Relationship Manager Musings: Teabags and Hashtags

 

Peta Barrett, the Relationship Manager at The Circle, on the Chai Day 2017 launch and why you should organise a Chai Day to raise awareness about gender-based violence

Colourful falling leaves, busy squirrels and tea go hand in hand for me. My autumn is always tea-inspired. Tea spiced with meaningful discussions with friends; cosy evenings in with a hot brew as energy levels start to cool with the weather; tea steaming up the windows, and tea’s magically unique comforting warmth, like a hug in a mug.

As a member of The Circle, chai tea and autumn brewed together in November also means confronting hard truths and saying enough is enough. Last month, Chai Day was launched with our members. An inspiring evening with speakers — The Circle Executive Director Sioned Jones, who shared The Circle’s mission; Santosh Bhanot, Chair of The Asian Circle, who started the Chai Day movement and shared her experiences of visiting women supported by funds raised through Chai Day, and Gina Conway of Gina Conway Salons — an inspiring member who shared her experience of hosting Chai Day at her salons in 2016.

Chai Day is an opportunity to gather people around a hot beverage on 25 November — significantly the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women — to look at how gender-based violence manifests in our community and what we can do about it. Last month was also the month when the #MeToo hashtag flooded the internet. With all the awareness scrolled and clicked through on smart phones, tablets and screens, the importance of Chai Day is more significant than ever before. It is the vital next step to engaging and talking about the issue (and I don’t mean via 140 characters in the comments thread).

As a professional working for women’s rights, a friend to many who have experienced more than just a “tap on the arse”, and as someone who can freely identify as a woman in a city where I am more empowered than most, I feel that it is important to facilitate conversations around this topic. Chai Day offers people a platform to do this. If we can ensure that dialogue about gender-based violence in our communities, and those around the world, continue past social media trends, we will be winning one small battle in the current war on women and girls.

The #MeToo storm that has hit social media is important because it has demonstrated that experiences of gender-based harassment and assault are commonplace amongst women, and that it exists across women of all ages, races, culture and class. The #MeToo trend is, in isolation, far from perfect because the victim is still being expected to place herself in a vulnerable position (by speaking out) as well as lead the discussion in a world that still largely blames the victim. It also ignores other genders affected by gender-based violence and is in danger of ignoring the serious disparities that exist between experiences and why these occur.

To prevent the hashtag from existing only as a social media flurry that will fizzle out, we need to be inspired by the overwhelming outcry and use it proactively to initiate and establish dialogues between all genders. This is important not only for the reality of the situation to take hold, but also to ensure that all people are able to reflect on the roles we play in contributing towards the inequalities that exist between genders in 2017. Uniting and talking about experiences to bring about lasting change is the real intention behind the initial Me Too campaign initiated by Tarana Burke ten years ago. It is also the inspiration behind The Circle’s Chai Day as part of the global movement for gender equality.

For these reasons and so many more I will be arming myself with my #ChaiDay and #MeToo hashtags, some hard facts about gender-based violence, videos of The Circle’s inspiring projects and some chai teabags. My invitations have gone out and we will be opening our home in London on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to friends, colleagues and people we would like to get to know better.

I am asking my guests to bring their questions, experiences, opinions and an open mind. If they enjoy the treats, hot drinks and discussions and feel inspired to donate towards projects aimed at ending violence against women – great I’ll have a money box for their small change and a PC ready for any online donations. If they don’t, it’s more important for me that they turn up and be part of the conversation. Why? Because 38% of all men and 34% of all women who participated in a study conducted by the Fawcett Society in 2016 said that if a woman goes out late at night, wearing a short skirt, gets drunk and is then the victim of a sexual assault she is fully or partly to blame. Because across the world 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate male partner. Because globally 71% of human trafficking victims are women and girls. Because I want our daughters to grow up and talk about gender inequality as something that happened in the “olden days”.

At an event at Southbank with Margaret Atwood discussing her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the question of “what can I do” was asked. Margaret simply and eloquently answered, “Imagine the world you want to live in and act accordingly”. I want a world where gender-based violence does not exist. In the meantime, I will imagine a world where women (and other genders) can talk about their experiences of gender-based violence without shame and fear of being blamed.

