Who Made Your Clothes?

 

Over the last few years the words ‘sustainability’ and ‘ethical’ in relation to the fashion industry, have been taking the headlines by storm. On 24th April 2013, it was reported that a factory had collapsed in Bangladesh, leading to the deaths of more than 1,000 workers. Bangladesh is one of the largest garment producers in the world. When we shop on the high street there are no signposts signalling that slavery may be prevalent within their supply chains. We see these amazing garments and are excited to try them on and shop the latest trends but, we do not see the faces of the women who make these garments.

As a person who is highly interested in the craftmanship of clothes and the reinvention of trends, I am conflicted by how I can invest in this industry without contributing to the continuing unethical practices of the fashion industry. We need to make changes in how we make, source, and produce the clothes. Government bodies and retailers need to be made accountable: Eco-age is doing just that.

In an interview for the sustainability consultancy Eco-age, our very own Livia Firth who co-founded The Circle, describes the first time she visited a factory in Bangladesh. In 2013 Firth travelled with Oxfam and says it “changed my entire life”. They were “smuggled” into a factory where there were “armed guards at the doors so no one could come in and out”, “armed bars at the windows, no fire escape […] the floor was full of women who had to produce 100 pieces an hour and these women had no rights” such as no sick leave and only two toilet breaks a day. Even if their child was sick, not working would result in a loss of their jobs. As Livia Firth goes on to say, we are so far-removed from this horrific situation that it is hard to believe that the clothes we wear everyday are linked to this inhumane treatment.

Bangladesh is “such a vibrant, beautiful country, and the women deserve so much more” – Livia Firth

 

I love what Livia Firth also says in this EcoAgeTV video which you can watch on YouTube (see link above). The responsibility lies in all of us, not just the retailers and government bodies who have an immense responsibility to make changes.

The day after the crack was discovered in the factory, the garment workers did not want to go inside but they were threatened. The factory was under pressure to fulfil the orders. Nazma Aktar, Founder and Executive Director of the Awaj Foundation says, “the previous night, everybody knew the factory was not safe. The politicians and the manufacturers forced the workers to enter. It is murder.”

The garment industry is a complicated web of problems that are hard to solve. Aktar goes on to say that out of 4 million workers in the garment industry, 80% are women coming from very poor families who live in the countryside and entering into the urban economy. These jobs are very important for them. If their salaries go up, the factory will close down.

“The multi-nationals always said, if you price more we will leave this country, we will leave this business from Bangladesh.” – Nazma Aktay

 

 

On 11th May 2017 The Circle launched The Living Wage report in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. It is the first report to demand the Living Wage for garment workers.

The report sets out the legal argument that a living wage is a fundamental human right, and that companies and governments have a responsibility to uphold this right.

The report starts by clearly stating how efforts to prevent labour exploitation have been non-binding. They have been ‘voluntary codes and initiatives designed, implemented and monitored by the retail companies that control the supply chain, and normally developed in response to negative publicity generated by investigations carried out by NGOs or the media.’ This behaviour is corrupt. It is utterly inhumane that retailers are not upholding their responsibility to protect their workers. This is where the work that The Circle are doing is fundamental to making progress in the debate about the living wage. The Circle are combining activism and research within a legal framework. This report could really shake up the debate.

Ultimately though, as Firth reminds us, we all have a responsibility to change the face of fashion. We live in a throw-away society and when we discard a garment after only a couple of wears, we are not taking a moment to remember who made it. When we buy and buy and buy, we are giving these companies the means to produce more, faster; “we are completely complicit in the system”. But when we do not buy into this industry, we are taking away work from these women.

We “cannot boycott or stop buying because they need to work”

 So, we need to be actively seeking ways to go to the source of the problem, expose the corruption and improve the lives of these women who deserve so much more.

Firth tells Harper’s Bazaar Netherland of some useful tips for how we can shop differently and not treat these women like slave labour. We need to show them that “we really respect their work and we value the things that they make. So, when they sweat on their production line, producing 150 pieces an hour, make them know that we value them, that we are not going to wear them once or twice and then throw them away”

I would highly recommend reading the report (it’s a long one so grab a cup a tea and a couple of biscuits) and get ready to be thoroughly inspired.

Be part of the change. This is just the beginning.

#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.

 


Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Human Rights Violation

Photo Credit: Tim Freccia, World Vision.

