Waves: Interview with Jessie Ayles

Photo credit: Waves

Filmed in Cape Town’s notorious Lavender Hill, Waves explores the perspective of three young girls as they grow up together in South Africa. We spoke to Jessie Ayles about this incredible project and the issue of gender-based violence.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?

I’m a documentary filmmaker based in London – I’ve always been motivated by imbalances or injustices in the world, and try to pursue projects that reflect on these types of issues  to create  an impact or some form of change or conversation.

Why did you decide to focus on the issue of gender-based violence for your project?

Women, in all walks of life, often draw the short straw, whether you’re looking at gaps in wages, structures of society, education or more urgent matters like gender based violence. Women in these communities, as we know, suffer huge amounts of gender based violence and attacks, there is still a very strong patriarchy in these communities that place young girls at the bottom of the ‘food chain’ – I was interested in exploring the feelings of young girls there, to translate their point of view, and their own experiences so that people would really be able to empathise and understand the extent that this affects a life.

One of The Circle’s EVAWG projects is located in South Africa, but violence against women is a global issue, why did you decide to focus on this country and community in particular?

My parents are South African and I have dual citizenship, but I actually grew up in London, so i’ve always had a connection to South Africa and interest to understand the country and its complexities.

I think what also really motivated me to work with this community is that most South African’s ordinarily would never really enter these communities due to fear of crime, and in turn never really understand what life is like for the most vulnerable there. It’s a country largely still divided by wealth, and I wanted to create something that would offer an insight from marginalised voices we ordinarily wouldn’t be able to get access to, especially as young girls, and break down these barriers.

What was the experience of filming on such a difficult subject? Particularly with such young women.

I was lucky to be able to really take my time making this film, I spent a lot time just getting to know the girls at surf lessons, and listening, so by the time we started filming we just felt like friends hanging out. I think this really helped them feel comfortable with me, and also meant the filming days were never too intense. It was difficult and shocking for me to hear how these girls felt, but to be honest, for them, I think this type of violence had become quite normal that they were almost used to talking about it.

There was another aspect to filming, and that was that I was able to offer the girls a voice – I think that they felt special by being a part of the film, that their story and feelings were important.

So, despite the subject matter of the film being so sensitive, the girls were at the end of the day still just young girls, they loved getting extra time surfing, playing, laughing, going on trips with me that they normally wouldn’t be able to get access to – and I really loved that experience too.

 

The film is incredibly beautiful and moving, what did you find most challenging about the process?

I think the biggest challenge with this film, and filming in the community was safety and access. The area that the girls live in is Lavender Hill, it’s notorious in Cape Town for gang violence and crime, it’s really not a safe area to drive in, you roll the dice every time you enter. This being said, I couldn’t get any funding to make this film so wasn’t able to hire security or special transportation. So that was very limiting, we would have to work out which days and times would be less of a risk to go into the community and set our self time limits filming on the streets etc I think we got everything we needed for the film, but I would have loved to embed myself a little more into their daily home life if the limitations weren’t there.

The Circle is an organisation of women empowering women. Is that motivation something that you feel plays a role in your work?

Yes definitely. I think I spent quite a long time not really honing in on what I care most about – I was making a documentary about a Burmese guerilla fighter about 5 years ago, someone who had rebelled against the Burmese military and gone into exile in Chiang Mai, he had given up everything for what he believed in. He kept on asking me why I was interested in making a film about him, he couldn’t quite understand – I told him it was because he was fascinating, but he was still confused, he kept on telling me ‘Jessie, you’ve got to find your people’. At the time it didn’t register, I just thought ‘What people…I don’t have the same sort of authoritarian government to overthrow like you did, ’. But then it clicked, by highlighting women’s stories and voices – whose injustices I can personally relate to – I feel more like I have found ‘my people’ to fight for.

What would you encourage those watching the film to do in order to support women and girls across the globe who are survivors of gender-based violence?

The scale of this issue is so large that it can feel a little daunting sometimes at where to start or what can be done to help. But in my experience working with NGOs on the ground, I see how much of a difference these organisations can make to someone’s life. The surfing that offers these girls an outlet in the film was organised by an NGO called Waves for Change – a small thing like a surfing lesson once a week can make all the difference to someones life – it can give them that breath of air they need or support to keep going.

So my advice would be to do some research on NGOs, like The Circle’s EVAWG projects, and donate whatever you can to help keep them going. You could also volunteer at NGOs if you live near one that’s making a difference to women’s lives, or even keep spreading the message and raising awareness to keep the conversation going.

What is the situation in South Africa like now? 

Unfortunately since the filming of Waves the situation in South Africa has become even more volatile for women. A spate of recent sexual assaults, murders and kidnappings of young girls and women caused outrage and saw country-wide protests – demanding the government to effectively tackle the issue. While some policies have been amended, like the retraction of bail for rape suspects, there is still a huge space for work needed to help support victims, prevent violence and create gender equality and awareness. This is why I believe NGOs are so important right now for those South Africans who have to live through this on a daily  basis.

You can watch Jessie’s award-winning short film here: 

One of our Chai Day projects is located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside Cape Town. Khayelitsha is the largest township in the Western Cape province and has a high level of overcrowding and poverty. For years, unemployment and crime rates have been high, particularly around violence against women and children with little services and support for the victims. The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre offers survivors offers a place to stay, individual and family counselling, legal support, access to healthcare, educational programmes and victim empowerment groups. Find out more about hosting a Chai Day to support women and girls across the globe here.

 

Jessie is a South African and British filmmaker. Her work shines a light on female-centred stories and marginalised voices, bringing a cinematic and fresh perspective to socially conscious stories. She studied Film & Literature at Warwick University, then went onto a Masters in Screen Documentary at Goldsmiths University where she won a One World Media Bursary.

