The Asian Circle Summer Party, 2017

 

The Asian Circle Summer Party, 2017 — press release

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

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

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

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

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

The Asian Circle’s project

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

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

Progress so Far

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Singer Annie Lennox Calls for Solidarity to Help Most Vulnerable Women

The Circle featured in Thomson Reuters Foundation News

 

LONDON, June 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The challenges women face in the developing world, such as poor education and healthcare, child marriage and female genital mutilation may seem insurmountable, but change can come through solidarity from women in rich nations, said singer Annie Lennox.

While the disadvantages of women in poor countries are not being addressed, women in rich countries could use their power for good, Lennox said.

“This is how I see feminism, about the empowerment of women,” she told the Fortune Most Powerful Women International Summit in London on Tuesday…

Go to the Thomson Reuters Foundation News website to read more.


Chatterbox: The Social Enterprise Unlocking the Skills of Women Refugees

Patuni, founder Mursal’s mum and the inspiration behind Chatterbox. Photo credit: P. Hedayat.

Shannon Hodge, member of The Circle, meets the women behind Chatterbox, a charity employing refugees as language tutors

An estimated 117,234 refugees have resettled in the UK after fleeing their homes—and countries—due to fear of violence or persecution. Many are highly-qualified professionals who are forced to leave their families and careers—and finding a job here can be challenging.

Wajed Basha, an Arabic school teacher from Syria, has joined a growing number of newly-arrived degree-educated refugees that a new start-up, Chatterbox, has employed to use their language skills to not only benefit the UK’s language skills deficit, but to benefit them too.

Wajed, 31, fled war in Syria almost three years ago and now lives in Wales with her husband and two children, aged 7 and 9. She studied Education at Tishreen University in her hometown of Latakia, Syria, where she went on to work for eight years in primary education before being appointed as a pedagogue in the Educational Directorate in Latakia.

Following the uprising in Syria that descended into a country-wide civil war, over 4.5 million were forced to flee the country—Wajed and her family included.

“Almost three years ago, we fled the war in Syria. There were explosions, bombs and extremists everywhere”, she said.

“My husband came to the UK alone first to seek safety and then later, my children and I joined him by travelling through Lebanon, before arriving at Heathrow, where we were then resettled in Cardiff.”

Describing her initial few months in the UK, Wajed said “It was very difficult at first. I didn’t choose to live so far away from my country so it was hard adapting to a new place, new people, a different culture and, on top of that, a new language”.

This is where Chatterbox—a new language learning service delivered by refugees—comes in…

The London-based start-up works with skilled refugees to provide training, contacts and work experience in the languages sector and helps them rebuild their professional lives using their existing skills, while simultaneously tackling the UK’s language skills deficit, which loses the economy an estimated £48 billion each year.

The initiative is the brainchild of 26-year-old Economics graduate, Mursal Hedayat, who now employs more than thirty tutors; teaching languages from Arabic and Farsi to Swahili and Korean, both online and in person.

Mursal watched her own mother struggle as a refugee when her family fled Afghanistan when she was just four years old. A civil engineer by practice, her mother used her language skills to find meaningful employment in the UK, following her decade-long search for a job.


Founder Mursal with Syrian dentist and Chatterbox Arabic language tutor Eiad. Photo credit: Chatterbox.

“Despite knowing languages such as English, Dari, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi dialect and Pashto, as well as having a highly-trained skill in civil engineering, my mother could only get basic low-skilled work in the UK”, said Mursal.

“Eventually, after ten years of searching, she completed a qualification in teaching so that she could use her language skills to get a job as a classroom language assistant; helping students for whom English wasn’t their first language to access education.

“She then went on to set up a supplementary school to teach core curriculum subjects, as well as Afghan culture, to the Afghan community in the area of London we live in.”

Mursal’s mother’s experience was—and is—shared by many other talented people in the refugee community, and in August 2016 Mursal drew on this inspiration to launch Chatterbox.

“Chatterbox was distinctly designed for the situation of a refugee mother who is having employment troubles and for us it’s important to help these women access work.

“We’re currently over-represented by women, whereas, in other refugee interventions, they really struggle to get women and I think part of that is the flexibility of the work and training we provide, but also the cultural barriers that stop some women from seeking work.”

