Garment Workers’ Stories

Image: National Garment Workers Federation

As part of the Women and Girls Solidarity Fund, we’ve made emergency grants to partners in Bangladesh to provide essential supplies including food, protective masks and soap to garment workers who have been left destitute.

Garment workers have been left without work as factories have closed due to dwindling orders. Many of these workers are migrant women. With historically low wages, it is impossible to save and workers are now unable to pay for housing or food. We heard a number of stories from workers who have been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis:

“I am Suraiya and I am working as helper for last 4 months in Interlink Apparels Ltd. I have a daughter of 5 years old and a son of 10 years old. 10 years ago, I had early marriage at the age of 16. I did not work in the garment factory before but it was very difficult for us to run the family with the sole income of my husband. Due to the struggle of severe poverty I came to Dhaka city four months back and joined in a garment factory. My husband used to run a tea stall in Gazipur area. We have to pay 4000 bdt as house rent. It is still a struggle to run a family of four members after paying half of the wage for house rent.

Due to the lockdown, my husband cannot run his tea stall anymore and I have been laid off by my factory. I do not know whether I will get my full wage or not. We do not have any income now but we have to pay our house rent, we have to feed our children. The situation is the worst now. After paying the house rent we will not have any money to have our food even. We do not know what will happen to us.” – Suraiya, 26

“My factory is a sweater factory where I work in knitting section. In November, 2019 the factory was declared closed informing over the phone without paying the due wage. When we asked the wage for that period the management informed that, if you want to continue the work without wage come into the office, otherwise we need not to come.

The factory re-opened on February 8, 2020. We got the wage of February at the beginning of March then again the factory has closed. The factory declared closure and we are worried about the wages as we were not paid for March. The Eid is ahead and we are worried about our Eid bonus as well.

There are four members in our family and we are going through terrible suffering due to poverty. We are surviving somehow by having only one time meal a day and the condition is same among other co-workers as well. We do not have any money in our hand now and the shops are not allowing further buying without paying the prior dues. The landlord is also asking for the rent and asking to leave the house if unable to pay the rent. Where we will go and what we will eat now? When we do not have any food, maintaining social distance and thinking about hygiene issues seems like a luxury to us. We need support to live.” – Md Shahin Alam

Image: National Garment Workers Federation

“I work in a garment factory. Our factory has laid us off and we have not received the due wages. We are worried about not getting paid, but if we do that the amount will not be in full. They will deduct our wage. According to the labor law I have heard that, we can get the half of the wage for the laid off period but that will be very small in amount. How we will manage our house rent and food with this amount? I went to the local government official for the government’s relief support but the officer said as the government is supporting the RMG sector that I am not eligible for this support.” – Mos. Laboni Akter Salma

These are just a few stories of the millions of garment workers impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. We need to hold brands and retailers accountable and ensure that garment workers are provided for in this time of crisis.

We are still fundraising to support as many women and girls as possible with our emergency appeal. You can donate by clicking here. 


The Impact of COVID-19 on The Circle’s Projects

Image: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Marginalised people can become even more vulnerable in global health emergencies such as the current COVID-19 pandemic due to a number of factors including limited access to health services. Previous epidemics have illustrated that primary caregivers to the ill are predominately women and that women and girls experience increased risks of gender-based violence including sexual exploitation.

“We know that when emergencies hit, women and girls come last” 

There are a number of factors that put women and girls at disproportionate risk in public health emergencies, including:

  • Women make up large parts of the health workforce;
  • Primary caregivers to the ill are predominately women. This caregiving burden is likely to cause their physical and mental health to suffer and impede their access to education, livelihood sources, and other critical support;
  • Women are more likely to be engaged in the informal sector and be hardest hit economically by COVID-19;
  • Women experience increased risks of gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation;
  • Cultural factors may exclude women from decision-making spaces and restrict their access to information on outbreaks and availability of services;
  • Women might experience interrupted access to sexual and reproductive health services, including to family planning;
  • In some cultural contexts, gender roles may dictate women cannot obtain health services independently or from male service providers.

Social isolation policies can also put a disproportionate pressure on women and girls due to:

  • Additional childcare responsibilities, that more commonly fall on women;
  • Women and girls who are in abusive relationships may be unable to leave a dangerous environment;
  • Services supported survivors of violence are unable to offer shelter or in person counselling sessions.

We are fully aware that there will be some disruptions to what we and our project partners want to accomplish over the coming months. However, both they and us are taking measures to ensure that our teams and the beneficiaries are supported in their work and that the risks are minimised as much as possible. It goes without saying how proud and inspired we are by the unending commitment, flexibility and drive that is being shown by everyone to ensure our impactful projects continue as best they can. Saying that, we want to keep you as informed as possible about this issue and what the impact may be on marginalised women and girls around the globe.

Violence Against Women and Girls

Public health, the economy, and women and girls’ safety and bodily autonomy are inextricably linked.

Social Development Direct, following a request from the UK Department for International Development, reviewed the evidence of how COVID-19 might impact on violence against women and girls and lessons learnt from recent epidemics.

Emerging evidence suggests that COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to increase the risks of:

  • Domestic violence, with police reports in China showing that domestic violence tripled during the epidemic.
  • Violence against healthcare workers, due to the serious stress that the pandemic places on patient, their relatives and other healthcare workers. Racial and sexual harassment (both online and offline), with anecdotal reports targeted sexualised attacks against women of East Asian appearance.
  • Abuse and exploitation of vulnerable women workers, including street-based sex workers and migrant domestic workers.
  • Sexual exploitation and violence by state officials and armed guards.

Nonceba Family Counselling Centre

South Africa has gone into lockdown in an attempt to avoid a “catastrophe of huge proportions” said the president. This is a difficult time for everyone, but services such as the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre are facing additional challenges. The Centre support a community where there is high-population density, a high level of overcrowding and poverty that makes it extremely difficult to self-isolate. Women and girls in Khayelitsha are already vulnerable to intimate partner violence, but the fear, tension and stress related to the COVID-19 outbreak will only intensify the risks they face.

In addition to this, most of the women in the shelter are HIV positive and rely on the Nonceba Centre for access to healthcare.  With the additional pressure on healthcare services globally, the Centre is working to ensure the safety of all of the women and children using its services.

Image: Siyanda at The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre

Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis

For women and children experiencing domestic abuse and sexual violence, home is not always a place of safety. Perpetrators will use infection control measures as a tool of coercive and controlling behaviour. According to the Joint Statement on COVID-19 from VAWG services across the UK:

“Access to support for women and children may also shrink further due to social isolation and those in poverty will be severely impacted.”

Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis are working to adapt and prepare for the potentially increased pressure on their services and also the restrictions on the services that they are able to offer. As a result of the crisis, they are currently unable to offer face-to-face support in any capacity and will therefore be running increased hours on their helpline. They can now be reached Monday to Friday, 11am to 4pm.

A Living Wage

Public health emergencies can have a tremendous, sustained impact on livelihoods. This can be particularly true for women, who are more likely to be engaged in informal or low-wage activities or migrant work. The global pandemic has caused chaos and suffering for millions of garment workers across the Global South. Many factories in garment-producing countries have closed due to a shortage of raw materials from China and cancelled orders from clothing brands across the world.

