A Year of Global Feminism

Image: Annie Lennox and Eve Ensler at The Circle’s Annual Gathering 2019

We kicked off the year at our Annual Gathering encouraging everyone to be courageous and confident in their actions to empower women and ‘Just do it’.  The day was full of inspiration and especially from Annie Lennox, Founder of The Circle, and Eve Ensler who talked about their activism and passion for women’s rights and left us all energised by their drive and commitment to ensure the world is an equal and just one for women. Since then our wonderful members, volunteers, allies and supporters have truly taken the words to heart and the past year has been incredibly successful and impactful for The Circle. We’d love to share with you some of the highlights of our year!

Global Feminism Campaign

 Last International Women’s Day, in partnership with Annie Lennox and Apple Music, we released a short film in support of our Global Feminism campaign. Both the short film and the campaign highlight the injustices still experienced by millions of women and girls the world over from misogyny, rape and violence to pay disparity. Every women and girl, no matter where they live, no matter the colour of their skin, no matter what religious faith, no matter what – must have access to the same basic human rights. Global Feminists believe in equality of rights, with empowerment and justice made available to every woman and girl in every corner of the world.

Annie drew support from some of the biggest names in music, film and beyond to help us, including Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Richard E Grant, Emeli Sande, Hozier, Farhan Akhtar, Richa Chada, Eddie Izzard, Gwendoline Christie, Beverley Knight and Mary J Blige. The film was shared far and wide and gave us the chance to remind the world of the huge inequalities and injustices that remain for millions of women and girls across the world. On the need for this campaign, Annie Lennox has said that:

‘We need to stand shoulder to shoulder in support of human rights, justice and equality for women and girls everywhere in the world, especially in countries where they are not even the lowest rung of the ladder.”

Image: Dua Lipa/Global Feminism Film

An Evening of Music and Conversation with Annie Lennox

In September we and 3,000 fans of Annie travelled to Scotland for An Evening of Music and Conversation with Annie Lennox in the SEC Armadillo, Glasgow. Following an incredible similar evening held in 2018 at Sadler’s Wells, Annie once again took to the stage to share thoughts, memories, and reflections in addition to treating the audience to a phenomenal musical performance. It was wonderful to see so many members and supporters there, many of which had travelled from far and wide to join us for this magical evening.  We were very honoured and thrilled that Annie was willing, once again, to deliver this wonderful event and raise valuable funds and awareness for The Circle and our work.  Using her platform on the stage to address the audience on some of the issues faced by women globally and to highlight the need for us all to be Global Feminists. A huge thank you to all who were involved, including the onstage and backstage teams, The Hunter Foundation, The Scottish Circle, our wonderful volunteers and all those that bought tickets.  It was our largest net fundraiser to date and all the proceeds go directly to empowering marginalised women and girls across the globe.

A Living Wage

It was a year of significant achievements for our Living Wage work.  We published our latest report, Fashion Focus: Towards a Legal Framework for a Living Wage, which sets out a proposal for a new legislative framework for ensuring a living wage for garment workers.  The report was launched in November at the Living Wage Symposium we held at the offices of Pinsent Masons in London.  There we were joined by incredible change-makers from the legal, investment, corporate and NGO sectors as well as academics, and policy makers including Jessica Simor QC, ASOS, Continental Clothing, BMO Global Asset Management, ASN Bank, Kempen, ACT, Fair Wear, Livia Firth and Clean Clothes Campaign among others. The need for a significant change in the area of a Living wage, after decades of small-scale pilots and gradual changes along with more transparency were the key themes throughout the day and came up again and again across all of the panels and discussions. Moving forward, we were reminded by our Ambassador Melanie Hall that:

“Everyone has a part to play, everyone in this room today is a consumer.”

This was significant step in the project in gaining significant buy-in to the need for legislative change and input and contribution about the type of legal framework needed to ensure manufacturing brands, retailers, and importers introduce a living wage within their supply chains.  Our Living Wage team have continued working to develop this work further and deliver our outline for a legislative framework to policy-makers and experts within the EU and beyond. We are excited for what the year ahead holds for our Living wage work and will press ahead to find a legislative solution to improve the lives of garment workers who struggle daily to provide for themselves and their families.

Image: Female garment worker

 The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network

The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network (MCJN) has continued in its incredible work supporting its 170 network members who are female journalists working in conflict and fragile states across the Middle East and North Africa region. The network has given them access to training, emergency assistance, and legal aid.

Many of the MCJN’s members and mentors have been instrumental in covering historic events in countries from Iraq to Yemen, to Egypt and Morocco. Unlike foreign reporters who are sent in to report on a story and then taken out to either go elsewhere or because it’s too difficult to stay many of the MCJN members remain, in the communities they live in, with war and violence around them and dealing with the aftermath. So, we have provided counselling for members and are part of a wider community of organisations supporting journalists to deal with the issues of mental health. Dima, the MCJN Editor, and one of our counsellors spoke about the issue and action we are taking to deal with it at the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism Forum in Jordan last Autumn.

This has been a huge year for the Network and they have grown from strength to strength. Dima had this to say on their growth and success:

“We started with a concept four years ago that has now grown into a vibrant online community of more than 170 Arab, female journalists. Not only are we proud of this achievement, but also humble and grateful to have had the chance to support amazing and resilient women who battle against the odds every day to speak truth to power.”

The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre

Another one of our project highlights was to continue our strong relationship with the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre. The centre is located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside of Cape Town. Khayelitsha is the largest township in the Western Cape province and has a high level of overcrowding and poverty. For years, unemployment and crime rates have been high, particularly around violence against women and children with little services and support for the victims. The Nonceba Centre was established to make up for the lack of effective intervention services and has a shelter for women who have survived domestic violence or have been victims of human trafficking. We have been supporting Nonceba for the past few years and have been inspired by their resilience and determination to empower their community and to ensure that the centre can provide a place of safety for women and their children. Most of the women in the shelter are HIV positive, are struggling to access healthcare and have received limited education and training. Thanks to our phenomenal members, The Circle have been able to continue to fund the shelter so that women can stay as long as they need rather than for the few weeks that the Nonceba Centre receive government funding for.