Wajed agrees with Mursal’s point: “For some female refugees in the UK, it is difficult for them to get the education they need. For me, it is fine—I am a free lady—but some women would like to attend English classes so they can go on to get a job but they can’t. This is because many services helping refugees have mixed-gender classes, which some Muslim women feel uncomfortable attending—or are simply not given permission by their husband.”

With the backing of the SOAS University of London, Chatterbox launched a pilot which ran from January 2017 to May 2017. The pilot was described as a “resounding success” by both students and tutors, with the Nesta innovation foundation awarding Chatterbox £40,000 of funding to further develop the programme.

“With the funding, our aim is to train and build up a team of around 500 refugees by January next year”, said Mursal.

And for many of the current tutors, Chatterbox has been a lifeline—helping them meet new people from all over the world, improve their overall employability and support themselves and their families.

“We came here with no wage, no money, and I only had basic English—but it was not enough. I have worked hard to improve my English over the years and I’m so proud of my progress through working with Chatterbox”, said Wajed.

Discussing her future plans, Wajed said she intends on continuing her career as a teacher and is currently studying at Cardiff and Vale College, where she has been offered a Level 2 Support Teaching and Learning Course which she plans to complete in the next year.

“It’s also a long-term goal of mine to complete a master’s”, she laughs: “I am very ambitious!”

And it appears the ambition is contagious at Chatterbox HQ, with a growing female refugee community including Jihyun, a maths teacher and human rights activist from North Korea, and Sudanese human rights and women’s rights lawyer Hekma, who is currently deciding on which of her many UK university offers to choose from.


Sudanese human rights lawyer and Chatterbox Arabic language tutor Hekma. Photo credit: Chatterbox.

Mursal concluded: “A really important part of the progress that Chatterbox has made comes from the fact that I have an intimate knowledge and understanding of what my mum went through. I was in the front seat of that and not only has that propelled and created a real drive within the organisation but that sort of level of insight into a problem will lead to better solutions ultimately.

“I’d encourage all charities and social enterprises to develop solutions for refugees by engaging with them and create and develop solutions with them, rather than for them.

“Let them be the leaders and creators of their own change.”

One of The Circle’s objectives is to amplify the voices of women who are often silenced or forgotten. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram and like us on Facebook and don’t miss future interviews with inspiring women who are making a difference.

The Circle supports a broad range of projects that help women to become independent and confident, able to stand up for their rights and influence change.

If you’d like to become a member of The Circle, please click here.


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


Feminist Calendar: May and June

We are delighted to share with you the first issue of our Feminist Calendar. In this series of articles we will attempt to keep you posted on talks on feminist theory, art and poetry events, protests, and key dates in past and future struggles for gender equality.

the guardian
Photo credit: The Guardian.

13 May—Surround Yarls Wood

On Saturday, Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary is calling for the eleventh Surround Yarls Wood demonstration.

Staff at the privately-run Yarls Wood have been accused of humiliating and abusing the 400+ women who are indefinitely detained in the centre.

Join women on both sides of the notorious detention centre’s fences and demand the closure of all immigration detention centres.

24 May—Decolonizing ‘the angry Black woman’: Black feminist theory and practice in ‘post-race’ university spaces (London)

As feminism gains traction, it is essential to become aware of one’s own privilege and to understand that different women experience different kinds of oppression due to overlapping identities, including race, class, sexual orientation and disability.

Dr Shirley Tate, a Cultural Sociologist and Professor of Race and Education at Leeds Beckett University, is giving a free lecture at Birkbeck, University of London about how Black women ‘cope with silencing and erasure within white feminism whilst maintaining personal and Black feminist community cohesiveness’.

9 June (9 a.m.-12 p.m.)—The Scottish Circle Coffee Morning

The Scottish Circle, a network of members of The Circle that are based in Scotland, are hosting a Coffee Morning fundraiser at the Kilmalcolm Community Centre, in The Cargill Centre (Kilmalcolm).

For £2 you get entry to the event, coffee and cakes!

There will be a small market, and anyone can apply for a stall! Each stall costs £10 plus a 10% donation of your revenue to The Scottish Circle. All funds raised will be donated to Rape Crisis Glasgow.

For more information, please contact The Scottish Circle at poonamgupta178@gmail.com or Lana95@gmail.com.

