Give the gift of safety in our Big Give Christmas Campaign 2020

Blog by Raakhi Shah, CEO The Circle

The pandemic has forced thousands more women into dangerous circumstances. Many are locked in with an abusive partner, others are at risk of violence as they lose their jobs overnight, and young girls are at increasing risk of child marriage.  

During the many years I’ve worked in this sector I have had the privilege of spending time with women and girls across the world. From Bangladesh to the Democratic Republic of Congo to Guatemala, I have heard first-hand accounts of violence and exploitation. Knowing that the pandemic is accelerating these dangers for so many women is something we simply can’t ignore. 

The statistics tell a frightening story 

But together we can make a difference – through our Big Give Christmas appeal 2020 

We urgently want to raise funds for our incredible partner projects who are working tirelessly on the frontline.  

  • At the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre which provides shelter for women in Khayelitsha, a township near Cape Town in South Africa, women and girls who have survived domestic violence or been victims of human trafficking, are offered a place to stay, counselling, legal support and access to healthcare and victim empowerment groups. Your donation will help meet increased demand and allow women and girls to stay in safety.   
  • Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis provides free and confidential support to girls and women suffering from rape, sexual assault and sexual violence. Your donation will help fund their services so they can respond to the growing numbers of women and girls who need them. 
  • £10 could provide an hour of online support and counselling for a survivor of violence.  
  • £25 could provide ten days safe refuge for a survivor of violence.  

By donating to our Big Give Christmas appeal – from 12pm 1st December 2020 to 12pm 8th December – your donation will be doubled. That means double the support to help women and girls who rely on our partner projects. Your donation will mean thousands more women and girls have a lifeline, a counsellor to talk to, a service to find safety in, and a friend. They can’t wait, which is why together we must act now to give the gift of safety. 

The Circle is all about solidarity. Women empowering women 

 

 


No Recourse to Public Funds: Migrant Women and Children Pull the Short Straw

Image: The Unity Project

The No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) policy has been catapulted into public awareness recently as it emerges that not only are thousands of law-abiding migrant families inching towards destitution amid COVID-19, but the Prime Minister had apparently never heard of the policy that dates as far back as the 1990s while the Home Secretary refuses to make an exemption during this time of unprecedented crisis.

Although NRPF predates the current Conservative government, it has been severely ramped up in the past decade under the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ endeavour. What it means is that migrants in the UK who are not considered ‘habitually resident’ are blanket banned from accessing public funds, including carers allowance, child benefit, Universal Credit, disability living allowance, housing benefit and jobseeker’s allowance. Yet the path to permanent settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain) for those on a Family Visa can take as long as ten years, during which time applicants must cough up extortionate visa renewals every 2.5 years.

The condition applies to at least 1 million adults and 142,000 children. In the midst of a pandemic where job losses are rife, this NRPF could force as many as 100,000 people into destitution or homelessness according to the Migration Observatory and the Institute for Public Policy Research. However, researchers largely overlook the gendered discriminatory nature of NRPF. Migrant women who are single mothers, pregnant, or are survivors of domestic abuse are overwhelmingly harmed by the benefits ban which, in turn, has an impact on the welfare of their children.

All over the world, women and girls are disproportionately ensnared in domestic duties and childrearing. Whenever the relationship between a mother and father breaks down, women are more likely to become the sole care giver – yet are unable to enter full time work to cover the costs. The UK’s inflexible labour market remains hostile to single mothers, leaving women with little choice but to enter zero hours contracts and other means of insecure work. However, the burden is heavier for migrant single mothers as they are shoved even further into the margins of insecurity and poverty due to the benefit ban. As a result, migrant single mothers are more likely to become trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty; unable to climb the career ladder to earn more money, yet unable to afford childcare costs even if they could work additional hours and no supplementary support in the event they fall into hardship through no fault of their own.

For migrant pregnant women with NRPF, a report published last year by the Unity Project found they are unable to take sufficient maternity leave. Pregnant women with an insecure immigration status are forced to work longer hours both before and after giving birth to cater to the high fees of their new-born baby. Even if the mother-to-be is in a secure job that can provide statutory maternity pay, after the first six weeks the maximum amount is capped at £151.20 per week which without a backlog of savings to rely on, is evidently inadequate to cover rent and other essentials, let alone a child.

To make matters worse, NRPF is putting women’s lives at risk. Migrant women are at an increased risk of domestic abuse when compared to British women, and already figures are reaching eyewatering heights: during COVID-19 lockdown, five women a week have been murdered by the hands of their abuser. Yet NRPF serves to intensify the precarity of migrant abuse victims’ circumstances as without public funds, they can be turned away from refuges. The 2017 Nowhere to Turn Project by Women’s Aid discovered only one refuge space was available to women with NRPF per every region of England, yet the recent Domestic Abuse Bill fails to extend support for women with NRPF or to prevent this from happening again. Campaigners such as The Step Up Migrant Women coalition argue the Bill deliberately ignores migrant women with NRPF, claiming the Government knows they exist but that “it is deliberately choosing to ignore their needs.”There is one, marginal escape route on offer to migrant victims of domestic abuse. The Destitute Domestic Violence Concession opens a shortcut to permanent residency for survivors with a Spouse Visa, however, the process is littered with obstacles and the paperwork is beyond reasonable. Women must jump through hoops to gain a mere three months of public funds while Scottish Women’s Aid even found some councils were advising victims to remain with their abusive partners due to a lack of support. Even so, this backdoor exit is only left ajar for migrant women under Partner Visas; other migrant women under different visa categories are offered no such escape route.

