“I am now proud to call myself a Global Feminist and I would invite others to do the same.”
Previously I hadn’t wanted to call myself a feminist, I felt the word was tainted and outdated, a clichéd stereotype excluding men. However, if you look at the facts it’s obvious that things aren’t right. Women make up two thirds of the world’s illiterate people, 1 in 3 women will experience physical or sexual violence, a woman dies in childbirth every two minutes, and so the list continues. I realised how wrong I was and how important it is to fight for change. I also realised how important it was to reverse these preconceived notions of what feminism is and promote a feminism that is inclusive of all.
After graduation, having always wanted to travel, I went to India. Growing up I sometimes sensed being female put me at a disadvantage and struggled with feelings of frustration and limitation – despite being born in the UK – a country that remains high on global gender equality indexes. Gender inequality is visible throughout the world, but witnessing first-hand the obstacles experienced by women and girls in low-income countries in the Global South, I realised the importance of Global Feminism.
I found The Circle unintentionally through fundraising for Girls Education in India a few years ago. Since then, I have learnt that feminism equates to respect, equality, and the importance of including people of all genders to achieve this. Joining The Circle has been empowering. I have spent much of my life thinking “I’m just … I’m just a girl, a woman, a mother … where is my voice?” Last March I went to The Circle’s Annual Gathering slightly underprepared and suddenly found myself in a network of inspiring women. From the outside, it is easy to see others as strong, successful and powerful but not see these qualities in yourself; we often hold ourselves back with our own perceived inadequacies. When I stepped inside The Circle, I saw female power and realised my own strength. I left the meeting with the phrase ‘just do it’ ringing in my ears, replacing the ‘I’m just’ and I knew that together we could achieve real change. I am now proud to call myself a Global Feminist and I would invite others to do the same.
My personal interests focus on girls’ education in India and ethics within the garment industry, particularly The Circle’s Living Wage work. Over twelve years ago I started buying clothes in India to sell in the UK and have been visiting India annually since then. Today I run a business that wholesales our unique clothing range to independent shops across the UK and work closely with tailors to ensure that no one is exploited in the production of our garments and that there is transparency throughout our supply chain. The majority of my clothing is made by the same family I have worked with since I met them in 2005 in rural Rajasthan, Northern India. Together our businesses and families have grown, and a strong friendship has developed. Over the years I have returned to India as a solo woman, with my daughter as a single mother and this year I was blessed to take my own mother.
Despite sharing food and spending time together in the home it has been hard to form close friendships with the women I meet in India. Within my tailor’s family the women are always introduced as sister, wife or mother and whether it is the language barrier, shyness, or fear of speaking out of turn, it has been hard to go deeper in our relationships. In the family home I meet Laxmi, a sturdy bejewelled older woman, proud mother to her three sons (who manage the family tailoring business), all of whom live with her and her husband in the family home with their wives and children. In the domestic sphere it is clear she is in charge. Her daughters in law are beautiful young women and I sit with them in the home as they chat and giggle in Hindi. They cook the most delicious meals to share with me, presenting me with dish after dish of tasty treats. Between them they have eight children aged 1 – 18 years, all of which grow up in the house together. The women work together to bring up the children and keep the home and when I ask them how they are and what they want in life I am met with a coy smile or neutral expression. Of the eight children the eldest girl is 16 and is due to go to college next year to study engineering. She will be one of the first girls in the family to receive further education, but her father is very clear that as soon as she finishes college she will be married. For the men in the family tradition is very important and although they can see the importance of all the children receiving a good education, they feel strongly their traditional values and family life must be upheld.
In the market square you will regularly meet strong women; these women have been working on the streets since childhood, selling anklets and henna tattoos to tourists. Always dressed immaculately in traditional Rajasthani costume, these women are always happy to share their stories and regularly invite tourists to their makeshift homes on the edge of the dessert. This is a combination of Indian hospitality and entrepreneurship, these women have generally been married young but often have no financial support from their husbands (stories of domestic abuse and alcoholism are common, as well as the inability to find work due to disability or illness) and the impossibility of finding employment themselves with little or no education and children to bring up leaves them no alternative but to tout on the streets. There is no social security for these women and their voices are not often heard.
Unfortunately, gender inequality in still deeply ingrained in many aspects of culture in India. Sadly, girls are at a disadvantage from before birth with increasing incidents of gender-based abortion. Domestic violence, sexual harassment, female illiteracy and child marriage are all common problems. In rural India, 70% of girls are married before they reach 18. The country is experiencing a wave of awareness surrounding the prevalence of sexual violence occurring, a woman is raped every twenty minutes.
Women’s rights in India have reached a crisis point and education, unemployment and gender discrimination are forming a barrier to women’s empowerment. As well as campaigning for political reform, there needs to be a focus on education for girls. In rural areas of Rajasthan, girls are three times more likely to be out of school than other children in India and the female rate of literacy in Rajasthan is the lowest in the country and six in ten girls in Rajasthan marry as children.
The Circle works with Mumbai based NGO Educate Girls, a charity focused on getting girls into school and providing them with the support needed to stay in school. They use a Creative, Learning and Teaching curriculum to aid girls, particularly if they have fallen behind or have missed periods of school due to having been kept home for domestic work. Support from The Circle has enabled Educate Girls to provide CLT learning kits to 301 schools, improving the education of 7,000 children. As well as previously fundraising for this, this year I visited the Fior Di Loto Foundation, a private girl’s school in the village in which I work. The Foundation was founded in 2003 to provide education for some of the poorest girls living in and around Pushkar. The school provides everything a child needs to attend school, such as transport, uniform, school meals, and books. There are government schools in India but children from the poorest communities are often unable attend due to these constraints. For some families, the school provides extra support with food so that girls are not encouraged to drop out to look after the home or to marry. The foundation has also started a new project to support women during and after childbirth, providing a clean and safe environment. Through the foundation, I sponsor a girl to ensure she receives a full education and I am committed to promoting and fundraising for girls’ education in Rajasthan.
I live in Somerset and it is my aim to introduce The Circle to my local community. Last year I hosted a fundraising event, talked to people about The Circle’s work and promoted the organisation through social media by sharing the #GlobalFeminsm campaign and provoking articles. This year we will be marking International Women’s Day and continuing to spread the word about Global Feminism.