9–14 June—Doc/Fest (Sheffield)

Comprising of inspirational documentary films from across the globe, controversial discussion panels and more, Sheffield Doc/Fest is a great place to go to see original films, which in the past have included films on women’s rights issues, and to meet brilliant female film-makers from around the world.

16–18 June—Grrrl Con 2017 (Manchester)

Write Like a Grrrl and For Books’ Sake created Grrrl Con to champion emerging women writers of all levels. Get inspired by top women writers—including Scarlett Thomas, Patience Agbabi and Jenn Ashworth—, attend workshops and collaborate with other aspiring writers.

This is what previous attendees have to say about Grrrl Con: ‘Before Grrrl Con I thought I’d never have a book but now apparently I’ve got two to finish. It showed me the ability I have, and how not to shy away from it!’

22–24 June—Feminist Emergency: International Conference (London)

This major international conference will bring together academics, activists, writers, professionals and policy makers to tackle the challenges that feminism faces in 2017, such as ‘austerity policies, increasing social inequalities’ and the increasing worldwide visibility of violence against women, including domestic violence, rape as a weapon of war, ‘honour’ killings and female genital mutilation. It will combine poetry readings with panels, in an interdisciplinary attempt to analyse how these issues affect feminism and ‘establish the forward looking nature of modern feminist expression and thought’.


International Women’s Day, part ii: Widening Our Circle at the WOW festival

On 10 and 11 March, The Circle and our team of fabulous volunteers set up shop at the Southbank Centre’s WOW — Women of the World festival with the aim of meeting as many women as possible, discussing our current projects and our goals for the future, listening to the incredible line-up of speakers and, of course, widening our circle. Here’s a little look at what we got up to…

We met…

Hundreds of inspirational women who were not only keen to learn about The Circle but also wanted to share the ways in which we work to empower women worldwide. This included one of our lovely new members Katie Rose from Sing For Water, who joined after being inspired by our founder Annie Lennox’s talk at #March4Women on 5 March.

We also chatted with women like Nazzy Amin from Restless Development about our accountability in pushing for gender equality and shaping the future for women. Carolyn Thom, from Their Voice Modern Slavery, told us about their Day 46 initiative, which aims to help protect and rehabilitate victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK, once their financial support and assistance from the Home Office ends after 45 days.

Our time at WOW ended with us meeting the brilliant Gemma Cairney, who has supported The Circle in the past and was there signing her brand new book Open.

We listened to…

Sandi Toksvig’s 2016 Year in Review, where—all while wearing a #pinkpussyhat—she discussed everything from Boaty McBoatface and Brexit to Trump’s inauguration, which paved the way for the ‘first truly global feminist movement’ with January’s worldwide Women’s Marches.

We heard from Iona Lawrence, director of the Jo Cox Foundation and best friend of the well-missed MP Jo Cox, who was tragically murdered last year. She told the audience how Jo never asked ‘what do you think?’ but simply said ‘what can we do?’, continuing on to say that ‘Jo was a true activist and a passionate force for good in this world’.

We also listened to the remarkable stories of three extraordinary women in the Honourlogues: Shame performance, which was moved to the Royal Festival Hall due to the huge crowds of women queuing.

Founder of Karma Nirvana Jasvinder Sanghera CBE discussed how at sixteen she ran away from her home in the UK after her parents tried to force her into marrying a stranger from India and hasn’t spoken to them in 36 years since, after they told her that she was dead to them for dishonouring the family. Her sister later committed suicide by setting fire to herself after her family shamed her for divorcing the man she was forced to marry and who abused her. Jasvinder now runs a charity which supports victims of honour crimes and forced marriages.

Irish Times journalist Róisín Ingle spoke about how her own country turned its back on her when she was in need of an abortion and how, after fifteen years of staying silent due to shame, she decided to write a column on her abortion, which in turn helped thousands of Irish women stand up and say ‘me too’. She is now campaigning as part of the #Repealthe8th movement.

Last but not least, Fiona Broadfoot spoke on her experience being trafficked from Bradford to London as a fifteen-year-old girl, where she was forced into prostitution for eleven years of her life before escaping. She discussed how her past still follows her today, as her criminal convictions for prostitution have led her to being frog-marched out of jobs, denied by colleges and even recently by two male councillors when she launched her Build A Girl programme, who said they would keep a copy of her criminal record ‘just in case’. Since launching her programme she has helped empower dozens of girls, and speaking out about her past has helped her reclaim the shame that consumed her for so many years. Her final statement ‘and still I rise…’ was met by a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.