Children to migrant parents are at a clear disadvantage when compared to their peers; they cannot receive free school meals while they are more likely to face destitution and even homelessness as a consequence of their parents’ NRPF. In the event the child does not gain British Citizenship by the time they reach 18, they face international tuition fees to study in a UK university in the country that they have called home their entire lives.

One recent landmark case is exemplary of how NRPF trickles down to affect the standard of life for children. The court heard the heart-wrenching testimony of an eight-year-old British boy who had been plunged into severe poverty his whole life and even street homelessness with his mother, who has NRPF but works as a carer. The court decided NRPF breaches Article 4 of the Human Rights Act in the child’s case, and new guidance has since been issued. However, the new amendment doesn’t go far enough: only those who entered the UK via the family route may apply for protection, and even then, they have to prove that they are at risk of ‘imminent destitution’.

Already, a similar system is in place to protect the welfare of children, which is evidently failing. Local councils have a duty to safeguard its residents and issue Section 17 support in dire circumstances, yet lawyers at Garden Court Chambers have found that not only are applications “onerous, difficult and slow” as a result of austerity and budget cuts, but destitute families have even been told they are not eligible and that their kids may be taken into care. A shocking 6 in 10 families who attempt Section 17 access are refused – and even successful applicants can receive as little as £1.70 a day.

What this shows us is that whenever aid is devolved into the hands of local authorities, vulnerable people become victim to the ‘postcode lottery’ and migrant women with NRPF in particular pull the short straw. The Unity Project goes as far to argue that the Government is failing in its obligation to the Equality Act 2010, finding that NRPF serves as “indirect sex-based discrimination”.

For a country that considers itself propped up by the pillars of civility and justice, this policy that causes new-born babies and children to grow up in extreme poverty, while leaving women with the impossible choice of homelessness or domestic abuse, is in direct conflict with the UK’s commitment to human rights. It is high time the benefits ban is lifted, allowing vulnerable people to access welfare support in the same way Britons can. Until then, No Recourse to Public Funds will continue to unnecessarily spiral thousands of hard-working and ordinary  women and their children into misery and hardship.

If you are concerned about the impact NRPF is having on migrant women and children, contact your local MP today to encourage Boris Johnson and Priti Patel in changing this damaging, hostile policy.

This article was written by Olivia Bridge who is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service.


Domestic Violence in South Africa

Image: Khayelitsha, South Africa

This week has seen the global number of COVID-19 cases surpass 8.5 million, with many countries worldwide continuing to implement some form of lockdown measures. As the country with the highest number of infections on the African continent (over 90,000 cases and 1800 deaths as of June 22nd), South Africa has been no exception, introducing one the strictest lockdown policies of any country. In place since midnight on March 26th, South Africa’s exceptionally strong lockdown involved the deployment of almost 25,000 security forces personnel to enforce the strict new regulations (more than 17,000 arrests were made for lockdown violations in the first 6 days alone), and a ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes. These measures stayed in place for over two months, with the first relaxation of restrictions to a ‘level three’ response only happening on June 1st.

While the implementation of lockdowns across the globe have successfully prevented even greater rates of infection and death, they unfortunately bring with them an unintended, deadly consequence – an increase in domestic violence. An upsurge in violence has been reported in all corners of the globe: in Hubei, the Chinese province at the epicentre of the original outbreak, domestic violence reports rose by over 300% during February. In Malaysia and Lebanon, calls to hotlines have doubled on the previous year. A recent report by the United Nations Population Fund explores the recognised increase in domestic violence cases since the onset of lockdown around the world, stating the primary reason for increased rates of violence as the simple fact that stay-at-home orders and restrictions on movement increase women’s exposure to violent partners. An increased amount of time in the presence of an abuser increases the likelihood that a victim will be subject to a violent attack.

The economic pressure felt in households worldwide resulting from COVID-related involuntary unemployment, reduced salaries and redundancies also contributes to this phenomenon, as financial stress increases incidences of domestic violence. Nearly 60% of women globally are employed in service industries (such as childcare, retail and hospitality) and countless numbers in the informal economy, which are disproportionately affected by current restrictions due to the difficulty of fulfilling such roles remotely. In South Africa, over one third (35.9%) of women who are employed are employed informally. This means women are uniquely impacted by the economic consequences of COVID. This loss of financial security decreases a woman’s economic independence, further reducing their freedom from violent partners and giving them even fewer resources with which to flee a setting of violence.

The increased strain on domestic violence support services is another factor contributing to this ‘second pandemic’ in countries around the world. Lockdown measures and transport restrictions reduce the ability of domestic violence workers to physically meet survivors, or for survivors to access friends and family who act as their support networks. Domestic violence shelters and meeting spaces have in some cases been shut down or repurposed as intensive care clinics or homelessness shelters, with technical issues and staff illness further reducing their capacity to assist victims.

