Annie Lennox, Founder of The Circle, on why she is a global feminist. Join the #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist movement on social media and tag Annie Lennox and @TheCircleNGO.
Like millions of women and men, I feel hugely inspired by the development of the #MeToo, Time’s Up and Women’s March movements.
I am proud to call myself a feminist and stand in solidarity with everyone who understands the vital need for change in attitudes and behaviours towards women and girls.
The feminist movement is a broad church with different interpretations, opinions and ideas. I identify myself as a ‘Global Feminist’ to describe where I’m coming from.
I believe in equality of rights, with empowerment and justice made available for every woman and girl in every corner of the world.
#OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist is a call to action bringing collective meaning and value to the term ‘Global Feminism’.
Prof Pamela Gillies, Vice-Chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University
Feminism needs to be relevant, appreciated and respected where the needs are greatest —in countries where women and girls are not even near the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of human rights. I’m impatient to see the ‘glass ceiling’ being smashed in my lifetime, so I’m inviting you to join me and The Circle, to create a massive advocacy wave to establish the term ‘Global Feminism’ and raise a better understanding about the bigger picture of global inequality.
This call to action will only take 5 minutes of your time.
Have your picture taken holding a sheet of paper with one selected handwritten reason why you identify yourself as a Global Feminist.
Post your picture on social media, using #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist and tag Annie Lennox and @TheCircleNgo so we can see your support. Feel free to help grow the campaign by tagging other organisations you support who work for the rights of women and girls and ask your friends, family and colleagues to join in too.
You will then become part of a collective wave for positive change for women’s rights around the world!
Sarah Brown, President of Theirworld.
Here are some reasons to choose from, in case you don’t already know them:
1.There are 757 million adults who cannot read or write —2 out of 3 of these are women.
2.In Africa, 28 million girls are not in education and will never step inside a classroom.
3.Over 750 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday.
4.Every minute of the day, one young girl (aged 15-24) contracts HIV.
5.Women and girls account for 71% of human trafficking victims.
6.Every day approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
7.Women make up only 22.8% of the worlds parliamentarian seats.
8. Across the world 39,000 girls under the age of 18 become child brides every day.
9. In developing countries,20,000 girls under the age of 18 give birth every day.
10. 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime.
11. 41 million girls living in developing countries around the world are denied a primary education.
12. 1 in 3 women and girls are impacted by physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
Job type: Full time position.
Working as the Communications and Projects Officer at The Circle has been an incredibly valuable opportunity. I have learned, attended the widest range of events, met fascinating people from all backgrounds and made a difference in the lives of women and girls around the world. I have seen projects I have contributed towards thrive and make an impact in the world. I am now sadly leaving to further my education, but will still be a part of The Circle as a member. I am confident that I will continue to see The Circle grow, support more women and exceed expectations. Good luck to The Circle Team!
Clare Crosland Monclús, Communications and Projects Officer
The Circle NGO is a charity originating from the notion of women supporting, connecting and inspiring each other to become advocates and change agents, through our passion, skills and ideas. The charity was founded by Annie Lennox in 2008 and has grown stronger each year.
An excellent opportunity has arisen for a new Communications and Projects Officer, as the current Communications and Projects Officer is leaving after a highly successful tenure to further her academic education. The role is vital for the ongoing success of the charity and is ideal for candidates who are self-starters with an interested in a career in the charity sector. You will be working with a small but well established team of people who are passionate about women’s rights and equality.
The ideal candidate is self-motivated, with an eagerness to learn and grow. You will be able to self-manage while responding to the daily needs of the charity. The responsibilities of the role are varied and dependent upon upcoming events and key dates, a strong ability to plan ahead and prioritise is essential. The role offers the right candidate a space to build upon her/his skill sets and to put these to practice.
Reporting directly to the Executive Director, the role allows you to work remotely from home, however, you will have continuous support and attend weekly meetings with the team. You will also be required to be flexible and attend events to offer support where necessary.
The responsibilities associated with the Communications and Projects Officer span across a diverse range of projects and across all aspects of communication for the charity.
