Widen Your Circle: with The Circle Member Efe

“Her story has encouraged people like me to know that you’re not alone in this situation, and that’s what The Circle is all about”

Efe is a Biomedical Scientist and a member of The Circle. In her Widen Your Circle vlog, Efe explains why she is a member and tells us about one fellow member that has inspired her to continue working towards gender equality.

#WidenYourCircle

The Circle members are women from all walks of life who come together to support some of the most marginalised women and girls across the globe.

Click here to become a member of The Circle and Widen Your Circle.


Relationship Manager Musings: Teabags and Hashtags

 

Peta Barrett, the Relationship Manager at The Circle, on the Chai Day 2017 launch and why you should organise a Chai Day to raise awareness about gender-based violence

Colourful falling leaves, busy squirrels and tea go hand in hand for me. My autumn is always tea-inspired. Tea spiced with meaningful discussions with friends; cosy evenings in with a hot brew as energy levels start to cool with the weather; tea steaming up the windows, and tea’s magically unique comforting warmth, like a hug in a mug.

As a member of The Circle, chai tea and autumn brewed together in November also means confronting hard truths and saying enough is enough. Last month, Chai Day was launched with our members. An inspiring evening with speakers — The Circle Executive Director Sioned Jones, who shared The Circle’s mission; Santosh Bhanot, Chair of The Asian Circle, who started the Chai Day movement and shared her experiences of visiting women supported by funds raised through Chai Day, and Gina Conway of Gina Conway Salons — an inspiring member who shared her experience of hosting Chai Day at her salons in 2016.

Chai Day is an opportunity to gather people around a hot beverage on 25 November — significantly the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women — to look at how gender-based violence manifests in our community and what we can do about it. Last month was also the month when the #MeToo hashtag flooded the internet. With all the awareness scrolled and clicked through on smart phones, tablets and screens, the importance of Chai Day is more significant than ever before. It is the vital next step to engaging and talking about the issue (and I don’t mean via 140 characters in the comments thread).

As a professional working for women’s rights, a friend to many who have experienced more than just a “tap on the arse”, and as someone who can freely identify as a woman in a city where I am more empowered than most, I feel that it is important to facilitate conversations around this topic. Chai Day offers people a platform to do this. If we can ensure that dialogue about gender-based violence in our communities, and those around the world, continue past social media trends, we will be winning one small battle in the current war on women and girls.

The #MeToo storm that has hit social media is important because it has demonstrated that experiences of gender-based harassment and assault are commonplace amongst women, and that it exists across women of all ages, races, culture and class. The #MeToo trend is, in isolation, far from perfect because the victim is still being expected to place herself in a vulnerable position (by speaking out) as well as lead the discussion in a world that still largely blames the victim. It also ignores other genders affected by gender-based violence and is in danger of ignoring the serious disparities that exist between experiences and why these occur.

To prevent the hashtag from existing only as a social media flurry that will fizzle out, we need to be inspired by the overwhelming outcry and use it proactively to initiate and establish dialogues between all genders. This is important not only for the reality of the situation to take hold, but also to ensure that all people are able to reflect on the roles we play in contributing towards the inequalities that exist between genders in 2017. Uniting and talking about experiences to bring about lasting change is the real intention behind the initial Me Too campaign initiated by Tarana Burke ten years ago. It is also the inspiration behind The Circle’s Chai Day as part of the global movement for gender equality.

For these reasons and so many more I will be arming myself with my #ChaiDay and #MeToo hashtags, some hard facts about gender-based violence, videos of The Circle’s inspiring projects and some chai teabags. My invitations have gone out and we will be opening our home in London on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to friends, colleagues and people we would like to get to know better.

I am asking my guests to bring their questions, experiences, opinions and an open mind. If they enjoy the treats, hot drinks and discussions and feel inspired to donate towards projects aimed at ending violence against women – great I’ll have a money box for their small change and a PC ready for any online donations. If they don’t, it’s more important for me that they turn up and be part of the conversation. Why? Because 38% of all men and 34% of all women who participated in a study conducted by the Fawcett Society in 2016 said that if a woman goes out late at night, wearing a short skirt, gets drunk and is then the victim of a sexual assault she is fully or partly to blame. Because across the world 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate male partner. Because globally 71% of human trafficking victims are women and girls. Because I want our daughters to grow up and talk about gender inequality as something that happened in the “olden days”.