If my passion for this subject has inspired you and you would like to host your own Chai Day in your home, office, yoga studio, football club or hairdresser, visit our website to find downloadable invitations, promotional materials, helpful tips, videos and facts to use as conversation starters.

I look forward to raising my tea cup with yours on 25 November for a better, safer world.

 

 

 

@PetaBB
Peta Barrett is a member of The Circle since 2016 and our Relationship Manager since 2017.


Annie Lennox’s and The George Harrison Global Citizen Award

On Monday, we were thrilled to see The Circle founder Annie Lennox receive the George Harrison Global Citizen Award at the Global Citizen Festival in New York. The award honoured her contribution to music and activism throughout her career.

Olivia Harrison presented the award. Annie then followed her acceptance speech with a surprise performance with Harrison’s son Dhani.

You can read her acceptance speech in full below:

Thank you so much Olivia. And thank you so much to the Material World Foundation for this incredible award.
I’m moved, humbled and honoured to receive it.

The beauty and power of George Harrison’s music continues to inspire millions of people with its social, political, universal message for a more sustainable, peaceful world.

I have always loved George’s music and everything he stood for, not only as a brilliant artist, but also as a highly intelligent, sensitive and compassionate man — deeply committed to the issues of human rights, freedom and justice.

In 1971, The Concert for Bangladesh was an innovative, groundbreaking event where he fearlessly created a global platform for advocacy through music, to raise awareness and inspire action in response to a desperate situation.

In 2017 — 46 years later, the Global Citizen Movement is boldly carrying the same torch forwards, with the same ethics and values — that we are all citizens of the world, each with a part to play in facing our complex interconnected global challenges.

The list of challenges is endless, but please bear with me while I name just a few.

The toxic effects of man-made pollution on Earth’s natural environment — the air, the rivers, lakes and seas.
The catastrophic effects of wantonly plundering Earth’s natural resources, risking the sustainability of human existence on this planet.

Deforestation, desertification — Ancient glaciers melting into the sea, sea levels rising exponentially.

The ongoing decimation of indigenous peoples and their traditional ways of life.

The decimation of animal species up to the point of virtual extinction.

The horrendous destruction of human lives through unspeakable crimes of warfare and genocide.

As I speak, 65 million people are displaced or living as refugees.

The vicious trap of poverty and the endemic misery it creates, with its dehumanising cyclic effects.

The rising trends of divisive bigotry, hatred, prejudice, racism, misogyny and violence in a world where one in three women have experienced abuse.

The challenges of global health epidemics — HIV/AIDS, Ebola, tuberculosis, malaria, etc.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop at this point before you become despairing or simply immune.

My thinking is… if we can distribute Coca Cola to every corner of the world, and send men and women into space, then surely there are solutions to these problems.

We are used to thinking that we don’t count individually. That is why it is so important to identify and engage with whichever piece of action you want to support, because, believe me, collectively everyone can make a difference.

But you need to choose hope over despair, responsibility over indifference, feminism over misogyny, and respect, love and kindness over bigotry, division and hatred.

So here’s what you can do just as one person. Inform yourself, choose a cause and give it your commitment. Support an organisation and join them. Donate what you can afford, or persuade others to raise money. Speak up, write, blog, march… Just do something!

And if you’re listening to this and you haven’t already done so, go to the Global Citizen website and take your first step into transformative change through positive action.

As a global feminist, I am very grateful to be able to share and amplify this message, and I am truly honoured to be part of the Global Citizen’s ethos, which I endorse with all my heart. Thank you.

So now, ladies and gentlemen, I’m thrilled and delighted to welcome to the stage Dhani Harrison.

Annie Lennox’s interview about the Global Citizen Festival


Q&A with The Circle co-founding member Livia Firth

 

The biggest treasure in life is sisterhood. The power of women in supporting each other is endless and so different from anything else in the world

At The Circle,we are ever-inspired by each and every one of our members. From the students and the mothers to the lawyers and the musicians. They are doers and they are the engine moving The Circle.

One of those women is co-founding member of The Circle Livia Firth. Founder and Creative Director of the sustainability brand consultancy Eco-Age, a UN Leader of Change, an Oxfam Global Ambassador and mother of two, Livia has also somehow found time to executive produce The True Cost movie and work on The Lawyers Circle’s ground-breaking report that was published in May 2017 and that shows that a living wage is a fundamental right.