Jessie’s interest in impact and stories that highlight morals or human rights, with her distinctive style, led her to work with the social impact arm of many brands and NGOs, creating poignant film campaigns for clients such as Nike, Google, M&C Saatchi & Always.


International Law: Supporting or Ignoring Survivors of Gender-Based Violence?

Image: Victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo, 2007. James Akena/Reuters

“Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times.” – Susan Brownmiller, 1975[1]

In conflicts ranging from the 18th century Scottish Highland Clearances to the Rape of Nanking in the 1930s, sexual violence has been a lurid, ceaseless feature. The rationale is that sexual violence is an unfortunate, but inevitable, consequence of the breakdown of the rule of law and the militarised, masculine culture of conflict zones. Until recently, victims of the violence are seen as ‘spoils of war’ – rewards for the conquering army – and the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ was used to justify heinous, violent acts of sexual assault during conquest[2]. Thankfully this began to change with the development of the ‘weapon of war’ narrative, which emerged in the 1990s. This was based on a recognition that rape is not an unfortunate byproduct of war – it is a strategic and systematic act used to undermine the enemy by demoralising and humiliating, instilling terror and devastating communities. The very deliberate nature of this widespread sexual violence was revealed and could no longer be sidelined by international legal institutions.

This development in the interpretation of wartime sexual violence had positive implications for increasing accountability and prosecution of perpetrators. On the 26th April 1995, in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the case of Duško Tadić marked the first international criminal trial to include charges of sexual violence. This was based on evidence that systematic sexual violence had been employed for the purposes of ethnic cleansing – defined by the UN as “rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove from a given area persons of another ethnic or religious group”[3]. It was recognised that in the context of the former Yugoslavia sexual violence had been used in order to present the Bosnian nation as inferior and humiliated, ordered by superiors as a strategy of war. A second landmark case for the prosecution of sexual violence took place in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in September 1998. Jean Paul Akayesu’s guilty verdict for employing rape as a tool of genocide, defined by the UN as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”[4], marked the first time sexual violence had been considered to be a crime of genocide. This judgement was based on a recognition that acts such as forced sterilisation, abortion and forced pregnancy could be strategically used to affect the ethnic composition of a group. The weapon of war narrative, which recognises the deliberate and systematic nature of wartime sexual violence, has therefore been vital in drawing attention to the extent of this violence, and has been celebrated as a key achievement in feminist literature on the subject.

“This rhetoric serves to enforce gendered stereotypes and excludes the vast majority of the women”

The prosecution of wartime sexual violence in international law is something to be celebrated, the weapon of war narrative is not. This rhetoric serves to enforce gendered stereotypes and excludes the vast majority of the women it claims to serve. I make this statement based on two claims: the weapon of war narrative has institutionalised a notion that women are only worth protecting when the violence is aimed against men; and it fails to acknowledge and challenge the role of misogynistic societal norms which justify and provide the logic for wartime sexual violence. There were a mere 34 convictions of sexual violence across all of the UN special courts, including the ICTY and the ICTR, despite the fact that the UN estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped in Rwanda alone in the time frame of 3 months. International law failed the victims of sexual violence in these conflicts by stating that their case was only worth pursuing if they could prove the intention of their rapist – that they were acting with the purpose of ethnic cleansing or genocide. Clearly the outcome is the same for the victim whatever the intent of the attacker. It established strict victim narratives that dictated the ethnicity of the victim, the time frame of the assault, and the level of violence which was deemed sufficient. Further it was regarded as a weapon against only the men in society, attempting to make them seem weak and humiliated for being unable to protect ‘their’ women, resulting in the breakdown of communities. The societal norms which sustain this potential for breakdown are also rendered invisible by the weapon of war narrative – the belief that women are the property of the men in their community and that women are somehow ‘tainted’ if they are victims of rape. Sexual violence can only be weaponised because of these norms, existing on a continuum with peacetime sexual violence, but this is obscured by the notion that sexual violence is merely a strategy of conflict. This is succinctly summarised by Inger Skjelsbaek, who states that “women are raped not because they are enemies, but because they are the objects of fundamental hatred that characterises the cultural unconscious and is actualised in times of crisis.”[5]

Binaifer Nowrojee writes that “of the prosecutions of rape at the ICTR, there were more acquittals than convictions. So there has been a miswriting of history where those responsible for the genocide are absolved of rape.” What accounts for this rewriting? One explanation is that the international community failed to acknowledge the inherently patriarchal nature of the societies themselves. Gendered practices such as giving men exclusive control of family assets, recognising only male heads of households and requiring grooms to pay for brides denigrate and objectify women during peacetime, and have the potential to be translated into the weaponisation of women during conflict. Rape is an effective weapon because of these gendered norms – women are seen as property and therefore by assaulting them military groups undermine the community as a whole. These patriarchal norms also served to silence victims – Maxine Marcus, an investigating attorney at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, found that for many women their trauma was not recognised by the communities because rape was not considered to be a grievous crime. International legal responses failed to dislodge these patriarchal norms, as they reinforced the notion that this was purely a problem during wartime and so failed to expose the magnitude of the violence and ensure that victims voices were heard. In order for international law to prove its genuine commitment to combating sexual violence, there must be a recognition that women’s rights do not warrant protection because their violation threatens national security, but because they are human rights in themselves.

It is not yet time to celebrate the mere acknowledgement of wartime sexual violence in international law. Greater emphasis on breaking down institutional socio-economic gender inequality in peacetime society is vital and support must be provided for victims of such violence regardless of the broader circumstances. To do so, we can support initiatives such as GAPS, which provides consultations on how governments and organisations can fulfil their gender equality commitments. We must increase accountability for governments, and support groups such as End Violence Against Women Coalition, which lobbies the UK government to improve policy around violence against women. International law has the potential to be a powerful force for punishing perpetrators of wartime sexual violence, but it must work in tandem with other initiatives. Regardless of whether the abuser is held to account in a court of law, victims still suffer long-term physical and psychological consequences such as PTSD, depression and the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Hosting a Chai Day is a way that you can take part in efforts to raise funds to support projects working to end violence against women and ensure that survivors are provided with the services and support they may require.