At an event at Southbank with Margaret Atwood discussing her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the question of “what can I do” was asked. Margaret simply and eloquently answered, “Imagine the world you want to live in and act accordingly”. I want a world where gender-based violence does not exist. In the meantime, I will imagine a world where women (and other genders) can talk about their experiences of gender-based violence without shame and fear of being blamed.

If my passion for this subject has inspired you and you would like to host your own Chai Day in your home, office, yoga studio, football club or hairdresser, visit our website to find downloadable invitations, promotional materials, helpful tips, videos and facts to use as conversation starters.

I look forward to raising my tea cup with yours on 25 November for a better, safer world.

 

 

 

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


The Asian Circle Summer Party, 2017

 

The Asian Circle Summer Party, 2017 — press release

The Asian Circle Summer Party is beginning to become a bit of a tradition. The annual bonanza was hosted once again at the fantastic Bangalore Express restaurant near Bank Station, in central London. A prime location for an evening of inspirational, thought-provoking speeches and laughter.

The evening started with guests arriving and mingling, with complementary drinks and light snacks. Designers Natasha Khushi of Opuline and Geeta Handa of C-Atomic showcased their collections to guests, with items available for purchase on the night.

This year, The Asian Circle was delighted to welcome guest speaker Caroline Sweetman from Oxfam and a very special guest headliner, the award winning comedian and columnist Shazia Mirza. As Shazia arrived, the photo opportunities and fanfare flowed. Half an hour after her arrival, the speeches began. Opening was by Santosh Bhanot, founder of The Asian Circle, who ended her speech with a video showing the importance of the work The Asian Circle is doing supporting the impoverished Adivasi communities in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, in India.

Caroline followed with some inspiring words on why over twenty years after she took up her role, fighting against the injustices that women face across the world remains such an important part of her work.

Finally, it was time for headliner Shazia, who brought the house down with laughter during her half-hour set.

The Asian Circle’s project

Of course, this event, like all of The Asian Circle’s, was held to raise awareness and much needed funds for the our current project in the Chhattisgarh region of east India.

The Asian Circle’s main objective is to tackle the issue of violence against women, which is the most common form of human rights violation in India. It is such a deeply-ingrained, socially-accepted ‘right’ for men to physically, sexually or mentally abuse their wives in the country, that women are trapped in a life of violence, shame and stigma. They suffer from lack of support from the police and the legal system. This lack of support prevents many women from reporting domestic violence and seeking help. The Asian Circle is working with Oxfam in the tribal Adivasi communities in India to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women.

Progress so Far

In Chhattisgarh, there has been a state-level consultation on the State Gender Equality Policy, a policy that had not been revisited in more than a decade. Women from across the state took part, reflecting their concerns and issues with the policy gaps.

Notably, our partners that are working on the ground have received an award for the positive outcomes of their work and for helping to forge happier communities.

In Odisha, Gender Times sessions were organised at colleges, which increased engagement of adolescents and youth groups with gender issues.

This fantastic evening was held to generate much needed donations. Here is a breakdown of how funds can help with different aspects of the existing project:

  • £100 could provide vital legal aid to five women.
  • £300 would cover monthly counselling sessions for twenty women facing violence.
  • £500 would cover setting up a support network for survivors.
  • £1,000 would cover awareness-raising sessions for 100 men, to educate them on violence against women and challenge entrenched attitudes and beliefs about women.

To find out more about the project and donate, please visit our Brave New World project page.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


The Asian Circle Hosts Summer Party Fundraiser

The Asian Circle hosted its first Summer Networking Party on 22 July 2016 at the luxurious restaurant Bangalore Express in the City of London. The event was an opportunity to bring The Asian Circle members together to enjoy the evening and fundraise for a good cause.