In the relatively quiet time between the media frenzy about the report and the next phase in the project, we talked to Livia about what the next steps are to ensure a living wage for garment workers, how to be a more ethical consumer and what makes The Circle different.

Every member has her own unique journey within The Circle. Can you tell us a bit about your journey and why, after so many years, you still support The Circle as a member?

I consider myself an active citizen and support different NGOs — in environmental and social justice and all the different aspects of these two pillars. I am very lucky as I had the opportunity to travel a lot with Oxfam or collaborate with the small and powerful Reprieve, among others NGOs I come across in my work at Eco-Age. The Circle is very different — when you put women in charge and women together, the opportunities are endless and the results are very concrete.

The Circle is about women coming together to empower the most vulnerable women and girls worldwide. But many members of The Circle feel empowered by being part of our network too. How has The Circle helped you to feel empowered?

The biggest treasure in life is sisterhood. The power of women in supporting each other is endless and so different from anything else in the world. The Circle is the perfect manifestation of this — knowing that there is this wonderful resource of women of every background which each one of us, wherever in the world (from a big city in England to a small village in Africa), can call upon and create true change. It’s magnificent!

Can you tell us about an inspiring woman that you have met through The Circle?

Too many! Are there un-inspiring women?

You are best known for being a leading advocate of ethical fashion and have worked closely with The Lawyers Circle on their Living Wage report, which focusses on wages and working conditions in the fashion industry. How did your interest in ethical fashion begin?

When I met Lucy Siegle, Orsola De Castro and Jocelyn Whipple back in 2008 at Eco-Age. It was the first time I heard about human rights and environmental justice being linked to fashion. Then, the same year, I went to Bangladesh with Lucy Siegle for the first ever trip The Circle did — and we got smuggled into a garment factory and what I saw shocked me: so many women working producing 150 garments an hour on different production lines, in a building with no air, and bars at the windows and no fire escape or anything like that. Armed guards at the only door to get in and out, two toilet breaks a day and the most inhumane conditions you can imagine. It was a real eye-opener.

What are your top tips to be a more ethical consumer of fashion?

Just a simple one: stop consuming obsessively and treating fashion as disposable. Buy only things you know you will wear for years and that you will take care of. This is how you build a sustainable wardrobe full of things you love (and full of memories too!).

So we should buy less too?

Absolutely buy less. And take care of things. When did we become the society that buys ready-made mashed potatoes? Do you know how long it takes to boil two potatoes and mash them? And it’s cheaper. Or mend the hole in that sock rather than throw it away because it’s easier to buy a new pack of socks for £5. They have made us addicted to consuming and being lazy.

Often the clothes most of us can afford are manufactured in countries with weak workers’ rights and wages regulations. How can one be a more conscientious consumer on a low budget?

Do you know that most people who think they have no money and therefore buy fast fashion cheap clothes end up spending much more on fashion? Do you really want to save money? Invest in clothes that last forever.

Changing the way we consume is necessary, and, if enough people do it, in the long term brands will have to change the way they produce too. But how can we, as individuals, help make that shift quicker? How can we influence brands that are not ethical?

Stop buying from fast fashion brands at the pace we are shopping today. Then they will have to produce less! They say it is because “the consumer wants it” — well, let’s show them the consumer does not want it anymore.

You recently went to Copenhagen to launch The Lawyers Circle report. The report argues that a living wage is a fundamental right and that fashion brands have a responsibility to ensure that garment workers earn a living wage. What are your next steps in the struggle to ensure a living wage for workers in the fashion industry?

The report took two years to make and it’s ground breaking — it’s the first time ever that the living wage issue and discussions (which have been on the scene for more than a century) are analysed from a legal point of view. Watch out for what not only the power of law but the power of women lawyers will unleash! The second phase will be to align different stakeholders — business, governments and more legal entities — to progress on achieving the results we want: to end slave labour worldwide.

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #WidenYourCircle


Feminist Calendar: September and October

Photo credit: Care International.

Here’s our roundup of feminist events happening up and down the country over the course of the next two months. Whether you’re interested in sports, art, comedy or politics, there’s something for everyone!