As a country where seven women are killed every day and a reported 40-50% of men have admitted perpetrating physical partner violence, South Africa was already tackling an epidemic in domestic violence before the onset of lockdown. Thousands of protestors took to the streets of Cape Town last September in response to rising rates of violence, prompting President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare femicide a national crisis and promise new measures including dedicated sexual offences courts and harsher penalties for perpetrators. There were therefore fears that South Africa would be especially vulnerable to a spike in domestic violence cases resulting from lockdown measures, and early reports indicated this was indeed the case – a founding member of one women’s NGO reported in mid-April that domestic violence shelters were already reaching capacity.Furthermore, from the start of the lockdown to May 1st, the Gender Based Violence National Command Centre (which has remained fully operational throughout the pandemic) had received 12,000 calls. Yet official data released by Police Minister Bheki Cele indicates that domestic violence cases were down 69.4% and hospital admissions for trauma down 66% in the month of March compared to the previous year, suggesting the trend in South Africa may not be clear cut. How can we make sense of this drop in reported cases amongst the increased vulnerability to violence that women are experiencing at this time?

A key element of the South African lockdown has been the total ban on the sale of alcohol, which may have curbed violent or abusive behaviour to a certain extent. The World Health Organisation recognises that “alcohol consumption, especially at harmful and hazardous levels, is a major contributor to the occurrence of intimate partner violence” and records that in South Africa, 65% of women experiencing spousal abuse within the last year reported that their partners always or sometimes drank alcohol before the assault.

Image: Protesters in Cape Town. Nic Bothma/EPA

Secondly, the strict nature of lockdown rules in South Africa mean that it is more difficult for victims to report cases and some women are simply unable to do so, meaning the reported number is highly likely to be an underestimate of the true figures. Restrictions on movement outside of the home mean women intending to report abuse or flee may have no valid excuse to give their abuser for leaving the house, and as highlighted earlier, they may be unable to seek refuge in a shelter or other safe space due to those spaces being repurposed or temporarily shut down. Fear of harsh punishment if caught breaching lockdown regulations by one of the 25,000 security personnel enforcing the policy may also deter women from seeking help outside the home. Within the home, many women may now be spending 24 hours a day in the presence of their abuser, rendering it often impossible to make phone calls seeking help or reporting abuse. While some NGOs are striving to establish online and text message services and national hotlines remain open, this only partially mitigates the problem. Intimate partner violence has always been a grossly underreported crime, with a reporting rate of under 40% before COVID-19, so reporting may be far below 40% now due to the unique difficulties presented by lockdown measures. In recognition of this dilemma, the United Nations has stated that “in the case of restricted movement and limited privacy, women are finding it difficult to phone for help. So, the likelihood is that even these figures represent only a fraction of the problem.”

Earlier this month South Africa implemented the first relaxation of its lockdown measures to a ‘level three’ response, sending an estimated 8 million people (of a population of 58 million) back to work. There are hopes that this will provide some respite for domestic violence victims, allowing them more time away from their abuser and a better chance to contact support networks if they or their abuser are now returning to work. Domestic violence services will also benefit from an increased capacity to help victims, but the resumption of sales of alcohol from June 1st as part of this first phase of relaxation casts doubt upon whether the safety of women in South Africa will improve as a result of these measures. One thing that is certain is the importance of South Africa, and all other countries, ensuring they employ and prioritise a gender-responsive strategy within their COVID-19 responses for the duration of the pandemic. If they fail to do so, and instead choose to de-prioritise gender-based violence during this crucial time, the overall indirect death toll from COVID-19 will be much, much higher.

To support survivors of violence in South Africa through the Women and Girls Solidarity Fund, click here.

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.


Domestic Violence: The Second Pandemic

Image: UNICEF/Nesbitt

Wan Fei, the founder of an anti-domestic violence NGO in China reported a huge increase in the country’s domestic violence cases in February. Jingzhou, a province in Hubei, received 3 times more reports in February 2020 than in the previous year. As cases of Covid-19 began to climb around the world, so did cases of domestic violence.

As the world’s attention was focused on the pandemic, women’s rights activists and service providers warned us that domestic violence victims would be overlooked, survivor services would be de-prioritised and the fear and tension during the crisis would result in a sharp increase in cases. As we saw the numbers of domestic violence cases rapidly increase in China where the pandemic started, we could assume that this pattern would follow in other countries. This assumption was proven to be true, as there has been an increase in domestic violence cases as lockdowns started all over the world.

Domestic abuse was a global human right issue even in pre-pandemic times. According to statistics, 1 in 3 women face physical or sexual violence, mostly perpetuated by an intimate partner. While this makes violence against women the most widespread human rights abuses, it is also the least reported. Domestic abuse is often still viewed as a ‘normal’ act due to women’s subordinate position in society and families. Other reasons may include fear, lack of resources and support, or illegal status of refugees. The last is because women who do not have a right to stay permit often do not dare to go to the police in fear of being deported. This is why it is important to note that the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, encouraged women with illegal status not to fear deportation but to report abuses.