Image: Siyanda at the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre

More broadly our impact has been felt through a number of projects aiming to address Global Goal 5: Gender Equality including, but not limited to, expanding Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis’ service capacity for young survivors of gender-based violence, improving quality education for girls with Educate Girls in remote areas of India by providing 301 learning kits that will impact over 7,000 children, providing funding for the cost of 425 casework hours that enable ACT Alberta to carry out their Victim Support Services for survivors of trafficking which include trauma recovery, advocating for victims and improved access to the justice system, and training educators and entrepreneurs in Uganda to provide affordable sanitary products and educate girls and boys about menstrual health with Irise International.

Events

Of course, none of this would have been possible without our wonderful members, supporters, allies, and volunteers who have been fundraising and using their expertise and platforms to empower marginalised women and girls.

Great River Race

 Some members of The London Circle truly took ‘just do it’ to heart and at the Annual Gathering put a shout out for others to join together and form a team to enter the Great River Race in London last September. 17 women came together for this huge challenge to paddle a dragon boat 21 miles down the River Thames and to raise valuable funds for the women’s shelter at the Nonceba Centre. Although a few of them were experienced rowers, none of them had ever paddled in a dragon boat before and regardless of ability, they all trained hard and work together to achieve their goals. They had a wonderful race and raised over £20,000. Everyone at The Circle found it incredibly motivating and inspiration to watch the team throughout their training and fundraising. It costs just £125 to allow a woman and her child to stay at the Nonceba centre for one month, so the money they raised will be able to make a huge impact to the lives of women at the centre and we couldn’t be prouder!

Image: Friends and Members of The London Circle for The Great River Race

Jumble Fever

After the huge success of The Oxford Circle’s Jumble Fever in 2019, the team held an event even bigger and more ambitious this year. Having outgrown its original location, this year’s event was held in Oxford Town Hall and raised over £11,000 for the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre and the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network. Special guests included commentator, activist and TV presenter Caryn Franklin MBE and performances from Oxford bands The Mother Folks and The Kirals, DJs, and MC for the day Her Who. The volunteer team were incredibly busy in the months before the event and on the day to ensure the day was a success and all the people who came could find a great bargain in mountains of donated items. There were numerous stalls selling everything from women’s clothes, children’s items, books and bric a brac and there were celebrity donations including those from Colin Firth and Annie Lennox.

Chai Day

We would like to thank each and every one of our supporters who held a Chai Day this year. Chai Day is a fundraising initiative beginning on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to bring people together over a cup of Chai and raise funds for survivors of violence. This year, we will use the funds raised to support the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre, ACT Alberta, Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis and the End Violence Against Women Coalition. Our amazing supporters held Chai Days in schools, universities, churches, community halls and offices and we really appreciate their support.

Image: Chai Day

This year The Healthcare Circle was launched at their first event welcoming speakers from various specialism and expertise from the healthcare sector. FGM/C specialist midwives Joy Clarke and Huda Mohamed, Obstetrician Dr Brenda Kelly ad Psychotherapist and Activist Leyla Hussein joined the for the panel discussion Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: How best we can support women and girls?

Other highlights included being joined by Lorna Tucker and Charon Asetoyer for our screening of Amá to shed light on the important story of abuses committed towards Native American in the 1960s and also at our launch of Chai Day 2019, at which we were also incredible privileged to have our friends from Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis in attendance.

The Music Circle also took on the ambitious challenge of organising a series of fundraising events in collaboration with record label Trash Like You. Tallulah, a new member of The Music Circle, brought together fellow members and fantastic womxn artists for some incredible performances to support The Circle’s project with Irise International.

Image: Members and guests at the launch of The Healthcare Circle

Thank you!

We want to say a huge thank you to all of you for your continual support over the last year to help us change the odds stacked the most disempowered women.


‘A Rapist in Your Path’: Exploring Chile’s Viral Protest Anthem

Photo credit: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

On November 25th, 2019 – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – the streets of Santiago, Chile, were filled by thousands of women joined in protest. The Chilean women sang an anthem entitled “Un violador en tu camino” (“A Rapist in Your Path”), a song dedicated to the widespread sexual violence and human rights violations suffered by women in the country. The message of the song has resonated not only with Chileans, but with women across the globe – by the end of December, the song and its associated dance moves had been performed by protest groups as far as Nairobi and Tokyo but what inspired the viral feminist anthem that has swept across six continents?

A deeper look at the lyrics of “A Rapist in Your Path” can illuminate the issues that women in Chilean society are facing today. These roots are deeply political, with the song’s creators – the feminist theatre group Lastesis, based in the coastal city of Valparaíso – aiming to draw attention to the role of institutional actors like the police, the courts and politicians in upholding the structure of violence in Chile. For example, the choice of title by the group is a reference to “A friend in your path”, the official slogan of the Chilean Carabineros police force during the 1980s-1990s. That the song alludes to police as perpetrators of violence is an accurate reflection of reality in Chile; the Carabineros have been the subject of numerous controversies and accusations of brutality in recent decades. The violent history of this police force has been reignited since the onset of the current period of widespread protest in Chile. Beginning in October in response to rising subway fares and severe income inequality in the country[5],  the movement has since expanded to include gender issues among the various causes motivating protestors.  Chile’s National Human Rights Institute (NHRI) reports that the state’s crackdown on ongoing peaceful protests has produced “the most serious and multiple human rights violations” committed in 30 years, since the country was ruled by military dictatorship. Since the protests began hundreds of cases of legal actions for torture and other forms of violence have been filed against the government and as of December at least 26 protest-related deaths have been recorded.  Some of this brutality has taken the form of sexual and gender-based violence. From the beginning of the protests in October until late November, the NHRI filed criminal complaints relating to 166 cases of alleged sexual violence within the context of the protests. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch documents reports of forced stripping in police custody and the observation that “the police appear to be more likely to force women and girls to strip than men”, making the message of Lastesis’ chant even more unsettling: “Over your dreams smiling and sweet, watches your loving cop.”

