Inspiration Is in the Everyday Woman

Photo credit: Nader Elgadi | Members of The Circle at the Annual Gathering 2017

As a woman, I feel we are always encouraged to name our “inspirational woman”. We are surrounded by the media plugging the likes of Emma Watson, Beyoncé and Jessica Ennis-Hill, who have all made their mark in society regardless of their gender. I am not disputing this. These women are amazing, have amazing talents and have achieved amazing things. Unfortunately, what I think is sometimes forgotten is that we are not all aiming to be the best actress, musician, sports person or a world leader — we are aiming to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.

With this in mind, why are we constantly looking at the “stars” for inspiration and guidance? Why are we looking at Cosmopolitan’s “Woman of the Year” awards, or Sport England’s “This girl can” campaign to drive us forward? Personally, I feel we need to be looking closer to home more often. As cliché as it may be, my mum is one of my biggest inspirations, as I’m sure yours is to you. Running her own business, being a single parent and dealing with all the fun that goes into looking after two mood-forever-changing children is clearly very admirable.

But it is not just my mum that inspires me. I take inspiration from my friends, the ones who spend every day in the library slaving away for their degree, but still are able to hold down a part time job and enjoy a good night out. I take inspiration from the ones who are still smiling and laughing when they have broken up with a boyfriend; the ones who no matter what time of the day will always be there with a cup of tea/bottle of wine when you need it the most and the ones who are strong enough to say “no” to things they do not want to do. I take inspiration from my aunts who have had the courage to travel the world and constantly experience new things and I take inspiration from my nana who can barely walk but still has one of the most active, creative minds I know, and my grandma who at nearly 80 has just come back from Australia!

I don’t believe we should just have one role model. I personally don’t believe that me trying to be Beyoncé is the most realistic thing either (although after a few glasses of wine I think my rendition of “Single Ladies” is pretty much on par with hers, to be honest). But what I do believe is that we can do anything we put our mind to, whether male, female or nonbinary, and it is the people who surround you, your family, your friends, teachers, colleagues, lecturers (the list is endless), who make you believe that you can too.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s not Beyoncé, Emma Watson or Jessica Ennis-Hill who inspire me to try and be like them, but the women around me who inspire me to believe that I can. Let’s face it, it’s 2018 and we are still fighting for feminism to be heard. Women in this country are still being paid less than men for the same jobs; the least we can do is look around us. Look around and remember that we all have something to offer; to someone we are their inspiration. So be the best possible you, not just for yourself but for the people around you, because someone is looking up to you —maybe it’s me, maybe it’s your friend, your sister, your mum, your boss, that girl who always sits four spaces away from you in the library— whoever it is and whoever you are, we all deserve to inspire and to be inspired. Inspiration is a beautiful, amazing thing which leads on to even more beautiful and amazing things— and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

To my family I am still a girl, to my work colleagues I am woman, and to society I am female, but to me I am Hatti and I hope I am simply Hatti to you too. Each one of these labels has a different connotation, which of course you don’t need me to explain, but thanks to the women around me I hope to be the best Hatti I could ever possibly be.

At The Circle we’re inspired by our members and volunteers every day. If you would like to find out more about our membership and how you can become a member, go to our Become a Member page.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Hatti Briggs, a volunteer of The Circle since 2016. You can read more articles by Hatti in her blog.


The Circle Member Ann-Marie O’ Connor reflects on #March4Women

Photo credit: Judit Prieto | #March4Women 2018, London.

On 4 March 2018, several members of The Circle attended the #March4Women rally in London with their friends and family. Ann-Marie O’Connor is one of those members. She has written about why she marched and why she will continue to support feminist causes in the future.

In this historic year that marks the 100th anniversary since some women got the right to vote, it could not be a better time to mobilise the surge of feminist energy currently being displayed throughout the world. History certainly appears to be repeating itself with the involvement of Helen Pankhurst, great-grand daughter of Emmeline, who also marched for women with us on 4 March 2018. I was reminded through her various media interviews that the struggle was never just about getting the vote. In an interview before her appearance at the Women of the World Festival 2018 at London’s Southbank Centre, she said “it was about individual women saying enough is enough, and there’s more that I want to do with my life, and I feel that my daughters should be able to do more with their lives” (Global Citizen, 7/3/2018).