Responsible for scheduling and delivering communications agreed with the Executive Director and individual circle committees across all channels of The Circle NGO including, but not limited to:
• Communications planning : Devise and maintain a rolling annual plan of communications themes and content and maintain an annual calendar that shows:
– Monthly topics of focus decided by The Circle NGO
– Annual Events (The Circle and other events focused on Women)
– Key dates relevant in Women’s rights
– Key dates related to Projects supported by The Circle NGO and Individual Circles
• Social media management:
– Creating, implementing and updating social media strategies and campaigns to support and communicate the continuous work of The Circle across all social media channels.
• Management of The Circle NGO’s website and blog. This includes:
– Liaising with key stakeholders;
– Curating content and being instrumental in developing this further;
– Ensuring content is up to date at all times;
– Leading and managing a team of volunteers in researching and writing content based on monthly topics and sharing these on social media channels where necessary.
• Management of the newsletters, which includes
– planning and writing content;
– liaising with individual Circle committees about upcoming events, to make sure that all the necessary info is included;
– monthly distribution.
• Supporting the Executive Director in overseeing compliance to brand on all information released to The Circle members and the public via social media feeds, blog posts, newsletters, general updates.
• Monitoring and tracking all results from communications, including the website and reporting this information back to the team.
• Work with external partners and organisations who support the communication of The Circle NGO and further the charity’s capacity.
• Management of the Projects portfolio, including but not limited to:
– Working in conjunction with the Executive Director in developing and maintaining relationships with delivering partners and key stakeholders;
– Reading reports to track results and report your findings to the Executive Director on an ongoing basis;
– research and assess new potential partners and projects.
• Working in conjunction with the Executive Director to identify funding options from trusts and foundations and write funding applications.
• Manage the project portfolio process by working with project partners to define the deliverables (including budget, risks and reach), supply these to the Executive Director for approval at board level and then manage the report that tracks the results of meeting these deliverables. You will also be responsible for maintaining all relevant documentation forming part of these processes.
Other general responsibilities include:
• Manage the volunteering recruitment for The Circle.
• Manage the ‘Why Women’ report to ensure facts and statistics about women are up to date and maintained.
• General administration assistance when required.
• Support at events.
• Taking on ad hoc projects when appropriate.
Ideal candidates for the Communications and Projects Officer role will have the following essential skills:
o A good command of the English language, both spoken and written
o An understanding of and a frequent user of social media and blogging through personal usage
o An aptitude to learn and self-develop
o Proven experience of an ability to self-manage
o Good reporting skills
o Experience managing people
Desirable skills for the role include:
Experience working or volunteering for a charity
Experience working or volunteering with a charity, organisation or group interested in women’s rights
Basic knowledge of SEO and WordPress
Personally identify as a feminist with a genuine interest in gender equality and women’s rights
o Microsoft suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) – Intermediate
o Office 365 email with SharePoint or other email and share document solutions– Basic
o GoToMeeting or other conference calling software – Basic
o Twitter / Instagram / Facebook Business Manager and other social media forums– a good understanding through use of personal accounts and a basic to intermediate for business usage
o WordPress or other blog hosting sites – Basic to intermediate
o Photo editing software – Basic
The current role is on a full time freelance based position paying £10.20 per hour, in line with the London living wage, per hour based on a 36-hour week, and offered on a 12 month contract. Benefits include flexible working hours and all reasonable and agreed expenses. As this is a work from home opportunity candidates must have facilities to accommodate this. Ideally the person will be based in London or the surrounding counties, as much of the work of The Circle is based in London. Please note the employment status of this role is currently under review and may be changed to an employee status. This will be known before the offering of the role to the selected candidate.
The Circle NGO promotes diversity and equal opportunities and we welcome applications from all relevant candidates.
To apply for this position please email your CV with a covering letter showing how you demonstrate the necessary skills and experience and can fulfil the responsibilities of the post, with the reference CPO2018 to email@example.com.
Please note that you must be eligible to work in the UK as we unfortunately cannot accept applications from anyone who is not legally able to work in the UK.
Applications close at 5 pm on Friday 24th August. Interviews will be held the following week (in person or by Skype). If you have any questions regarding this role, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Matthew S. Browning.
The Calgary Circle, the newest affiliate in our sisterhood of Circles, is supporting ACT Alberta, an organisation that works to end human trafficking in Alberta, Canada. To help end human trafficking it is important to understand the issue better, which is why The Calgary Circle committee members Helen Maguire and Susan Ferner have written this list of facts and myths about human trafficking in Canada. If you’d like to find out more about their work with ACT Alberta and donate, please click here.