3 September – The Feminist Library’s Feminism and Cycling Event (London)

The Feminist Library possesses a tremendous body of literature relating to women’s rights and the women’s liberation movement. You can drop in to explore their collection, or attend their events, which run throughout the year. On 3 September, they are holding a Feminism and Cycling Event to celebrate women and their bikes. The programme for the day includes workshops, presentations, discussions, music and even some feminist yoga!

8-9 September – Scotland’s Feminist Future Conference (Glasgow)

This two-day conference hosted by Engender, Scotland’s leading feminist organisation, will explore the route to gender equality in the country. There will workshops and discussions on issues from abortion legislation and the gender pay gap to the criminal justice system and Brexit.

14-17 September – Women Over 50 Film Festival (Brighton)

The Women Over 50 Film Festival does what it says on the tin: it celebrates the work of older female film-makers and performers through screenings, Q&As, talks and workshops in the lively city of Brighton. With more than fifty events on offer, you’ll be spoilt for choice!

17 September – You Know I’m No Good: Young Women’s Empowerment Festival (London)

This one-day festival at The Jewish Museum is open to feminists of all ages and genders! Hear from inspirational speakers including Laura Bates (of The Everyday Sexism Project), Gemma Cairney (Radio 1 agony aunt and supporter of The Circle) and Susie Orbach (author of the ground-breaking book Fat is a Feminist Issue). Try your hand at life drawing or feminist embroidery, and enjoy performances and panel discussions.

22-24 September – Nasty Women Exhibition (London)

Nasty Women is an international art movement promoting solidarity in the face of threats to women’s rights. Seeking to raise funds and provide a platform for collective resistance, it displays work by female artists who identify as ‘Nasty Women’!
The London edition is taking place in Shoreditch at the end of September. It will feature paintings, photography and sculpture by up-and-coming artists. Show your support — all money raised will go to Rape Crisis UK and Women for Women International.

10 October – Ada Lovelace Day (London and around the world)

Ada Lovelace Day is an annual celebration of the progress and achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). There are grassroots celebrations around the world, but the flagship event — held at The Royal Institution in London — is not to be missed! It will feature leading STEM women giving talks and performances about their work.

11 and 12 October — The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth Book Launch (London and Sheffield)

Anti-violence campaigner and renowned author Julie Bindel will be launching her new book on the global sex trade, The Pimping of Prostitution — Abolishing the Sex Work Myth. After sharing her extraordinary journey of discovery, Julie will be joined by a panel of sex trade survivors who will be sharing their own experience and knowledge.

13 October — The Oxford Circle Fifth Anniversary (Oxford)

The Oxford Circle is a branch of The Circle led by women based in Oxford. And it is turning 5! We are going to celebrate with afternoon tea at the Malmaison hotel, a converted prison in Oxford Castle. Expect raffles and talks by leading experts in women’s health and female genital mutilation (FGM).

All funds raised will go towards supporting the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in Cape Town.

14 October — Rally for Choice (Belfast)

Rally for Choice is a demonstration of support for a change to abortion laws in Northern Ireland. It is organised by a cross-community group of activists who advocate for free, safe and legal access to abortion. With support from The British Pregnancy Advisory Service and Amnesty International UK, Rally for Choice 2017 is sure to be a huge event.

19-29 October — Women in Comedy Festival (Manchester)

Who says women aren’t funny? The Manchester Women In Comedy Festival has been described as one of “the UK’s best comedy festivals”, combining laughter with feminist principles. This year’s event includes solo shows, open mic workshops and a writing competition, so everyone can get involved!


Six ways in which educating girls benefits their wider community

The Circle member and volunteer Shannon Hodge looks at how educating girls can help tackle everything from child marriage to world poverty

Today, more than 263 million children are out of school, with 202 million of those of secondary school age. 130 million of them are girls. And despite all the efforts and progress made in previous years, more girls are still denied an education than boys — with 15 million girls of primary-school age estimated to never set foot in a classroom.

Investing in the education of girls brings high returns in terms of breaking cycles of poverty and aiding economic growth — but it also improves children’s and women’s survival rates and health, delays child marriage and early pregnancies, empowers women both in the home and the workplace, and helps tackle climate change.