This article was written by Iona Cable. Iona is currently doing an MSc in Human Rights at the LSE, with a specific interest in gender and international law. She has experience in human rights organisations and undertook a project this summer researching how NGOs in the field work to tackle gender-based violence and post-conflict reconstruction. She also works for a London-based charity which seeks to improve social mobility by teaching key employability skills in schools.

 

[1] Brownmiller, Susan “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape”, Bantam Books (1975), p15

[2] Crawford, Kelly “From Spoils to Weapons: Framing Wartime Sexual Violence” in Gender and Development Vol 31 No 3 (2013), p511

[3] United Nations, Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to SCR 780 S/25274 (1992), p16

[4] United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article II (1951)

[5] Skjelsbaek, Inger “The Elephant in the Room: An Overview of How Sexual Violence Came to be Seen as a Weapon of War” Report to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2010), p2


Global Feminist Calendar November 2019

Photo: Angela Davis. Join the Left Book Club for a discussion of her remarkable autobiography.
There are many fantastic events happening across the country so get inspired!

1 November – She Grrrowls: Feminist Arts Night (London)

She Grrrowls is a feminist arts night featuring “poetry, comedy, music and everything in between”. Running since 2013, the night has featured hundreds of poets, musicians, writers and more.

4 November – Left Book Club – An Autobiography by Angela Davis (London)

Join the Left Book Club for a discussion on Angela Davis’s remarkable autobiography. The book is a powerful call for the universality of struggles against oppression as Davis reflects on her intellectual journey, her activism in the Communist Party and her fight for Black liberation.

The discussion will be facilitated by cultural and intellectual historian, Dr Sara Marzagora. Sara teaches critical theory, global theories of modernity, and the history of colonial and anticolonial political thought at SOAS. Participation in the conversation is very much encouraged!

6 November – The Healthcare Circle Launch (London)

Join us for the launch of The Healthcare Circle at The Canal Café Theatre! The Healthcare Circle is committed to hosting events that inspire and inform communities about important healthcare injustices facing some of the most disempowered women and girls globally. In support of The Circle’s key objective to end violence against women and girls, our first official event is to raise awareness of FGM/C.

We are delighted to welcome an expert panel if speakers from various specialisms and expertise from the healthcare sector, including FGM/C specialist midwives Joy Clarke and Huda Mohamed, Obstetrician Dr Brenda Kelly, Psychotherapist and Activist Leyla Hussein and Co-Founder of Vavengers Mabel Evans. Panel Discussion topic is Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: How can we best support women and girls? 

As members of The Circle we are committed to raising funds for The Circle’s project partners working to support victims of gender based violence. To be part of this important discussion we kindly ask for a ticket donation of £15, all proceeds will go to the projects supported by The Circle’s Chai Day Campaign for 2019.

6 November – The Circle Connects Online: Maternal Health (Online)

To round of our month’s focus on maternal health rights, we will be hosting an online panel discussion with Karis McLarty and guests to discuss The Circle’s maternal health project in Tanzania and the wider issue.

Since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, Tanzania has experienced a substantial reduction in child mortality rates. However, avoidable maternal mortality remains high. Women die due to pregnancy or birth-related causes at a ratio of 398 per 100,000. The main direct causes of maternal death are haemorrhages, infections, unsafe abortions, hypertensive disorders and obstructed labours. The presence of these causes is exacerbated by the prevalence of HIV and of malaria, Tanzania’s number one killer.

Attend to find out more about The Circle’s commitment to our partner the UN Every Woman Every Child campaign to assist the Tanzanian government in the process of ratifying international conventions on maternal health rights and how you can help.

6 November – Building a Feminist Data Set: Workshop (Leeds)

Can data collection itself function as an artwork? Can it act as a form of protest? The first workshop focuses on collecting feminist data beginning with an introduction to machine learning, data, and design thinking, and leading into a collaborative and facilitated process with the objective of building a feminist data set from the ground up.

The Feminist Data Set project will result in a large scale data set, a re-imagining of a mechanical turk system to create a feminist mechanical turk, then creating an algorithm. All of this will then be a part of the Feminist AI system. But to get there, you need data. The majority of AI and chatbot projects think of the AI component and the algorithms used as the entire project, but Feminist Data Set focuses equally on creating a data set that’s never existed before, and then using that data set to create Feminist AI.

6 November – Fighting political backlash: creative ways to resist, survive and thrive (Birmingham)

The phenomenon of political backlash is not new. Across social media, toxic voices are blaming feminists, immigrants, people of colour and other marginalised groups for today’s problems in society. It is important to understand how we can resist, survive and thrive in hostile environments both online and offline.

This event will provide a platform for an informed and respectful dialogue through a roundtable discussion and the opportunity to explore supportive and productive responses on this topic. Following the discussion, there will be a reception and exhibition of Dr Saara Särmä’s installation, Underbelly, which explores the nature and volume of online hate mail and abuse experienced by feminist activists.

9 November – Black Feminist Transference: On Pleasure & Power(lessness) (London)

Poet, essayist and former Young People’s Laureate for London Momtaza Mehri presents a new essay on the slipperiness of female power, agency and identification.

Touching on the affective and communal pleasures Black womxn wring from cultural/political juggernauts such as Beyoncé, Michelle Obama and Oprah – and the limitations of representational over-identification, as pleasurable as it may be, with power –Mehri interrogates the joys and critical failures of these moments, and their relation to the lack of agency that characterises the lives of so many working-class Black womxn.