The legal definition of human trafficking requires three elements:
1) the act of recruitment, transportation or harbouring a person;
2) by means of exercising control, direction or influence over their movements;
3) for the purpose of exploiting that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour.
Due to the clandestine nature of trafficking, it is difficult to quantify the number and determine the types of victims, but it is believed that most trafficking victims in Canada are sexually exploited.
Although the idea of trafficking can invoke a nefarious vision of a victim being transported across borders under cover of darkness, the reality is often far different. Trafficking victims are not necessarily moved across international borders and approximately 94% of the cases of sex trafficking identified in Canada have occurred within its borders.
Sex trafficking can be less problematic, easier to conceal and more profitable than selling drugs. On
average, every trafficked woman in Canada generates just under $300,000 for her traffickers per year.
The major risk factors for being trafficked are living in poverty; having a personal history of violence or neglect; or being otherwise vulnerable to manipulation and coercion. However, the number one risk factor is being female. Women and children from every socio-economic background are at risk and anyone can be targeted and exploited.
Approximately 95% of trafficked victims are female: most under the age of 25. Of note, in Canada, indigenous women are disproportionately affected. Although indigenous people make up approximately 4% of the population, they account for approximately 50% of sex trafficking victims.
Relationships between traffickers and their victims often begin with what the victim believes to be a friendship or romantic relationship. A common technique used by traffickers is to lure teens and young women into sex trafficking by treating them well, initially. Many victims are recruited through the internet or by an acquaintance. Often, the victim is “groomed” by someone pretending to be her boyfriend or friend who promises her a better life and buys her gifts. The average age of girls who are manipulated in this manner is 13. In the case of older teens or young women, the trafficker also buys gifts and may promise her a good job in a new city. Once a relationship has developed, the trafficker is able to more easily emotionally manipulate the victim and exploit her vulnerabilities. The trafficker often becomes violent and may threaten and isolate the victim but continue to show occasional affection. Through these tactics, the trafficker gains control and the victim can be coerced into selling sex for others’ profit. Because of the nature of the relationship and how it is developed, the victim might not understand that she is being trafficked.
Much of the sex trade has moved away from the street to the internet. The solicitation of sex predominantly occurs online through local classified and escort pages, which makes it difficult to locate and identify sex trafficking victims. Victims often do not come forward for many reasons, including fear of retribution and further violence from their trafficker; fear of arrest because they have been coerced into performing illegal activities; lack of knowledge about their legal rights, and lack of understanding that they have been victimized and trafficked.
Prosecution is often difficult because victims are often frightened and unwilling to testify against the perpetrators. It can also be difficult to prove in court that the woman was, in fact, a victim and not a willing participant due to the coercive nature of the relationship between the victim and trafficker. Because of these reasons and more, most (60%) of trafficking cases in Canada have resulted in a decision of stayed or withdrawn whereas only 30% resulted in a guilty finding.
Written by Helen Maguire and Susan Ferner.
This V&A exhibition presents an extraordinary collection of personal artefacts and clothing belonging to the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Locked away for 50 years after her death, this collection has never before been exhibited outside Mexico.
100 Years of Suffrage is a feminist festival taking part over three weekends, July 20th – August 5th. The event will be held at Aire Place Studios
The festival opens on Friday night with an exhibition featuring two feminist artists whose work, whilst working in completely different styles, looks into redefining beauty standards. This will be followed by an after party featuring women and non-binary djs.
The next event is a day of workshops and talks for women and non-binary people. It really focuses on the last 100 years of suffrage and what the next 100 years have in store for feminism. This will feature talks about suffragettes of colour, talks from women MPs and their experiences in parliament and feminist activists will discuss their battles with law changes and policy makers. This will culminate in a spoken word open mic where women and non-binary people can share their political experiences.
The final event is a peddle powered feminist cinema, showing independent films from women and non-binary directors featuring films with the theme of suffrage and how far we’ve come. Vegan food will be on sale.
The aim is to bring the community together to learn, share and celebrate the last 100 years of suffrage.
A special day exploring East End suffragette stories in Tower Hamlets archives. A great introduction to what collections the archives hold and how to use them.