The women who experience violence are vulnerable to sexual, reproductive and mental health risks. For example, victims are twice as likely to suffer from depression and 1.5 times more likely to get STIs. These risks are increased in times of conflict, let it be economic crisis, civil war, or a disease outbreak. It is therefore safe to assume that this will also be the case for millions of women across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic. While for some of us staying home means safety, for many women and children home means the opposite. The quarantine poses a special situation as women are trapped inside with the abusers, who are more easily triggered by things due to being in such a stressful situation. It is important to note however, that the pandemic does not cause domestic abuse, but creates ‘conductive contexts’.

We have seen several cases of the increase of domestic violence cases globally. For example in the USA, a domestic violence hotline in Portland, Oregon doubled in only one week in March. The American national domestic violence hotline reported a dozens of callers whose abusers are using the coronavirus outbreak to control and isolate them. As everyone is focused on the public health crisis, hotlines fear that violence happening in the private sphere will be overlooked. Some states even seized this opportunity to make it more difficult to access abortion as ‘non-essential’ healthcare. Even though, logically, if domestic violence cases are going up so will unwanted pregnancies.

Numbers of cases of domestic abuse is also going up in Lebanon. Calls to the domestic violence hotline increased by 110% in March 2020. The NGO Abaad started a movement dubbed #LockDownNotLockUp, where people stood outside their balconies hanging sheets with the number of the domestic abuse hotline.

Image: PATRICK BAZ/Abaad/AFP via Getty Images.

Activists in Italy reported a drop in calls to the helpline centre only to receive a record amount of text messages and emails. As victims are forced to be in the same rooms as their abusers they often cannot voice their problems out loud and this is the only way they can let others know what is happening. It is also important to remember that if women are afraid to ring helplines, but numbers of reports are still increasing globally, how many more cases are happening that goes unreported.

In the UK calls to the national abuse hotline went up by 65% in March. Another hotline, Respect, had a 26.86% increase in calls but a 125% increase in website recordings in the week starting 30 March. This shows how women in Italy are not alone, women in the UK are often unable to make phone calls and try for a silent solution as well. Additionally, The  Men’s Advice Line, who care for male victims of domestic abuse, also had an increase in calls of 16.6% and an increase of website recordings 42%.

Avon and Somerset police reported a 20.9% increase in domestic abuse incidents in two weeks, from 718 to 868. The founder of Counting Dead Women, Karen Ingala Smith, recorded at least 16 women who were killed by men in the UK between 23 March and 12 April. This is at least twice as much as the average in the last 10 years. The domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, said police are ready to deal with a spike in domestic abuse calls. The leader of the Women’s Equality party called for special police powers to evict perpetrators from homes under the lockdown, and for authorities to waive court fees for the protection orders.

In early May the government pledged £76 million new funding for domestic and sexual violence support, vulnerable children & modern slavery, but the EVAW Coalition is calling for more detail on how the money will be distributed. They are also asking the government to follow the BAME demand for ethnicity monitoring of all COVID- 19 cases, as BAME communities are disproportionately affected and therefore BAME communities and organisations deserve ring fenced funding to address this issue. As lockdown has continued, there has been a shift in awareness regarding the risk of domestic violence. Supermarkets, one of the only few places that remained open during lockdown, have run initiatives including Tesco included the national hotline on their receipts and Morrison’s opened safe places in their pharmacies where those concerned can get advice from trained consultants.

Image: AP Photo/Jenny Kane

Although we’re nearing the end of the UK’s nearly three-month lockdown, this wave of domestic violence the effects on the survivors will be long-lasting. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that support services are available to them. The Circle has supported Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis with its new text helpline, in order to reach vulnerable women and girls who may not be able to speak on the phone. We have also made grants to Irise Uganda, to support them with their emergency relief and domestic violence prevention work.

Some general and specific advice for people living in the UK

Hotlines

  • England: The National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You can visit their website for more information.
  • England: The Respect phone line 0808 8024040 is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. You can visit their website for more information.
  • Scotland: The Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is 0800 0271234 24, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Visit their website here.
  • Northern Ireland: The 24-Hour Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline is 0808 8021414, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. More information here.
  • Wales: The Live Fear Free Helpline is 08088010800, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They also have a website.
  • If you are a man experiencing domestic abuse call 0808 8010327 or visit their advice line.

Police

  • You can make silent 999 calls to the police by waiting for the call handler to pick up making some kind of a cough or any sound at all and pressing 5,5.

Bright Sky

  • The app can be disguised for people worried about partners checking their phones, provided support and information for victims.

Here are some precautions you can take to look out for each other:

  • If you are a postal worker, delivery driver, food delivery company or a carer who still visits houses, keep an eye out for any signs of abuse and to report any concerns to the police.
  • Neighbours should pay extra attention in hearing shouts, cries, or any noise that could be associated with violence. In case you suspect something bad is happening in a neighbouring house/flat please call the police.

Click here to donate to The Circle’s Women and Girls Solidarity Fund!