13 November – Be on a Feminist Board (Edinburgh)

Would you like to contribute to the work of women’s organisations, but don’t know how?

Have you ever looked at an advert for board members and thought ‘I’d like to be involved, but that’s not for people like me‘?

If so, attend this event to explore what it takes to be on a feminist board, and how you can utilise your skills to advance women’s equality. Hear from board members of women’s organisations, and discussing what organisations can do to make it easier for you to join their board.

16 November – Feminism in Schools Conference 2019 (London)

An inspiring list of speakers and workshops lined up!

WomenEd; National Education Union; Women’s Equality Party; UKFeminista; Gender Action; Feminist Library; 50:50 Parliament; Be Her Lead; She Is Clothed; The Heroine Chronicles; Fullham Cross Girls School; The Great Men Project; Birmingham University. 

Enjoy panel discussions, ‘How to be a teenage activist’, ‘Getting political’, and teacher-focused workshops on develoing your own leadership ambition (WomenEd) and supporting girls in your school to lead (Be Her Lead)

23 November – Men Supporting Women’s Rights (Glasgow)

Men’s violence against women is a men’s problem that has traditionally been left for women to tackle. This can’t go on.

A group of men in Glasgow and encouraging you to meet and discuss how to resist and lessen the restrictive influences of masculinity, making life better – in the process – for women, girls and other men.

This meeting will have a specific emphasis on practical ways that men can support women in their various current political struggles to secure and further their rights – rights that men, as a sex-class, consciously seek to erode or carelessly jeopardise by under-valuing them.

Watch out for our Chai Day Calendar next week!


Sioned Jones for Inspiring Girls

“I feel really proud of what I’ve achieved and I think that is really good for your self-esteem”

This International Day of the Girl why not do something practical to help young girls around the world? Be part of the Inspiring Girls video hub and share some of your knowledge and experience in a short film. It’s very easy – here’s our CEO, Sioned Jones’ submission!

To find out how to submit your own video follow this link to Inspiring Girls video hub and get recording!

Make sure to tag us in your submissions!

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #DayoftheGirl


Cry Power Podcast

Listen below to catch Annie on the first episode of Hozier’s new podcast series Cry Power in partnership with our friends at Global Citizen. You can listen here!

The Cry Power podcast is hosted by Hozier in partnership with Global Citizen, talking to inspirational artists and activists about how to change the world. In its inaugural episode, Hozier talks with Annie Lennox about why feminism must be inclusive of men; how her personal story of activism is rooted in her family; and how music can make change happen. But it’s not all talk — you can join the Global Citizen movement and take action below to end gender inequality all over the world. Subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Acast now.

“I’m absolutely delighted to be part of ‘#CryPower’ – the brand new ‘Hozier – Global Citizen’ podcast in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Goal Number 5 (Gender Equality) represents the urgent need for transformation and empowerment in every aspect of the lives of millions of women and girls everywhere around the world. From education to protection against gender based abuse and violence. There is a desperate need for #GlobalFeminism everywhere!”

– Annie Lennox

In Global Citizen’s piece on the podcast, James Hitchings-Hales writes “The last time Annie Lennox met Hozier, they were rehearsing a duet together in a Los Angeles hotel room — without yet realising that their shared vision for the world around them stretched further than music.

Years later, the two are in a recording studio across central London, relaxing into a dark leather sofa. They’re talking about how art has often defined activism throughout history — in conversation for the first episode of the Cry Power podcast in partnership with Global Citizen.

“Music defines change,” Lennox says, later pointing to Childish Gambino’s This Is America as a music video that truly woke people up, a moment Hozier agrees is an “arresting piece of work.” He suggests that music can tell the truest stories about human experience: “It’s a real vehicle for the zeitgeist.”

Lennox and Hozier, now close friends, talk for over an hour. The topic: global feminism, pertaining to the fifth of the UN’s Global Goals — achieving gender equality to empower all women and girls. They touch on everything from education and HIV/AIDS, to #MeToo and gender violence. ”

Read the rest of the article here!

#GlobalFeminism


An Evening of Music and Conversation: in the Media

“Western feminists must wake up and realise that feminism is a global concept. We must change attitudes and behaviours when it comes to sexual abuse, domestic abuse, sexual violence and rape”

We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who joined us on 26 September for Annie Lennox: An Evening of Music and Conversation. We hope you had just as wonderful a time as we did!

You can read more about Annie’s event and how the concert is supporting some of the most disempowered women and girls around the world through the work of The Circle below:

“I am a resourced, wealthy, self-made woman. All I really want to do is enjoy my life and make the best of it. But I also want to make a contribution. I have really felt this passion. I never wanted to preach to people. It is a turn-off.”

Read the full article in The Scotsman that highlights some of Annie’s key messages from her performance and a run down of the evening!

Coverage of the concert was also covered in The Evening Times! You can find images of some attendees here.

#GlobalFeminism #WomenEmpowering


Campaigning Against Fast Fashion

Photo credit: @extinctionrebellion

This month The Circle are focusing on raising awareness of ethical and sustainable concerns within the fast fashion industry. The #SecondHandSeptember campaign being led by Oxfam is something that we are supporting: promoting the importance of vintage and charity shopping as a stand against fast fashion and the poor conditions and pay of workers in the garment industry.

2019 has seen some incredible activism take place on issues concerning the industry. We have seen some powerful strikes and protests on the streets whilst also seeing some moving and alarming documentaries which are showing just how much of a crisis we are in. In April 2019 I wrote an article called ‘Who Made Your Clothes?’ in which I mention Livia Firth’s important argument about the complicated issue of not wanting to buy into the fast fashion industry, whilst also being aware of the fact that many women and girls earn their living from it. We need our governments to start recognising ways of tackling this complicated crisis.

