: The Vessel.

    Horrified by the realities created by anti-abortion laws around the world, activist and doctor Rebecca Gomperts set sail with her project, Women on Waves, to provide legal abortions in offshore waters to those in need. Beginning as a flawed spectacle faced with governmental, religious and military blockades, the doctor transformed what seemed an impossible task into a global movement.

    8. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, 2014

    she's beautiful when she's angry

    Photo credit: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.

    Focusing on the women’s liberation movement from 1966 to 1971, the film recounts the stories of women who fought for their own equality and in the process, created a world-wide revolution. Covering topics such as unequal pay, sexual harassment, domestic violence and reproductive rights, it’s an important story that will still resonate for women today.


    Chatterbox: The Social Enterprise Unlocking the Skills of Women Refugees

    Patuni, founder Mursal’s mum and the inspiration behind Chatterbox. Photo credit: P. Hedayat.

    Shannon Hodge, member of The Circle, meets the women behind Chatterbox, a charity employing refugees as language tutors

    An estimated 117,234 refugees have resettled in the UK after fleeing their homes—and countries—due to fear of violence or persecution. Many are highly-qualified professionals who are forced to leave their families and careers—and finding a job here can be challenging.

    Wajed Basha, an Arabic school teacher from Syria, has joined a growing number of newly-arrived degree-educated refugees that a new start-up, Chatterbox, has employed to use their language skills to not only benefit the UK’s language skills deficit, but to benefit them too.

    Wajed, 31, fled war in Syria almost three years ago and now lives in Wales with her husband and two children, aged 7 and 9. She studied Education at Tishreen University in her hometown of Latakia, Syria, where she went on to work for eight years in primary education before being appointed as a pedagogue in the Educational Directorate in Latakia.

    Following the uprising in Syria that descended into a country-wide civil war, over 4.5 million were forced to flee the country—Wajed and her family included.

    “Almost three years ago, we fled the war in Syria. There were explosions, bombs and extremists everywhere”, she said.

    “My husband came to the UK alone first to seek safety and then later, my children and I joined him by travelling through Lebanon, before arriving at Heathrow, where we were then resettled in Cardiff.”

    Describing her initial few months in the UK, Wajed said “It was very difficult at first. I didn’t choose to live so far away from my country so it was hard adapting to a new place, new people, a different culture and, on top of that, a new language”.

    This is where Chatterbox—a new language learning service delivered by refugees—comes in…

    The London-based start-up works with skilled refugees to provide training, contacts and work experience in the languages sector and helps them rebuild their professional lives using their existing skills, while simultaneously tackling the UK’s language skills deficit, which loses the economy an estimated £48 billion each year.

    The initiative is the brainchild of 26-year-old Economics graduate, Mursal Hedayat, who now employs more than thirty tutors; teaching languages from Arabic and Farsi to Swahili and Korean, both online and in person.

    Mursal watched her own mother struggle as a refugee when her family fled Afghanistan when she was just four years old. A civil engineer by practice, her mother used her language skills to find meaningful employment in the UK, following her decade-long search for a job.


    Founder Mursal with Syrian dentist and Chatterbox Arabic language tutor Eiad. Photo credit: Chatterbox.

    “Despite knowing languages such as English, Dari, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi dialect and Pashto, as well as having a highly-trained skill in civil engineering, my mother could only get basic low-skilled work in the UK”, said Mursal.

    “Eventually, after ten years of searching, she completed a qualification in teaching so that she could use her language skills to get a job as a classroom language assistant; helping students for whom English wasn’t their first language to access education.

    “She then went on to set up a supplementary school to teach core curriculum subjects, as well as Afghan culture, to the Afghan community in the area of London we live in.”

    Mursal’s mother’s experience was—and is—shared by many other talented people in the refugee community, and in August 2016 Mursal drew on this inspiration to launch Chatterbox.

    “Chatterbox was distinctly designed for the situation of a refugee mother who is having employment troubles and for us it’s important to help these women access work.

    “We’re currently over-represented by women, whereas, in other refugee interventions, they really struggle to get women and I think part of that is the flexibility of the work and training we provide, but also the cultural barriers that stop some women from seeking work.”

    Wajed agrees with Mursal’s point: “For some female refugees in the UK, it is difficult for them to get the education they need. For me, it is fine—I am a free lady—but some women would like to attend English classes so they can go on to get a job but they can’t. This is because many services helping refugees have mixed-gender classes, which some Muslim women feel uncomfortable attending—or are simply not given permission by their husband.”

    With the backing of the SOAS University of London, Chatterbox launched a pilot which ran from January 2017 to May 2017. The pilot was described as a “resounding success” by both students and tutors, with the Nesta innovation foundation awarding Chatterbox £40,000 of funding to further develop the programme.

    “With the funding, our aim is to train and build up a team of around 500 refugees by January next year”, said Mursal.

    And for many of the current tutors, Chatterbox has been a lifeline—helping them meet new people from all over the world, improve their overall employability and support themselves and their families.

