Rarely does a moment occur when, as an activist, I sense that seismic change might be in the air. This week will be one of those moments. I’m writing to say that we must seize it.
“I have spent years campaigning on social justice issues concerning the rights of women and girls. I feel driven by the conviction that it is essential to try, with the hope that with collective effort, things can be improved — while motivated by a combination of outrage and empathy .
But rarely does a moment occur when, as an activist, I sense that seismic change might be in the air. This week will be one of those moments. I’m writing to say that we must seize it.”
Annie Lennox calls on governments to take action against sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. You can read the full article here: Annies Lennox Times article 20 June
“Women are powerful. Women are beautiful and strong. Women are wild, raw and resourceful. We must join together, and we must use our strength and resources to overcome.”
Meet Alice Sinclair and Sophie Gradden, the women empowering other women through an evening of art and conversation on 19th June. Alice, a member of The Circle, and Sophie, a UK-based artist are putting on an incredible event to raise funds for the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre. During the art class, which begins at 6.30pm, you will be able to select a favourite female icon to paint with the aim “go wild on canvas”! As well as having creative fun, you will be connecting with like-minded women and learning more about The Circle’s projects.
This a perfect example of how when women come together and organise, they can be a powerful force for change. We sat down and spoke to them about The Circle, fundraising and feminism …
Alice Sinclair works in the healthcare sector and is a member of The Circle.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I have been based in London for 12 years. I work in the healthcare sector as an NLP therapist and a trainee Psychotherapist. I am also the editor of a local magazine. I have witnessed and experienced gender inequality in many forms throughout my life. I still see it everyday, and with my work as a therapist I see the impacts. Ending violence against women is my passion. It is it very close to my heart (near the cat section). I long for a world one day where the inhabitants are like WTF is inequality? Did that actually exist?
Why did you decide to organise this fundraising event?
This event is the beginning of many. Nothing feels more close to my heart than actively supporting and holding a platform for women to come together and work towards making a difference in the murky environment of gender based inequality. Sophie Gradden is a hoot to hang around with, it will be a memorable evening.
Why do you think the work of Nonceba Family Counselling centre is so important?
As a trainee therapist most of my NHS work has been with women who have experienced violence or abuse in its many guises. It tears you down. It whittles away confidence. The trauma can have a horrifying impact on how you live your life. Abuse can lead to very serious situations such as PTSD, agoraphobia, eating disorders, addictions, self harm and suicide. These can be passed down through generations. Wonderful charities like Nonceba are a vital refuge. They provide hope, and a way forward. For a year they will protect and physically and mentally support victims of domestic abuse. Nonceba gives women a way out. It breaks that generational passing. It de-normalises.
What does Women Empowering Women mean to you?
When I was ten years old, a teacher discovered I could bowl a cricket ball better than the boys in my class. I was invited to play on the boys team as there was no team for girls. As I ran up to bowl the first ball of my first match, both teams jeered. “she’s wearing a skirt” or “get lost you’re a girl”. I crumbled. That was to be my first and last match with that team.
This was my first experience of gender based inequality. My first experience of gender based violence was when I was eight, I am less inclined to discuss this freely. The point I am getting at is, women are powerful. Women are beautiful and strong. Women are wild, raw and resourceful. We must join together, and we must use our strength and resources to overcome every single face and aspect of discrimination, sexism, misogyny and abuse. Women need women.
Sophie Gradden is an artist living and working in the UK and we’re incredibly excited to have her working with The Circle for this event!
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I am a contemporary artist, temporarily living & working in Buckinghamshire. I’ve not always been an artist mind, but always dabbled in the creative industries of furniture & interior design.
In November 2016 I reignited my love for painting and set up a makeshift studio in my home and began creating, whilst working full time. Since then, the art continues. In April 2018 I had a total mental meltdown, suffering with depression and anxiety, I made the decision to take a break, a life sabbatical as I like to label it, and dedicate myself to my art full time, no more 9-5, just painting, painting, painting. Best thing I’ve ever f**king done.
Why did you decide to organise this fundraising event?
Why would we not? Any group of people gathering together to try and do better in this world, no matter how big or small the overall impact it may have…it’s something right! The more we do it, the more we talk about it, the more people will start to realize that these sometimes minute or minor situations to the absolute horrendous (even unimaginable) us wonderful women find ourselves put into is NOT ok!! Things have got to change. This I hope is a small yet mighty step towards that.
Why do you think the work of Nonceba Family Counselling centre is so important?
We must remember even though we are still fighting for gender equality and ending violence against women here in the UK, some countries sadly are still 10 steps behind us, which is frightening. The woman I am and the women I surround myself with, friends, family, colleagues, have all come up against gender equality issues, thankfully never violence, however I speak for a mere spec of the population, in fact the world. Even bigger problem!! What about the women who don’t have a choice and the support, someone to be there for them when the world has unfairly shunned them and continues to kick them, sometimes quite literally, when they are down, Nonceba is that answer. Nonceba is a positive way forward, one of many great projects that the circle supports.
What does Women Empowering Women mean to you?