In proposed target 4.1 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the UN said: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”, meaning that each of the 263 million children currently out of education will be entitled to twelve years of quality, fee-free primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education by 2030.

Achieving universal access to those twelve years of education is both a matter of human rights and a huge investment in the overall development and economic growth of the world. Here are just a few of the ways in which unlocking the potential of millions of girls can have a wider impact…

1. Preventing child marriage and early pregnancy

An estimated 15 million girls a year are married before they are eighteen. Many are forced to marry by their families in exchange for a dowry — which is seen as a way of alleviating poverty within the family. Once married, many girls wanting to continue their education are often denied this right, due to traditional roles they are expected to play in the home, such as childbearing and cleaning.

Education is one of the most powerful tools to enable girls to avoid child marriage and fulfil their potential. And the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married before the age of eighteen and have children during her teenage years.

It also gives girls the chance to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions including when, and whom, they will marry.

With twelve years of quality education, girls are up to six times less likely to marry as children — compared to those who have little or no education. Estimates show that if all girls had access to secondary education, child marriage would drop by 64%.

2. Preventing female genital mutilation

Over 140 million girls worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) — a form of gender-based violence where parts or all of the external female genitalia are removed or injured for no medical reason.

Education is integral to any strategy to reduce FGM, as it can play a key role in changing individual and societal views.

In fact, data shows that girls and women with no education are significantly more likely to be in favour of the existence of FGM — for example, in Kenya, approximately 38% of women and girls with no education support the continuation of the practice, in comparison to approximately 6% of women and girls with secondary or higher education.

3. Building more stable communities

Education builds resilience, enabling countries to recover from conflict faster once peace is established. In fact, inclusive, quality education can even help prevent conflict in the first place through lessons on problem-solving, social skills and critical thinking.

And whilst primary education is vital to girls, it’s secondary education that can be transformative. In certain countries, doubling the percentage of students finishing secondary school would halve the risk of conflict.

4. Tackling climate change

Following on from the fact that education can create more stable communities, research also suggests that girls’ education reduces a country’s vulnerability to natural disasters. As a matter of fact, education is one of the most cost-effective strategies to mitigate carbon emissions and tackle climate change.

In 47 countries covered by the 2005-2008 World Values Survey, the higher a girl’s level of education, the more likely she was to express concern for the environment. Furthermore, in the later 2010-2012 World Values Survey, when forced to choose between protecting the environment versus boosting the economy, those respondents with secondary education favoured the environment more than those with less than secondary education.

5. Strengthens economies and advances the fight to end poverty

Research in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries found that level of education has a “substantial impact on employment prospects”.

On average, across these countries, 74% of those with the proposed twelve years of education up to upper secondary are employed, as opposed to 56% of those without an upper secondary education.

Generally, secondary school graduates enjoy higher earning potential than early school leavers, contributing to the growth of the national economy through full-time employment and tax.

And if all children in low-income countries completed upper secondary education by 2030, per capita income would increase by 75% by 2050 and advance the fight to eliminate poverty by ten years.

6. Better health, longer lives

Girls’ education has wide-ranging and transformative health benefits, which can be passed on through generations. Every additional year of school a girl completes cuts rates of infant mortality — the death of children under one year — by five to ten per cent. And if all girls received the proposed twelve years of fee-free, quality education, the frequency of early births would drop by 59% and child deaths would decrease by 49%.

Furthermore, women with post-primary education are also better able to protect both themselves and their families against other health risks. For example, they are five times more likely than illiterate women to be educated about the risk of HIV and AIDS and know how to practice safer sex and prevent infection. Educated mothers are also more likely to vaccinate their children.

These are just some of the positive impacts that educating girls can have on both girls and their communities, and here at The Circle we believe that girls are the untapped solution to many of the world’s problems. To help improve the world, we must educate girls.

That’s why we work with Educate Girls to address issues facing young girls in India.

An estimated three million girls are out of school in India and the situation is worse in rural areas of Rajasthan, where girls are three times more likely to be out of school than other children in India. The female literacy rate in Rajasthan is 52%, the lowest in the country, and six in ten girls in Rajasthan marry as children.