“Activism works…see you on the streets” – Greta Thunberg, September 2019 Ambassadors of Conscience Awards

Second Hand September is all about encouraging consumers to rethink their perspective on the fashion industry by asking questions such as “Where and how was this t-shirt made?” How was it transported? What affect did the transport of this item have on our planet?” . One question leads onto another. The more questions we start asking, the more complicated they become. We find that we cannot find all of the answers because of lack of transparency and this is where it becomes deeply worrying. Not only are workers dying as a result of this industry, but also young children who are living amongst the waste that we have created and developing health issues such as cancer because of it.

This month we have seen millions of people across the world strike, protest and campaign about climate change. Over the past few years we have also seen people standing in solidarity against unethical practices of the fast fashion industry as well as brilliantly made whilst upsetting documentaries which expose them. Carry on reading to find out about these incredible campaigns and people who are taking action. Be inspired to also take action in your everyday life.

On Friday 20th September 2019 millions of people around the world protested the fact that although a climate emergency has been declared, our governments are not responding. So, like Greta, passionate advocates for saving our planet took to the streets. The Guardian called it the ‘biggest climate protest ever’. For the first time adults were asked to join and this led to people leaving their work places, including doctors and nurses. Education chiefs in New York City allowed the 1.1 million children the chance to ‘attend the climate strike and hear Thunberg speak at a rally at the United Nations headquarters.’ Every person on the planet is being called to action and we need to respond.

Photo credit: Film still from The True Cost

“Poverty wages, long hours, forced overtime, unsafe working conditions, sexual, physical and verbal abuse, and repression of trade union rights are all commonplace” – Labour Behind the Label

Labour Behind the Label are challenging the ethical side of fast fashion and they are the ‘the only UK campaign group that focuses exclusively on labour rights in the global garment industry.’ They are dedicated to holding brands accountable for their lack of transparency. This incredible campaign endeavours to form international solidarity. One of the amazing things they have done has been to push UK retailers to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Labour Behind the Label is physically changing peoples’ lives. Another important part of their work are the reports that they research and publish which is vital for ensuring that we hear the truth.

Many incredible campaigns and documentaries are challenging the fast fashion industry and revealing its corrupt and hidden secrets. On 18th September 2019 a documentary called Breaking Fashion aired on BBC Three. The series follows the company In The Style who launch a collection every two weeks in collaboration with fashion influencers. The CEO Adam Frisby states that he likes to challenge anyone who says fast fashion is unsustainable. As the episode unfolded, we witness the problems that the fast fashion industry is criticized for, as being fundamental parts to how this company operates. For example, needing their factory in China to produce a size 12 product and fly it across the world in 48 hours is highlighting issues such as air pollution and the amount of plastic packaging required. What is more, who are the garment workers? We know that clothing is made in both Chinese and UK factories but what are the factory conditions like? What materials are used? If companies like In The Style want to challenge the criticism that the fast fashion industry receives then they need to show more transparency in the manufacturing process. Refinery 29 support this as Jazmin Kopotsha quoted Frisby “When people think fast fashion, that it means it’s not sustainable and it means they don’t care, I like to challenge that,” Adam tells the camera. Kopotsha then argues “In the first episode at least, it’s not explicitly clear how In The Style does so.” How can it be possible for fast fashion and sustainability to work in harmony?

Producing clothing fast means something has to give. Manufacturers don’t want to shut down or raise their prices. So, ultimately, that something is a human life. Andrew Morgan, director of the film The True Cost (2015) states that “cutting corners and disregarding safety measures had become an accepted part of doing business” until the Rana Plaza collapse. The footage of the collapse is harrowing to watch and shines a serious light on the hidden and corrupt side of fast fashion. People were saying that they could still hear screaming underneath the rubble. They were crying out for help. Lucy Siegle, one of three Executive Producers of the film asks us to question why these businesses are not able to support human rights “whilst generating these tremendous profits[…]Is it because it doesn’t work properly? That is my question.”

“The whole system begins to feel like a perfectly engineered nightmare for the workers trapped inside of it.” – Andrew Morgan

Photo credit: Film still from The True Cost

When we compare Breaking Fashion with The True Cost it is hard to look at fast fashion in the same way again. According to Lucy Siegle for The Guardian, Andrew Morgan and producer Michael Ross “have joined the dots between fashion, consumerism, capitalism and structural poverty and oppression, and will never shop in the same way again”. For those of you who have not seen this documentary I would really urge you to. The film reveals the human cost of fast fashion in which we are all complicit. We are all responsible. And we are all capable of stopping this “engineered nightmare” .

If you would like to learn more about fast fashion, please read further into the following and be inspired by the collective voice of fast fashion activists and campaigns striving to make their governments listen.

Some of the people to follow:

– Livia Firth, one of the Founders of The Circle and Eco-age and Executive Producer of The True Cost.
– Lucy Siegle, Journalist and author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?
– Greta Thunberg, Climate Activist
– Vandana Shiva, Environmental Activist and author
– Tansy Hoskins, author of Stitched Up
– Stacy Dooley, BBC documentary Fashion’s Dirty Secrets

Campaigns:

– The Circle’s advocacy work arguing that the living wage is a fundamental human right, which you can donate to here.
The Clean Clothes Campaign is based in the UK and represented by Labour Behind the Label.
Extinction Rebellion who are inviting you to join them at 10am Monday 7th October for a two week peaceful protest the streets of central London as they demand change from our British Government.
Centre of Sustainable Fashion at UAL

Photo credit: @extinctionrebellion

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism

This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is an intern for The Circle. Georgia is a recent English graduate and is passionate about women’s rights and the underlying issues in the fast-fashion industry.