“I have talked to some workers and they were saying ‘more than the virus we might die of hunger’ because they don’t have access to food”

The Clean Clothes Campaign is asking brands to ensure that workers who contract the virus are allowed to take sick leave without repercussions and continue to receive wages throughout self-isolation. There have also been reports of garment workers being forced to work in cramped conditions, without protective wear, despite governments introducing social distancing policies across the globe.

Although our Living Wage Project will be able to continue remotely throughout this crisis, the women and girls that it is working to empower will be severely impacted by the short-term decisions being made by brands and retailers, not only for their own personal safety, but for their livelihoods in the long-term.

Image: A Female Garment Worker/Labour Behind the Label

 The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network

For the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network, their preparations to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on both their members and their activities are still speculative at this stage. In the MENA region, there are comparatively few confirmed cases right now, but states have taken early-stage measures to prevent the spread of the virus including social distancing and curfews. However, the Network has over 130 local members in more than 15 countries across the region, so the impact will vary greatly.

The pandemic could result in a number of challenges for the local, female journalists in the Network including limited job opportunities and a greater demand for mental health support during this difficult time, which will be even more difficult to provide remotely.

However, the Network is working hard with donors and partner organisations to ensure that they can respond flexibly to the needs of their members as best as they can and to strengthen the capacity of their remote activities.

To support the Network and the journalists who are at the frontline, reporting stories of global importance from some of the most dangerous places in the world, head to their website.

Educate Girls

It is clear that COVID-19 is continuing to spread throughout India, and at a rapidly accelerating rate. In addition, Maharashtra state is emerging as the epicentre for the pandemic in India.

Educate Girls reached out to us to inform us of the steps they are taking to ensure the safety of both their staff and the communities that they serve. They confirmed that the implications of this lockdown will be severe on the communities they work in, particularly on girls. This is because most of the communities are severely marginalised and zero mobility and loss of income streams will put immense pressure on families.

Not only have they created an internal task force and provided a helpline number to assister their field team members, but they have committed to additional financial support for employees and are working with contacts at the District level Government officials, village-based influencers and parents of out of school children to ensure there is no drop in their communication. Finally, they will continue to deliver trainings whilst all teams are working from home and hope that this will enable them to emerge improved and ready to deliver better.

Irise International

Evidence suggests that during past public health emergencies, resources have been diverted from routine health care services toward containing and responding to the outbreak. These reallocations constrain already limited access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, such as clean and safe deliveries, contraceptives, and pre- and post-natal health care. As a charity that exists to support vulnerable young people and their communities, our project partners Irise are enormously concerned about the impact COVID-19 is having and will continue to have on their community in East Africa. 

“We know that our work is likely to be disrupted, and as one of our funders and partners, I wanted to assure you that we are putting in place a series of mitigation and adaptation plans as we learn more about the impact and scale of this pandemic.

We are worried about our staff. The majority of our team are women and face a disproportionate burden as primary caregivers to their children and wider families.

We are worried about the communities they serve who are struggling to access accurate health information and adequate healthcare.”

The organisation is running an emergency appeal to protect their staff and communities from COVID-19 and its impact. This special fund will be set aside to keep their staff and their families safe and enable them to access healthcare and other support over the coming week. This fund will ensure that every Irise member of staff’s income is secure and that they will get help to access healthcare if they need it, so that they can focus their energy on supporting families and communities during this difficult time.

For more information about our projects, click here.


‘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.

 


What We’re Reading

Photo credit: Verso

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 women’s 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 March!

‘Brands must urgently take steps to minimise impact of the coronavirus on garment workers’ health and livelihoods’ – Label Behind the Label

“The new coronavirus has reached global pandemic levels and is affecting people across the world, including garment workers in global supply chains. Protecting those most at risk means both taking steps to limit exposure and ensuring that people surviving on the poverty line are not pushed below it. Due to their low wages and widespread repression of freedom of association rights, garment workers already live in precarious situations and the economic fallout of the pandemic is having far-reaching consequences.”  It is more important than ever to show solidarity towards the garment workers who are being hit incredibly hard by the outbreak of Coronavirus. From factory closures, to lack of paid sick leave we must protect the workers who make our clothes. Read now!

‘Women in Mexico Are Urged to Disappear for a Day in Protest’ – The New York Times

Published on 26th February 2020, Paulina Villegas and Kirk Semple write in anticipation of the protest in Mexico City which took place on 9 March.  Women were urged to disappear from the public eye and stay at home to ‘protest gender-based violence, inequality and the culture of machismo, and to demand greater support for women’s rights.’ However, the title also refers to the murders that took place in the country earlier this month.  To find out more, search #UNDÍASINNOSOTRAS on Twitter.

Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers Rights – Juno Mac and Molly Smith

In Revolting Prostitutes, sex workers Juno Mac and Molly Smith bring a fresh perspective to questions that have long been contentious. Speaking from a growing global sex worker rights movement, and situating their argument firmly within wider questions of migration, work, feminism, and resistance to white supremacy, they make it clear that anyone committed to working towards justice and freedom should be in support of the sex worker rights movement.

Gender and the Climate Crisis’ – The Circle

Women are disproportionately affected by climate change as they are worse positioned in social, economic and political hierarchies. Women everywhere are less likely to influence decisions that affect their lives and women are more likely than men to be poor. While both men and women suffer in poverty and crises, gender discrimination means that women have far fewer resources to cope.  This year March4Women celebrated the power and passion of women and girls who are on the frontline of responding to climate change. At The Circle, Anna Renfrew and Csenge Gábeli consider the intersection between gender and climate change, effects and possible solutions.

Selection made by Georgia Bridgett and Anna Renfrew.


One Member’s Take on Global Feminism

“I am now proud to call myself a Global Feminist and I would invite others to do the same.”

Previously I hadn’t wanted to call myself a feminist, I felt the word was tainted and outdated, a clichéd stereotype excluding men. However, if you look at the facts it’s obvious that things aren’t right. Women make up two thirds of the world’s illiterate people, 1 in 3 women will experience physical or sexual violence, a woman dies in childbirth every two minutes, and so the list continues. I realised how wrong I was and how important it is to fight for change. I also realised how important it was to reverse these preconceived notions of what feminism is and promote a feminism that is inclusive of all.  

After graduation, having always wanted to travel, I went to India. Growing up I sometimes sensed being female put me at a disadvantage and struggled with feelings of frustration and limitation – despite being born in the UK – a country that remains high on global gender equality indexes. Gender inequality is visible throughout the world, but witnessing first-hand the obstacles experienced by women and girls in low-income countries in the Global South, I realised the importance of Global Feminism.  