The likeness the NHRI draws between recent levels of violence from government forces with those seen in Chile 30 years ago – during the right-wing dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled the country from 1973-1990 – can help shed light on the sources of the Carabineros’ power and abusive tendencies. During Pinochet’s regime, an estimated 40,000 Chileans were the victims of political detention, torture and extra-judicial execution, human rights violations in which the Carabineros were directly involved. Women suffered in particular as victims of sexual abuse by Pinochet’s forces – sexual assault, rape and forced pregnancy were common acts of torture used in Pinochet’s numerous detention centres across Chile. The dictator was arrested for crimes against humanity in 1998, although he was never sentenced for his crimes.

Chile’s unfavourable relationship with women’s rights extends beyond the direct actions of government agents, to the conditions experienced by women in Chilean society more generally. Chile’s 28-year-old ban on abortion came to an end in 2017, however the circumstances under which it is permitted are still restricted, and doctors can still refuse to perform abortions on ‘moral grounds’. Latin America has been named as the most dangerous region in the world for women according to a 2017 UNDP report, home to 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world – a reality which has sparked protest movements across the region, most recently and notably Monday’s protest in Mexico which saw women nationwide go on strike in protest of the country’s rampant gender-based violence. 42 cases of sexual abuse are reported to the police in Chile alone each day, but only ¼ of these result in judicial rulings. This contributes to the shocking fact that over a third (35.7%) of women in Chile who have experienced either physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime. Positive news came earlier this week with the signing in of a landmark gender-based violence law, named the ‘Gabriela Law’, which expanded the definition of femicide and increased the range of sentence that can be handed down for the crime in Chile. This milestone was somewhat overshadowed, however, by Chilean President Sebastian Piñera’s controversial statement that “sometimes it’s not just that men want to commit abuse, but also that women put themselves in a position where they are abused.” Piñera’s regressive and victim-blaming comments, alongside the abysmal conviction rate of sexual violence cases by Chilean courts summarise a patriarchal culture in which “it’s the cops, the judges, the state, the president” who are complicit; “the oppressive state is a rapist”.

The summer months of January and February marked a pause in civil unrest in Chile, but 8th March saw over 1 million women take part in International Women’s Day marches across the country. Rallies and marches continued into 9th March as a combined force of feminist groups, students and others protested for wider change. In cities like Antofagasta, the protests were eventually shut down by the Carabineros with the use of tear gas to disperse crowds. Gender-based violence is clearly not a stand-alone cause in Chile, but rather a movement being fought alongside the broader social issues driving Chileans to protest and demand significant institutional reform. As we continue into March, a month often noted for experiencing high levels of unrest in the country as it marks the anniversary of the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship, the international community will watch on as the people of Chile fight for systemic change.

This article was written by Holly. Holly is 23 years old from East Sussex, England. Since graduating with a degree in Politics and Economics in 2018 she has worked and volunteered in Africa and Asia and is currently living in China. Her interests include human rights, international security and development.

 


One Member’s Take on Global Feminism

“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. 

This article was written by member of The Circle, Emma Chance. To find out more about becoming a member click here. You can also hear the stories of some of our members on our blog.


Global Feminist Calendar March and April 2020

Photo: The Perfect Candidate

3-4 March – Because We Are Girls (Glasgow) 

Three sisters, Jeeti, Kira and Salakshana, have been fighting for more than eight years to finally gain some form of justice against a male cousin who abused them as children. For years they stayed silent for fear of blame and punishment. As the final verdict draws near, the sisters reflect on why they stayed quiet for so long. Deciding to focus more on the family dynamics that are prevalent in Punjabi culture rather than the grisly details of abuse, this is an important documentary that shines a light on the importance of support from the people that are closest to you. 

5 March – Women Behind Artivism (London)

Artivism – this is the concept of merging art & activism together. This coming March is very important for a number of reasons, but mainly as it is a month dedicated to celebrating women! Phaedra Peer X Brick Lane Gallery present ‘Women Behind Artivism’ an exhibition/event that will celebrate women that use their work to make bold statements. Panelists will explore the motivation behind their work, what makes them passionate about giving their work a pulse & the response they get to some of their more controversial pieces! Discussions will be centred around the importance of showcasing female bodies, sex in art & ‘art’powerment!

5-15 March – SheFest 2020 (Sheffield)

SheFest’s annual fringe festival is a 10-day event in Sheffield that “provides a female fronted addition to the region’s cultural calendar”. Aligning with International Women’s Day, the festival will include interactive activities, feminist film screenings, art, music, theatre, and feature panels and guest speakers.

It promises to be the biggest SheFest fringe in the festival’s history as the organisers collaborate with organisations across South Yorkshire, aiming to become the northern capital for International Women’s Day.

6-8 March – WOW Festival (London)

WOW is back in London this International Women’s Day for their tenth anniversary and to celebrate, the WOW Foundation presents their biggest and bravest festival yet. 

Over three days, WOW’s line-up of world-class speakers, activists and performers are joined by thousands to explore the state of gender equality across the globe and tackle the subjects that matter most to women and girls across the world today. 

We are honoured to have been invited to WOW once again. The Circle team will have an information stall on Sunday 8 March in the marketplace allowing those who have heard of us and those who know nothing about what we do to find out more about our projects and the issues they aim to tackle, including gender-based violence, the living wage and women in crises. We look forward to seeing our members, engaging with visitors of the WOW Market Place and making new friends! 

Photo: Beverley Knight at March4Women 2019

7 March – Never Going to Beat You Film Screening (London)

‘Never Going to Beat You’ threads together the varying and different stories of the 18 Gypsy and Traveller women, and it will raise awareness about domestic abuse within all communities.

The screening is followed by a panel discussion about domestic abuse, mental health and well-being within the Gypsy and Traveller communities.

8 March – March4Women (London)

CARE International’s #March4Women is a global movement for gender equality: it’s for anyone and everyone who wants to see a more equal world. Everyone is welcome. 

This year #March4Women will be celebrating the power and passion of women and girls who are on the frontline of responding to climate change. They are holding a pre-march event at the Women of the World festival: Emeli Sandé and RAYE will be performing alongside a star-studded line-up of musicians, actors, climate experts, youth activists and women directly impacted by the climate emergency.  