Yes, my sentiments exactly and one of the reasons I wanted to take my own daughter with me to the march. But another reason for me was creating for her an understanding of the importance of taking the baton from one generation and passing it to the next. In these turbulent times we live, rights that have previously been won and fought for cannot be taken for granted and still need to be maintained. Women’s rights are still the fight of our generation. Keeping up the strength and resolve that is needed for current struggles is a legacy that hopefully we can, by our own participation, pass on to future generations of women, so that they can empower themselves for future struggles.

The Circle gave me the ideal opportunity to march alongside other members whilst also hearing speeches from many inspirational women. Especially heartening was having the march endorsed by Mayor Sadiq Khan, espousing the message that London should be a beacon for gender equality. In fact, it was wonderful to see so many men of all ages marching also. As I have a son as well, I do feel a responsibility to educate him about gender equality, particularly with regard to the area of relationships and respect towards women. As he also deserves to be treated with equal respect, I hold on to the hope that this reciprocity should lay the foundation for all future healthy relationships. Now that his sister has experienced her first march and had fun, I’m hoping he will join us next year!


Young Global Feminists at #March4Women

Photo credit: Judit Prieto.

On Sunday the 4th March, by the houses of Parliament, the air was cold, but the atmosphere was warm, filled with minds and hearts of people from all over — all protesting against the same thing. We were fighting against the abuse and discrimination and political imbalance against women. Above waves of people, flew colourful, hand-drawn and humorous posters in all shapes and sizes. A multitude of different people — men, women, teens, children, introverts — came out to raise awareness about the issue that affects many, daily. It was rainy, but we persisted with our heads high and hearts in our voices and hands. The march ended after drumming and chanting in Trafalgar Square: the place where the whole movement really started. Speeches were said and songs were sung and, most importantly, we gained attention. We gained attention politically and through the media to show everyone how we still need change. Yet again, it was a small step, but that small step felt good. It felt inspiring.

Written by Amelia and Emily, 14 years old. Amelia and Emily attended the #March4Women 2018 with their mum and other members of The Circle. They are the next generation of The Circle members and global feminists.

To find out more about our membership and how to sign up to become a member, click here.


Bina’s Story of Surviving Gender-Based Violence

 

Bina is a survivor of gender-based violence. She has received support from a women’s shelter in India, which was set up by The Asian Circle. This is how it changed her life.

When Bina was pregnant, she was physically and verbally abused by her husband and threatened with more abuse if she told anyone. When she fled to her family’s home, her husband attacked them too.

Bina and her family went to the police station but the police refused to help her. Luckily, one of The Circle’s and Oxfam’s partner organisations spotted the family as they were walking into the police station and offered their help.

The organisation offered Bina counselling and legal support. She has managed to put her husband behind bars, has applied for child maintenance and is learning how to sew so that she can get a job and raise her son Vijay, who is two years old now.

Despite enormous societal pressure, Bina refuses to return to her husband.

The Circle, Oxfam, several local organisations and women leaders in Chhattisgarh and Odisha are working together to set up support centres offering medical care, legal advice, counselling and shelters to survivors of gender-based violence. Click here to find out more about the project.


8 Women’s Rights Books to Choose from this Spring

 

Our mission at The Circle is to bring women together, defend women’s rights and give them a voice. Here are eight books by authors who do just that, to get you feeling inspired for the spring…

1. Jess Phillips, Everywoman: One Woman’s Truth About Speaking the Truth

Jess Phillips is bold, she’s unapologetic, and she’s out to empower women. From violence to sisterhood to building a career, Phillips tackles her themes head on, providing gritty insight and no-nonsense advice. Her underlying message? “We’re women and we’re kick-ass. And that’s the truth”.