Workshop: Suffragette Sources at Tower Hamlets Archives
11:00am – 1:00pm, drop-in
Discover some of the suffragette sources from the collections at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives. Read the real Woman’s Dreadnought, see our first edition copy of The Suffragette signed by its author Sylvia Pankhurst, and browse our unique collection of pamphlets, news cuttings and photographs. With an introduction from Robert Jones, Heritage Officer (Library), and then a chance to explore the material.
2:00pm – 4:00pm, drop-in
A special edition of Tower Hamlets Archives regular East End History Club, exploring women’s lives in Tower Hamlets throughout the twentieth century. These sessions are ideal for those who are curious about local history and want to find out more. There’s no need to book, just drop in. Tea, coffee and biscuits provided.
Levels of displacement have never been higher than they are now. There are currently 68.5 million forcibly displaced people. 28.5 million of those are refugees and asylum seekers.
Refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls face challenges on multiple fronts, including their gender and their situation as displaced people. Displaced women and girls are at a higher risk of experiencing sexual violence and many have to give up their education.
Join us in our second webinar to learn about these and other challenges that millions of refugee women and girls are facing and find out more about how you can support them to overcome these challenges.
Speakers will be Laura Padoan, a UNHCR Spokesperson, and Claire Lewis, from the UNHCR Global Goodwill Ambassador Programme.
The Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM), the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) and Scot-Pep are having a party and you’re invited!
They’re raising money for a plaque commemorating beloved friend Laura Lee, who tragically died this year. Laura was a giant among sex work activists, a fearless campaigner and a dear comrade. They will be remembering Laura with a minute’s silence at the event.
Further money raised will go to Sex Workers’ Alliance Ireland (SWAI), who are fighting against the Nordic Model in Ireland.
Come for music, drinks, dancing and love!
Hot Brown Honey turn up the heat with lashings of sass and a hot pinch of empowerment in the smash-hit, genre-defying, award-winning firecracker of a show that’s taken the world by storm. Taking on intersectional feminism, cultural appropriation and female sexuality, this is a must see at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Aire Place Studios warmly welcome you to celebrate the end of “100 Years of Suffrage” with a pedal powered screening of ‘Shireen of al-Walaja’ Shireen is a powerhouse of everything it means to be a woman. As her Palestinian village shrinks, Shireen’s strength and courage grows. Please note this film features state violence.
This Story Cafe Special is part of our Vote 100 programme, marking 100 years since some of the first women in Britain were granted the right to vote. Bring your daughters, granddaughters and nieces to celebrate!
Story Café Special: Girl by Girl, Vote by Vote, Thursday 9th August, 12.30pm to 2.30pm, for anyone aged 10+
This event is aimed at girls and young women 10+ but all are welcome. All children must be accompanied by an adult.
Sheena Wilkinson, one of the UK’s foremost writers for young people, will reveal the secrets behind her latest novel, Star by Star, a bold tale of Suffragettes and heroes, courage and survival.
In 2018 the film industry, for so long a haven of misogyny and sexism, has found itself at the heart of a worldwide ‘cataclysmic global reckoning’, in which women everywhere are standing up defiantly against predatory male behaviour. In Brave, the American actress Rose McGowan recounts her fight against the Hollywood machine. Today she talks to Afua Hirsch about her campaign to help all women reclaim their lives.
Part of the Identity Parades series of events and sponsored by Open University.
The Circle welcomes members and their guests to a summer networking event in August. Share a cold beverage with like-minded individuals who are working with The Circle to empower some of the most marginalised women and girls in communities around the globe. At the event you can learn more about the projects we are supporting and ways that you can get involved to make a difference.
The event will take place at The Rotary, a venue with a beautiful outdoor space just outside Regent’s Park.
Photo: Peta Barrett at Processions, in London on 10 June 2018.
The Circle Relationship Manager Peta Barrett shares her thoughts on the Processions march that took place in four UK cities on 10 June 2018 to commemorate the Representation of the People Act centenary. Peta marched in the Processions in London along with members of The Circle and thousands of other women and girls.
Central London has never looked as beautiful as it did on Sunday 10 June 2018. The sun lit the greens, purples and whites of the suffragette colours worn by smiling women and girls of all backgrounds gathered to commemorate 100 years since the first women received the vote in the UK. I was thrilled that one of the first banners spotted read “Sisters are doing in for themselves”, lyrics from The Circle’s Founder Annie Lennox. I grabbed the opportunity for photo because it made me feel connected to all the members of The Circle gathered in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff, all of our members who could not be there in person and the women of The Circle connected to us by our projects near and far.