8 March – The Perfect Candidate (London)

In a small Saudi town, Maryam, an overworked doctor at an under-resourced clinic, impulsively decides to run for a seat on the municipal council. She faces endless hurdles as the town’s first female candidate: she can’t directly address groups of male voters, and isn’t supposed to show her face in her campaign video. Despite this, a determined Maryam’s popularity grows… This joyful and timely film offers much-needed optimism and hope for positive change. On International Women’s Day we’re pleased to celebrate this film and its director Haifaa Al-Mansour, herself a pioneering woman – her debut feature Wadjda made history as the first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and the first made by a Saudi woman.  Followed by Q&A with director Haifaa Al-Mansour.

8 March – All the Queens Big Quiz (Glasgow)

Know your Pankhurst from your Pink, Miuccia from your Manson, Lamarr from your Ladytron and Austen from your Atwood? 

Join The Scottish Circle girl gang this International Women’s Day at BAaD in Glasgow for an unashamedly fun day celebrating the world’s most inspirational women. 

DJ Queen Hannah Currie of famed club night MILK will soundtrack the afternoon, playing out the greatest ever all-female anthems, whilst the formidable Quiz Mistress Queen Bev Lyons of The Showbiz Lion will host. Will you be crowned International Women’s Day Quiz Queen for 2020 and take the top prize? 

There will be fizz on arrival. There will be top chat. There will be bingo and a raffle with prizes galore. There may even be a crown! What’s more, proceeds from All the Queens Big Quiz will directly benefit our friends at Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis. 

8 March – Her Century at RBCFT (Dumfries) 

Glimpse into the work, home life and leisure of Scottish women during the twentieth century.
Scotland’s women lived through major social change in the twentieth century, challenging their roles in society and fighting for equality: at work and at home, classroom to croft, girlhood to motherhood. In this programme there are crofters, campaigners, factory workers, psychologists, mothers, pilots and educators. 
Discover their stories and hear their voices in ‘Her Century’, a timely collection of archive film curated by the National Library of Scotland and guaranteed to spark debate. These films are screened together for the first time in a touring program full of contemporary relevance.
Featuring work by professional documentarians such as Sarah Erulkar, Budge Cooper, Jenny Gilbertson and Jenny Brown as well as amateur footage from Grace Williamson.

Screening to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March. A post film discussion will be facilitated by artist and researcher Dr T S Beall. 

8 March – Pen Your Own Logo (Leeds) 

Front Bum in collaboration with FLF is inviting you to come and create your own bad ass wall slogan for International women’s day. 

You will be loaded with good quality gsm paper and lots of exciting materials to create your perfect mantra with plenty of that Front Bum creative guidance to keep you feeling inspired. There will also be a selection of frames to buy on the day so you can immediately hang up your creation with pride. 

8 March – International Women’s Day Festival (Birmingham)

Join the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire as they reflect on and celebrate diversity in the music industry.

Exciting and thought-provoking events will include; live performances from RBC students alongside guest musicians, visual and sound installations, yoga and mindfulness classes, networking, female-led practical workshops, and panel discussions.

9 March – The Oxford Circle X Oxford Women International (Oxford)

OxWomIn and LMH FemSoc have invited The Oxford Circle to speak to students about Global Feminism! Leanne, Chair of The Oxford Circle is excited to be attending and will shed some light on what it means to be a member of The Circle.

10 March – The Goddess Space (London)

Chair of The Healthcare Circle, Alice Sinclair is teaming up with Anoushka Florence of The Goddess Space for an evening of goddess vibes for a good cause. Anoushka will be creating a sacred space in the beautiful Boca Cha Cha in Little Venice. You will be invited to step into this space as Anoushka guides you through the power of a women’s circle. This will be a journey of meditation, sharing, intention setting and ritual that will leave you feeling empowered, inspired and connected. 

For those who are not familiar with this practice, rest assured that this a safe and secure space that aims to leave you grounded, with a sense of purpose moving forward. Held at the beautiful Boca Cha Cha, tickets are £30. 

10-14 March – Sabrina Mahfouz: Lilith & Karaokay (London)

This lyrical play draws on the Jewish mythological figure of Lilith, Adam’s first wife, who refused to take the subservient role in their marriage and so was vilified as a sexually wanton night hag, and baby killer. Lilith takes place in a heightened present day, with Lilith working as a hotel room attendant: Adam runs the reception. Hotel guests Gloria and Ed have returned to the room where their daughter Eva was conceived some years earlier. Tragically, she was stillborn. Now, it is Ed’s fortieth birthday, and time to scatter Eva’s ashes. But can things go to plan when so much has been left unsaid and Lilith’s ancient fury is simmering just below the surface?

11 March – Living Wage Workshop with The Circle (Oxford)

For Oxford SU’s final Women*’s Week Event, The Circle are hosting a living wage workshop! We will be talking about fast fashion, consumer responsibility and how we can help. This session aims to encourage participants to think about their behaviour as consumers and inform on the progress of our living wage work.

19 March – For Sama (London)

On Thursday 19 March, join The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network for a special event at Leighton House Museum, celebrating an exciting new partnership between MCJN and Waad’s campaign, Action For Sama. 

Come along for an evening of drinks, canapés and conversations, with a chance to hear from Waad herself, plus the opportunity to watch a screening of her groundbreaking documentary, ‘For Sama‘. This event is now sold out.

Photo: The Circle’s Annual Gathering 2019

31 March – Annual Gathering (London)

Our Annual Gathering is an opportunity to bring our valued members together to thank and acknowledge you all for your support in our work, as we reflect on our achievements over the past 12 months and share our plans and strategy for 2020. As we know from previous years, it’s also an event full of inspiration and motivation from the range of speakers and fellow guests. 

Last year we had the pleasure of hearing from Annie Lennox and Eve Ensler, women from across our projects and a range of members. Melanie, Santosh, Laura, Annie and Susan all described how they had brought their transferable skills, their connections, and their passion to be active global feminists through their membership with The Circle. 