I found The Circle unintentionally through fundraising for Girls Education in India a few years ago. Since then, I have learnt that feminism equates to respect, equality, and the importance of including people of all genders to achieve this. Joining The Circle has been empowering. I have spent much of my life thinking “I’m just … I’m just a girl, a woman, a mother … where is my voice?” Last March I went to The Circle’s Annual Gathering slightly underprepared and suddenly found myself in a network of inspiring women. From the outside, it is easy to see others as strong, successful and powerful but not see these qualities in yourself; we often hold ourselves back with our own perceived inadequacies. When I stepped inside The Circle, I saw female power and realised my own strength. I left the meeting with the phrase ‘just do it’ ringing in my ears, replacing the ‘I’m just’ and I knew that together we could achieve real change. I am now proud to call myself a Global Feminist and I would invite others to do the same.  

My personal interests focus on girls’ education in India and ethics within the garment industry, particularly The Circle’s Living Wage work. Over twelve years ago I started buying clothes in India to sell in the UK and have been visiting India annually since then. Today I run a business that wholesales our unique clothing range to independent shops across the UK and work closely with tailors to ensure that no one is exploited in the production of our garments and that there is transparency throughout our supply chain. The majority of my clothing is made by the same family I have worked with since I met them in 2005 in rural Rajasthan, Northern India. Together our businesses and families have grown, and a strong friendship has developed. Over the years I have returned to India as a solo woman, with my daughter as a single mother and this year I was blessed to take my own mother.  

Despite sharing food and spending time together in the home it has been hard to form close friendships with the women I meet in India. Within my tailor’s family the women are always introduced as sister, wife or mother and whether it is the language barrier, shyness, or fear of speaking out of turn, it has been hard to go deeper in our relationships. In the family home I meet Laxmi, a sturdy bejewelled older woman, proud mother to her three sons (who manage the family tailoring business), all of whom live with her and her husband in the family home with their wives and children. In the domestic sphere it is clear she is in charge. Her daughters in law are beautiful young women and I sit with them in the home as they chat and giggle in Hindi. They cook the most delicious meals to share with me, presenting me with dish after dish of tasty treats. Between them they have eight children aged 1 – 18 years, all of which grow up in the house together. The women work together to bring up the children and keep the home and when I ask them how they are and what they want in life I am met with a coy smile or neutral expression. Of the eight children the eldest girl is 16 and is due to go to college next year to study engineering. She will be one of the first girls in the family to receive further education, but her father is very clear that as soon as she finishes college she will be married. For the men in the family tradition is very important and although they can see the importance of all the children receiving a good education, they feel strongly their traditional values and family life must be upheld.  

In the market square you will regularly meet strong women; these women have been working on the streets since childhood, selling anklets and henna tattoos to tourists. Always dressed immaculately in traditional Rajasthani costume, these women are always happy to share their stories and regularly invite tourists to their makeshift homes on the edge of the dessert. This is a combination of Indian hospitality and entrepreneurship, these women have generally been married young but often have no financial support from their husbands (stories of domestic abuse and alcoholism are common, as well as the inability to find work due to disability or illness) and the impossibility of finding employment themselves with little or no education and children to bring up leaves them no alternative but to tout on the streets. There is no social security for these women and their voices are not often heard. 

Unfortunately, gender inequality in still deeply ingrained in many aspects of culture in India. Sadly, girls are at a disadvantage from before birth with increasing incidents of gender-based abortion. Domestic violence, sexual harassment, female illiteracy and child marriage are all common problems. In rural India, 70% of girls are married before they reach 18. The country is experiencing a wave of awareness surrounding the prevalence of sexual violence occurring, a woman is raped every twenty minutes.   

Women’s rights in India have reached a crisis point and education, unemployment and gender discrimination are forming a barrier to women’s empowerment. As well as campaigning for political reform, there needs to be a focus on education for girls. In rural areas of Rajasthan, girls are three times more likely to be out of school than other children in India and the female rate of literacy in Rajasthan is the lowest in the country and six in ten girls in Rajasthan marry as children.  

The Circle works with Mumbai based NGO Educate Girls, a charity focused on getting girls into school and providing them with the support needed to stay in school. They use a Creative, Learning and Teaching curriculum to aid girls, particularly if they have fallen behind or have missed periods of school due to having been kept home for domestic work. Support from The Circle has enabled Educate Girls to provide CLT learning kits to 301 schools, improving the education of 7,000 children. As well as previously fundraising for this, this year I visited the Fior Di Loto Foundation, a private girl’s school in the village in which I work. The Foundation was founded in 2003 to provide education for some of the poorest girls living in and around Pushkar. The school provides everything a child needs to attend school, such as transport, uniform, school meals, and books. There are government schools in India but children from the poorest communities are often unable attend due to these constraints. For some families, the school provides extra support with food so that girls are not encouraged to drop out to look after the home or to marry. The foundation has also started a new project to support women during and after childbirth, providing a clean and safe environment. Through the foundation, I sponsor a girl to ensure she receives a full education and I am committed to promoting and fundraising for girls’ education in Rajasthan.  

I live in Somerset and it is my aim to introduce The Circle to my local community. Last year I hosted a fundraising event, talked to people about The Circle’s work and promoted the organisation through social media by sharing the #GlobalFeminsm campaign and provoking articles. This year we will be marking International Women’s Day and continuing to spread the word about Global Feminism. 

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


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle ally Brett

“Besides the incredible women who were my role models throughout my life, I was also inspired by my favourite singer, Annie Lennox, and her passion for equal rights and gender equality.”

At The Circle, we are of the strong belief that the fight for gender equality has to be inclusive. To reach it, men can and must stand next to us as allies to the Global Feminist movement. Brett is one of our male allies and supports our work in a number of ways. As part of #WidenYourCircle, we wanted to catch up with him to discuss what it means to be an ally of The Circle.

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire surrounded by two strong and fearless female role models, my mother and my older sister, Karen. Another woman who had a huge impact on my life was my Aunt Elizabeth, who could toss together an amazing dandelion greens salad and lived by her own rules until she was well past 100! As a school teacher for over 50 years, Elizabeth was adamant about the importance of educating girls all over the world. In addition to teaching me about global feminism at an early age, she introduced me to the visual arts which has lead me to my career as a designer today. One of the most meaningful things Elizabeth taught me is that with the right tools, I can make change happen for myself and others. A perspective that has led me to this great organisation.

Why did you decide to become an ally of The Circle?

Besides the incredible women who were my role models throughout my life, I was also inspired by my favourite singer, Annie Lennox, and her passion for equal rights and gender equality. It was through Annie’s social media posts that I first learned about The Circle and their fight for marginalised women. After winning tickets to an Annie Lennox concert and being lucky enough to meet her in person, I knew that I wanted to become a part of this cause. Just as she is, I’m passionate about the organisation’s legal assistance and education efforts and want to help this worthy cause in any way I can.

How have you used your professional skills or knowledge as an ally of The Circle?

I’ve been in the world of graphic design for 30 years.  In an effort to increase visibility for the Circle, I use my creative skills to assist with web and book design, posters, and really whatever graphic design work they need. You may have seen my creativity on display with The Circle’s e-vites and Christmas cards. Contributing my work and expertise to a greater cause is very meaningful to me. And I think it would be to my Aunt Elizabeth as well.

Find out more about the different ways you can become an ally of The Circle by clicking here.