South Africa’s Gender-Based Violence State of Emergency

Uyinene Mrwetyana

I’d like to share a bit about my week as The Circle’s Relationship Manager, as dual South African / British citizen and as an empowered woman lucky enough to be born into a reality seemingly more equal than others. I spend most of my professional time and energy connecting inspiring women to each other and finding ways that they can support some of the most vulnerable women and girls globally. The voices we amplify through The Circle tell stories of injustices that are so far removed from my own life experiences that I desperately want them to not be real. But they are.

The women whose stories we share are more than just statistics, they are women like you and me. I could be her; she could be you. As a member of The Circle, I have found many avenues to transform the shock of these stories and my own denial, grief and anger into activism. This is not enough, but is something, and when connected with the energy and action of the other members and seeing women empowered because we are choosing to do something instead of nothing, that feels like claiming back the power to bring about the change we so desperately need. Outside of work I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by kind, supportive people, who have set high expectations for how we should be as human beings. Professionally and personally people in my life give me space to express my passion for equality, to rant, to cry, to rage and this support is essential to my mental health and wellbeing.

The first week in September 2019 has been a dark one. Media in South Africa has and continues to report stories of victims who were brutally murdered, exposing the epidemic of gender-based violence across the land. Blood of South Africa’s women spilled by men who knew them intimately or not at all. This week the echoing silence of those in power was heard loudly over the lamentations of the people. We have watched as that silence was broken with language blaming the victims for the crimes committed against them. The public lashed back as women and men shared the governments official statement with corrections made in red font, like a learned response from a teacher to a pupil whose work missed the point of the exercise entirely, the only thing missing was a red letter F circled in the top corner.

To many, South Africa represents the most progressive country on the continent. Colonisation instilled the western ideologies and systematic structures as a foundation familiar to tourists from the West. So why shine a light on country with more financial stability that its neighbours? Let’s begin with August 2018. South Africa’s Women’s Day is held on the 8 August and is meant to be a month of celebration of the mothers and daughters of the country in remembrance of the women uprising against the Apartheid Pass Laws in 1956. Instead, thousands of my South Africa sisters halted the empty celebratory tokenisms to unite their voices in protest against the gender-based violence, which currently holds more than half the population hostage to fear and threat of violence, assault and femicide. The #TotalShutdown movement saw uprisings across the country with the clear message #MyBodyNotYourCrimeScene. Fast forward to 1 April 2019, South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa declared that gender-based violence in South Africa as a ‘national crisis’. A declaration was signed with a promise to eradicate the femicide that is taking the lives of South Africa’s women on a daily basis. 2016 data from the World Health Organisation reports that the femicide rate in South Africa was 12.1 per 100,000, almost 5 times higher than the global average of 2.6 per 100,000. In his address to the Nation, Ramaphosa stated that ‘’According to the SAPS Crime Statistics report of 2018, femicide increased by 11% over the last two years,” he told the assembled crowd. “Stats SA reports that 138 per 100,000 women were raped last year, the highest rate in the world.”

Our story continues on 3 September, the date on which the body of a young women, Uyinene Mrwetyana, was found dumped in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Uyinene, a daughter, sister a friend was violently assaulted and raped before being bludgeoned to death with scales at a post office in Cape Town. The horror of crime against a woman who was simply trying to collect a parcel from the Clareinch post office has sparked a national outcry from the people of South Africa . Uyinene’s body was found a mere 15-minute drive from The Circle’s partner project, Nonceba Family Counselling Centre, a refuge for women who are victims of sexual violence and assault. Personally, this fact has hit a nerve for me. I share stories about the women empowered by the life changing work this shelter on a daily basis and our members inspire me with their ideas on how to raise funds essential to continuing this work. Even more importantly, I have heard women tell me personally about how Nonceba has literally saved their lives. Their voices are my beacon of hope this week, knowing that they are reclaiming their lives back from the violence a mere 15 minutes down the road from where Uyinene’s body was found.

I have spilled many tears this week. I have had very difficult, but important conversations with the men in my life, I have listened to the rage of women, and I have grieved for the lives of women taken by men and gender-based violence, especially in South Africa. I took some time yesterday afternoon to cry for the lives lost and those left behind, irrevocably changed forever. I had a cup of tea, put my Relationship Manager hat on and joined a conference call. I listened as members in the USA shared their thoughts with me on how they want to do more to help victims of sex trafficking by supporting our partner project ACT Alberta. Another member reached out to tell me about a series of music events she has lined up to support our projects, one of which will be a Chai Day to raise funds to support victims of gender-based violence. My inbox is full of inspiring ideas and hope from people who are unequivocally demanding change. The women I work with have, without even knowing it, pulled me from my own personal despair this week and I am forever grateful for the connections I have as a member of The Circle.

These glimmers of hope reminded me that in moments of tragedy doing something positive is always better than doing nothing.

So I took action.

I made a donation to Nonceba in the hope that I can help safe another life.

I shared stories of victims with people, in person and online, to help raise awareness and break the taboos.

I signed this petition calling for South Africa’s  parliament to declare gender-based violence as a state of emergency. According to the Change.org petition, the number of women murdered by men in South Africa is approximately 3000 per year, while approximately 50,000 women will experience sexual assault or physical violence per year. By comparison, Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency in February 2019 when the more than 8500 cases of rape were reported in 2018.

I registered to host a Chai Day for The Circle to raise essential funds needed to empower victims of gender-based violence to reclaim their lives and to be part of the movement to raise awareness and end the violence.

I wrote this blog post to share the pain and stories of our global sisters.

Finally, I am asking you to join me in doing something small too, so that our small actions can collectively be part of something powerful and life changing for a woman or girl facing injustices that no human being should have to face.

