The Stand Up Movement in Sri Lanka

Our member Dushy has co-written a blog post about Ashila Dandeniya, an inspiring woman working for the rights of garment sector employees, and The Stand Up Movement in Sri Lanka.

Founder’s story

Ashila Dandeniya’s was first exposed to Katunayake Industrial Zone soon after finishing school. Her first job was as a Quality Checker for a top garment factory. Ashila’s position was unfairly terminated as a result of a conflict, however, with the support of Right 2 Life Human Rights Centre, she represented herself at the Labour Tribunal at the age of 22 and was offered a settlement amount of 1 year’s salary. This was the beginning of her activist journey to fight for the rights of garment workers in Sri Lanka.

Although she returned to work in another garment factory, before long she left to become a part of ALARM, a subsidiary of Oxfam which worked on projects involving labour rights. She worked as a programme coordinator for 5 years on projects concerning living wage, living condition, and freedom of association. By the end of ALARM assignment, Ashila had experience, expertise, and support among fellow workers in the garment industry. So, with just 12 members, Ashila initiated The Standup Movement to continue the work she’s passionate about.

The Stand Up Movement

The purpose of SUM is to educate the workers in the importance of taking initiative and taking on leadership roles in the factories, to be involved in their worker’s rights and to provide a safe space for the workers to discuss their problems.
In the beginning, SUM focused mainly on creating a dialogue with garment sector workers to understand their concerns and expectations. It emerged out of discussions that workers desired to watch films, an activity banned in most boarding houses due to the electricity usage, as an opportunity to engage with one another. SUM began organizing film screenings which gave SUM the chance to build relationships with workers, gain an insight into their lives and further understand the challenges that they faced.

SUM continued to grow and increase its membership by continuing to hold events for the garment sector workers including a cross-factory cricket tournament between 32 teams that went on for 3 months. It was entirely funded by the workers and resulted in SUM welcoming 250 new members. For a small fee, membership entails donations for the funerals of two family members and access to emergency loans.

Man Sandhi

In 2009, SUM, with the support of Rights Now published ‘Man Sandhi’, a book that included 15 case studies (out of 78 case studies conducted) on how the withdrawal of GSP Plus impacted workers with salary cuts, meal reductions, and the limitation of other essential facilities and provisions factories.
SUM launched the book in the presence of factory owners, international media, NGOs, and workers from various factories to great success. The entire event was organized by the members of SUM and the book written by Ashila herself. As the first publication that discussed the issues from the perspective of the workers, this was a huge step for those in the sector. The acclaim that Ashila received from this publication also continues to raise awareness.

The vision

The vision of SUM is to build a new concept trade union that deviate from traditional methods; a trade union that truly stands for the social security of workers.
SUM believes that traditional trade union methods are presently ineffective, from language and colours they use to strategies they employ to communicate to workers. SUM aims to take a fresh approach in order to achieve a higher participation and is proud of its members who have gone on to take leadership in the field of workers’ rights in their respective factories.

Some of the main challenges that workers face as identified by SUM

– Minimum wage not covering the living wage and the factories justifying this with overtime and incentives.
– Sexual harrassment
– ‘Hidden Cost’— workers doing overtime and not having time for social participation resulting in poor social dignity.
– Working without drinking water, not going to the toilet, and not taking full breaks so that they can achieve targets and make more money.
– Poor diet and as a result suffering from nutritional deficiencies such as Anemia.
– Language and communication problems faced by workers recruited from North and East parts of the island.
– Poor condition of the boarding houses without proper facilities.
– Break-ins at boarding houses.
– Being cheated by vendors.
– Workers consider this as a short term job and therefore less commitment to stand up for rights and make a change.
– Society’s negative attitude towards the factory workers and a general lack of respect from the community.

These issues are incredible damaging to garment sector workers.

Recently, a 23 year-old Tamil speaking female worker committed suicide inside a boarding house on 17th of September after just 3 months of working at the zone. No motive has been identified although the matter has been already closed and declared unsuspicious.

SUM believes that it is important to understand how safe the zone is for these workers who leave their families behind to come and survive on their own. Furthermore, it is vital to understand the necessity of providing a solid support system to the workers to overcome both personal as well as work-related challenges.