Simple…My mum, my sister, my nan (sadly no longer with us) my sister in law, my best friend, my friends, my past colleagues…the amazing woman who I didn’t know, who reached out and held my hand on the train, when I was in a state of emotional anxiety, we didn’t even speak, we only exchanged a smile as she handed me a tissue. You saved me in that moment. Thank you.
To help raise funds for victims of domestic violence, rape and sex trafficking. To join in and support them so they too can begin to heal and return to their world stronger.
What did organising a Chai Day make you learn about gender-based violence?
That there are different forms of gender-based violence and all of them need our attention. Because it is a major public health and human rights issues. I learned that young girls around the same age as my sister are been taking away from their mother’s arms and subjected to prostitution, been raped and abused physically and emotionally, and it needs to stop. I learned that if I can gather fierce and determined women in a room to support my cause, then we are one step closer to ending this for someone.
What are your top tips to organise a Chai Day?
Don’t do it alone. It is a ‘team’ event. So gather your friends, their friends, members of your family and their friends and host a Chai Day, because it will be so worth it when you include people in your world to support a great cause.
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.
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.
Photo: Fiona at her Chai Day at the University of Bristol.
The Circle volunteer Fiona Gilligan shares her experience supporting a women’s rights NGO in Buenos Aires and how it inspired her to organise a Chai Day at the University of Bristol.
I was fortunate enough to spend the first six months of 2016 in Buenos Aires, combining my interest in fashion and textiles with a cause I feel incredibly strongly about – women’s rights and gender equality.
Therefore, in recent years there has been a rise in the number of NGOs dedicated solely to the needs of women. Mediapila is one such organisation. It is dedicated to empowering and mobilising women through sewing and dressmaking workshops. The overall aim of the foundation is to provide women from underprivileged backgrounds with the skills and, more importantly, the confidence, to be able to find employment in the textiles industry.
The foundation works solely with women, as they believe that women symbolise the root to social change. Working towards a better future for these women enables them to also provide a better future for their children and families, thus changing society on a greater scale.
I was struck by the creativity and tenacity of the women at the foundation, many of whom were in the process of developing their own businesses alongside their studies at the foundation. They all possessed an incredible passion to learn and a genuine desire to change their lives for the better. I formed strong relationships with many of them, in particular María, a former student who had gone on to become a teacher at the foundation. María’s infectious laughter filled the workshop each day and was a reminder to all the women of the power of female strength and beauty. Despite experiencing such hardship in the shape of forced migration, discrimination and poverty, María embraced each day with a smile. I felt privileged to be working with such strong and inspirational women like María on a daily basis.
My experience in Buenos Aires made me very aware that, although we still have a long way to go in terms of gender equality, we have many privileges as women in the UK. All women should have access to the same opportunities in order to reach their full potential in life. This is a joint responsibility, and it is essential that we collectively recognise this in order to achieve gender equality.
This motivated me to get involved with further gender equality projects when I returned to university in Bristol. My friend Erin was doing an internship at The Circle and told me about Chai Day. It is a great initiative that brings people together over a cup of chai in order to raise awareness and funds to combat gender-based violence in the UK, India and South Africa. It was incredibly easy to organise. The Circle provides a detailed information pack, as well as a poster template to advertise your Chai Day around your university, workplace, or wherever you are planning to hold it. All that was left to do was to get baking! I was incredibly pleased with the support from other students and with the amount we managed to collectively raise.
If you would like to hold your own Chai Day to raise awareness about gender-based violence in your community, inspire your friends or colleagues, and raise funds to support women who have survived violence, go to www.chaiday.org.
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.
Peta Barrett is a member of The Circle since 2016 and our Relationship Manager since 2017.
As this is National Women’s Day in South Africa I wanted to share how proud I am of our short film clip which was made for The Circle with love, passion and dedication by the South African film maker Jo Higgs. I’ve been aware of the challenges in South Africa reaching back many years to when I was part of the international community of musicians who contributed to the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Over the years, through having spent time in the country with direct exposure to many grass-roots projects, I came to realise that violence against women and children is endemic — playing out on an unprecedented scale every single day. This short film is the story of a young woman called Siyanda, but her personal experience represents the lives of millions of women and girls. The Circle is supporting the work of Nonceba towards creating positive transformation. We hope this film inspires you to make a contribution to the Global Women’s Movement.
The story behind South African National Women’s Day
When women come together, things change — often drastically. That is exactly what happened on 9 August 1956, when 20,000 women stood in silence in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria, to show their opposition to a change in legislation that required black and minority women to carry internal passports.
These passports were introduced during the apartheid era under the Urban Areas Act of 1950, more commonly know as “pass laws”. Black and minority ethnic men were forced to carry an internal passport as a way to maintain population segregation and control migrant labour. With the new changes to the legislation, women would be forced to carry them too. But these changes were met with strong, women-led political resistance.
A song was composed in honour of the occasion — Whathint’Abafazi Whathint’imbokodo! — Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock!
The song has turned into the chant “you strike a woman, you strike a rock”, which is voiced in South Africa every National Women’s Day to commemorate the women’s march of 1956.
National Women’s Day is a national holiday that raises awareness about gender inequality and its multiple manifestations, which include domestic violence, sexual harassment, unequal pay, unequal access to education for girls and sexual violence.
Between April and December 2016, almost 110 rape cases were reported in South Africa per day.