This article was written by Csenge. Csenge is a university student, a volunteer, and a feminist. She is originally from Hungary, but has started my university in London, which she loves.


Women and Girls Solidarity Fund: Impact So Far

 

We want to say a huge thank you to all of our supporters, members, allies and friends who have donated to our emergency appeal that we launched to respond to the additional challenges that the women and girls in our projects are facing during this crisis. Thanks to your efforts, we have been able to directly support marginalised women and girls across the globe. We have already made emergency grants to projects support projects in Uganda and Scotland.  

Emergency Supplies in Uganda

We have provided funds to Irise International so that they can provide provision and protection to vulnerable women and child-led households in Uganda. Women, unable to leave their houses for fear of police brutality, are struggling to feed their children or access reproductive healthcare and contraception. Irise is working with local government to deliver essential supplies to vulnerable women including food, hand sanitiser, menstrual pads and educational materials.  

After ten days of distribution, Irise have been able to reach a total of 398 vulnerable people in 93 households with 136 emergency relief packs.  

This is Jess. She is 18 years old and is the sole carer for these children aged 3 and 5. She’s been working as a hairdresser, but like so many others, has been unable to work during lockdown and faces terrifying uncertainty. Irise have been able to deliver essential supplies to her and will ensure that she is able to cope over the coming weeks.  

Irise are also using funds to ensure safeguarding within the community. They are working with the local government’s probation service to report and follow-up with vulnerable girls and young people. Cases include identifying three sisters aged 19-13 years old, who have been forced into prostitution to survive. Irise was able to provide them with vital supplies and will continue to work with the Gender Officer and District Office to safeguard these girls.  

Survivor Services in Scotland

Across the UK, three million women experience some form of gender-based violence every year, but these numbers have risen dramatically as social isolation policies have left women and girls vulnerable to abuse. Estimates suggest that there will be 15 million additional cases of domestic violence every 3 months of lockdown globally. Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis provides free and confidential support to girls and women who have experienced rape, sexual assault and sexual violence. Due to the UK’s lockdown, the centre are unable to offer their drop-in service that is a lifeline for survivors. We have provided the centre with funds to increase website capacity and launch a dedicated text support service for survivors to access counselling and support. This service will allow the centre to respond to the needs of sexual violence who are not in a position to phone the counsellors. This service will provide vital support for at least 1,500 women and girls.  

 

 

Supporting Garment Workers

With the money that our supporters have raised, we will be able to provide food and medical supplies to 500 garment workers in Bangladesh who have been left destitute. Supporting garment workers is crucial at this time. As soon as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, major garment companies responded by pushing risk and costs down the supply chain. Garment workers in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Pakistan have been left without work with factories being forced to close due to dwindling orders. Many of these workers are migrant women. With historically low wages, making it impossible to accumulate savings, these workers are now struggling to pay for housing or essential supplies. We are working with partners to provide emergency relief packages containing food, protective masks and soap.  

The need is only going to increase as some of the world’s poorest countries begin to feel the full force of Covid-19. We have long been there for the world’s most vulnerable women and we will continue to do so at this time of great emergency.  

If you can, support our emergency appeal by donating and sharing and allow us to reach even more women and girls.  


What We’re Reading: April

Image: Stylist

Each month, we’ll tell you what we’ve been reading at The Circle to get you feeling engaged, informed, and inspired by the global rights movement.  You might find an interview, a long read, a novel, or just a short news update – so, here is our round up for May!

She Said – Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey 

 On 5 October 2017, the New York Times published an article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey that helped change the world. Kantor and Twohey out-maneuvered Harvey Weinstein, his team of defenders and private investigators, convincing some of the most famous women in the world – and some unknown ones – to go on the record. Three years later, it led to his conviction. She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Defined a Movement, is a gripping account of this story, but more interestingly, an examination of the structures that allowed Weinstein to repeat the same violence over and over, seemingly unscathed.  

Live-blog: How the Coronavirus affects garment workers in supply chains – Clean Clothes Campaign 

This blog collects daily information about how the new Coronavirus COVID-19 is influencing garment workers’ rights in supply chains around the world. It is updated daily as new information comes in from media and the Clean Clothes Campaign global network. 

Displaced and stateless women and girls at heightened risk of gender-based violence in the coronavirus pandemic 

The UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) published an article on 20 April 2020 about the effect that coronavirus is having on victims of domestic abuse around the world. UNHCR explain that isolation policies mean that there is less movement, and this increases the risk of intimate partner violence. Young women “may be forced into survival sex or child marriages by their families.” UNHCR explain what they are doing to support women and girls.  

Frame of Mind 

On 6 April 2020 Alice Aedy launched Frame of Mind which is a platform aiming to celebrate incredible female storytellers in documentary film, photography, journalism and writing. Aedy is a documentary photographer, filmmaker and activist focusing on migration, women’s rights and environmental issues. The focus will be about how female storytellers have explored social issues and created social change. Aedy shared a shocking fact from the New York Times that it is estimated only 0.5% of recorded history includes stories by women. Aedy’s project is important, exciting, and definitely one to stay updated with! Freda interviewed Aedy about her work as a female photographer which you can read here

Selections made by Anna Renfrew and Georgia Bridgett.