This year we are incredibly excited to be joined by Helen Pankhurst CBE, an international development and women’s rights activist and writer. Helen is currently Care International’s Senior Advisor working in the UK and Ethiopia and her book, Deeds Not Words: The Story of Women’s Rights Then and Now was published in 2018. 

2 April – Book Launch: No Modernism without Lesbians with Diana Souhami (London)

The extraordinary story of a singular group of women in a pivotal time and place – Paris – between the wars – how the lesbian community fostered the shock of the new.

In the summer of 1945, just after the Nazi occupation, Truman Capote visited Romaine Brooks’s abandoned studio in Paris. The portraits there, large and imposing, were of women: Ida Rubinstein, Una Troubridge, Gluck, Elisabeth de Gramont, Renata Borgatti, Bryher. Romaine’s lover Natalie Barney said that Paris had been ‘the Sapphic Centre of the Western World’, and these women defined it. Capote himself called them ‘the all-time ultimate gallery of famous dykes’. This book is about that gallery and celebrates the central role they played in the cultural revolution that was Modernism. Free to attend! 

4 April – Periods: A Brief History (London) 

Periods: A Brief History will open at the Camden gallery in April, looking at stigmas and perceptions around menstruation. 

From Ancient Greece to the present day, the free exhibition will explore how attitudes towards menstruation have been impacted by culture, religion and lack of understanding, as well as tackling long-held taboos. 

Exhibition curator Sarah Creed said: “It is more pertinent now, more than ever, to be focusing on periods – menstrual health activism is growing throughout the world and the UK is no exception.” 

She highlighted the rise of campaigns from Free Periods getting free menstrual products into schools and colleges throughout the country, to grassroots charities such as Bloody Good Period, Red Box Project and Tricky Period. 

19 April – Feminism, Interrupted: Disrupting Power (London) 

More than just a slogan on a t-shirt, feminism is a radical tool for fighting back against structural violence and injustice. Feminism, Interrupted is a bold call to seize feminism back from the cultural gatekeepers and return it to its radical roots.

Lola Olufemi explores state violence against women, the fight for reproductive justice, transmisogyny, gendered Islamophobia and solidarity with global struggles, showing that the fight for gendered liberation can change the world for everybody when we refuse to think of it solely as women’s work. Including testimonials from Sisters Uncut, migrant groups working for reproductive justice, prison abolitionists and activists involved in the international fight for Kurdish and Palestinian rights, Olufemi emphasises the link between feminism and grassroots organisation.

Reclaiming feminism from the clutches of the consumerist, neoliberal model, Feminism, Interrupted shows that when ‘feminist’ is more than a label, it holds the potential for radical transformative work. 

30 April – Audre Lorde, The Berlin Years (London) 

Audre Lorde – the Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 documents Audre Lorde’s influence on the German political and cultural scene during a decade of profound social change, a decade that brought about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the re-unification of East and West Germany. This film chronicles an untold chapter of Lorde’s life: her empowerment of Afro-German women, as she challenged white women to acknowledge the significance of their white privilege and to deal with difference in constructive ways. 
Supported by Lorde’s example Afro-German women began to write their history and their stories and to form political networks on behalf of Black people in Germany. Film screening produced by The Batty Mama Film Club and in association with Evidence To Exist Research Group. 

 


Global GoalsCast Partnership

We are thrilled to announce that The Circle have become partners of the incredible Global GoalsCast.

“Our partners are the heart of the podcast.  The stories that prove we are making the world a better place all come from our partners – from rock stars like Annie Lennox to female farmers in Zambia to girls learning to code in refugee camps. We can’t make the podcast without them.  So delighted to be working with The Circle.”

– Edie Lush, Co-Presenter of Global GoalsCast

Global GoalsCast is a podcast that inspires and empowers listeners to make the world a better place by sharing the stories of individuals, companies, and organisations that are advancing and achieving a more sustainable world.

In 2015, 193 world leaders signed a global agenda with 17 goals to achieve a more prosperous, peaceful, and sustainable world by the year 2030. These goals cover a range of issues, such as poverty, hunger, health, education, climate change, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, environment and social justice. The Circle’s projects on Global Goal 5: Gender Equality, but there is often a Global Feminist angle to many of the issues that the podcast covers.

The podcast will make the goals easier to understand, more relatable, and feel more attainable for every listener. Each episode offers listeners inspirational stories, high quality data, and numerous ways in which they can take action and personally contribute to the global efforts making the goals’ achievement possible.

Recent podcasts episodes have featured the stories of migrants, perspectives on preventable diseases, girls in tech, and even an interview with The Circle Founder Annie Lennox on why we should all be Global Feminists. The podcast’s episodes are often inspired by their partners so watch this space for episodes amplifying the stories of the women and girls in our projects.

The Hosts

Claudia Romo Edelman and Edie Lush are Co-Hosts of the podcast. Claudia is an advocate for the inclusion equity and representation. Her mission is to use her voice to build bridges and remind us that we are all human. She is the Founder of the We Are All Human Foundation in addition to being a Co-Host of ‘Global GoalsCast’. Edie Lush is a British-American Journalist, is an Author, Executive Editor of Hub Culture, a Communication Trainer and MC. Edie has thousands of interviews under her belt. In her role as Executive Editor at Hub Culture, she is responsible for creating impactful social media content around the globe, from events in Davos to the UN General Assembly in New York and to the COP Climate Summits.

Global Feminism Episode

Annie Lennox is the special guest on this episode of Global GoalsCast. The rock star talks about why she moved away from music and into an activist role fighting HIV / AIDS and working to improve the lives of girls and women around the world. She urges women — and men — to embrace the term Global Feminism. “If you use the term Global Feminism to describe what you represent and what you stand for,” Lennox says, “you understand feminism all around the world. It is not only from a western perspective.” At its heart, Global Feminism recognises that there are millions of girls and women around the world that “don’t have a voice and by using the term you’re making them present and known.” Click here to listen!


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle member Diane

This month, as part of Widen Your Circle, we have spoken to a number of our members about their involvement with The Circle and what it means to be a member!