Ashila will be speaking at a screening of Made in Sri Lanka happening on 4th January in Colombo, at which she will be discussing SUM’s progress and current projects. Get in contact to find out more details of the event!

This article was written by member of The Circle, Dushy Rabinath and Shyama Basnayaka. Dushy lives and works in Colombo and is passionate about the rights of women.

Photo credit: Dushy and her family in Sri Lanka

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist


Choose Love this Christmas

Photo credit: Ivers Parish Council

With only a week to go before Christmas you might be wondering where to buy last minute gifts. Well, now might be the perfect opportunity to think outside of the box…

Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of what they are buying. Who made it? How was it was made, and where? These questions are becoming more common amongst those who are seeking to understand the chaos of climate change and forced labour; crises exacerbated by the fast fashion industry and social media which are creating a demand for transparency in companies. So, whilst we can become overwhelmed by the magnitude of these issues, there are small steps, even as individuals we can take to tackle them this Christmas.

Christmas is an expensive time of year. We spend our money on gifts for friends and family, but we don’t always need these gifts. Lucy Siegle for the Guardian (2018) referred to a recent survey by Method, an eco-cleaning company; ‘nearly a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds said they would only be pictured in an item one to three times on social media before discarding it.’ Millions of garments are burned or end up in landfill which is having a dangerous effect on our environment. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, ‘one garbage truck of textiles [is] wasted every second’. Rather than buying gifts because it is Christmas, instead we could consider how we can spend more creatively.

Rather than engaging in the consumer culture we can re-direct it towards good causes; turning away from a fast fashion buy towards a pure gift of compassion for someone who truly needs it. What if that blanket you bought your niece went to a refugee instead? Choose Love is the first store to sell practical items for refugees. When you buy any one of the items in the store such as meal ingredients or a warm blanket, a similar item goes directly to someone in need of it rather than you taking it home. When it opened in 2017 “the shop became a beacon of compassion in the heart of central London”.

Choose Love

Choose Love is a part of the charity Help Refugees who ‘fill gaps and act where big NGOs and governments don’t.’ In December 2016 the Guardian reported that a young Afghan refugee was about to go into labour on ‘a remote and windswept hillside’ in Greece. Whilst the UN refugee agency and the government were not able to move her, Crystallynn Steed Brown, a volunteer for Help Refugees, offered that if they couldn’t move the family somewhere else, she would provide shelter in her flat in Thessaloniki.

Whilst Help Refugees provides emergency aid to refugees in countries such as France, Greece and Syria, it also seeks to provide long-term solutions. They ‘create safe spaces for women, provide sexual health clinics and medical units, and support nurseries, schools and youth centres.’ They aim to get people out of refugee camps and into employment and housing. They are helping to re-build the lives of refugees. “Help Refugees are now the biggest distributers of aid of any grassroots organisation in Europe”.

During this Christmas period refugees will be battling life-threatening conditions. How amazing to tell a family member or friend that their gift is helping to make a refugee’s winter a little bit easier. From Choose Love you can purchase an insulated babygrow to help parents keep their newborn babies warm, a ‘support for women’ pack, or even buy medical equipment.

On Monday 10th December a historic international deal was made. It is the first concerning the migration crisis. Karen McVeig, senior news reporter for the Guardian, reported that Marta Foresti, director of the human mobility initiative at the Overseas Development Institute, stated how the deal could help governments cooperate to ensure cross-border journeys are safe and legal. Although many countries are still to come on board, the deal suggests an urgency to act on this crisis. This Christmas we can do something too. We can buy blankets, food, coats, nappies and so much more. We can show refugees we love them and want to support them. We can show them that they are not alone.

If you live in London, you can pop by the store and see the array of items in person. Or if you are not local you can shop online.

SeeMe

In addition to Choose Love you might also like to buy a tangible gift for a friend or family member whilst still supporting global issues. SeeMe is a fair trade verified jewellery brand which might be of interest to you…

Every piece is beautifully crafted, handmade by women in Tunisia who have survived unimaginable violence. Through wearing one of these pieces you are providing the opportunity to open conversations about violence against women, as well as ethical and sustainable practices in the fashion industry. SeeMe enables women to learn the craft of jewellery making. But not only this, they use ancient Tunisian techniques, cultivating their country’s traditions. Furthermore, the women also get emotional support and SeeMe funds their children’s education. Please see an interview by Trusted Clothes with the founder of SeeMe, Caterina Occhio to find out more about the incredible affect this brand is having on women’s lives in Tunisia.