Global Feminism Advent Calendar 2019

 

We’re back with a list of 24 things that you can do every day from now until Christmas. From feminist panel discussions and fundraisers for marginalised women and girls to arts and crafts sessions and inspirational films to watch. Many of these events will sell out, so be sure to get your tickets early!

1 December – Peta’s Chai Day in Wimbledon (London)

Join The Circle’s Relationship Manager Peta at her Chai Day in Wimbledon! Go along for some fantastic tea and cakes and to learn a little bit more about gender-based violence. This is a global issue and women’s organisations providing support to survivors are woefully underfunded.

Join Peta and friends on 1 Dec from 2-4pm at Coolangatta, 281 Kingston Road, Wimbledon Chase, SW20 8DB.

2 December – Active Bystander Training (London)

The Circle would like to invite you to attend the award-winning Active Bystander training programme which aims to empower us to challenge poor behaviours which have become normalised in our workplaces and in our communities and bring about change through the reinforcement of messages defining the boundaries of unacceptable behaviour. We have asked Scott Solder, an advanced communications skills expert to facilitate the session. We hope that you will find the training valuable!

3 December – Middle Eastern Women’s (Street)Art in Context (London)

Renowned curator Rose Issa and academic Lucia Sorbera end their third part series by reflecting on the aesthetic, conceptual and socio-political concerns of artists in the Arab world over the past four decades and the new shape of women’s street art, the challenges they face and the legacy of feminist revolutionary art.

4 December – Buy your ticket toTEDxLondonWomen 2019 (London)

TED are turning their attention to uncovering how women and non-binary and genderqueer people the world over are ‘Showing Up’, breaking out and pushing boundaries.

Whatever their focus and talent – business, technology, art, science, politics – these pioneers are joining forces in an explosion of discovery and ingenuity to drive real, meaningful change. Speakers include ANAÏS, Angela Francis, Dr Julia Shaw, Jamie Windust, Mary Portas, Nathaniel Cole, Nikita Gill and Onjali Rauf. Book your ticket now for this is sure to sell out!

6 December –  Stonewall 50 Years On: Gay Liberation and Lesbian Feminism in Europe (Manchester)

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, which began in the early hours of Saturday, 28 June 1969, when patrons of the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street defended themselves against police oppression.

This one-day conference rethinks the movements that the riots supposedly spawned in a European context. Gay liberation was never a one-way flow from across the Atlantic but the Gay Liberation Front was an important catalyst for similar groups in Europe.

This conference is co-organised with Dr Craig Griffiths, Dr Rebecca Jennings and Dr Dan Callwood.

7 December – Art + Feminism Edit-A-Thon Social (Nottingham)

Art + Feminism is a campaign improving coverage of gender, feminism, and the arts on Wikipedia. It is a do-it-yourself and do-it-with-others campaign teaching people of all gender identities and expressions to edit Wikipedia. Less than 10% editors on Wikipedia are women! The group wants to ensure that women tell their stories and that gaps in the coverage of knowledge about gender, feminism, and the arts on one of the most visited websites in the world.

8 December – Christmas Period Pack and Volunteer Session (Wolverhampton)

Looking to get involved and discover how you can help reduce period poverty in Wolverhampton? Join Homeless Period to help pack donations and deliver them to vulnerable women and girls and those experiencing period poverty across the city.

9 December – Sex Positive Christmas Market (London)

Looking for a unique Christmas gift? Head to this sex positive, feminist and queer friendly space where you can buy alternative gifts, meet lovely people. There will be great music, mulled wine and a raffle so this is not to be missed.

10 December –  Smashing Stereotypes! Inspiring Young People in Gender Equality (Wishaw)

This event is aimed at young people and individuals or groups who work with young people in a range of capacities from the voluntary and statutory sectors. The interactive displays and workshops will highlight current research about gender stereotyping and provide an opportunity to engage with the material, interact with peers and representatives from different sectors.

This workshop is being held by STAMP (Stamp out Media Patriarchy) a project which aims to tackles gender stereotypes in the media and encourage more positive use of the media amongst young people.

This event is completely free – just register to reserve your place!

11 December – Buy your ticket to Night for Solidarity for Refugees in Calais (London)

The refugee crisis is a feminist issue and Hackney Stand Up to Racism and Facism are holding their annual fundraiser for Care4Calais. The evening will feature music, comedy, a raffle and speakers all in aid of the work Care4Calais do. Winter has started and for those living in the appalling conditions in Calais there are no ways to get warm. Please support their cause and attend this fantastic fundraiser on 14 December.

12 December – Bitch Lit: Corregidora by Gayl Jones (London)

Bitch Lit is Gower Street Waterstone’s monthly book club devoted to new feminist writing and cult classics by women. Join them for wine and a lively discussion led by literary critic Lucy Scholes.

This will be the final Bitch Lit of the year and the group will be discussing the lost classic Corregidora by Gayl Jones

13 December – Hand in your Chai Day money!

Once you’ve hosted your Chai Day to support survivors of gender-based violence, remember to hand in the money that you’ve fundraised! This will go directly to our Chai Day projects and can be donated via the link on the Chai Day webpage. You can also find us on Virgin Money Giving.

14 December – Flo Perry ‘How to have Feminist Sex’ (Oxford)

This book talk discusses women’s own patriarchal conditioning in relation to their bodies and sexuality, arguing that this can be the hardest enemy to defeat as feminism moves forward. When it comes to our sex lives, few of us are free of niggling fears and body image insecurities. Flo Perry explores body-positive sex and dispels myths with the goal of getting more people to talk openly about what they do and don’t want from every romantic encounter.

Flo will be taking questions and signing copies of her book after the talk!

15 December – Watch City of Joy on Netflix

How does one find joy amid unspeakable tragedy? Madeleine Gavin’s documentary City of Joy, about a community built around women who have survived horrific violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), gives us a glimpse at both an incredible injustice still occurring today, and how Congolese women are combating it with their own grassroots movement.

“Everything is about love at City of Joy,” Schuler Deschryver told the Guardian. She described how many of the women who first arrive at City of Joy associate being touched only with violence. “So when you hug her and tell her she’s beautiful, that you love her, that you will fight for her, suddenly she’s like: ‘Oh my God, I exist. I’m a human being.’ You see the joy that [the women] have and know what they’ve passed through. I think that’s one of the reasons I wake up every morning.”

Find it on Netflix now!

16 December – Buy a gift that supports marginalised women and girls

Adorn yourself or a loved one with an elegant and unique piece of jewellery from the SeeMe X The Circle collection. See Me and The Circle have launched a beautiful and ethically-made jewellery collection to celebrate ten years of Women Empowering Women. SeeMe employs women, often single mothers, who have suffered violence and were ostracised from their communities in Tunisia. Through training SeeMe employees learn the craft of jewellery making following ancient Tunisian techniques. Therefore, while fostering their country’s traditions, they also secure a workplace for themselves and a future for their families.

The Circle have a number of sustainably sourced gifts for every member of the family, in addition to jewellery we’re selling programmes from Annie Lennox’s An Evening of Music and Conversation.

17 December – Donate to a cause you care about

Christmas is the perfect opportunity to give to a cause that you care about. Whether thats your time, or your money, give a little this festive season.