The Asian Circle: Fighting Violence Against Women

Image: Santosh Bhanot at The Asian Circle Chai Day 2019

Chai Day, The Circle’s annual fundraising initiative on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is about gathering to raise funds to support survivors of gender-based violence. Chai Day is an initiative to raise funds and awareness for this issue and since its inception has grown from strength to strength. Its aim to support some of the most vulnerable women and girls and the impact that the work has had is truly a testament to The Circle’s mantra: women empowering women.

Started by The Asian Circle in 2016, Chai Day has remained one of the highlights of The Asian Circle’s calendar. Following the resounding success of their 5th anniversary celebration in 2018 with high chai at the breath-taking LaLit Hotel, The Asian Circle held another impressive event for Chai Day 2019. With the aim of informing and inspiring, the committee held a seminar on ending violence against women, followed by high chai. The seminar, kindly hosted by the Peepul Enterprise in Leicester, brought together activists and the local community to share statistics, data and knowledge on violence against women and raise funds. Key speakers included Santosh Bhanot, Founder and Chair of The Asian Circle, Panahghar and Quetzal.

Image: The Asian Circle’s Chai Day 2019

Panahghar is a specialist service led by BAME women for BAME communities in the West Midlands including Coventry and Leicester, with an aim to promote physical and emotional health, well-being and personal growth opportunities from an intersectional human rights perspective. Although Panahghar originally provided services for just women and girls, in 2014 they have expanded their services to include men and boys, recognising that to reduce violence towards women significantly, men and boys must be included. Panahghar is an Urdu word meaning ‘House of Sanctuary’ or in short ‘Safe House’ and is a voluntary organisation that exists to address all forms of violence and abuse and to respond to distress and maltreatment including instances of domestic and sexual violence, honour-based violence, forced marriage, FGM/C and trafficking. They promote humanitarian, educational, developmental and environmental awareness to relieve poverty and encourage social and economic wellbeing amongst vulnerable groups. In their presentation, Panahghar spoke on the extent of domestic violence within the local area and what the human and financial costs of abuse were and highlighted the lack of funding for BME service providers both locally and nationally.

Quetzal is another Leicester-based organisation working to support vulnerable women and girls. This organisation offers professional counselling service to female survivors of childhood sexual abuse from a passionate team of psychotherapists with specialist training in responding to trauma and sexual assault. Childhood sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported forms of abuse, as the perpetrator is usually, always known to the child – making it the ultimate betrayal of trust. According to Quetzal, one of the communities that consistently under-reports childhood sexual abuse is the South Asian Community as notions of shame and honour make taking the first step particularly difficult. Through their counselling service, they have helped hundreds of women break down their psychological defences and destructive behaviours caused by the childhood sexual abuse. Quetzal used the opportunity to share their Breaking the Silence initiative, a community-based approach to raise awareness of childhood sexual abuse and to increase engagement within the South Asian community in Leicester by collaborating with community groups and other agencies to give the power for recovery back to survivors. It was good to hear about the fantastic work that both Quetzal and Panahghar are doing within and around Leicester to support survivors of gender-based violence.

Image: Speakers at The Asian Circle Chai Day 2019

Since their first meeting in 2013, the inspirational women that formed The Asian Circle were unanimous in their decision to work towards ending violence against women and girls. During the seminar, Santosh recalled this journey and spoke passionately to the audience about the need for this project to support marginalised women and girls. What followed over the next six years was an incredibly ambitious project in partnership with Oxfam India and the grass roots NGO LASS (Lok Astha Sewa Sansthan) that works in rural Adivasi communities in Chhattisgarh to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. Within these communities, baseline research found, that 3 in 4 men believe that it is acceptable to beat their wives and even more shockingly, that 2 in 3 women believe that men have the right to beat them as punishment. The project had three key objectives: to enable female survivors of violence to access counselling, legal aid and other support services; to undertake research for evidence-based programming efforts and advocacy to prevent violence and strengthen community mechanisms against it; and make the wider community aware of violence against women and motivate them to take action to prevent violence against girls and women. Santosh was able to announce that the funds raised over the last 6 years have helped build several women’s support centres and engage over 18,000 women and girls and a further 9,000 men and boys. Through training and the support networks within women’s groups, women have learnt about the different forms of violence and how to tackle them. As a result of this project, in Chhattisgarh there has been a State-Level Consultation on the State Gender Equality Policy and the project partner LASS has been awarded the Chhattisgarh State Level Honour as the Nari Shakti Samma Award for ‘outstanding improvement of the conditions of women at the margins of society’.

Click here to watch a short video about The Asian Circle’s visit to the project.

Funds raised from Chai Days that happened across the UK, in addition to the money raised by The Asian Circle, will go towards supporting this project in addition to The Circle’s ending violence against women projects in the portfolio. For 2019, this included the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in South Africa, ACT Alberta in Canada and Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis in the UK. Thank you to everyone who attended The Asian Circle’s Chai Day Seminar and for those who supported our projects working to tackle gender-based violence. Without our members and the Circles that they have formed, The Circle would not be able to continue empowering marginalised women and girls across the globe.