    “We came here with no wage, no money, and I only had basic English—but it was not enough. I have worked hard to improve my English over the years and I’m so proud of my progress through working with Chatterbox”, said Wajed.

    Discussing her future plans, Wajed said she intends on continuing her career as a teacher and is currently studying at Cardiff and Vale College, where she has been offered a Level 2 Support Teaching and Learning Course which she plans to complete in the next year.

    “It’s also a long-term goal of mine to complete a master’s”, she laughs: “I am very ambitious!”

    And it appears the ambition is contagious at Chatterbox HQ, with a growing female refugee community including Jihyun, a maths teacher and human rights activist from North Korea, and Sudanese human rights and women’s rights lawyer Hekma, who is currently deciding on which of her many UK university offers to choose from.


    Sudanese human rights lawyer and Chatterbox Arabic language tutor Hekma. Photo credit: Chatterbox.

    Mursal concluded: “A really important part of the progress that Chatterbox has made comes from the fact that I have an intimate knowledge and understanding of what my mum went through. I was in the front seat of that and not only has that propelled and created a real drive within the organisation but that sort of level of insight into a problem will lead to better solutions ultimately.

    “I’d encourage all charities and social enterprises to develop solutions for refugees by engaging with them and create and develop solutions with them, rather than for them.

    “Let them be the leaders and creators of their own change.”

    One of The Circle’s objectives is to amplify the voices of women who are often silenced or forgotten. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram and like us on Facebook and don’t miss future interviews with inspiring women who are making a difference.

    The Circle supports a broad range of projects that help women to become independent and confident, able to stand up for their rights and influence change.

    If you’d like to become a member of The Circle, please click here.


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


    Who is a Refugee? 8 Things You Should Know about the Refugee Crisis

    Image credit: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times.

    “Imagine living in a refugee camp where you are too scared to go the toilet, or being subjected to sexual harassment on a daily basis in your host community because of your gender or identity. This is the terrifying reality for hundreds of thousands of women and girls and LGBTI refugees around the world, and the shameful inaction of wealthy governments is prolonging it.”

    These are the words of Catherine Murphy, Acting Director of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Programme at Amnesty International. In the run up to Refugee Week—19-25 June—, at The Circle we will try to address some of the misconceptions surrounding the refugee crisis, in particular trying to put a spotlight on the challenges and dangers faced by women and girls when leaving their home countries.

    1. Who is a refugee?

    According to UNHCR, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their country due to fear of violence or persecution. They most likely cannot return home because of war, or ethnic, tribal or religious violence or persecution. Refugee status entitles someone to legal protection and material assistance. States are required to protect refugees and not send them to countries where they risk violence or persecution.

    2. Who is an asylum seeker?

    An asylum seeker is someone in the process of applying to be recognised as a refugee.

    3. Is it easy to claim asylum?

    The short answer is no.

    Claiming asylum can be a complex process that can take many months. Asylum seekers have to prove to their potential host state that going back to their home country would put them at risk of persecution “for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. And even then, many applications aren’t successful—in 2015, 64% of initial asylum applications were refused in the UK.

    Around 50% of asylum seekers are detained in Immigration Removal Centres while they await the decision on their refugee application.

    4. Who is an economic migrant?

    Someone who moves to another country driven by poor working or living conditions in their country of origin.

    5. What is the refugee crisis?

    In the past two years, Europe has experienced the largest movement of people since the Second World War. Around 1.3 million people claimed asylum in the EU in 2015 and a further 1.3 million in 2016, but the number of people who have been granted refugee status is much lower – approximately 292,000 in 2015 and 366,000 in 2016 (although the process of applying for asylum is long and those granted asylum may have applied in previous years).

    Most asylum seekers have fled war and violence in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, but many others come from Kosovo, Albania, Pakistan and Eritrea.

    6. Is the refugee crisis over? Why isn’t it in the media as much as it used to be?

    It would indeed seem the refugee crisis is slipping out of mainstream consciousness. Although the number of refugees entering Europe peaked in 2015 (at 1.5 million), and the number of refugees arriving continues to decrease, over 70,000 people have entered Europe via the Mediterranean so far in 2017.

    In addition to this, a number of interesting conclusions were drawn at a UNESCO conference on media and migration, which could help to explain the treatment of the crisis by the media. Firstly, journalists often misuse terms such as refugee and migrant. Some also fail to synthesise political rhetoric, leading to misleading and untrue stories, and there is failure to contextualise stories within the context of the refugee crisis.

    According to Dr. Guita Hourani, Director of the Lebanese Emigration Research Centre at Notre Dame University, this comes down to a lack of training. Experts at the UNESCO conference agreed that newsrooms lack the means and support to be able to cover the crisis appropriately.