18 December – Share your #GlobalFeminism stat

Take part in Annie Lennox’s #GlobalFeminism campaign by selecting a statistic that exemplifies the inequalities women face across the world, write it down and photograph yourself with it. Then, share the photo on your social media, hashtag #GlobalFeminism and tag both @thecirclengo and @AnnieLennox.

19 December – Read our Living Wage Report

Fast fashion generates vast revenues, using a business model that turns around enormous quantities of cheap clothing produced with very short lead times by globally-sourced cheap labour. Multinational fast fashion companies are able to quickly move their production to countries with lower wages. The risk of losing this investment acts as a disincentive for countries to improve their labour laws and provide fair wages.

The Circle has recently published its second report on this issue which makes a proposal for a new legislative framework to stop the “race to the bottom” and ensure a living wage. Read the full report now!

20 December – Donate sanitary products to a local food bank or body shop

Period products are not cheap and for anyone menstruating they are an absolute necessity. Sadly, there are many people living in the UK who are unable to afford them. People often forget about this essential item when donating to food banks so if you are thinking about donating food and other supplies then consider including some tampons or sanitary pads! The Body Shop have started a fantastic initiative in partnership with Bloody Good Period which can currently be found in several cities across the UK. Find your closest participating store here or food bank here.

21 December – Gift a Membership

Last minute Christmas gift? Gift a membership!!

We have added the option to Gift a Membership on our website! Whether the recipient is your mother, your daughter, an aunt, a colleague, a partner or friend; The Circle membership is the perfect gift for a woman who wants to become more actively involved in the global women’s movement, bring attention to important issues and amplifying the voices of vulnerable women. The perfect Christmas gift of empowerment this year!

22 December – Watch For Sama

For Sama is both an intimate and epic journey into the female experience of war. A love letter from a young mother to her daughter, the film tells the story of Waad al-Kateab’s life through five years of uprising in Aleppo, Syria as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth to Sama, all while cataclysmic conflict rises around her.

Her camera captures incredible stories of loss, laughter and survival as Waad wrestles with an impossible choice – whether or not to flee the city to protect her daughter’s life.

23 December – Save a pre-loved item for Jumble Fever in January!

After the huge success of The Oxford Circle’s Jumble Fever last January, they are back again but this year, in the Oxford Town Hall, to raise funds for the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre. Collect your preloved items, jumble and bric a brac and set it aside to make room for Christmas gifts! If you bring a bag of donations with you, entry to the Jumble Sale is just £1.

24 December – Listen to the Cry Power Podcast with Annie Lennox

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

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

Have a wonderful festive period from everyone here at The Circle! 


Reporting Rape: How the Justice System is Failing Victims of Violence

Photo credit: Reuters

Violence against women and girls remains one of the most prominent and pressing issues of inequality globally, with at least one in three women around the world becoming a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. In the UK, one in five women have experienced some type of sexual assault, according to official analysis of violent crime figures by the Crime Survey for England and Wales. Despite the fact that the UK comes in at 14th on the Gender Inequality Index (1st being most equal), 173 women were killed at the hands of their partners over the last year and more than 85,000 were raped.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of press concerning the experience of victim-survivors reporting instances of sexual assault in the UK as organisations attempt to shine a light on the monumental and often fruitless task of taking to trial crimes of rape and sexual assault. There is little chance of the perpetrator being brought to justice, and time and time again women have described how traumatic navigating this system can be. Of course, there are many who have found closure through this process and have had positive experiences with the police and legal professionals. Last week Cosmopolitan published the article What really happens when you report a rape detailing the experiences of 15 people across the UK, including the testimony of one woman who stated that “I think reporting this crime and going through the justice system has really aided my recovery and I am so pleased that I did it” after her perpetrator received a nine year sentence. However, for many women this is not the case.

Repeatedly, victim-survivors have described instances of inadequate communication from officials, concerns for their personal safety and perceptions of the system being weighed in favour of the accused all as challenges in their own justice journeys. The majority of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported to the authorities as the legal process can be a lengthy and daunting one. However, systemic failures to reporting victims are at the heart of such low confidence in the current system as one that fairly and adequately represents the interests of women taking the brave step to report.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition, one of the projects funded by The Circle’s Chai Day initiative, is in the process of taking the Crown Prosecution Service to court over the ‘catastrophic’ drop in rape prosecutions (down by 44% since 2014) whilst the increase in the number of rapes reported to the police is up by 173%. The lobbying organisation ‘have heard from many women who have decided to report rape to the police; have endured what can be very gruelling questioning and possibly medical examinations; have had to sacrifice their phone, computer and personal records; endure an agonising wait; to then be told that the case has been dropped’ whilst the Guardian reported last year that a training session at the CPS encouraged prosecutors to take the ‘weak cases out of the system’ to improve its conviction rate.

A culture that discourages victims from speaking up to report their abuse is not one that supports its most vulnerable. Global Feminism is a movement designed to highlight the rampant inequalities across the globe that women and girls still face, drawing attention and encouraging action to the abuses suffered by women globally.

For the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, The Circle wanted to examine the process of reporting for victim-survivors around the world and the enforcement of women’s right to be free from harm through The Circle’s projects providing front-line services to victims of violence. Despite the increased our exposure and awareness of the issue of sexual violence in the aftermath of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, victims of rape and sexual assault are still being victimised and consistently let down by the criminal justice system.

Scotland

Rape Crisis Scotland estimates that one in ten women in Scotland has experienced rape and one in five women in Scotland has had someone try to make them have sex against their will. Furthermore, according to Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2014 collected evidence to suggest people believe that in certain situations women are at least partly to blame if they are raped. Only 58% said a woman who wore revealing clothing on a night out was ‘not at all to blame’ for being raped and 60% said the same of a woman who was very drunk. The survey found that around a quarter of people agreed that ‘women often lie about being raped’. These findings are shocking and indicate a level of blame put on victims of violence that permeates the processes within the criminal justice system.

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Glasgow produced a report on justice journeys and found that while positive experiences were identified, victim-survivors continue to face challenges at each stage of the criminal process. The testimonies described a disparity between survivor expectations and experiences: perceptions of the system being weighted in favour of the accused, that the prosecutor did not adequately represent their interests and a sense of being marginal to the process. None of the victims were given back their personal possessions taken as evidence, an invasive practice in the first place, nor did they know what happened to their items. In addition, some felt that crucial evidence had been overlooked, taken incorrectly, or in some cases not taken at all.

I was made to feel that I was hysterical […] when you’ve been in a domestic abuse situation and these types of men, they tell you you’re hysterical or you’ve got mental health issues or you’re nuts or you’re crazy or you’re a fruitcake. That’s the language they use. So […] when the authorities use it, what does it do? It puts up a brick wall.  – Beth

One could argue that these challenges are not particular to rape cases and that the judiciary system could be confusing and long-winded for those not versed in legal jargon or suffering from anxiety as a result of the crime in question. However, it remains the case that in Scotland and the rest of the UK, courts have consistently low conviction rates for gender-based violence crimes and a system that discourages victim-survivors to come forward. In the instances of the research undergone by University of Glasgow, many have been faced with a lack of respect, information and support within the justice system and under-funded services such as Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis assume must step in and assume responsibility for this support. Overwhelmingly, the services of a counsellor were considered invaluable throughout the judiciary process. The counsellors from services such as Rape Crisis provide emotional support but also detail the process of going to court with victim-survivor in an attempt to prepare them for what can be an intimidating prospect.