We cried at…

The Women on the Move Awards. The awards are held every year at the festival and, as Southbank Centre Artistic Director Jude Kelly MBE says, ‘it wouldn’t be WOW without it’.

The ceremony had four incredible winners, including 17-year-old Yazidi teen Rozin Khalil Hajool, who moved to the UK with her family in 2008 after it became too dangerous to live in Iraq and launched an online petition to help Yazidi women and girls who have been kidnapped by ISIS. The petition has gained over 275,000 signatures and continues to rise.

Sunday Times foreign correspondent Christina Lamb OBE was awarded the Sue Lloyd-Roberts Media Award for her series of articles on refugees in 2016. She has reported from some of the world’s most dangerous hotspots and shared some emotional stories with the audience, which left both Christina and us a little bit tearful to say the least.

Lord Alfred Dubs won the Champion Award for his work championing and winning support for The Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act of 2016, which compelled the UK government to resettle and support unaccompanied refugee children from other countries. Coming to the UK at the age of 6 as one of 669 children who escaped the holocaust, Dubs has spent most of his life being an advocate for refugee rights and continues to fight for the implementation of The Dubs Amendment today.

The final award of the night was given to Eritrean journalist Eden Habtemichael, for her work with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. After seeking refuge in the UK with her daughter in 2004, with only a few words of English and no one to help her, Eden has worked tirelessly to welcome and support asylum seekers and refugees who have lost everything. She also helped establish Refugee Week and hosts a scheme for refugees in Oxford, where she has been named a ‘hero’ by the young people she has helped.

We also…

Played the drums with Girls Rock London—an NGO that creates opportunities for women and girls to make music—, took part in the dinahvagina lucky dip and each came away with our very own ceramic clitorises (as you do!), made personalised The Circle placards at the Activism in the Archive corner, made cut-out versions of ourselves for the Globella feminist zine, got Mehndi on our hands at our neighbouring stall Asha Projects, signed a petition at the 50:50 Parliament stand to get better gender balance in Parliament, left a note of love to rape survivors at the My Body Back stall, and bought lingerie from Taylor and Rani which gives back to girls around the world—whether that be with a pair of knickers, sanitary products or a monetary donation—with each purchase.

But most importantly, we met wonderful women who we hope will join The Circle and help us in our mission to empower women around the world and stand up to all forms of discrimination against women.

16113896_10154097125441367_1592489804611818939_n
@shanhodge
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.


International Women’s Day, part i: #March4Women

Photo credit: Care International.

When I was younger I loved to swim. I was never a fast swimmer, my swimming teacher told me that I had stamina rather than speed. I remember there being an aggression, an impatience and an exclusion in swimming heats if you weren’t one of the main competitors. I remember feeling disappointed and frustrated every time I didn’t swim fast enough, despite hours of training. I was born with stamina over speed in a world where power and strength is perceived to be fast paced, aggressive, impatient and exclusive. Stamina seemed less ‘strong’ by comparison.

In reflecting on the Care International #March4Women event held in London on Sunday 5 March 2017, I am reminded of the strength of stamina when seeing Helen Pankhurst, who continues to hold the flame of her great-grandmother, who in turn had carried it for all the women before her. Protester banners and signs reading ‘Why do I we still need to protest this shit’ and ‘Same shit different century’ voice the frustration that is being felt even more by people living in the world today. For me this frustration and the events of Sunday marked a moment of solidarity, which Billy Brag aptly described as what happens when ‘we mix empathy with action’.