The Circle is inspired by the notion that when women come together and organise, they can be a powerful force for change. The Asian Circle, who have managed to raise a huge amount of funds for marginalised women and girls over the years, are a shining example of that force.

Image: Oxfam India

Notes kindly made by Ayesha Sehgal. 


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.

 


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle member Saz

“I want to open up discussion in the community to these issues honestly, and without repercussion, to allow women to express their voices.”

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 a daughter of twice migrants from India. My parents migrated from Gujarat, India to Tanzania, after partition, my father leaving in the late ‘40s and my mother and older sister joined him in the ‘50s. I was born in Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania before it decided that it too wanted independence for the British Empire. My father decided to move us, by then we were a family of five, to India for a short period of time while he established himself in England. My mother, two sisters and my brother arrived in 1967, and we settled in Coventry. My father had arrived earlier and had secured a job in a car factory, using his skill as a car upholstery on the production line.

My parents were typical Indian parents of their generation, telling us education is a key to success and encouraged us regardless of our gender to study.

My life has been good, fortuitous opportunities have come my way, I was given a commission straight after university to illustrate a book, a job offer at the BBC in the Creative Arts Department followed where I worked on and off until 2006. I began working as a freelancer for BBC, Sky and other production companies as a motion graphic designer and interactive TV designer. My personal life is great I have a wonderful husband and two gorgeous sons. But, not everything has been smooth sailing and I am glad that I have experienced some lows as well as some highs.

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

I was introduced to Oxfam and The Circle by Santosh Bhanot, the Chair of The Asian Circle. Santosh and I have known each other since our sons were in the same reception class. We have spent many a time over tea and PTA meetings discussing how we could give back to the community. We both had a similar upbringings that included lots of volunteering at the temple helping others. I believe that The Circle’s mission fits well with my goals in life.

In the summer of 2013, a group of high energy women sat around a table at the Oxfam office to discuss ideas on how to bring our vision “to work with vulnerable women in South Asia who haven’t had the opportunities and means to support themselves” to fruition. Since then I’ve been a core committee member, organised fundraising events, and spoken to other Asian Women’s groups about our work. I dipped out from full involvement whilst I went back to university to get my Qualified Teacher Status in 2014.

You’ve been involved with The Asian Circle for a while, can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve achieved with them?

Since its inception, The Asian Circle has grown from strength to strength. We have highly motivated, passionate British Asian women who give their time generously to organise our events, for example, launch at Houses of Parliament, screening and Q&A of True Cost at SOAS, screening and Q&A of Bhaji On the Beach, Chai Day at the LaLit to name a few. We arrange to speak to organisations, universities, women’s societies and we recently hosted a conference with Peepal Enterprise in Leicester on issues of domestic violence and the lack of funding and support here and in India.

Over the last five years, The Asian Circle have worked hard to raise awareness and funds to support a pilot project, created with Oxfam India and local NGOs, amongst the tribal communities of Chhattisgarh, India – to end domestic violence and empower women and girls. We have helped provide support centres for counselling and legal aid, created ‘vigilance networks’ of women to support each other and training programmes for the police. We also have engaged with different organisations, the state government, police and community groups to highlight issues with violence against women. We were thrilled that the local NGO LASS received a prestigious State Award- ‘Nari Shakti Samman’ for outstanding improvement of conditions of women at the margins of society’. This project is now being supported by International funders for state wide deployment of the project.

We are currently sending the sum of £11,500 to Oxfam India on Violence Against Women & Gender Justice Programme in Chhattisgarh – a further build on the VAW project with a focus on Gender Equality.

The new programme will focus on education and change in the community on gender inequity.

● Meeting with a community-based group, using two curriculums “Gendernama” (About Gender) “for men and boys and “Jago and Jagao Badlao ki Aur” (Wake and Awaken for change) for women and girls is being successfully executed in the groups.

● Awareness camps are also being set up in the community, to discuss gender stereotypes in the community and legal services for women.

● Engagement with youth in colleges to discuss various gender related topics like, gender stereotypes, gender and sexuality, patriarchy and gender, power and privilege etc. The BNS (Bano Nayi Soch), champions selected from these youth groups are used to spread the message further afield.

● Running 2 women support centres in Chhattisgarh. These 2 centres are run in space given by the NGO’s partners to provide socio-legal support to survivors of domestic violence.

The Circle is an organisation of women empowering women. How does your upcoming book seek to empower other women?

As I mentioned before, I have had some lows in my life too, and 28 years ago we had the fortune to have a special child join our family. He lived for 8 weeks and we are grateful that he came into our lives.

The first couple of years after his death, I buried my feelings. I have always felt sad in January to March and I have put it down to the worst time of the year for everyone who lives in the Northern hemisphere, short dark days, grey cloud-filled skies. Two years after his birth, we had a healthy baby boy, and three years later another. January become a time of celebration, all our children are born in January. Work, motherhood, life, in general, took me to new levels. I held down a successful, but a stressful job working for BBC News and Current Affairs, my sons were bright and healthy.