2. Anne Elizabeth Moore, Threadbare: Clothes, Sex, and Trafficking

From the sweatshops of Cambodia to the ateliers of Vienna, Moore takes us on a whirlwind tour of the sex and garment supply chain in this beautifully illustrated feminist zine. She examines the fraught interplay between gender, labour and production, highlighting individual voices to show the true cost of fast fashion. The result is a practical guide to a growing human rights problem too pressing to ignore…

3. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

In her most recent work, Adichie offers fifteen feminist principles – guidelines, as it were – to a friend, the soon-to-be mother of a baby girl. Though addressed to Ijeawele, Adichie’s suggestions are universally applicable: we could all benefit from questioning social norms, or being more open about female sexuality. Adichie’s writing is warm, frank and inspiring.

4. Hibo Wardere, Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today

This powerful, devastating work aims to shed light on the oft-overlooked issue of female genital mutilation. Wardere shares her personal journey, from her cutting as a six-year-old to her present role as an outspoken anti-FGM campaigner. A vital read.

5. Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World

A tireless advocate for girls’ education and equal opportunities, Malala here tracks her journey from war-torn Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. I Am Malala shows the potential of young women and girls; this one will inspire a generation.

6. Sue Lloyd-Roberts, The War on Women: And the Brave Ones Who Fight Back

During her forty years as a video journalist, Sue Lloyd-Roberts met women who were victim to unspeakable atrocities, from rape to FGM to honour killings to imprisonment. Here, she gives voice to the forgotten women, and to those who fought back. A must-read from one of the most acclaimed TV journalists of her generation.

7. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Set in a dystopian totalitarian future, The Handmaid’s Tale offers a terrifying glimpse of what happens when the legislation of women’s bodies is taken to extremes. Now a major TV series, Atwood’s chilling narrative is as relevant today as it was thirty years ago.

8. Julie Bindel, The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth

Justice for Women co-founder Julie Bindel spent two years travelling the world, meeting pimps, pornographers, sex workers and abolitionists in a bid to uncover the truth about the sex trade. The Pimping of Prostitution is the remarkable result of her journey.

 

Written by Jessi Wells, volunteer and member of The Circle.


Annie Lennox: an Evening of Music and Conversation

 

 

Annie Lennox: An evening of music and conversation, Sadler’s Wells, London, review: Her voice was the epitome of pure soul

Pop star turned soul diva turned international campaigner. In recent times we have seen Annie Lennox mostly in that last role, and so think of her as a highly serious, passionate and intense person.

The revelation of this evening was to discover that she is genuinely funny, warm, engaging and effortlessly charismatic.

The occasion was a fund-raiser for Lennox’s charity, The Circle, which aims to empower disempowered women across the globe. Interviewed by the broadcaster Jo Whiley, she went through her life and career, aided by screen projections of her right from a baby, through school, with parents and grandparents, outside the Aberdeen tenement building, with no bathroom, where she grew up, through to the years of fame and success…

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Annie’s put a spell on me again… Blending women’s rights with pop nostalgia Annie Lennox gives a rare performance at London’s Sadler’s Wells

A gig by Annie Lennox now comes along less often than a change of government.

Her last full concert in Britain took place in the age of Gordon Brown. Back in the John Major era, in 1995, I wrote a profile of her and tagged along for an entire world tour, which amounted to two shows in New York and one in a Polish forest.

So this is an event: ‘an evening of music and conversation’ in aid of The Circle, the NGO Lennox founded to boost women’s rights around the world…

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The Circle Founder Annie Lennox on Notes on Being a Woman, i-D

at college, pop icon annie lennox was told to become a teacher

The former Eurythmics star, who has sold more than 80 million records worldwide, tells i-D about dropping out of college, the wisdom of ageing, and her women-focused charity The Circle in her Notes on Being a Woman.

It’s not easy to get an interview with Annie Lennox. A globally recognised pop legend, famous for massive hits like 1983’s Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) with former band the Eurythmics — as well as her iconic, androgynous bright red buzzcut — Annie doesn’t often perform these days, and turns down most interview requests. Having moved away from making music, she is now an activist and campaigner for the rights of women and girls around the world, through her NGO The Circle

i-D caught up with Annie and she told us about leaving Aberdeen at 17 to apply for music college in London in 1971, and the bad career advice she was given before dropping out in her third year. From learning to drive in her 30s, to the heart-bursting love of motherhood, the wrinkle-loving wisdom of age, and the struggle of women around the world who cannot access education and healthcare, these are Annie’s Notes on Being a Woman…

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Feminist Calendar: March and April 2018

Photo: Care International’s #March4Women rally, 2017.