The Circle supports Educate Girls in increasing girls’ enrolment and retention rates and improving the quality of education in India with the use of Creating Learning and Teaching kits. You can read more about the project or  donate on our website.

“We can gain peace, grow economies, improve our public health and the air that we breathe. Or we can lose another generation of girls.” — Education activist Malala Yousafzai, speech to Canadian Parliament, 2017.

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


On being a member of The Circle — a message from our Relationship Manager

Peta Barrett, The Circle Relationship Manager, at our South Africa’s Women’s Day celebration.

South Africa’s Women’s Day was celebrated in London, on 8 August, even with the grey sky that relentlessly drenched the city! Together we watched our new short film, featuring the life of Siyanda. I am pleased to say that Siyanda’s voice was heard over the sound of the rain beating down in the UK. Siyanda’s strength, courage and determination inspired all the guests who had gathered to launch The Circle’s new project supporting the Nonceba women’s shelter, in Khayelitsha.

Watch Siyanda’s story here:

I shared with our guests how it can be challenging to define exactly how our Circles work and how members power our projects and events. The challenge exists because when women come together their achievements are often unpredictable and tend to far exceed expectations. Each member has their own journey with us and you’ll know from the wide range of projects and events of The Circle over the past nine years, there is no set formula to how we do what we do best!

I wanted to share my musings and a bit of my own journey with you in the hope that they will offer more understanding of how members of The Circle work, inspire some ideas and encourage you to connect with us further.

The Circle South Africa’s Women’s Day celebration — how our members made it happen

On 13 July I met Laura, a Senior Associate at Stewart’s Law LLP, at a members-only event hosted by The Lawyer’s Circle in support of the Living Wage report. During our conversation, I mentioned to Laura that I was hoping to increase the number of events and networking opportunities for us to connect with our members. Laura handed me her business card and said that they would offer me a venue whenever I needed one. With momentum building for the Nonceba project and SA Women’s Day on the horizon we decided to leap at the chance to connect with Laura, our members and our newest project on a day that felt most apt! I am so glad we did because the event was a huge success across so many levels and all thanks to the women in the room.

Running in parallel to my meeting with Laura, The Circle Executive Director Sioned Jones met Dr Linda Greenwall. Linda is a South African dentist living in the UK and the driving force behind the Live Smart project. Live Smart was set up in Khayelitsha in 2013 to combat the issue that 80% of the half a million children in Khayelitsha are living with tooth decay. Linda agreed to speak at the event and shared her journey and experiences setting up a charitable venture in Khayelitsha. Linda is now also a member of The Circle, and we are exploring the possibilities for creating a new Circle together.

Joining Linda as a speaker was our very own Dr Becky Cox. Becky is the chair of The Oxford Circle and has her own incredible journey within The Circle. Amongst her many life achievements Becky is raising awareness for The Circle and our end violence against women campaigns by running thirteen half marathons throughout 2018.

As a members-based charity, The Circle recognises that in order to bring about lasting change to women’s lives we all need to work together. At The Circle, we do that by connecting our members to each other and to women around the world who cannot realise their human rights in the same way that you and I can, here, in the UK. Together we use our skills, knowledge and influence to raise awareness, raise funds, but, most importantly, find ways of doing what we do best to make a difference that can last.

Each of our members has their own unique journey with The Circle and I want to highlight that, because in the past month I have been asked countless times ‘what can I do?’ or ‘how can I be more involved’. The answer to that question lies within you. We all have something different to offer and opportunities for us to be involve ebb and flow around our day-to-day lives and that’s ok.

My journey as a member

I heard Annie speak at the WOW festival in 2015 thanks to my friend Faye, who is also a member. Faye and I were shocked by the HIV/AIDS statistics in South Africa quoted by Annie. Facts that are simply unacceptable and that I would like to share with you here:

• HIV is the biggest killer of women in reproductive age.
• Women between 15 and 24 years old are twice as likely to become infected with HIV than men in the same age group.
• Globally, in 2015 there were an estimated 17.8 million women (aged 15 and older), living with HIV, constituting 51% of all adults living with HIV.
• “5% of pregnancy-related deaths worldwide and 25% in sub-Saharan Africa are attributable to HIV.”