I looked around me at the costumes, the banners, the sheer positivity of the crowd and I felt the spirit of the suffragettes with us as we walked in memory of everything they have done for us and for the long road we still need to walk for gender equality. It was wonderful to be surrounded by women and girls of all generations, some of whom had travelled from all over the UK.
The morning after Processions a close friend asked me, “who received the right to vote in the UK one hundred years ago?”
To set the scene… Up until 1918 only men aged 21 or older who owned land had the right to vote in the UK. The suffragette movement lead to the introduction of the Representation of the People Act in 1918. This allowed women over the age of thirty who owned property, or whose husbands did, the right to vote. Not all women could vote. In fact, only 22% of women living in the UK at the time received the right to vote in 1918. It is also interesting and important to mention that the Representation of the People Act also further extended the right to vote to all men over the age of 21 regardless of their property ownership status.
It would be another ten years before the Representation of People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 was introduced into British politics, giving women equal electoral rights as men. What this tells us is that the suffragettes continued to fight together for equal rights. 22% representation was not good enough; the exclusion of any woman was unacceptable. The fight would continue until all women had the same right to vote as men. And finally, in 1928 all women aged 21 and older regardless of property ownership were given the right to vote. Sylvia Pankhurst is quoted in 1931 as saying ‘’as to the suffrage movement, it was a gathering of people of all sorts, united by one simple idea, which necessitated the surrender of no prejudice of race or class”. So, if you were at the Processions celebrations over the weekend, think of this as the dress run for some serious partying in 2028!
“What difference does political independence have?” you might ask. Women in the UK were given the right to vote in 1928 and are living in a country that the World Economic Forum (WEF) considers to be one of the most equal in their Global Gender Gap Report in 2017. By comparison, Saudi Arabia, which is ranked as one of the worst countries globally in the same report, only extended their women citizens the right to vote in 2015. Working for The Circle my focus is on the most marginalised women and girls, but I learnt that, despite having the vote for 100 years, the UK also has a lot of work to do to achieve gender equality. So as one of my favourite banners from yesterday reads – “We Have the Vote. Now We Want Equality’”. Equality for all women. And we will not stop until every woman is empowered to make her own choices and make change happen for herself.
In 2018 we find ourselves in a very different world where the stories of history are being re-examined and often criticised because they have often been told by the same perspective – overwhelmingly that of white heterosexual middle and upper-class men. Looking back on the suffragette movement I am thus further inspired when I really reflect on Sylvia Pankhurst’s words in 1931.
“… as to the suffrage movement, it was a gathering of people of all sorts, united by one simple idea, which necessitated the surrender of no prejudice of race or class”.
With only 22% of women receiving the right to vote and this being reliant on a property ownership, the majority of the women represented by that percentage would have been wealthy white women. The suffragette movement in the UK wasn’t directly campaigning with a racial agenda to exclude ethnic minorities, which was the case in examples seen in countries like the USA, Australia and South Africa. For example, the suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh, goddaughter of Queen Victoria, was born of Indian and German-Ethiopian ethnicity. Sushama Sen (a woman of Indian ethnicity) recalls in her book Memoirs of an Octogenarian that when the suffragettes heard of her activities campaigning for the women’s vote, they invited her to join their demonstrations in Piccadilly in 1910. However, through my research I have found no evidence to suggest that specific consideration was given to women of ethnic minorities who would have been less able to realise their rights due to the oppression faced in addition to sexism. What is inspiring about the suffragette movement between 1918 and 1928 is that despite the more privileged women in UK society having received the vote in 1918, the fight for political equality continued. It unified women from all walks of life, living in the UK, to stand together for political equality, regardless of who they were. We are celebrating today because together, they won.