Looking for inspiration from incredible women around the country? The Circle volunteer Anna Renfrew has got it covered with this collection of feminist events near you!

1 March – Both Sides Now (Leeds)

Both Sides Now is a large-scale initiative taking place across the North of England to support emerging female artists and up-and-coming industry professionals to transform the future of the music industry.

Its aim is to create a network that delivers sustainable activity and affects permanent change around the perception, opportunities and profiling of women in music, from the classroom, to the boardroom, to the stage.

This first ‘Open Space’ event is for anyone with an interest in this conversation to come together and discuss what could make a real difference – whether that’s about role models, motherhood, education, social mobility, policy change or something else entirely.

1 March – Consent in the classroom: mapping SRE provisions after #MeToo (Cambridge)

The presentation of GENPOL’s new policy paper, one of the first studies assessing the quality and influence of sexual education across all EU member states. The policy paper examines the links between SRE and gender-based violence, suggesting that comprehensive and inclusive teaching can help challenge and prevent abusive behaviours. It outlines GenPol’s innovative approach to consent-centred SRE, and carefully unpacks the relationship between educational efforts and gender-based violence prevention. It also celebrates the vital work of sex education and gender equality advocates across Europe, whilst identifying existing gaps that need to be addressed.

2 March – The Feminist Disco II (Edinburgh)

Join the joyous rebellion and embrace the fun of feminism with your fellow feministas. The Feminist Disco is back in Edinburgh with more great tunes and excellent company!

2 March – My Life as a Scottish MP (Edinburgh)

The European Parliament Liason Office in Edinburgh will host a panel discussion event for International Women’s Day to discuss women’s issues at national European level and the specific challenges faced by women in politics. This will be an all-female panel with speakers including Catherine Stihler and Elspeth Attwooll!

3 March – Stereotypes of Black Women’s Identities (Bristol)

“A panel discussion led by three women from diverse backgrounds leading the discussion on the stereotyped black woman. For centuries, black women have been shoehorned into a handful of stereotypes — the mammy, the sexual siren, the welfare queen, the matriarch, and the angry Black woman. Arguably, Michelle Obama represents a pushback against each of these, even at the implicit level.”

African Voices Forum leads round table discussions on the identity of black women as part of the General Assembly’s proclamation of this decade as the Decade for People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development.

4 March – March4Women, The Circle (London)

The Circle members will be marching through the streets of London to show solidarity for women everywhere. It’s going to be a fun and empowering way to get to know each other more and support women’s rights. Not a member yet? Join us!

4 March – Imkaan x gal-dem: fundraiser to support women facing violence (London)

In the lead-up to International Women’s Day, for one Sunday filmmaker Jade Jackman, Politics Editor for gal-dem Leah Cowan and the rest of gal-dem will fill the House of Vans with film screenings, several talks, a raffle and a marketplace. All proceeds will be donated to Imkaan, the only UK-based, second-tier women’s organisation dedicated to addressing violence against Black minoritised women and girls.

Through celebrating the words and works of women and non-binary folk of colour, we will support women in the UK who will be most affected by the government’s proposed changes to domestic violence funding which will leave some refuges and services without funding. By uplifting and celebrating women, we want to support others.

With workshops and panel discussions focusing on BME women’s experience of sexualized and racialized harassment and ending deportations. There will also be a talk by Paula Akpan, gal-dem’s social media editor, in conversation with activist and model Munroe Bergdorf.

7 March – March of Women, a film from Glasgow Women’s Library and The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (Dundee)

First performed in 2015, March of Women celebrated the lives and achievements of Scottish women past and present. In this documentary film, you will hear from the women involved as they talk about the heroines they chose to represent. After the film you’ll get the chance to join the discussion and create your own suffragette-style rosette with a message for women today.

This event is for women only.

8 March – International Women’s Day Celebration (Edinburgh)

The Empower Project and WomenBeing have teamed up to host a celebration of women this Thursday for International Women’s Day. The event will feature an exhibition of art and photography, spoken word performances, and live music from women living in and around Edinburgh. Taking place at The Dog House in Newington, they will be taking donations of hygiene products for Homeless Period. Lets have a party!