The jewellery is heart shaped which represents the #heartmovement. The heart is at the core of the collection, signifying a desperate need to restore love where a dark and heart-breaking experience has replaced it.

Many designers and artists are joining this movement. SeeMe has collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld for example. Lagerfeld designed a six-piece collection consisting of hand knitted collars and gloves. In 2016 Nicole Kidman wore SeeMe’s Orange Heart, created to signify the 20th anniversary of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.[1]

This year The Circle also collaborated with SeeMe, creating a stunning necklace, cuff and ring. The SeeMe heart is inserted into a circle, representing unity and women’s empowerment.

Fashion is often thought of as a form of expression, an art form. We can use it to express our concern about global issues. Just opening up one conversation about a necklace can spark more and more conversations which can lead to physical change.

Gift a Membership

The Circle membership is also a fantastic to gift anyone who believes in equal rights for women, our values – empowerment, passion, innovation, and respect and equality –  and wants to be actively involved in the global women’s movement. Women are members from all walks of life – lawyers, teachers, students, hairdressers, journalists and many other paths. Through using their own skills and experience they help The Circle to raise awareness about important issues and raise funds to continue amplifying the voices of disempowered women worldwide.

As a member your friend or family member will join the community and be invited to inspiring events during the year. Events involve educational webinars, networking events as well as the Annual Gathering. A six month membership is £30 and a full year is £60.

This Christmas is an opportunity to consider how we can direct our spending towards tackling global crises and do something practical to help.

Let’s do something a little differently this Christmas and Choose Love for refugees, survivors of violence as well as the millions of other women who are in dire need of our love and support. Join the global fight for equality and give a glimmer of hope to someone who needs it.

[1] Find out more about the trust fund here!

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist

This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is a volunteer 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.


Women Empowering Women: Our Chai Day Speakers

The Circle Healthcare Networking Event.

The Circle are having our very own Chai Day and we’re very excited. As well as being an opportunity to network and raise funds for victims of gender-based violence, it will also be an opportunity to learn more about issues that are close to The Circle’s heart.

The Circle’s Executive Director will be talking about the importance of Chai Day and the vital work being done by the grass-root projects funded by this initiative. Sioned will be joined by two guest speakers on the night.

The first is member of The Circle, International Advocate and author Sharon Benning-Prince.

Sharon Benning-Prince is a former corporate/private equity lawyer who now additionally works on supply chains and modern slavery legal matters by assisting corporates with their supply chains and transparency. Additionally, she sits as a trustee for the Medaille Trust, and is an international advocate for the International Justice Mission, both of which are anti-slavery and trafficking charities. She is passionate about the empowerment of and raising awareness for voiceless women and children and has written her first book on modern slavery with the former CEO of the Medaille Trust, Mike Emberson, which will be released in early December 2018.

She explains her decision to focus on the legal rights of women and girls who have been trafficked claiming that:

‘I have always felt strongly about women’s rights and female empowerment but it was when I first attended a women’s event on trafficking in the DRC and then heard Mike Emberson, the former CEO of the Medaille and my co-author of our modern slavery text book that made me realise the huge numbers of female adults and children that are trafficked. The numbers are astounding. In this day and age, one in which my eleven-year old daughter has no concept of restriction due to her gender, it is an anathema to me that large numbers of women and girls are suffering.’

When we spoke to Sharon about what Chai Day meant to her, she said ‘it is a day where like-minded members can share their mutual desire for change and empowerment of women. It is also provide a basis of bringing in new friends who can help in the common cause of giving a voice to those without.’ We are so excited to hear her speak on the day and learn more about her work fighting for women’s rights.

Credit: Act Alberta. Act Alberta is a human trafficking project supported by The Circle. 

Our second speaker is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) activist, Hoda Ali.

Hoda Ali is a Survivor of Female Genital Mutilation. At age seven she was cut in Somalia and by age eleven, Hoda experienced her first of many acute hospitalisations due to complications from FGM; infected menses had caused pelvic inflammatory disease. Hoda had been unable to menstruate as a result of the small hole left after FGM.