It was a wonderful evening with networking over the finest Indian cuisine in the City, henna artists, live DJs, guest speakers and raffle prizes. All profits from the evening went towards supporting The Asian Circle’s project in partnership with Oxfam India. The project is working to raise awareness about violence against women in rural communities in eastern India and is building a support centre for survivors in the region of Chhattisgarh.

Asian Circle Summer Party 1

Guests included Judge Sujata Sharma, a firm supporter of women’s rights and winner of the Outstanding Women in Construction Law award (WICE Awards, 2016) and the Commercial/Civil Lawyer of the Year award (the Society of Asian Lawyers,2015); Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry, founder and Director of the London Asian Film Festival; Taryn Khanam, founder of BritBangla; Sadhia Hussain BEM, an activist for Bengali women’s rights, and many more high-profile professionals.

Guest speakers included Oxfam’s Sarah Ireland, who shared her views about gender equality and what is left to do to achieve it. Henna Rai, a social activist, inspired everyone with her words: ‘As I passionately campaign on women’s issues, I’m extremely pleased to be supporting The Asian Circle. Gender inequality is close to my heart; by sharing my experiences I strive to attain greater empowerment for women.’

The Asian Circle is part of the The Circle, a charity founded by Annie Lennox. The aim of The Asian Circle is to end violence against women and raise awareness about gender inequality and how it impacts women in South Asia. The Asian Circle is currently working in the tribal Adivasi communities in east India to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women, set up support centres for survivors in police stations and provide counselling and legal advice.

Dr Santosh Bhanot, founder and chair of The Asian Circle and Asian Women of Achievement nominee, opened the event by updating everyone on the project. ‘Since its launch, The Asian Circle has striven to support ground-breaking work with Oxfam to transform the lives of women and communities in South Asia,’ Dr Bhanot said on the night. ‘We are delighted to see the positive impact the programme is having with the Adivasi women in India and hope to replicate this project [in] other South Asian countries. It is vital that we tackle violence against women and girls by engaging support with the communities, police and judiciary, who in this instance are all playing an active role. It is with huge recognition that the Ending Violence against Women project in Chhattisgarh has received the State-level honour Nari Shakti Samman for the initiative.

About The Asian Circle

The Asian Circle is a sub-branch of The Circle formed by British Asian women from diverse backgrounds. Its goal is to support vulnerable women in South Asia by raising awareness about their plight and raising vital funds to set up support centres for survivors.

The Asian Circle connects passionate women in the UK that volunteer their time, skills and resources to support Oxfam projects.

The Asian Circle believes that, given the rights resources, women hold the key to overcome poverty and create lasting change for themselves and their communities.


The Oxford Circle and Artist Rachel Ducker Host Art Exhibition for Oxfam

September 2014, The Varsity Club, Oxford.

The renowned Oxford artist Rachel Ducker curated a one-off art event on Thursday 25 September 2014 in collaboration with The Oxford Circle to support an Oxfam project improving schools in rural communities in Niger.

The one-night-only exhibition by The Oxford Circle brought together pieces from a collection of Oxfordshire-based artists to raise funds for an Oxfam education project to support 18 schools and their students in rural communities in Niger. All proceeds were donated to the project.

The works of a number of acclaimed Oxfordshire artists were available to purchase at the exhibition, including pieces by Jennifer Newman, Richard Fox, Rachel Owen, Kieran Stiles, Clare Bassett, Neil Dury, Wendy Newhoffer, Jane Strother, Flora McLachlan, Helen Slater and the exhibition curator Rachel Ducker.

Rachel Ducker, a member of The Oxford Circle, said on the night that ‘Oxfordshire is a place of huge creativity, and this exhibition gives The Oxford Circle an opportunity to not only harness the work of artists to support Oxfam’s campaign, but also to showcase the talents of local sculptors, painters, and screen printers’.

The Oxford Circle is part of The Circle, an international organisation established by singer-songwriter and activist Annie Lennox in 2008 to champion women’s rights and equality. It is an association of women from all walks of life who work collectively to support and empower women and girls living in poverty.

Founder Annie Lennox said ‘The Oxford Circle’s art event is a great example of The Circle’s ethos and spirit in action; using their skills and resources to create inspirational and innovative ways to transform the lives of women in developing countries’.