8 March – Girl TALKS – International Women’s Day Special (Leeds)

Girl Talk is a free, monthly, informal meet up for creative women and non-binary people hosted by Girl Gang Leeds. Their monthly meet-up falls on International Women’s Day so this one is going to be extra special!

With talks from Kristyna Baczynski, Modes of Expression, Equaliser, Four Chambers and Freedom4girls.

8, 9, 10 March – Nasty Women Exhibition: Empowerment (London)

To celebrate International Women’s Day Creative Debuts has joined forces with Nasty Women New York, Amsterdam, Lisbon, North East, and London to celebrate the work of international feminist artists.

Expect to see a range of contemporary artwork including photography, sculpture, craft, fine art, and film whilst raising money for End Violence Against Women. RSVP is essential!

9, 10, 11, 17 March – POWERFUL WOMEN: A Hidden History, at the National Gallery (London)

It’s back!

“Did you know that of the 2,300 paintings on display at the National Gallery, only eleven are by women? Did you know that only around five per cent of the works in major permanent collections worldwide is by women artists? Did you know that on average less than five per cent of the artists in permanent collection’s modern art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female? Can you name the female heroes and seductresses of the old testament? Do you know their stories? Have you ever heard of a Maenad? Medusa? Madame Pompidour? Saint Catherine?”

London Drawing Group is addressing this imbalance: “POWERFUL WOMEN: a Hidden History invites you to step inside London’s Iconic National Gallery with a celebration of powerful female figures throughout history; from Grecian Goddesses to the wonderfully vicious Old Testament heroines, stories of Saints and Martyrs, Witches, Monsters and the too-long-forgotten female artists of the National Gallery”.

Let resident LDG tutor Luisa-Maria MacCormack guide you through the gallery and spend the afternoon practicing drawing exercises that are designed to help you understand and engage with these paintings and stories in new and creative ways.

9, 10, 11 March – WOW Festival(London)

WOW – Women of the World festival celebrates women and girls, and looks at the obstacles that stop them from achieving their potential.

Around the world, individuals and communities are insisting on the simple proposition that women and girls must have equal rights and asking the question: why is gender equality taking so long?

Southbank Centre’s WOW – Women of the World festival is a global network of festivals which provides a platform for celebrating what has been achieved, and exploring all the ways we can change the world for the better. The Circle will have a stall at the WOW Market Place, so come and meet the team!

12-13 April – Queer Modernism(s) II: Intersectional Identities (Oxford)

After the resounding success of the first Queer Modernism(s) conference in 2017, Queer Modernism(s) II: Intersectional Identities, will be held on 12 and 13 April 2018 at the University of Oxford. Queer Modernism(s) II is an interdisciplinary, international conference exploring the place of queer identity in modernist art, literature and culture, with an emphasis on intersecting identities. Panelists will question, discuss and interrogate the social, sexual, romantic, artistic, affective, legal and textual relationship between queer identity and modernity.

The Keynotes will be Dr. Sandeep Parmar (University of Liverpool) and Dr. Jana Funke (University of Exeter). Dr. Parmar is a BBC New Generation thinker and has published widely on women’s literature in the 20th century, especially lesser known and non-canonical women. Dr. Funke is a Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities in the English Department at the University of Exeter and a Wellcome Trust Investigator. Her research cuts across modernist studies, the history of sexuality and the history of science. She has published on modernist women’s writing, the history of sexual science and queer literature and history.

Click here to see the provisional programme.

26 April – Empower Her Voice: Mothers in the Arts (London)

Empower Her Voice – London is an organisation which aims to promote education and create discussion amongst women around the world; it was set up by Zainab Majid and Amira Fateh in 2017 and since then has run successful talks and events that aim to increase positive networking between self-identifying women for a charitable cause.

For the first ever Empower Her Voice event in London, a group of fascinating women will discuss what it means to be a working mother in the arts today, whilst raising money for girls to attend school in Lahore, Pakistan.