With support from The Circle and Chai Day, Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis has been able to extend their drop-in service for survivors and launch The Rosey Project, providing support for young women who are survivors of rape, sexual assault or sexual bullying in response to an increasing demand for services for women aged 13 to 25.

Siyanda and her son, who stayed at the Nonceba Centre after leaving an abusive relationship.

South Africa

The most recent data from the World Health Organisation shows that South Africa’s femicide rate was almost five times higher than the global average in 2016. Despite national outcry from protestors around the country and the #TotalShutdown movement, violence remains high and in recent weeks the media in South Africa has and continues to report stories of victims who have been murdered and attacked. According to the One in Nine Campaign, although 66,000 rapes are reported to the police in South Africa annually, the total number of rapes is much higher and is estimated to be between 600,000-1,650,000; of these, a fraction lead to convictions.

Jackie Nategaal wrote that one of the reasons that the criminal system is ‘failing survivors’ is a pervasive rape culture that still exists. Arguing that victims are often treated dismissively because there is an expectation of, even an inevitability of violence towards women. Amnesty International supports this argument as the Executive Director in South Africa, Shenilla Mohamed, released a statement stating that ‘it is nothing short of a national emergency that femicide and rape rates are increasing countrywide’ and that the first steps for making change would be:

ensuring that police officers are properly trained to sensitively and objectively investigate incidents of gender-based violence … ensure that gender-based violence is taken seriously at every level of the justice system, including by challenging discriminatory stereotypes about victims and survivors.”

Similarly, in a reflection paper from the International Commission of Jurists, it was stressed that although there has been a domestic violence legislation in the country since 1998, there is a lack of implementation of the act in the process of reporting a crime. The paper states that ‘the burden of pursuing a claim falls onto victims who are given documents from the court with the onus to progress these themselves despite their uncertainty in how to do so’.

We see victim-survivors being discouraged at every stage of the process, impeding their access to justice. It is clear that negative attitudes and prejudices are influencing the way that woman are treated in the judiciary system resulting in not only a woefully low number of convictions but also a prevalence of shame placed on the victim.

The Circle supports the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in South Africa, located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside Cape Town. 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 centre has a shelter for women who have survived domestic violence or have been victims of human trafficking. Most women in the shelter are HIV positive, are struggling to access healthcare and have received limited education and training.

India

Violence against women is the most common form of human rights violation in India. Shame, stigma and a lack of support from the police and legal system prevent many women from reporting domestic violence and seeking help.

In 2012, the rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi, prompted protests across the country that were demanding huge reform in the criminal justice system to and protect future women across the country. Despite promises by the government to take concrete action, it seems that sexual violence is as common as ever. India’s National Crime Records Bureau reveals that 38,947 cases of rape were registered in 2016 9 increasing by 12.4 from the previous year. World Politics Review has observed that at this rate, ‘a woman is raped in India about every 15 fifteen minutes’ and goes on to state that an estimated 99 percent of rape cases in India go unreported. As in Scotland and South Africa, women do not feel confident and safe in reporting their assault.

Whilst there is a level of shame ascribed to victims of sexual assault in India, for those who do come forward and choose to make an allegation to the police the process can result in further shaming and dismissive responses.

“The doctor said to my daughter ‘If they had forced themselves on you, there should have been marks on your body – but you don’t have any. You must have done this of your own free will.” – Palak’s mother, Palak (name changed to protect her identity), a Dalit woman, was 18 when she reported being kidnapped and raped in Madhya Pradesh, in June 2013.

A number of sources have described demeaning medico-legal care for survivors of sexual violence, including the ‘two finger test’, in which ‘a doctor notes the presence or absence of the hymen and the size and so-called laxity of the vagina of the rape survivor, to access whether girls and women are “virgins” or “habituated to sexual intercourse”’. Although this practice is now punishable under section 166B of the Indian Penal Code, a Human Rights Watch investigation found that treatment and examination such as this was still occurring in recent cases of serious sexual assault. This practice can be traumatic, particularly for those who have recently suffered rape and sexual assault and seeks to dismiss claims based on supposed sexual history, placing blame on the victim themselves.

Human Rights Watch also found that police were often reluctant to file allegations, particularly for victims from a socially and economically marginalised community. Citing that ‘police sometimes pressure the victim’s family to “settle” or “compromise”’. Often, Dalit or other “low-caste” families are encouraged to drop their case if the perpetrator is of a higher caste.

One of the projects funded by last year’s Chai Day was a number of survivor centres in rural communities of Chhattisgrah and Odisha to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. In Chhattisgarh, there has been State-Level Consultation on the State Gender Equality Policy, which had not been revisited for more than a decade. Projects and community building like this are essential to support victim-survivors who feel they are unable to approach or are refused help by the police.

Bina and her son were offered counselling and legal support.

Canada

ACT Alberta is an anti-trafficking organization in Canada working collaboratively law enforcement, government agencies and non-governmental organisations to identify and respond to human trafficking in Alberta. One of their primary operations is providing victim support services for victims of sexual trafficking, in which they delivery trauma recovery, improve access to the justice system and obstacles within that system for victims. It is important to note here that the service receives funding from the Canadian government for those victims who are willing to go through the judiciary system, however, as we have seen in previous countries, women often feel that this isn’t an option, particularly those from marginalized communities and those whose immigration status may be at risk. Victims who do not have permanent right to live in Canada are often wary of approaching the police for concern that they will be deported, believing that their current situation is preferable to returning to their country of birth.

Indigenous women and girls are widely identified as being at particular risk of experiencing various forms of gender-based violence in Canada, including human trafficking. By comparison, an Independent article from last year states that ‘94 per cent of Native American women living in Seattle say they have been raped or coerced into sex at least once in their lifetime’ and The New York Times indicates that ‘indigenous women and girls make up about 4 percent of the total female population of Canada but 16 per cent of all female homicides’. According to ACT, this is due ‘in part to the effects of historical and ongoing colonialism, and the legacies of the residential school system, dispossession of identity and culture, violence, racism, and marginalization.’

Not only are the support services few and far between for these women but the judiciary system is also failing them. In the case of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old girl from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Canada, ‘she was seen by provincial child welfare workers, police officers and healthcare professionals yet within 24 hours she was found dead’. The Times quote her great-aunt Thelma Favel who claimed that “Canada and the system failed Tina at every step”.

In cases across the world, even those women and girls who come forward are being dismissed and let down.

Tina Fontaine’s great-aunt, Thelma Favel showing a photo of the girl. Photo credit: Aaron Vincent Elkaim for The New York Times.

Across the globe, attitudes towards victims of rape and a prevailing tolerance for rape and serious sexual assault is resulting in a lack of justice for victim-survivors. Women are reluctant to come forward and when they do, their experiences can be traumatic. Front-line services delivered by our Chai Day projects are so important because the judiciary system is failing women who make the brave decision to come forward and report rape and serious sexual assault.