In 2018 there are huge inequalities that exist between women and men. The experiences of those inequalities between women are also worlds apart. As a South African woman, the challenges I have faced because of my gender are hardly a drop in the ocean when compared to Siyanda, a woman who is committed to self-empowerment at the Nonceba Women’s Shelter in South Africa, a project supported by The Circle. The difference between us is that, in addition to sexism, Siyanda has faced challenges connected to her ethnicity, lack of access to education and financial independence, which are all beyond her control. Now in 2018 we have more knowledge, we have the gift of hind sight and we can see how the road to gender equality is longer for women who are facing discrimination on multiple fronts. I am part of the small percentage of women who are closer to equal rights than most. The suffragettes focused on women in the UK, but they did not have the internet to connect them to their global sisters. The suffragettes had bells to make noise, we have various forms of media. As women today, we also have networks and influence that the suffragettes could only dream of in 1918. With the inspiration of the suffragettes behind us and the winds of change in the global movement for gender equality powering our sails —I ask you to remember where we have come from and to please join me as we continue to fight for equality for all women, especially those who are still treated as far less equal than you or I.
Peta Barrett is a member of The Circle since 2016 and our Relationship Manager since 2017.
Menstruation matters, especially to the millions of girls being held back by their periods. Some studies show that in some parts of Uganda, 74% of girls believe that period pain is a sign of illness, 50% of girls avoid school because of their period and 43% believe that it is harmful to run or dance during their period.
The Music Circle is raising funds to support Irise International. With a donation from The Music Circle, Irise will be able to educate 2,000 girls about their menstrual and reproductive health and to make a wide range of sanitary products available in their communities, so that every girl has a choice. Help us reach our goal and donate by clicking here.
Here is what you can do to help…
On 28 May, Menstrual Hygiene Day, make some noise on social media. Read up on why menstruation matters, be informed, tweet and post.
You can use some of the following Menstrual Hygiene Day signs. Personalise them, print them out, take a selfie with your sign and post it on social media. Don’t forget to tag us and use the hashtags #MenstruationMatters and #NoMoreLimits.
Photo: Bharat Singh and Martha Reilly, co-directors of Sanitree
This May we are celebrating Menstruation Matters and focussing on how we can make women and girls feel confident about menstruation. Sanitree, a social enterprise founded and run by a team of nine students of Edinburgh University, is an organization already doing incredible work with these aims in mind. Sanitree produce sustainable, reusable sanitary products for women living in India. This year, The Music Circle is planning to support Irise International, a similar project in Uganda, as well as donate sanitary products to foodbanks in the UK and raise awareness about Menstruation Matters. I caught up with Bharat Singh and Martha Reilly, the co-directors of Sanitree, to discuss the role that projects such as these play in the wider issue of period poverty and our attitudes towards our bodies.
A social enterprise is a business model that reinvests its profit margin back into the project and directly benefits local communities. Sanitree, a project that is working under the umbrella of Enactus, is still in its nascent stages as it was established in September of last year but already provides employment for twenty-seven women in the Bhind district of Madhya Pradesh, India. Shocked by the stigma surrounding menstruation in his home town Bhind, Bharat spoke about some of the devastating effects of period poverty in this community. He claims that “young girls in India can miss out on as much as 25% of their education, or even drop out” as a result of the difficulties association with menstruation. The pair tell me that affordability is a key factor in this. Some women simply cannot afford sanitary products and use unclean and unsafe substitutes such as sawdust. Furthermore, even with a conventional plastic sanitary pad, women face difficulties in disposing of them as they are not allowed in the household waste.
The Sanitree team, upon visiting Bhind, found that there was a wider cultural issue of a lack of awareness and encountered popular beliefs such as the myth that if you are to touch a boy whilst you are on your period that this can result in pregnancy. However, this stigma isn’t just the case in India. In the UK, there is also a huge stigma surrounding menstruation that can be difficult for young women. This stigma, I would argue, contributes towards the exclusion and dismissal of menstruation related issues in politics. Period poverty is a huge issue in the UK. It is estimated that the average woman spends £18,000 throughout her lifetime simply on having a period and in Scotland 1 in 5 women admit that they struggle to buy sanitary products —statistics that are woefully underrepresented in the media. The ongoing campaign to end the “Tampon Tax” and the classification of sanitary products as luxury items is indicative of the dismissal and lack of understanding shown by political bodies of the economic challenges currently posed by menstruation. In both India and UK there is a lack of knowledge about the issue and projects such as both Sanitree and Irise raise awareness simply by existing. Both Bharat and Martha are resolute on the fact that Sanitree’s conception is just as much about challenging the stigma as it is finding a solution.