With a fantastic lineup of speakers on the panel: Yana Peel (CEO of the Serpentine Galleries), Fiammetta Rocco (Arts & Books Editor at The Economist), Elif Şafak / Elif Shafak (author), Margy Kinmonth (film and television director), Joanna Kirk (represented by BlainSouthern), Martine Rose (fashion designer) and Alice Murphy (historian), this is not to be missed!

 

 

 

 

Written by @AnnaRenfrew. Anna is a student at The University of Edinburgh and a volunteer at The Circle.


Sexual violence in conflict and the use of women as weapons of war

Photo credit: Jan Dago. Published by Alexia Foundation. Internally-displaced civilians during the Sierra Leone civil war.

In modern wars, it is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier on the front line. Women can endure violence, rape and even see their children killed.

In 2008, the United Nations formally declared rape a “weapon of war”, and Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN force commander, spoke of the spread of rape as a war tactic, saying: “It has become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.”

The first order of business in conflict zones is usually to deprive women of education and health services, restricting any kind of participation in economic and political life. However, in recent conflicts, sexual violence statistics have skyrocketed with staggering levels of mass rapes being reported.

Declared over in January 2002, the civil war in Sierra Leone had raged for more than a decade, leaving half of the pre-war population displaced, 50,000 dead, 100,000 mutilated and over a quarter of a million women raped.

In a three-month time period during the 1994 genocide, more than 250,000 women and girls were raped in Rwanda.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo – also known as the rape capital of the world – 48 women were raped every hour during the 2011 conflict, making the statistics almost one woman per minute.

There’s no denying that rape in wartime is an act of violence that targets sexuality. Moreover, militias quickly discovered that the most cost-effective way to terrorise civilian populations is to conduct rapes of mass brutality. The humiliation, pain, and fear inflicted by perpetrators not only dominates and degrades the individual victim, but also her community.  

Christina Lamb, foreign correspondent for The Times, told in a TEDxExeter talk in May 2017 of some of the things she had witnessed when working in the field.

“Over the last year I’ve seen worse things than I’ve ever seen before,” she said.

“In Northern Nigeria three years ago, around 200 girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok and the story made international news for around two weeks. I went there and found out that, actually, more than 1,000 girls had been abducted, unreported. And when I spoke to these girls, they had terrible stories about being gang-raped by Boko Haram fighters and being forced to marry them.

“Some of them had escaped and were in camps but they told me that their own families wouldn’t take them back because they saw them as being sullied or they were worried they’d been indoctrinated. In fact, one of them – a little girl – had been so badly raped that she couldn’t walk. She shuffled like a crab.”

Modern wars are increasingly characterised by these barbaric acts of sexual violence to terrorise populations and destroy communities.

“And then there was the Yazidi girls. 5,000 of them abducted by ISIS and sold for less than the price of a cigarette packet. I spoke to one of them who had been released and she told me that the worst night of her life was when her captor – a fat judge – brought back a 10-year-old girl and raped her in the room next door to her, as she cried for her mother all night”, said Christina Lamb.

ISIS continues to unleash violence that disproportionately targets women and girls as young as three and the victims are often enslaved, sexually abused and traded like chattel in the human trafficking underworld where their payment is then used to fund the war and further terrorist attacks.

Even after conflict has ended, the impacts of sexual violence persist, with unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and stigmatisation rife in post-war communities. Widespread sexual violence itself may continue or even increase in the aftermath of conflict and meeting the needs of survivors — including medical care, HIV treatment, psychological support, economic assistance and legal redress – often requires resources that most post-conflict countries do not have.

So, what can we do to help?

Advancing women’s rights and empowerment is vital in addressing the needs of female survivors worldwide. Not only do we need to raise awareness of atrocities against women and girls, but we also need to fight for justice and reforms in policy and foreign diplomacy.

We must work to remove the stigma around sexual violence, help women and girls tell their stories and create and help existing support systems for survivors. The Circle strives to achieve all of these.

By supporting projects worldwide, The Circle works with women who have experienced sexual violence in projects such as the Nonceba Women’s Shelter, those fighting domestic violence in India and the courageous female journalists of the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network, who give a voice to the incredible – and undoubtedly brave – survivors of conflict from around the world.

 

 

 

 

Written by @shanhodge.
Shannon is a Journalism graduate and a volunteer at The Circle.