As the year’s passed, I heard about other women who also dealt with issues of postnatal depression, anxiety and guilt. Any woman who has had a sick child knows of the guilt, the what if I did this, what if I did that, is it my fault? My mind went into overdrive, and every year the thoughts kept flooding back, that it was all my fault.

In 2006 after leaving the BBC and starting work as a freelancer, we were given the news that my father was diagnosed with bone cancer. I grieved for my father, but I grieved for our son. I joined a creative writing group and the novel just spilt out of me, I remembered every comment, every incident in vivid colour, the feeling of inadequacy, the search for a miracle to prolong his life. Again, life got in the way, my father who had been given 3 months lived for 3 years, so we savoured every minute with him.

In late 2016, I suffered from my first panic attack, and it left me shattered. I am known for my can-do attitude, had retrained to be a teacher and was enjoying seeing my students make good progress and grow into confident young adults. I couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t go into the classroom. I started counselling again, and things had moved on from my first session in the ‘90s.

It is important when you have counselling, that the counsellor understands, this time when I mentioned my extended family, she knew. In the ’90s, when I talked of the nuances of Indian families and how I felt my counsellor told me to stop all ties with the people who made me feel this way. Her words still ring in my ears. You don’t have to see your family if you don’t want to, you can always decline the invitation. She had no idea of the cultural pressure and significance of that remark.

My new sessions dealt deeply with my emotions through the lens of my upbringing. She told me to reread my novel and use it as a way to understand my feelings to move beyond grief.

So that is when my novels, My Heart Sings Your Song and Where Have We Come became a reality. I researched and read books to gauge the market, did I want to write a self-help book, should I write a blog and tell people of my experience. Then I came across a group of writers Cecilia Ahern and Jojo Moyes to name a few, who didn’t always write the typical tale of happy ever after. I read books published by South Asian authors, many with experiences that resonated with me, but none that I could identify with. I have grown up in England, I straddle both cultures, I’m a British Asian, foremost. My Gujarati background is the icing on the cake. My parents didn’t once blame me for my child’s illness. Many others did, my reluctance to follow rituals, customs, every superstitious belief, the alignment of planets, anything to beat me with to justify their anger at seeing our child as he was. I believe it’s in the psyche of the South Asian community to first and foremost blame the women. What annoyed me most as I was researching was that nearly thirty years after my experience, women were still being subjected to the same superstitions and customs in Britain. Some of the families that practised this were the third generation out of India. Women who were my age, telling their daughters, daughters-in-law that their child was disabled because of what they had or hadn’t done.

I sent a couple of chapters and an outline to people and received favourable comments, encouraging me to write it, but no-one was interested in taking me on as a writer. The book became a monster, both in its desire to be fed and its size. I edited scenes out, created chapters and asked people to help structure the story. My journey isn’t typical, I decided I would self-publish, whilst I waited for my early readers to get back to me with comments and alterations. I learnt what I could about publishing, the drafting, the formatting, the editing, and eventual publishing. I chose to have all the processes in my hand, after all, it is my story and I didn’t want comment or edits from people who didn’t know it or understand the cultural relevance of it.

My only aim is to tell the story, that was the goal I had set myself, but I’d also set another which has helped me through the difficult process. If I can help one woman, someone who is in or has been through a similar situation understand that they are not alone, then I have done my job.

So what’s next for me, I have got the writing bug, I have stories that I want to tell, stories about multicultural Britain, about friendships that grow regardless of background and race. I want my stories to be read by a broader readership, not just aimed at South Asian readers. The University Series that I’m planning deals with issues, such as bereavement, depression, disability, cancer, infertility, caste, interfaith relationships, infidelity, divorce, homosexuality, sex before marriage, topics that are still taboo in the community. I want to grow as a writer, learn the craft, tell stories of women from different communities, stories that people like me can identify with.

As for my anxiety and depression, I’ve heard things have changed; more and more support groups are being set-up in communities up and down the country to deal with depression in the South Asian community. It is a taboo subject that hardly has any airing. No-one, who has a thriving career, a big house, healthy and happy families can get depression. It’s good that finally, we are talking about it. I want to open up discussion in the community to these issues honestly, without repercussion, to allow women to express their voices.

Mostly I want people to realise that there are ways to express your emotions. For me it was storytelling, but it can be music, art, anything that allows you to deal with your emotions. If all you want to do is rage at a mountain than rage at it, it is your right to do what helps you cope. Anything is achievable if you put your mind to it.

What does Global Feminism mean to you?

When I started to work in a male dominant newsroom in the ‘80s I was optimistic that finally women were given the same opportunities as men. As the years’ progress, I began to realise that feminism explores the idea of equal rights for women but not necessarily equal rights to all women in all society.

The world is getting smaller and we hear more and more about the injustices faced by women across the world, how patriarchal societies, poverty, governments perpetuate the inequalities faced by women. Global Feminism for me means the right for every woman to equality at home, in the workplace and in society. It is about giving women opportunities to assert their rights. It is about making change happen by giving our voice to those who do not have one.

For more information about My Heart Sings Your Song & Where Have We Come click here

Or find Saz on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.