The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre: Siyanda and her son

#WomenEmpoweringWomen#GlobalFeminism


Interview with our Living Wage Project Manager

 

Earlier this year, Sharon McClenaghan joined The Circle as the project manager for our Living Wage work. For September, we are focusing on the progress we’ve made with this project and wanted to give our readers this chance to hear from Sharon herself. We sat down and asked her a few questions.

Welcome! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi Anna, thank you for the welcome. I joined the Circle in April 2019 as the part-time project manager of the Living Wage project. I have a background in labour rights having worked at Christian Aid for over 10 years as private Sector advisor and in that capacity as a director on the board of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) for 2.5 years. During that time I helped lead the work on improving conditions for workers in supply chains in South Africa in the fruit sector, working with high street supermarkets such as Sainsburys Waitrose and Co-op. Before that I worked on a DFID project focused on developing supermarket codes of conduct sensitive to the conditions of women workers and before that again I worked on a PhD looking at the conditions of women workers in ‘maquiladoras’ (or sweatshops) in the Dominican Republic. I also work in a team of consultants evaluating UN projects.

What have you been working on since starting at The Circle?

Since April, we have been busy working on the next stage of the Living Wage
project and building on the very strong report which The Circle produced in 2017 with the aim of producing a second report later in the year. The first report clearly establishes the living wage as a fundamental right, making the argument that production can move to other countries where wages are cheaper. In order to counter this, the second report will provide the basis of a new legal directive that will oblige garments/fashion companies to pay a living wage throughout the supply chain in all jurisdictions. New research was commissioned by the Lawyer`s Circle Steering group in April and May and this was developed into a proposal (which will form the basis of the report). In June we held a Roundtable with invited guests, the majority of whom were lawyers from academia and companies, at Matrix Chambers to discuss this and to help us think through the next stages of a legal framework on living wages and and what support we need to develop to enable this to happen.


What can we expect from the Living Wage project over the coming months?

We have a lot planned for the next few months. We are currently writing the second living wage report, due to be completed in September. In October I will attend the PLWF conference (a Dutch based initiative representing the investor sector in Holland) which encourages and monitors investee companies to address the non-payment of living wage in their global supply chains. We have worked with PLWF before to support their work and plan to strengthen this partnership. In November Jessica Simor and Livia Firth, members of the Steering group of the Living wage project will speak at the Trust conference London 2019, a global human rights forum in which they will `soft launch` the report. Towards the end of the year we are planning a Living Wage Symposium which will bring together all those working on the Living wage as well as those working on the wider issue of mandatory human rights due diligence as it relates to companies. The focus of the symposium will be to discuss the legal framework for a living wage as proposed in the report and the different work and initiatives related to this. The symposium will be ‘solutions orientated’ in focus.

What have you found most surprising about the conditions of women working
in the factory industry?

Probably most surprising and depressing s the fact that conditions remain so poor for so many women working in supply chains after so long. Initially, 20 years ago, there was a lot of hope that company codes of conduct would improve conditions but time has shown that this is just not the case. If anything the lack of a legal imperative to change has meant that for many companies, corporate social responsibility, CSR, is a rue and its `business as usual` despite promoting commitments to change.

Are you hopeful about the future of the industry?

I am cautiously hopeful (as is my nature!) about the future of the industry. I see the growing phenomena of `fast fashion` and its dependence upon cheap labour as alarming especially examples where clothes are produced here in the UK for a few pounds. However, at the same time I see a growing trend in the UK and other European countries to call companies to account for their human rights and to push for a legal solution to ensure that they take responsibility for workers`s rights. In that context I think the Circle`s legal work on the living wage is critical- while there are those working on mandatory `human rights due diligence` as it relates to companies and their supply chains, only the Circle is working on that as it relates to Living wage.

What can we do, as consumers, to support women across the globe working in the garment industry?

As consumers the most important thing is be thoughtful and questioning as to the conditions in which clothes are made. Ask questions of brands as to the conditions under which garments are produced. What is their policy on labour standards and in particular on the Living Wage? Do they have full disclosure of their supply chains and are they transparent about this? How do they investigate allegations of abuse? Ask these questions of all brands. I think its very hard to know currently which brands are `good` and which are `bad` especially since there is still no way to ensure that clothing has been produced in an ethical way with living wages paid to workers. By asking questions and demanding answers of brands we can help push them further along that road and when there is a campaign for binding legislation.

Finally, what does ‘Women Empowering Women’ mean to you?

I love the idea of women empowering women and it was that which first attracted me to The Circle. I have always been very proud to call myself a feminist and one with a lovely husband and two lovely boys so there isn’t anything remotely anti-male about the idea to me, despite it being threatening to some men. However, yes, the focus is on women making changes happen for themselves and for other women in a non hierarchical way and in a way where there is no competition or threat just the desire to improve the conditions of all women, which benefits everyone, men and women.

To support our Living Wage work click here. Sharon McClenaghan will be hosting The Circle Connects: Living Wage on 24 September for our members to find out more about the project – register here.


Global Feminist Calendar September and October 2019

Photo Credit: March4Women

In addition to The Circle’s own events taking place throughout Autumn, there are plenty of feminist events happening in your area. So get inspired!

5 September – GalCal IRL – Community (London)

Get to know that Instagram friend, that artist, the founder and more. This is your opportunity to talk about the power of real conversations with talented people, getting right to the straight talk, a chance to really network and understand the importance.

Taking place at Peckham Levels, meet a new network of inspiring women!

8 September – Stretch in Solidarity (London)

As part of fundraising for the Great River Race, one of our members is hosting a charity yoga day to raise money for Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in South Africa.

The team have set themselves an ambitious fundraising target and in addition to donations, Vasiliki is holding a series of yoga events at The Power Yoga Company for those who want to support her in achieving her target and do a little yoga.