After many surgical procedures in Somalia, Djibouti and Italy, Hoda first started menstruating age 17. However, the resulting medical complications from FGM continue to impact on Hoda’s life: infections, adhesions, subfertility, IVF, and miscarriage. Finally, she received the medical advice that IVF could no longer be pursued due to these complications.

Hoda has worked as a nurse as specialist in sexual health, in HIV clinics and as an FGM trainer for health professionals.

“We need to stop one generation from passing the practice on to the next, we all have duty of care to make sure we protect vulnerable girls/women from the violent practice. FGM is child abuse and should be treated as such rather than avoided because of cultural sensitivities.”

She has dedicated her professional life to raising awareness and campaigning for the prevention of FGM, focused on ensuring girls are treated with dignity and compassion when they encounter health care professionals in the NHS. In addition, she works as a Trustee for the charity 28TooMany whose primary focus is on research and enabling local initiatives to end FGM in the 28 African countries where it is practiced, and across the diaspora.

She co-founded The Vavengers, who campaigned for the UK’s first billboard campaign against FGM, has appeared in a BAFTA nominated FGM documentary, spoken at national conferences, news channels, and parliament; the list could go on. She is a truly inspirational woman who voices the pain, comforts the victims and campaigns to protect the girls. She trusts in life and a future and gives hope to FGM survivors.
We asked her to share her thoughts on Chai Day and any advice to those who have been generous enough to host one.

She points out that:‘in most societies, women have limited space to meet, and public spaces are often used by man. If women and girls are given the opportunity to shine and empower we can change the world. Chai day is very important because it provides safer space for women and girls to feel safe to talk, to speak up and help others; besides, who doesn’t like chai tea … be counted, stand up and speak up…you are the voice for the voiceless. By hosting your own Chai day, you are providing a safe space for discussion, for sharing stories, for empowering every women and girls who took part will be empowering the rest of their community. Together we can all end violence against women and girls; cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable and FGM is unacceptable.’

Credit: One of Hoda Ali’s many activism projects.

There are still a few spaces at this event on Wednesday 28th November, so if you would like to hear these incredible women speak and meet fellow members of The Circle then RSVP as soon as possible!

We look forward to seeing you!

#ChaiDay #WomenEmpoweringWomen #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist


Job Opportunity: Communications and Projects Officer

 

Communications and Projects Officer

Job type: Full time position.

Working as the Communications and Projects Officer at The Circle has been an incredibly valuable opportunity. I have learned, attended the widest range of events, met fascinating people from all backgrounds and made a difference in the lives of women and girls around the world. I have seen projects I have contributed towards thrive and make an impact in the world. I am now sadly leaving to further my education, but will still be a part of The Circle as a member. I am confident that I will continue to see The Circle grow, support more women and exceed expectations. Good luck to The Circle Team!

Clare Crosland Monclús, Communications and Projects Officer

The Circle NGO is a charity originating from the notion of women supporting, connecting and inspiring each other to become advocates and change agents, through our passion, skills and ideas. The charity was founded by Annie Lennox in 2008 and has grown stronger each year.

An excellent opportunity has arisen for a new Communications and Projects Officer, as the current Communications and Projects Officer is leaving after a highly successful tenure to further her academic education. The role is vital for the ongoing success of the charity and is ideal for candidates who are self-starters with an interested in a career in the charity sector. You will be working with a small but well established team of people who are passionate about women’s rights and equality.

The ideal candidate is self-motivated, with an eagerness to learn and grow. You will be able to self-manage while responding to the daily needs of the charity. The responsibilities of the role are varied and dependent upon upcoming events and key dates, a strong ability to plan ahead and prioritise is essential. The role offers the right candidate a space to build upon her/his skill sets and to put these to practice.

Reporting directly to the Executive Director, the role allows you to work remotely from home, however, you will have continuous support and attend weekly meetings with the team. You will also be required to be flexible and attend events to offer support where necessary.

The responsibilities associated with the Communications and Projects Officer span across a diverse range of projects and across all aspects of communication for the charity.