I am also reminded by my good friend Cara, an MBA student at the University of Oxford, that real change in society doesn’t happen in bursts, but in the moments connecting those bursts and through a persistence in shifting societal perceptions and norms. On Sunday 5 March, in London, there was a much-needed burst joining the message of activists including Bianca Jagger and Muzoon Almellehan with the status of celebrities from the UK and abroad. Emeli Sandé performed a new release for the first time to mark the occasion, while Annie Lennox spoke as an activist (re-enforcing the strange idea that a woman can be a feminist and a musician and an activist simultaneously!). There was a genuinely communal feel as the sound technology awkwardly failed VV Brown, Preeya Kalidas, Natasha Bedingfield, Kate Bush and Mel C, but they persisted in raising their voices to the rhythm of Aretha Franklin’s iconic Respect, in a unison call for gender equality. The singers then joined Bianca Jagger, Helen Pankhurst and Annie Lennox as they led thousands of people across Tower Bridge. I believe that in reflecting on these short, fast, prominent ‘bursts’ and carrying the messages heard at these events into every day discussions, we will continue to connect them to be the change that is needed.

During her interview with Gemma Cairney I was struck by Muzoon’s simple request for empathy. Muzoon, an eighteen-year-old activist who came to the UK in 2015 as a Syrian refugee and had begun advocating for refugees and their right to education at the age of fourteen, is wise beyond her years. During her interview, Muzoon answered the question I and many of my western friends ask ‘what can I do?’ with a simple ‘change your perception of who refugees are’. When we see refugees as people, we put the personal into the political and we can relate to them as our fellow-humans. In extending empathy to refugees we can begin to understand that their refugee status is a label masking the consequence of war that has forcibly taken them away from their homes, their livelihoods, their material securities and we can begin to imagine how that might feel and acknowledge that it could happen to anyone.

The energy on the day was positive and welcoming, so much so that when a man yelled ‘march for men’ someone yelled back ‘sure! How about you march for women now?’ I thus disappointed when I read some of the online responses to the event. Disappointed because of the lack of surprised I felt, but more because of the sheer ignorance of the posts. The common thread through most of the comments and tweets cage women into restricted identities where we can exist only as one or the other, but never more than one identity simultaneously. The tweet ‘When have women in Tooting ever been marginalised’ suggests that by living in London women cannot possibly be mistreated on the grounds of gender. If you, despite your gender, find yourself asking this question, I encourage you to discuss this with your female friends. I can assure you, you will be surprised to learn that simply being ‘an empowered woman living in London’ does not exclude you from gender-based harassment. From inappropriate commentary about her physical appearance, to a lower pay cheque in comparison to her male peers, to sexist views embedded in the unconscious bias of white men who remain at the top of the UK government and most commercial sectors, gender equality has yet to be achieved in this very ‘first world’ city.

Women who gather to march are sometimes criticised for being ’empowered and cosseted’ and told to ‘shut up’ or told to ‘march for girls in the Middle East being married off at ten…’, ignoring that many women marching across the bridge were in fact well-aware of the privilege we enjoy and the importance for us to use our empowerment to amplify the voices of those disempowered by gender-based inequality. The attacks on the intentions and physical appearance of the women taking part in the march are old and boring and shamefully uninformed and it makes the call for empathy all the more relevant.

I will therefore raise my educated, privileged, middle class, western English voice to echo the words of Annie Lennox, regardless of what you might say about my intentions, my class or my physical appearance, to amplify the voices of the women with less or without, in saying:

  • Globally one in three women will be beaten or coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their life time.
  • Every thirty seconds thirteen girls under the age of eighteen are entered into child marriage. This is a gross human rights violation that keeps girls out of school, endangering their health and sentencing them to a lifetime of poverty.
  • Around the world seventeen million girls will never have the opportunity to enrol in primary education.
  • Globally women are still paid less than men, earning on average only 60-75% of men’s wages.
  • Out of an estimated 3.8 million young people aged 15-24 living with HIV, 60% are female.
  • HIV is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age in the continent of Africa.

To the women who will never read this blog post, I promise to use my stamina and my strength to keep marching and using my voice to amplify the voice you may not even know you have. To the people, regardless of your gender, who have taken time to read this, I implore you to keep marching and raising your voices until gender inequality is something future generations, globally, will struggle to comprehend while sitting in their history lessons. ‘Inequality because of reproductive organs?’ they’ll laugh, ‘weird’.

peta
@PetaBB
Peta Barrett has experience in the arts and in Data, Research, Events and Operations and is a member of The Circle.


The Asian Circle Hosts Summer Party Fundraiser

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

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

Asian Circle Summer Party 1

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

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

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

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

About The Asian Circle

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

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

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


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

September 2014, The Varsity Club, Oxford.

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

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

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

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

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

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