In addition to the tangible benefits in terms of cost, the reusable sanitary pads do not incur the same environmental issues of similar plastic products. Bharat tells me that one sanitary pad can have the same amount of plastic as up to three plastic bags. As environmental sustainability is at the heart of Sanitree’s philosophy, the project considers itself an ecofeminist organization. The term ecofeminism originated in the 1970s and is grounded in the contention that the connection between the oppression of women and the rest of nature must be recognized to understand adequately both oppressions. Sanitree defines itself as ecofeminist as its aims are rooted in the shared concepts of environmentalism and feminism.
Both Bharat and Martha talk about the sense of agency that derives from taking control of your plastic consumption, likening it to “remembering your bag for life” and even quoting Simone De Beauvoir and her theory of transcendence versus immanence. Transcendence being the act of making decisions outside your personal sphere and immanence, traditionally associated with the feminine, as not engaging with projects outside of that sphere. Sanitree identify the decision to cut down one’s use of plastic as a transcendent act and, in what has been coined the “Blue Planet Effect”, argue that there has been a significant shift in our cultural consciousness regarding plastic and that this developing environmental consciousness can be viewed from a feminist perspective as a reclaiming of agency.
It is this sense of agency that I feel lies at the heart of why initiatives such as Sanitree and Irise are so powerful. Not only does Sanitree provide employment opportunities for women within their own community and have the end goal for the business to be completely taken over by these women, but they also engage people of all backgrounds and builds a community in speaking up against period stigma. The experience of menstruation is a transnational one and cannot be solved if there is no discussion surrounding it. Both Martha and Bharat wanted to establish from the start that not all women have periods and not all people who have periods are women and so Sanitree, and the ongoing debate surrounding menstruation, is a step towards coming to terms with our bodies in a way that is positive without being gendered.
One of The Circle’s key drives is “Women Empowering Women” and in the case of Sanitree it is clear that a sense of solidarity is becoming more and more visible as campaigns such as this grow. Both Martha and Bharat express the immense amount of support they have had from both the community in Bhind to the Scottish government’s commitment to this issue. They both believe that Scotland is a leader on progressive legislation and with the help of a number of MSPs, the group are campaigning for the provision of free sanitary products for those children who are offered free school meals, in addition to running pad making workshops and campaigning in the streets of Edinburgh.
The conversation surrounding menstrual wellbeing needs to be more open and frank to empower women and girls everywhere. Get a bloody education and find out more about The Circle’s Menstruation Matters Campaign and donate to our project with Irise International.
Written by @AnnaRenfrew. Anna is a student at The University of Edinburgh and a volunteer at The Circle.
Photo: Volunteers at Restless Development, in Tamil Nadu.
The Circle member Shannon Hodge volunteered in rural village Thiruvalangadu in Tamil Nadu, India, for three months with youth-led development agency Restless Development, as part of the International Citizen Service, a global volunteering programme sending UK volunteers overseas to work with in-country volunteers. In Shannon’s placement community, she volunteered with six other UK volunteers and seven Indian volunteers, working on projects including livelihoods, health and menstrual health management.
In February 2018, the world’s first feature film addressing period poverty hit screens in India —and as I was working on a menstrual health project in one of South India’s rural villages at the time, the team and I went to see it.
The film is a fictionalised account of Padma Shri awardee (the fourth highest civilian award in India) Arunachalam Muruganantham, a school dropout from a poor family in southern India’s Tamil Nadu who revolutionised the manufacture of low-cost sanitary napkins for rural women.
Despite being an unlikely advocate for women’s menstrual health, Muruganantham’s story has opened up conversations across the country and the film’s themes are tackling many of the taboos long-engrained in Indian culture.
The film starts in 1998 when, discovering the dirty rag his wife used during her period, Muruganantham wanted to help. The rag was so dirty, he said, that he “wouldn’t even clean his scooter with it”, but to buy sanitary pads would mean sacrificing the family’s milk budget. As they couldn’t afford to buy them, he decided to make her one.
Due to not having the correct materials, it failed and despite begging his wife to try each new adaptation he made, she refused, leading him to look for other product testers.
However, due to the culture of silence and shame surrounding people openly discussing menstruation, the village found out about Muruganantham’s period project and he lost everything, including his family, home and wife.
Rather than giving up, he devoted the next twenty years of his life to inventing a simple machine to create low-cost sanitary pads. And what started as a selfless act of love for his wife’s health and safety turned into an enterprise that has helped millions of rural women in India.