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I am the Chair of The Music Circle, a mother, partner, daughter, sister, woman in music, strong woman, student and local council officer!

I am a mother of two teenagers, which has its challenges, but I am so mega proud of them. Initially a working single mum with two kids under the age of two and suffering with severe post natal depression, it was tough. So when the opportunity came up to do what I had always dreamed of, which was work in the music industry, I jumped at it. Within two years I had started my own business RM2 Music, a management company, and live music agency. I’ve been doing this ever since!

A few years ago, I will admit that the industry had left me a bit jaded and so made the decision to take a step back. I have scaled back on the operations and my own responsibilities and now work for my council helping to support local businesses, which I love. Taking that step back helped me fall back in love with music so I can be very selective on what I take on; RM2 Music lives!

To relax I love strength training and have competed in a few strong woman competitions. It is so empowering and reminds you what awesomeness there is within the female form. As well as being physically fit, I am now exercising the brain and have just started studying for my Masters degree which is very scary – I’m still trying to understand the title of my first assignment!

Why did you decide to become a member of The Circle?

Because women are awesome! There is nothing like a strong sisterhood when we come together in solidarity there is a magic and a strength that manifests which lifts and inspires you. To be able to help and provide a voice for those less fortunate than yourself is an honour. I’ve always been a strong advocate for women, whether that be in business or in music, so joining The Circle seemed a natural move.

Are there any of The Circle’s projects that are particularly close to your heart and can you tell us a bit more about your involvement?

When I became the Chair of The Music Circle we were already supporting Irise, an project partner addressing the taboo and shame of periods, not just in Uganda but in the UK too.  It has been great what Tallulah and Ava have been doing, holding music evening raising the profile of the issues and funds for the charity. As a survivor of abuse the statistic that 1 out of 3 women are victims of the crime touched me deeply. Not a lot of women have the opportunity or strength to get their apology or justice so to be able to give them the support and break the silence is very important to me.

I recorded a video in late 2019 to share my story of abuse as a girl, the apology I sought out and received, and my journey with The Circle:

What does Global Feminism mean to you?

Highlighting the inequalities against women and opening the conversation to all, including men, as it’s important they are part of the solutions.

How have you used your professional skills or knowledge as a member of The Circle?

Project management and industry contacts have been pulled upon to bring events together and help reinvigorate The Music Circle which is our priority for the next year.

To find out more about The Music Circle and what their members have been doing to empower women and girls, click here.


Global Feminist Calendar January and February 2020

Photo credit: Femspectives

2020 is going to be a big year for The Circle, here’s some fantastic events to get it started!

18 January – Jumble Fever (Oxford)

After the huge success of The Oxford Circle’s Jumble Fever last January, they are back again! This year, in the Oxford Town Hall, to raise funds for the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre. Collect your preloved items, jumble and bric a brac to donate to a good cause! There will be DJs and entertainment throughout the day, as well as an exciting celebrity raffle.

£5 entry fee OR bring a bag of donations before 2pm and just pay £1 to enter!

18 January – Electrifying Women: a Wikithon (Leeds)

Join Electrifying Women, an AHRC funded project based at the University of Leeds, to edit and add information about historical women engineers to Wikipedia. Training and historical resources (including suggested women engineers) will be provided. This is a free event, open to everyone!

Don’t worry if the idea of creating a whole new page sounds daunting. Some of the most valuable work is done by people adding new information and improving data. On the day, the group will also be demonstrating how working with Wikidata can make women’s history more searchable and accessible.

20-21 January – International Conference on Feminist History of Philosophy and Feminist Philosophers (London)

This conference aims to bring together leading academic scientists, researchers and research scholars to exchange and share their experiences and research results on all aspects of Feminist History of Philosophy and Feminist Philosophers.

23 January – Archives Tour: Women’s History (London)

Fancy meeting the suffragette who was so excited by the cause she bought the WSPU tea set twice, the remarkable woman who put up Ghandi in the East End, Britain’s first ever female firefighter, and the Berwickshire Granarchists?

Join Special Collections and Archives Manager Stefan Dickers to hear about these activists and many more in a tour of the fascinating women’s and feminist history collections.

25 January – January Intention Setting with The Oxford Circle (Oxford)

To celebrate the new possibilities in the upcoming year, The Oxford Circle are holding a 3 hour workshop to help you step into 2020 with clarity and focus in all aspects of your life. There will be space to reflect on the past year and decide what you would like to take with you into this new decade.

They will discuss the power of intention setting as a tool for inspired action throughout the year and hope that you will leave with a vision board to refer to as you step into 2020 consciously and with purpose.

There will be tea from The Happy Larder, coffee from Missing Bean and cake from Barefoot Bakery provided.

4 February – Trailblazers: Letters to My Younger Self (London)

Maya Angelou, at the age of 85, had this advice for her 15-year old self:

‘Find some beautiful art and admire it, and realise that that was created by human beings just like you, no more human, no less’.

Advice like that has both universal resonance and specific relevance to women of colour. Most people have fallen in love, discovered the power of art and wondered whether they have the capacity to achieve great things. But women of colour have to contend with unique experiences. Many feel the sting of erasure when they are young – not seeing themselves in literature, on TV or occupying positions of power.

In the second instalment of gal-dem’s Trailblazers series, Intelligence Squared has partnered with gal-dem to bring together a collection of outstanding women – and their letters – to stage. They range from playwright Bonnie Greer to footballer Eni Aluko and comedian Shappi Khorsandi. The event will be chaired by BBC Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo.

5 February – The Cruel Cut Screening (London)

The Dahlia Project presents BAFTA nominated documentary The Cruel Cut, which will be followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers and other prominent voices in women’s rights and FGM. All proceeds will go towards The Dahlia Project, which works to achieve an end to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by creating safe spaces to support individuals and societies affected by FGM, protect children from harm and empower communities to lead change.

10 February – When the Going Gets Tough: women and the future of global peace and security (London)

This talk hosted by LSE’s Centre for Women, Peace and Security will be introducing their new Director, Sanan Naraghi-Anderlini. This is the centre’s 5th anniversary and will be an opportunity to celebrate their mission of providing an academic space for scholars, practitioners, activists and policy makers to develop strategies to promote justice, human rights and participation of women in conflict affected areas.