‘We come in peace, but we mean business’

Photo credit: The Denver Post. | Women March in Barcelona, 2018.

As we start the new year, I want to take a look back at 2017 as one that marks a moment of change in the systemic sexism and a shift of our cultural consciousness surrounding sexual assault. 2017 will be remembered as the year that Donald Trump, a man accused of multiple accounts of assault and recorded describing his behavior towards women using degrading and vulgar language, was elected as 45th president of the United States of America; yet, it will also be the year that hundreds of thousands of women and men took to the streets to protest against his inauguration across the globe in the Women’s March in January. Furthermore, throughout the year the world watched as a watershed of powerful perpetrators were exposed and held accountable for their threatening, and in many cases, illegal behavior. The list of high profile men who have been exposed have held positions spanning across a diverse number of industries, proving how widespread and seemingly universal this problem of bullying and sexism is and how ingrained it is in our society.

The significance of The Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ being awarded to the ‘Silence Breakers’, the women and men who have spoken out against those who used their positions of power to intimidate and abuse, is so incredible as it has provided a platform through which they can share their story. In addition, the success of the #MeToo campaign that hit social media platforms by storm is another indicator that victims of such behavior do not have to fear the same scrutiny and prejudice that they have done in the past. The campaign, which was started by Tarana Burke almost a decade ago, epitomizes the importance of a shared experience of victims in order to overcome the inequality that they face.

The Circle focused on #WidenYourCircle as their campaign this January, to stress what women can achieve when they come together and how women benefit from being part of a network of support. This solidarity amongst women and their fellow feminists is an integral part of the process of changing attitudes towards victims of sexual assault and creating an environment in which they are able to come forward and confront their abusers without fear or stigma.

Although this open discussion of previously taboo subjects and the ‘revolution of refusal’, as The Times has coined it, is a huge step for many of the women and men who have suffered from such horrific abuses, we must now focus on how this reckoning can be further used to change perceptions and address the underlying problem of abuse. These were not isolated incidents. Women and men face intimidation and sexual assault on a daily basis and to the extent that if it were reported in the same manner as, say, gun violence, the media would be describing it as an epidemic of such. So why has it taken this long for large organisations and media outlets to speak out? Much of the reporting focused on the financial implications for the men who were accused of bullying, assault and, in some cases, of rape. Public figures are still skeptical about the validity of a woman’s testimony of abuse if she is under the influence of alcohol and huge corporations are still spending millions to cover up and play down incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. Women everywhere, who are not in the same privileged position as many of those who came forward with their testimony are unable to stand up to those in a position of power as they are stuck in a system of inequality and, if the #MeToo campaign has succeeded in demonstrating anything, it is that women are under threat. Rape Crisis UK reports some shocking statistics concerning sexual violence towards women including 1 in 5 women aged 16 – 59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 and only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police.

In a TIME/SurveyMonkey online poll of American adults conducted on November 28-30, 82% of respondents said women are more likely to speak out about harassment since the Weinstein allegations. Meanwhile, 85% say they believe the women making allegations of sexual harassment. This is an encouraging statistic but if we are to make the events of the last year meaningful for the marginalized in a larger sense and as part of a process of changing the environments in which this form of abuse is possible as opposed to penalizing those at fault on an individual basis, then we must use the momentum of 2017 to continue supporting victims and refusing to accept this behavior of intimidation. In everyday terms, this means that we need to accept that the people responsible can be found amongst our friends and colleagues; understanding that harassment and assault is not restricted to rich and famous men who seem very far from our own lives but something we may need to stand up to within our own circles. Barbara Kingsolver put it succinctly in a recent Guardian article; ‘Let’s be clear: no woman asks to live in a rape culture: we all want it over, yesterday.’

The Circle supports a number of projects that benefit women who have suffered from sexual violence, including the Nonceba Women’s Shelter in Cape Town and Chai Day, an initiative started by The Asian Circle that aims to raise awareness and funds to support survivors of gender-based violence. Look out for our upcoming projects this year to see how you can get involved in making 2018 an even greater step towards equality.

 

 

 

 

Written by @AnnaRenfrew. Anna is a student at The University of Edinburgh and a volunteer at The Circle.