It falls on projects like Rape Crisis, ACT Alberta and the Nonceba Centre to fill the gaps in services that the judiciary system is failing to provide, to support victim-survivors through their navigation of the criminal justice system and ensure that their rights are being observed. These organisations are woefully underfunded and often receive incredibly limited or no funding from the government.

“I guess, the, kind of, base point for all of that was [local] Rape Crisis believed me. They never questioned me. They never challenged it. They’ve never said, well I don’t know, when the police seem to think different. They’ve always believed me and they have gone from that perspective, and so I knew I could trust them. And that trust has, you know, built and remained … they worked at putting, sort of, coping mechanisms in place for when I couldn’t manage” – Rebecca

Chai Day is about gathering together with friends, family or colleagues to raise funds to support survivors of gender-based violence. November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the sixteen days that follow is your chance to host a Chai Day.

All you have to do is invite a few friends, brew a pot of chai and raise funds to make a difference for women around the globe. Head to The Circle’s website for more information and to download your online resources!

This article was written by Anna Renfrew. Anna is The Circle’s Projects and Communications Officer and has been heading up preparations for our Chai Day campaign. She has written a number of articles for The Circle, taking a particular interest in the global issue of violence against women.


International Law: Supporting or Ignoring Survivors of Gender-Based Violence?

Image: Victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo, 2007. James Akena/Reuters

“Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times.” – Susan Brownmiller, 1975[1]

In conflicts ranging from the 18th century Scottish Highland Clearances to the Rape of Nanking in the 1930s, sexual violence has been a lurid, ceaseless feature. The rationale is that sexual violence is an unfortunate, but inevitable, consequence of the breakdown of the rule of law and the militarised, masculine culture of conflict zones. Until recently, victims of the violence are seen as ‘spoils of war’ – rewards for the conquering army – and the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ was used to justify heinous, violent acts of sexual assault during conquest[2]. Thankfully this began to change with the development of the ‘weapon of war’ narrative, which emerged in the 1990s. This was based on a recognition that rape is not an unfortunate byproduct of war – it is a strategic and systematic act used to undermine the enemy by demoralising and humiliating, instilling terror and devastating communities. The very deliberate nature of this widespread sexual violence was revealed and could no longer be sidelined by international legal institutions.

This development in the interpretation of wartime sexual violence had positive implications for increasing accountability and prosecution of perpetrators. On the 26th April 1995, in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the case of Duško Tadić marked the first international criminal trial to include charges of sexual violence. This was based on evidence that systematic sexual violence had been employed for the purposes of ethnic cleansing – defined by the UN as “rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove from a given area persons of another ethnic or religious group”[3]. It was recognised that in the context of the former Yugoslavia sexual violence had been used in order to present the Bosnian nation as inferior and humiliated, ordered by superiors as a strategy of war. A second landmark case for the prosecution of sexual violence took place in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in September 1998. Jean Paul Akayesu’s guilty verdict for employing rape as a tool of genocide, defined by the UN as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”[4], marked the first time sexual violence had been considered to be a crime of genocide. This judgement was based on a recognition that acts such as forced sterilisation, abortion and forced pregnancy could be strategically used to affect the ethnic composition of a group. The weapon of war narrative, which recognises the deliberate and systematic nature of wartime sexual violence, has therefore been vital in drawing attention to the extent of this violence, and has been celebrated as a key achievement in feminist literature on the subject.

“This rhetoric serves to enforce gendered stereotypes and excludes the vast majority of the women”

The prosecution of wartime sexual violence in international law is something to be celebrated, the weapon of war narrative is not. This rhetoric serves to enforce gendered stereotypes and excludes the vast majority of the women it claims to serve. I make this statement based on two claims: the weapon of war narrative has institutionalised a notion that women are only worth protecting when the violence is aimed against men; and it fails to acknowledge and challenge the role of misogynistic societal norms which justify and provide the logic for wartime sexual violence. There were a mere 34 convictions of sexual violence across all of the UN special courts, including the ICTY and the ICTR, despite the fact that the UN estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped in Rwanda alone in the time frame of 3 months. International law failed the victims of sexual violence in these conflicts by stating that their case was only worth pursuing if they could prove the intention of their rapist – that they were acting with the purpose of ethnic cleansing or genocide. Clearly the outcome is the same for the victim whatever the intent of the attacker. It established strict victim narratives that dictated the ethnicity of the victim, the time frame of the assault, and the level of violence which was deemed sufficient. Further it was regarded as a weapon against only the men in society, attempting to make them seem weak and humiliated for being unable to protect ‘their’ women, resulting in the breakdown of communities. The societal norms which sustain this potential for breakdown are also rendered invisible by the weapon of war narrative – the belief that women are the property of the men in their community and that women are somehow ‘tainted’ if they are victims of rape. Sexual violence can only be weaponised because of these norms, existing on a continuum with peacetime sexual violence, but this is obscured by the notion that sexual violence is merely a strategy of conflict. This is succinctly summarised by Inger Skjelsbaek, who states that “women are raped not because they are enemies, but because they are the objects of fundamental hatred that characterises the cultural unconscious and is actualised in times of crisis.”[5]

Binaifer Nowrojee writes that “of the prosecutions of rape at the ICTR, there were more acquittals than convictions. So there has been a miswriting of history where those responsible for the genocide are absolved of rape.” What accounts for this rewriting? One explanation is that the international community failed to acknowledge the inherently patriarchal nature of the societies themselves. Gendered practices such as giving men exclusive control of family assets, recognising only male heads of households and requiring grooms to pay for brides denigrate and objectify women during peacetime, and have the potential to be translated into the weaponisation of women during conflict. Rape is an effective weapon because of these gendered norms – women are seen as property and therefore by assaulting them military groups undermine the community as a whole. These patriarchal norms also served to silence victims – Maxine Marcus, an investigating attorney at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, found that for many women their trauma was not recognised by the communities because rape was not considered to be a grievous crime. International legal responses failed to dislodge these patriarchal norms, as they reinforced the notion that this was purely a problem during wartime and so failed to expose the magnitude of the violence and ensure that victims voices were heard. In order for international law to prove its genuine commitment to combating sexual violence, there must be a recognition that women’s rights do not warrant protection because their violation threatens national security, but because they are human rights in themselves.

It is not yet time to celebrate the mere acknowledgement of wartime sexual violence in international law. Greater emphasis on breaking down institutional socio-economic gender inequality in peacetime society is vital and support must be provided for victims of such violence regardless of the broader circumstances. To do so, we can support initiatives such as GAPS, which provides consultations on how governments and organisations can fulfil their gender equality commitments. We must increase accountability for governments, and support groups such as End Violence Against Women Coalition, which lobbies the UK government to improve policy around violence against women. International law has the potential to be a powerful force for punishing perpetrators of wartime sexual violence, but it must work in tandem with other initiatives. Regardless of whether the abuser is held to account in a court of law, victims still suffer long-term physical and psychological consequences such as PTSD, depression and the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Hosting a Chai Day is a way that you can take part in efforts to raise funds to support projects working to end violence against women and ensure that survivors are provided with the services and support they may require.