15 February – Suitable Women: Films of Female Friendship (Glasgow)

Pity Party Film Club will return to CCA Glasgow for their third all-day event showcasing four on-screen depictions of female friendship. Throughout the day, they will be screening Career Girls, Clockwatchers, Tangerine and Thelma Louise. Tickets for each screening cost £6 and or you can purchase an all-day ticket for all four films for just £15. For more information on each film, click the link!

20 February – Femspectives 2020 – Glasgow Feminist Film Festival (Glasgow)

Femspectives is a film series and festival in Glasgow. It provides a platform for feminist storytelling and safe spaces for conversations about feminisms, social issues, and politics. They are yet to release the line- up for the 2020 festival, but make sure to save the date! We’ll add the full details as soon as they’re released.

20 February – Everything I Ever Wanted to Tell My Daughter About Men (London)

As part of The Globe’s Voices in the Dark series, next year they will host a staged reading of Everything I Ever Wanted to Tell My Daughter About Men, a new black comedy by actor and writer Lorien Haynes and directed by Tara Fitzgerald, which traces a woman’s relationship history backwards, exploring the impact of sexual assault, addiction and teen pregnancy on her adult relationships.

Presented in association with Rise and The Circle, all profits from this reading will go towards supporting survivors of sexual violence, and will also mark the planned introduction of the Worldwide Sexual Violence Survivor Rights United Nations Resolution at the United Nations in January 2020, which addresses the global issue of sexual violence and pens into existence the civil rights of millions of survivors.


The Circle’s Living Wage Symposium

Photo credit: Nader Elgadi

On 8 November, we continued our work to ensure a Living Wage for the millions of women working in the garment industry by convening a symposium to bring together those with the same aim. We were joined at Pinsent Masons by incredible change-makers and enjoyed discussions from the legal, investment, corporate and NGO sectors as well as academics, and policy makers including Jessica Simor QC, ASOS, Continental Clothing, BMO Global Asset management, ASN Bank, Kempen, ACT Coalition, Fair Wear and Clean Clothes Campaign amongst others.

 

We began the day hearing from our keynote speaker, the inspirational Anannya Bhaattacharjee, founder and President of the Garment and Allied workers union in Northern India. Anannya encouraged the room to push forward ‘the theme of solutions’ on the urgent issue of a living wage. She also took the opportunity to remind us of the abuse that happens throughout supply chains that is facilitated by the lack of a living wage and the fact that many consumers are unaware of the true cost of garments. The need for increased transparency was a key theme throughout the day and came up again and again across all of our panels.

“Fashion brands are the drivers of the supply chain” – Anannya Bhaattacharjee

Jessica Simor QC, the legal driving force behind our second report, used her opening speech as an opportunity to remind us that the industry is an uneven playing field. This environment is one that works against brands that want to do better in their supply chains and began the conversation of what structural changes need to be made to allow retailers, investors and individuals to introduce a living wage within their supply chains without losing their competitive edge.

 

Our different panels spoke from positions of experience across many difference fields and with a varied wealth of knowledge. However, many of our speakers spoke about how important legislation that the report outlines will be in achieving the living wage, how transparency for the consumer but also for regulatory boards is vital, and discussed different methodologies on how to implement legislation with ‘teeth’.

“The poorer you are the more vulnerable you are and the more vulnerable you are the more exploited you are …. so a living wage makes a real difference from the ground up” – Adil Rehman

 

Melanie Hall, QC, Ambassador for The Circle, and Livia Firth, Founder of Eco-Age and Ambassador for The Circle closed the day with some incredibly poignant speeches. Livia quoted lecturer and author, Naomi Tyrell, “nothing will ever change unless there is a transnational agreement on wages, otherwise the companies will keep hopping from one country to the other, in pursuit of the cheapest bargain.” This is the argument outlined in our report launched at the event wage changes must be made simultaneously and region-wide to ensure that brands cannot continue to the “race to the bottom” in countries that simply cannot turn down the employment provided by the fashion industry.

 

All those involved in this report understand that there will be obstacles and there will be resistance, but as our Ambassador Melanie Hall closed with:

“Everyone has a part to play, everyone in this room today is a consumer”

A huge thank you to all of our speakers and to JJ Charitable Trust and Pinsent Mason for their support in making this symposium happen. Keep an eye on The Circle’s website and social media for updates on our living wage work. You can read the full report here.


Cry Power Podcast

Listen below to catch Annie on the first episode of Hozier’s new podcast series Cry Power in partnership with our friends at Global Citizen. You can listen here!

The Cry Power podcast is hosted by Hozier in partnership with Global Citizen, talking to inspirational artists and activists about how to change the world. In its inaugural episode, Hozier talks with Annie Lennox about why feminism must be inclusive of men; how her personal story of activism is rooted in her family; and how music can make change happen. But it’s not all talk — you can join the Global Citizen movement and take action below to end gender inequality all over the world. Subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Acast now.

“I’m absolutely delighted to be part of ‘#CryPower’ – the brand new ‘Hozier – Global Citizen’ podcast in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Goal Number 5 (Gender Equality) represents the urgent need for transformation and empowerment in every aspect of the lives of millions of women and girls everywhere around the world. From education to protection against gender based abuse and violence. There is a desperate need for #GlobalFeminism everywhere!”

– Annie Lennox

In Global Citizen’s piece on the podcast, James Hitchings-Hales writes “The last time Annie Lennox met Hozier, they were rehearsing a duet together in a Los Angeles hotel room — without yet realising that their shared vision for the world around them stretched further than music.

Years later, the two are in a recording studio across central London, relaxing into a dark leather sofa. They’re talking about how art has often defined activism throughout history — in conversation for the first episode of the Cry Power podcast in partnership with Global Citizen.

“Music defines change,” Lennox says, later pointing to Childish Gambino’s This Is America as a music video that truly woke people up, a moment Hozier agrees is an “arresting piece of work.” He suggests that music can tell the truest stories about human experience: “It’s a real vehicle for the zeitgeist.”