Speaking to moviegoers afterwards, we heard lots of positive feedback, with both men and women saying it was: “very moving, thought-provoking and amazing to see what can come from such a small idea” and “it’s something everyone should see, as many villages are still facing these problems today”.
A woman who brought her nine-year-old daughter to the film also added: “My little girl came with me today as it’s such an important film and definitely worth seeing for girls like her. Everyone should see it”.
However, despite the feel-good ending of the film, the debilitating stigma and statistics surrounding menstrual health still exist today.
What is —and should be seen as— a normal biological process is viewed as impure. In fact, 70% of Indian mothers consider menstruation “dirty”— further perpetuating the culture of silence surrounding periods.
This is demonstrated in the film when Padman’s wife says: “For a woman, there is no bigger disease than shame”, as she admits that her husband openly talking about, making, and testing pads is worse than her getting a urinary tract infection from using her dirty cloth.
Like in the film, many women are still subjected to social, religious and cultural restrictions during their periods, which we learned more about when we held a female-only menstrual health management (MHM) session, made up of national and international volunteers.
We learned that activities such as worshipping in the temple, cooking, touching the water supply or even touching other people are forbidden for some girls during their periods. In many cases, girls are also made to eat separate meals and, though not as common today, some are made to sleep outside of the home in what are known as “menstruation huts”.
We also were told about the “entering into womanhood” ceremony which is held for some girls when they first start their period, to let the village know that they are “ready for marriage”. This is also something demonstrated in the film and something that I witnessed being advertised in the village where I stayed.
Once a girl has gone through the ceremony and starts having regular periods, she may also face difficulties at school gaining access to safe menstrual hygiene products and clean toilet and changing facilities.
In a study conducted by sexual and reproductive health and rights organisation, Rutgers, it was found that in rural India, 23% of girls listed menstruation as the chief reason for dropping out of school. And as many as 28% of them said they do not go to school during their period because they lack clean and affordable protection.
Compounded by the already high cost of pads, proper menstrual care remains out of reach for many rural women and girls in India. Without access to a basic cotton pad, many resort not only to rags but in some cases ash, newspaper and leaves.
When surveying women in the village of Thiruvalangadu, we had an aim to tackle the culture of silence around menstrual health management and research into ideas for a future income generation project.
Our findings showed that 25% of the women surveyed did not have access to sanitary pads, and despite the government having a scheme to provide free pads to girls between the ages of 10-19 in Tamil Nadu, we also found that 91% of women surveyed were offered no free menstrual hygiene products —and of the 9% who were, they weren’t given enough to see them through their monthly cycle.
Because of this, around two thirds of girls in India only change their menstrual cloths once daily. Women and girls using poor menstrual hygiene practices are 70% more likely to get a reproductive tract infection.
As part of our menstrual health management sessions at schools in the community, the team explained not only the biological process to young girls, but also worked with them to bust the myths surrounding periods and how they can manage their time of the month in the safest possible way —by really “pushing the pad” as a go-to product.
We also made the sessions a safe space where girls could ask questions anonymously throughout by posting them in a box and we would pick them out and answer them at the end of each session.
Working on menstrual health management projects with women and girls during my time in India really led me to look at how I can help within my own community, as period poverty is not only an issue overseas. In fact, in statistics published by Plan International, 1 in 10 girls have been unable to afford sanitary wear in the UK and 12% have had to improvise sanitary wear due to affordability issues.
Since returning, I have made it my mission to find projects preventing period poverty in the UK —including The Red Box Project, which provides free sanitary wear in schools nationwide; Bloody Good Period, which gives menstrual supplies to asylum seekers, refugees and those who can’t afford them in the UK, and Binti International, which has a mission to provide menstrual dignity to all girls, working on projects in India, Kenya, Swaziland, the US and here in the UK.
I’ve also located a local community project called Helping Homeless Women North East, where I’ve helped pack sanitary care packages which are handed out in homeless hostels and refuges across Newcastle.
If you don’t have time to volunteer but would like to put some money towards a cause preventing period poverty, then listen up… The incredible ladies at The Music Circle are raising funds for Irise International —an organisation educating girls on menstrual and reproductive health and making sanitary products available and affordable in their communities. Click here to learn more about the project and donate.
As Padman himself said: “Woman strong, mother strong, sister strong —then whole country strong”.
Written by @shanhodge.
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.