Communications:

Responsible for scheduling and delivering communications agreed with the Executive Director and individual circle committees across all channels of The Circle NGO including, but not limited to:

• Communications planning : Devise and maintain a rolling annual plan of communications themes and content and maintain an annual calendar that shows:
– Monthly topics of focus decided by The Circle NGO
– Annual Events (The Circle and other events focused on Women)
– Key dates relevant in Women’s rights
– Key dates related to Projects supported by The Circle NGO and Individual Circles

• Social media management:
– Creating, implementing and updating social media strategies and campaigns to support and communicate the continuous work of The Circle across all social media channels.

• Management of The Circle NGO’s website and blog. This includes:
– Liaising with key stakeholders;
– Curating content and being instrumental in developing this further;
– Ensuring content is up to date at all times;
– Leading and managing a team of volunteers in researching and writing content based on monthly topics and sharing these on social media channels where necessary.

• Management of the newsletters, which includes
– planning and writing content;
– liaising with individual Circle committees about upcoming events, to make sure that all the necessary info is included;
– monthly distribution.

• Supporting the Executive Director in overseeing compliance to brand on all information released to The Circle members and the public via social media feeds, blog posts, newsletters, general updates.

• Monitoring and tracking all results from communications, including the website and reporting this information back to the team.

• Work with external partners and organisations who support the communication of The Circle NGO and further the charity’s capacity.

Projects:

• Management of the Projects portfolio, including but not limited to:
– Working in conjunction with the Executive Director in developing and maintaining relationships with delivering partners and key stakeholders;
– Reading reports to track results and report your findings to the Executive Director on an ongoing basis;
– research and assess new potential partners and projects.

• Working in conjunction with the Executive Director to identify funding options from trusts and foundations and write funding applications.

• Manage the project portfolio process by working with project partners to define the deliverables (including budget, risks and reach), supply these to the Executive Director for approval at board level and then manage the report that tracks the results of meeting these deliverables. You will also be responsible for maintaining all relevant documentation forming part of these processes.

Other general responsibilities include:

• Manage the volunteering recruitment for The Circle.
• Manage the ‘Why Women’ report to ensure facts and statistics about women are up to date and maintained.
• General administration assistance when required.
• Support at events.
• Taking on ad hoc projects when appropriate.

Ideal candidates for the Communications and Projects Officer role will have the following essential skills:

o A good command of the English language, both spoken and written
o An understanding of and a frequent user of social media and blogging through personal usage
o An aptitude to learn and self-develop
o Proven experience of an ability to self-manage
o Good reporting skills
o Experience managing people

Desirable skills for the role include:

 Experience working or volunteering for a charity
 Experience working or volunteering with a charity, organisation or group interested in women’s rights
 Basic knowledge of SEO and WordPress
 Personally identify as a feminist with a genuine interest in gender equality and women’s rights

Systems experience:

o Microsoft suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) – Intermediate
o Office 365 email with SharePoint or other email and share document solutions– Basic
o GoToMeeting or other conference calling software – Basic
o Twitter / Instagram / Facebook Business Manager and other social media forums– a good understanding through use of personal accounts and a basic to intermediate for business usage
o WordPress or other blog hosting sites – Basic to intermediate
o Photo editing software – Basic

The current role is on a full time freelance based position paying £10.20 per hour, in line with the London living wage, per hour based on a 36-hour week, and offered on a 12 month contract. Benefits include flexible working hours and all reasonable and agreed expenses. As this is a work from home opportunity candidates must have facilities to accommodate this. Ideally the person will be based in London or the surrounding counties, as much of the work of The Circle is based in London. Please note the employment status of this role is currently under review and may be changed to an employee status. This will be known before the offering of the role to the selected candidate.

The Circle NGO promotes diversity and equal opportunities and we welcome applications from all relevant candidates.

To apply for this position please email your CV with a covering letter showing how you demonstrate the necessary skills and experience and can fulfil the responsibilities of the post, with the reference CPO2018 to hello@thecircle.ngo.

Please note that you must be eligible to work in the UK as we unfortunately cannot accept applications from anyone who is not legally able to work in the UK.

Applications close at 5 pm on Friday 24th August. Interviews will be held the following week (in person or by Skype). If you have any questions regarding this role, please email hello@thecircle.ngo.