There is a minimum donation of £5 and only 30 spaces so its first come, first served.

10 September – The Period is Political (London)

In preparation to galvanise period activism across the country (world?), Bloody Good Period invites you to The Period Is Political.

Yes! Led by Gabby Edlin, the founded of Bloody Good Period, the panel discussion will be involving the US menstrual equity activist Jennifer Weiss Wolf, The Body Shop’s Head of Brand Activism Jessie Macneil-Brown, and #endtampontax campaigner Laura Coryton.

12 September – Brave Education for Trafficking Prevention (Calgary)

A night of optimism, empowerment and jaw dropping performances in Calgary to raise funds for the victims of trafficking. There will be a silent auction where you can win incredible prizes and a number of talks from activists and experts in the field.

By supporting BRAVE Education programs, you are helping provide life-saving prevention education in schools and communities. Our Goal is to have sex trafficking prevention education included in curriculum for all Alberta children from Grades 4 and up, given the average age of recruitment is 12-14, across all demographics.

Get your tickets now!

14 September – The Great River Race (London)

Members and friends of The London Circle, a collective within The Circle, will be rowing the Great River Race in September to raise funds for The Circle to go towards supporting the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in South Africa. They will be completing this challenge in a dragon boat, a skill new to the entire team, who will be training hard over the coming months.

The Great River Race is London’s River Marathon, a spectacular boat race along the River Thames that attracts over 330 crews from across the globe.
For the seventeen women who are taking part, this will surely be a challenge. Although some are experienced rowers, none of them have ever paddled a dragon boat before and regardless of ability, they will all be pushing themselves for a fantastic cause.

There is still time to donate to the team, or how about going to cheer them on?

19 September – Bloody Funny (London)

On September 19th, join the Bloody Good family for an extra special evening maxi-packed full of menstrual centred comedy, hosted by Jen Brister for Bloody Good Period.

Join Felicity Ward, Josie Long, Sophie Duker, Bridget Christie, Rosie Jones, Rose Matafeo and Ingrid Dahle at Union Chapel for an evening full of stand-up. Tell your pals, bring your pads and get ready for an evening full of all thing’s menstruation.

26 September – Annie Lennox: An Evening of Music and Conversation (Glasgow)

Following the resounding success of the first evening held in March 2018 at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London – Annie Lennox will once again share thoughts, memories and reflections during an event of conversation, musical performance and visual imagery on 26th September 2019.

We are absolutely thrilled that Annie will be doing this event again to raise funds and awareness for us and our work. All proceeds from the evening ‘Annie Lennox – An Evening of Music and Conversation’ will be donated to The Circle to help us create transformative change in the lives of girls and women facing the challenges of gender disempowerment across the globe.

Unfortunately, this event is now sold out.

27 September – The Oxford Circle X After Hours (Oxford)

From September, The Oxford Circle will be rolling out a regular programme of events and are inviting you to join them for their next event, The Oxford Circle x After Hours at The Ashmolean.

Network with incredible women, enjoy live music, and enjoy the surroundings of some of the exquisite Ashmolean galleries. There will be a cash bar, and we will be running a raffle with prizes donated by local businesses to raise money for The Oxford Circle’s current project, the Nonceba Women’s Shelter.

2 October – Global Feminism: Amá (London)

Amá is a feature length documentary which tells an important and untold story: the abuses committed against Native American women by the United States Government during the 1960’s and 70’s: removed from their families and sent to boarding schools, forced relocation away from their traditional lands and involuntary sterilization.

The Circle are screening this incredible film as part of our Global Feminism film series. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with the Director, Lorna Tucker who will be joined by Charon Asetoyer.

3 October – Chai Day Launch (London)

We would like to invite our members to the launch of our Chai Day 2019 campaign. This evening will be an opportunity to network with fellow members, learn more about our Chai Day projects and hear from some incredible speakers, including Isabelle Kerr from Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis.

We hope that you will join us on 3 October to show your support for the survivors of gender-based violence and that you leave feeling inspired to host a Chai Day to raise vital funds for our projects.

5 October – New Suns Feminist Book Fair (London)

A bookfair and day of talks, workshops and screenings, exploring contemporary feminism and technology.

The day will include workshops, talks and screenings exploring technofeminism, storytelling, sonic ritual, gender identity, reproductive justice and indigenous knowledge with writers, artists, mystics, poets and academics. In the spirit of the 1980s international feminist bookfairs, there will also be over thirty stalls to explore across Level G, and selected events for free.

6 October – Invisible Women (Manchester)

Join campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez as she chats to Alex Clark about her new book, Invisible Women. The book explores the data biases that impact on women’s lives and health – from the use of male crash test dummies to the temperature of our offices, so many things have been designed with men in mind. What would the world look like if things were a bit more equitable?

16 October – Girl Space (Leeds)

A day festival celebrating and showcasing female creatives.

The day will include performances from dancers, an art exhibition and a number of workshops, a skate workshop, panel discussions, djs, spoken word and much more!

Head down to Hyde Park Book Club for this event!

23 October – In Our Own Words: Women of Colour in Scottish Media (Glasgow)

Throughout history, black women’s voices have been missing from the media. New platforms offer opportunities to hear new voices, and BBC’s the Social is one way that women of colour have reached new audiences for their work. Join Gender Equal to hear from contributors to the Social, revisit their work, and explore questions around creative freedoms, precarious work, and speaking out.

24 October – The Lawyers Circle Networking (London)

Connect with other like-minded women at The Lawyers Circle’s first networking event to discuss how our legal community can do even more to support and empower marginalised women.

Join us on the 24 October at Stewarts for an evening of bubbles, networking and thought-provoking speakers. Please bring along any friends or colleagues who may also want to join