Lennox and Hozier, now close friends, talk for over an hour. The topic: global feminism, pertaining to the fifth of the UN’s Global Goals — achieving gender equality to empower all women and girls. They touch on everything from education and HIV/AIDS, to #MeToo and gender violence. ”

Read the rest of the article here!

#GlobalFeminism


South Africa’s Gender-Based Violence State of Emergency

Uyinene Mrwetyana

I’d like to share a bit about my week as The Circle’s Relationship Manager, as dual South African / British citizen and as an empowered woman lucky enough to be born into a reality seemingly more equal than others. I spend most of my professional time and energy connecting inspiring women to each other and finding ways that they can support some of the most vulnerable women and girls globally. The voices we amplify through The Circle tell stories of injustices that are so far removed from my own life experiences that I desperately want them to not be real. But they are.

The women whose stories we share are more than just statistics, they are women like you and me. I could be her; she could be you. As a member of The Circle, I have found many avenues to transform the shock of these stories and my own denial, grief and anger into activism. This is not enough, but is something, and when connected with the energy and action of the other members and seeing women empowered because we are choosing to do something instead of nothing, that feels like claiming back the power to bring about the change we so desperately need. Outside of work I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by kind, supportive people, who have set high expectations for how we should be as human beings. Professionally and personally people in my life give me space to express my passion for equality, to rant, to cry, to rage and this support is essential to my mental health and wellbeing.

The first week in September 2019 has been a dark one. Media in South Africa has and continues to report stories of victims who were brutally murdered, exposing the epidemic of gender-based violence across the land. Blood of South Africa’s women spilled by men who knew them intimately or not at all. This week the echoing silence of those in power was heard loudly over the lamentations of the people. We have watched as that silence was broken with language blaming the victims for the crimes committed against them. The public lashed back as women and men shared the governments official statement with corrections made in red font, like a learned response from a teacher to a pupil whose work missed the point of the exercise entirely, the only thing missing was a red letter F circled in the top corner.

To many, South Africa represents the most progressive country on the continent. Colonisation instilled the western ideologies and systematic structures as a foundation familiar to tourists from the West. So why shine a light on country with more financial stability that its neighbours? Let’s begin with August 2018. South Africa’s Women’s Day is held on the 8 August and is meant to be a month of celebration of the mothers and daughters of the country in remembrance of the women uprising against the Apartheid Pass Laws in 1956. Instead, thousands of my South Africa sisters halted the empty celebratory tokenisms to unite their voices in protest against the gender-based violence, which currently holds more than half the population hostage to fear and threat of violence, assault and femicide. The #TotalShutdown movement saw uprisings across the country with the clear message #MyBodyNotYourCrimeScene. Fast forward to 1 April 2019, South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa declared that gender-based violence in South Africa as a ‘national crisis’. A declaration was signed with a promise to eradicate the femicide that is taking the lives of South Africa’s women on a daily basis. 2016 data from the World Health Organisation reports that the femicide rate in South Africa was 12.1 per 100,000, almost 5 times higher than the global average of 2.6 per 100,000. In his address to the Nation, Ramaphosa stated that ‘’According to the SAPS Crime Statistics report of 2018, femicide increased by 11% over the last two years,” he told the assembled crowd. “Stats SA reports that 138 per 100,000 women were raped last year, the highest rate in the world.”

Our story continues on 3 September, the date on which the body of a young women, Uyinene Mrwetyana, was found dumped in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Uyinene, a daughter, sister a friend was violently assaulted and raped before being bludgeoned to death with scales at a post office in Cape Town. The horror of crime against a woman who was simply trying to collect a parcel from the Clareinch post office has sparked a national outcry from the people of South Africa . Uyinene’s body was found a mere 15-minute drive from The Circle’s partner project, Nonceba Family Counselling Centre, a refuge for women who are victims of sexual violence and assault. Personally, this fact has hit a nerve for me. I share stories about the women empowered by the life changing work this shelter on a daily basis and our members inspire me with their ideas on how to raise funds essential to continuing this work. Even more importantly, I have heard women tell me personally about how Nonceba has literally saved their lives. Their voices are my beacon of hope this week, knowing that they are reclaiming their lives back from the violence a mere 15 minutes down the road from where Uyinene’s body was found.

I have spilled many tears this week. I have had very difficult, but important conversations with the men in my life, I have listened to the rage of women, and I have grieved for the lives of women taken by men and gender-based violence, especially in South Africa. I took some time yesterday afternoon to cry for the lives lost and those left behind, irrevocably changed forever. I had a cup of tea, put my Relationship Manager hat on and joined a conference call. I listened as members in the USA shared their thoughts with me on how they want to do more to help victims of sex trafficking by supporting our partner project ACT Alberta. Another member reached out to tell me about a series of music events she has lined up to support our projects, one of which will be a Chai Day to raise funds to support victims of gender-based violence. My inbox is full of inspiring ideas and hope from people who are unequivocally demanding change. The women I work with have, without even knowing it, pulled me from my own personal despair this week and I am forever grateful for the connections I have as a member of The Circle.

These glimmers of hope reminded me that in moments of tragedy doing something positive is always better than doing nothing.

So I took action.

I made a donation to Nonceba in the hope that I can help safe another life.

I shared stories of victims with people, in person and online, to help raise awareness and break the taboos.

I signed this petition calling for South Africa’s  parliament to declare gender-based violence as a state of emergency. According to the Change.org petition, the number of women murdered by men in South Africa is approximately 3000 per year, while approximately 50,000 women will experience sexual assault or physical violence per year. By comparison, Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency in February 2019 when the more than 8500 cases of rape were reported in 2018.

I registered to host a Chai Day for The Circle to raise essential funds needed to empower victims of gender-based violence to reclaim their lives and to be part of the movement to raise awareness and end the violence.

I wrote this blog post to share the pain and stories of our global sisters.

Finally, I am asking you to join me in doing something small too, so that our small actions can collectively be part of something powerful and life changing for a woman or girl facing injustices that no human being should have to face.

The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre: Siyanda and her son

#WomenEmpoweringWomen#GlobalFeminism