    7. The situation in 2017

    As of 30 May 2017, in the EU there have been:

    • 124,000 applications for asylum
    • 70,877 arrivals by Mediterranean sea (of which 11% are women; 16.5% are children)
    • 1,729 dead and missing in the Mediterranean

    8. Some of the issues that women migrants and refugees face

    Most refugees worldwide are hosted by developing countries; nearly 500,000 people currently live in refugee camps across Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon—camps which can be highly dangerous for women. They often face sexual assault and violence when collecting firewood for cooking and when walking through poorly lit camps to use the toilet at night.

    In addition to that, women do not have access to clinics they need in order to ensure their sexual health and their health during pregnancy. 15% of women fleeing conflict while pregnant are likely to face a life-threatening obstetric complication, with aid rarely to be found.

    We’d like to hear about women-led projects helping refugees and of course stories from women refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. If you’d like to share your story with us, email us at hello@thecircle.ngo.


    Surround Yarl’s Wood: Don’t Let Some of the Most Vulnerable Women in the UK Be Forgotten

    Image: Women wave at protesters from their rooms in Yarl’s Wood.

    On 13 May 2017, the women detained at Yarl’s Wood saw the biggest crowd to date protesting outside the metal fences that separate them from fields of yellow flowers.

    After the train journey to Bedford and a fifteen-minute coach ride to the middle of nowhere, we joined over a thousand people outside the business park that houses the immigration removal centre, along with a pet crematorium and an indoor skydiving centre.

    Together we marched past fields and around the business park until we reached Yarl’s Wood’s fences. At the other side, women’s hands waved at us through the small gaps that their windows open up to.

    Detained indefinitely

    Over 400 detainees are currently being held at Yarl’s Wood, most of whom are women. They are asylum seekers and “illegal” immigrants held without trial, waiting to be deported. And the wait can be long. In fact, the UK is the only country in the EU that doesn’t have a time limit for detention.

    A parliamentary report from 2015 shows that spending more than 28 days in detention can be “catastrophic” for someone’s mental health. And yet the longest-serving detainee at Yarl’s Wood, Mabel Gawanas, was released on 6 May 2017, after three long years in detention. She has now been reunited with her eight-year-old daughter following years of fighting for her – and her fellow detainees’ – freedom.

    People who are taken into a detention centre do not know how long they will be held before they are released or deported. Many of the women detained fled countries where they were at risk of violence or female genital mutilation, only to be met with more violence in a continent where they thought they would be safe.

    “We are kept like animals”

    We banged on the fences, we played music. Detainees could be heard shouting “we want freedom” from their windows. Some of the women inside the detention centre called a phone that was plugged into some speakers. “I want freedom, please!” one of them said, “I have two children”.

    Yarl’s Wood is run by the private-sector company Serco. The company was offered a new eight-year contract by the government in 2014 (for £70 million) despite allegations of sexual abuse and human rights violations being made for over a decade.

    A year after the contract renewal, an inspection carried out by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in April and May 2015 found that the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre was “not meeting the needs of vulnerable women” and that it had “deteriorated since the last inspection and that needs of women held [had] grown”.

    A Channel 4 undercover documentary from 2014 revealed the racism and misogyny with which some of the staff members talked about detainees: “Should’ve f***ing headbutted the b**ch” said one, while another said: “Some of those women in there are horrible… There’s a lot of them that are really nice. But some of them, these black women, they’re f***ing horrible, mate”.

    Women inside Yarl’s Wood have accused Serco’s staff of sexual abuse and humiliating treatment, including watching them take showers, walking into their rooms without warning while they were getting changed, strip searching and offering them help to be released in exchange for sex. Self-harm and suicide attempts are not uncommon and the prevalence of mental health issues amongst detainees is high.

    One of the most alarming accusations is that many women aren’t getting the health services or psychological support that they need.

    “Mothers are separated from children, disabled people are kept who cannot help themselves, mentally ill detainees are kept … who do not have support”, said Mabel Gawanas, who has taken part in every Surround Yarl’s Wood protest, but on Saturday did so from the other side of the fence for the very first time.

    “The officials and managers are not professional people to deal with people who have been victims of torture, victims of rape and mentally ill detainees… we are kept there like animals”, she said.


    Image: Mabel Gawanas at the protest outside Yarl’s Wood on 13 May 2017.

    In her heart-breaking speech, Mabel addressed the women who are still detained at Yarl’s Wood and who were listening from their windows: “I told you I would come back and I have kept my promise. I am there with you. I will never forget you”.

    It is not difficult to imagine the isolation that the women at Yarl’s Wood must feel, the sense of having been forgotten by everyone except for a few campaigners and support groups, while inside they are protesting, going on hunger strikes and waiting indefinitely for someone else to decide their future.

    Surround Yarl’s Wood is not only a demand to shut down all detention centres. It is also a cry of solidarity, a way of showing that other people care and to bring the women inside fresh hope as they continue to fight for their freedom.

    If you would like to get involved or attend the next Surround Yarl’s Wood, follow Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary.


    @ccroslandm
    Clare Crosland is the Projects and Communications Officer at The Circle.