Those statistics are devastating on their own. What was more alarming to me personally is that so little has changed from my time as a student living in South Africa twelve years ago. I signed up as a member of The Circle a few weeks later, which involves registering on our website and pledging a monthly or annual donation. For what felt like the longest time I simply paid £5, read the monthly newsletter and shared a couple of tweets. It’s only now that I realise how vitally important that donation and those tweets shared are to sustain the work done by The Circle.

In September last year, I made a business decision in my previous role as Director to work with The Circle as our charity partners for an annual awards ceremony in November. The Circle’s team raised funds that night to support Nonceba and we have already sent them enough to run the shelter for two months — making a real difference to women in the country that I grew up in.

Our members, the driving force behind everything we do

The example of using my position to connect with the women of The Circle obviously appears more impressive than telling you I tweet daily; however, examples like this are less consistent because they demand time, determination and planning. The consistency we need comes from our members, our followers, our ‘retweeters’. We are able to do what we do because of the members joining us at events and carrying the messages about women’s rights into conversations with their own circles of family, friends and colleagues. Those messages and conversations grow into further connections and become the opportunities for annual events, fundraisers, a new project, a new Circle.

In a world of instant access, we often forget that real change takes time. The Circle members are taking their valuable spare time to share the stories of women without a voice while scrolling through social media, and take action when opportunities present themselves to make more significant leaps. Spreading the word, using one’s influence… these are all needed. Sometimes, because our life demands our time and attention, simply being connected is enough.

To all our members I ask you to please keep doing what you are doing because even if at times it feels like nothing it is something — the connection is there. I also want to invite you to share your thoughts with me and with the other women in your life. Talk about and support the projects that inspire you. When something enrages you let’s turn that into a positive action together.

If you have yet to become a member I invite you to join us because making change starts with you and we are here to facilitate the positive and much need change in the life of women and girls.

I have a voice where Siyanda does not. For me, knowing that was the first step. Asking my friends and networks to help me to support Siyanda was step two. By simply asking I am pleased to say my network has helped to ensure one of the twenty-one women at Nonceba Women’s Shelter is able to be there for another month. What can your network do?

 

 

 

 

@PetaBB
Peta Barrett is a member of The Circle since 2016 and our Relationship Manager since 2017.


“Education is about more than just textbook learning. It gives me the freedom of choice”

Project: Educate Girls

Suhani* is 11 years old and lives in rural Rajasthan. A few years ago, Suhani was struggling to learn how to read and write. Her parents decided that she was not gaining much from going to school and she dropped out. Suhani was then confined to cooking, cleaning, fetching water and taking care of her younger siblings.

When the Eduate Girls’ community volunteers and staff first talked to her parents, they said that they didn’t think that Suhani would benefit much from going to school and that excelling at household chores would be far more useful. Other parents who took part in the community meetings shared the same view.

“When Narayan [the Field Coordinator] spoke to my parents, it had been three years since I dropped out of school”, Suhani says. “I did not know the importance of or feel the need for education. Most of the girls in my village were working at home, like I was, or were already married. I didn’t know there was something else I should or could be doing… Domestic work was my responsibility. I was preparing for my future.”

Educate Girls staff and volunteers organised community meetings and told parents about a nearby state school for girls with all-female staff. The school also offers extracurricular tuition after school. Suhani’s mother went to visit the school and meet the teachers and staff.

Her parents agreed to send her to school, so Suhani took a bridge course to catch up with her level and is now studying with other girls her age.

When Educate Girls staff travelled from Mumbai to Suhani’s village, she told them that “education is about more than just textbook learning. It gives me the freedom of choice. I’m not sure yet what I aspire to be, but one thing’s clear –I want to study for as long as I can!”

About Educate Girls

Educate Girls is a Mumbai-based NGO that has been working to increase girls’ enrollment and retention rates and improve the quality of education in the government-run schools of rural India since 2007.

Their Creative Learning and Teaching curriculum is designed for children studying in grades 3, 4 and 5. The learning curriculum is activity-based, child friendly and caters to the need of the most marginalized children in rural India.

With a donation from The Circle, Educate Girls has supplied 47 schools in Rajasthan with CLT kits, improving the education of 1,410 children.

*Name has been changed to protect the minor’s identity.


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.