This article was written by Iona Cable. Iona is currently doing an MSc in Human Rights at the LSE, with a specific interest in gender and international law. She has experience in human rights organisations and undertook a project this summer researching how NGOs in the field work to tackle gender-based violence and post-conflict reconstruction. She also works for a London-based charity which seeks to improve social mobility by teaching key employability skills in schools.

 

[1] Brownmiller, Susan “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape”, Bantam Books (1975), p15

[2] Crawford, Kelly “From Spoils to Weapons: Framing Wartime Sexual Violence” in Gender and Development Vol 31 No 3 (2013), p511

[3] United Nations, Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to SCR 780 S/25274 (1992), p16

[4] United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article II (1951)

[5] Skjelsbaek, Inger “The Elephant in the Room: An Overview of How Sexual Violence Came to be Seen as a Weapon of War” Report to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2010), p2


Global Feminist Calendar November 2019

Photo: Angela Davis. Join the Left Book Club for a discussion of her remarkable autobiography.
There are many fantastic events happening across the country so get inspired!

1 November – She Grrrowls: Feminist Arts Night (London)

She Grrrowls is a feminist arts night featuring “poetry, comedy, music and everything in between”. Running since 2013, the night has featured hundreds of poets, musicians, writers and more.

4 November – Left Book Club – An Autobiography by Angela Davis (London)

Join the Left Book Club for a discussion on Angela Davis’s remarkable autobiography. The book is a powerful call for the universality of struggles against oppression as Davis reflects on her intellectual journey, her activism in the Communist Party and her fight for Black liberation.

The discussion will be facilitated by cultural and intellectual historian, Dr Sara Marzagora. Sara teaches critical theory, global theories of modernity, and the history of colonial and anticolonial political thought at SOAS. Participation in the conversation is very much encouraged!

6 November – The Healthcare Circle Launch (London)

Join us for the launch of The Healthcare Circle at The Canal Café Theatre! The Healthcare Circle is committed to hosting events that inspire and inform communities about important healthcare injustices facing some of the most disempowered women and girls globally. In support of The Circle’s key objective to end violence against women and girls, our first official event is to raise awareness of FGM/C.

We are delighted to welcome an expert panel if speakers from various specialisms and expertise from the healthcare sector, including FGM/C specialist midwives Joy Clarke and Huda Mohamed, Obstetrician Dr Brenda Kelly, Psychotherapist and Activist Leyla Hussein and Co-Founder of Vavengers Mabel Evans. Panel Discussion topic is Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: How can we best support women and girls? 

As members of The Circle we are committed to raising funds for The Circle’s project partners working to support victims of gender based violence. To be part of this important discussion we kindly ask for a ticket donation of £15, all proceeds will go to the projects supported by The Circle’s Chai Day Campaign for 2019.

6 November – The Circle Connects Online: Maternal Health (Online)

To round of our month’s focus on maternal health rights, we will be hosting an online panel discussion with Karis McLarty and guests to discuss The Circle’s maternal health project in Tanzania and the wider issue.

Since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, Tanzania has experienced a substantial reduction in child mortality rates. However, avoidable maternal mortality remains high. Women die due to pregnancy or birth-related causes at a ratio of 398 per 100,000. The main direct causes of maternal death are haemorrhages, infections, unsafe abortions, hypertensive disorders and obstructed labours. The presence of these causes is exacerbated by the prevalence of HIV and of malaria, Tanzania’s number one killer.

Attend to find out more about The Circle’s commitment to our partner the UN Every Woman Every Child campaign to assist the Tanzanian government in the process of ratifying international conventions on maternal health rights and how you can help.

6 November – Building a Feminist Data Set: Workshop (Leeds)

Can data collection itself function as an artwork? Can it act as a form of protest? The first workshop focuses on collecting feminist data beginning with an introduction to machine learning, data, and design thinking, and leading into a collaborative and facilitated process with the objective of building a feminist data set from the ground up.

The Feminist Data Set project will result in a large scale data set, a re-imagining of a mechanical turk system to create a feminist mechanical turk, then creating an algorithm. All of this will then be a part of the Feminist AI system. But to get there, you need data. The majority of AI and chatbot projects think of the AI component and the algorithms used as the entire project, but Feminist Data Set focuses equally on creating a data set that’s never existed before, and then using that data set to create Feminist AI.

6 November – Fighting political backlash: creative ways to resist, survive and thrive (Birmingham)

The phenomenon of political backlash is not new. Across social media, toxic voices are blaming feminists, immigrants, people of colour and other marginalised groups for today’s problems in society. It is important to understand how we can resist, survive and thrive in hostile environments both online and offline.

This event will provide a platform for an informed and respectful dialogue through a roundtable discussion and the opportunity to explore supportive and productive responses on this topic. Following the discussion, there will be a reception and exhibition of Dr Saara Särmä’s installation, Underbelly, which explores the nature and volume of online hate mail and abuse experienced by feminist activists.

9 November – Black Feminist Transference: On Pleasure & Power(lessness) (London)

Poet, essayist and former Young People’s Laureate for London Momtaza Mehri presents a new essay on the slipperiness of female power, agency and identification.

Touching on the affective and communal pleasures Black womxn wring from cultural/political juggernauts such as Beyoncé, Michelle Obama and Oprah – and the limitations of representational over-identification, as pleasurable as it may be, with power –Mehri interrogates the joys and critical failures of these moments, and their relation to the lack of agency that characterises the lives of so many working-class Black womxn.

13 November – Be on a Feminist Board (Edinburgh)

Would you like to contribute to the work of women’s organisations, but don’t know how?

Have you ever looked at an advert for board members and thought ‘I’d like to be involved, but that’s not for people like me‘?

If so, attend this event to explore what it takes to be on a feminist board, and how you can utilise your skills to advance women’s equality. Hear from board members of women’s organisations, and discussing what organisations can do to make it easier for you to join their board.

16 November – Feminism in Schools Conference 2019 (London)

An inspiring list of speakers and workshops lined up!

WomenEd; National Education Union; Women’s Equality Party; UKFeminista; Gender Action; Feminist Library; 50:50 Parliament; Be Her Lead; She Is Clothed; The Heroine Chronicles; Fullham Cross Girls School; The Great Men Project; Birmingham University. 

Enjoy panel discussions, ‘How to be a teenage activist’, ‘Getting political’, and teacher-focused workshops on develoing your own leadership ambition (WomenEd) and supporting girls in your school to lead (Be Her Lead)

23 November – Men Supporting Women’s Rights (Glasgow)

Men’s violence against women is a men’s problem that has traditionally been left for women to tackle. This can’t go on.

A group of men in Glasgow and encouraging you to meet and discuss how to resist and lessen the restrictive influences of masculinity, making life better – in the process – for women, girls and other men.

This meeting will have a specific emphasis on practical ways that men can support women in their various current political struggles to secure and further their rights – rights that men, as a sex-class, consciously seek to erode or carelessly jeopardise by under-valuing them.

Watch out for our Chai Day Calendar next week!