“At least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of female genital mutilation or cutting” (UN Women)

This February, news headlines have been focusing a lot on FGM/C due to it being a month in which many individuals, charities and organisations raise awareness of this life-threatening practice.

FGM/C is practiced in at least 30 countries and at least 200 million girls and women have been cut. Over 100 million cases have happened across Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia alone. Despite both the physical and mental health consequences, FGM/C is a practice rooted in tradition. It is a tradition which has been around for hundreds of years which means putting an end to it is a very complex and sensitive issue.

“Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” (World Health Organization)

In February 2018, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women stated for International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM/C that “FGM is an act that cuts away equality”. Women suffer immense pain and a lifetime of complications such as neonatal death. Girls are cut with no opportunity to defend themselves, no voice to say no. This is a human rights violation.

FGM/C is usually carried out on young women between infancy and 15 years of age. Before these girls become adults’, the possibility to have a natural childbirth is taken away from them. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), women are at a significant risk of complications such as a post-partum haemorrhage, a prolonged and obstructed labour and worse of all losing their baby. FGM/C has no health benefits; so why are women and girls being forced to suffer such immense pain?

FGM/C is rooted in tradition and culture. Mlambo-Ngcuka stated this month how this practice is a form of gender-based violence and cannot be isolated from other forms of violence against women and girls. Neil Williams of World Vision UK reported for girlsnotbrides.com about travelling to Ethiopia to meet girls at risk of FGM/C and their families. Through the conversations Williams had with the girls and their families, we begin to understand how FGM/C and child marriage are intrinsically linked. Parents fear abduction and pre-marital sex and so remove their daughters from school and arrange to have them cut and married at an early age. Devastatingly, this is considered a safer alternative.

In a statement for the 2017 International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Mlambo-Ngcuka highlighted how children living in communities where FGM/C is practiced will not finish school and will therefore have limited employment prospects. The cycle continues as girls who have mothers without an education are more likely to be subjected to FGM/C. They see their daughters being cut as adding value to their lives, securing a future marriage and family honour. Then again it is also seen as suppressing their sexuality. Young women and girls are cruelly stripped of the opportunity to make their own choices about their future. In some communities’ girls are not educated beyond lower secondary school, leading them to get married as it is believed their future prospects will be greater. There are also a lack of job opportunities and these jobs are prioritized for boys’. But educating girls can prevent the reoccurrence of child marriage and FGM/C. Education can create a future for girls where they are not limited by decisions made about their bodies without their consent.

FGM/C is tied up in a complex web of other human rights issues which we must simultaneously address.

According to UNICEF, in Djibouti where 78% of women and girls are subjected to FGM/C, a woman named Mariam Kako was cut at five years old. A razorblade was used to perform the type of FGM/C called pharaonic. When her daughter was born Kako told her mother that she would be not cut. Her mother ignored those wishes, showing her deeply held belief in this tradition. Kako’s baby girl died 40 days later at six months old. Kako now works to educate the population through encouraging people to tell their stories and refuting the myth that FGM/C is associated with religion. Many communities believe that child marriage and FGM/C are a ‘marker of their religious identity’. However, in religious scripture, this is not a requirement.

Experiences like Mlambo-Ngcuka’s and Mariam Kako’s stories are deeply personal and these women are incredibly brave to speak up about what they have been through to help expose the brutal effect FGM/C has on women and girls;

Photo Credit: Ashenafi Tibebe, The Elders. 2011.

“Public declarations against FGM in 2016 and 2017 helped save nearly 1,000 girls from cutting”

According to BBC News, by 2020 secondary school pupils in England will be educated on FGM as a dangerous practice. This education is incredibly important. According to UNICEF, between 2019 and 2030, 68 million girls will be cut if active steps are not taken to stop this brutal practice.

Many do not realise that FGM/C happens in the UK. Hibo Wadere told her story to the BBC, published on 4th February 2019. As a women she graphically describes the experience she went through as a six-year-old girl; the memories of blood and the screams still distressingly vivid.

UN Women are working with traditional leaders across Africa to increase commitment to ending child marriage and FGM/C. FGM/C is prevalent across 30 countries: 28 of them are in Africa. Queen Mother Best Kemigisa of the Tooro Kingdom, Uganda supports the work of UN Women. The Queen Mother states how people will listen to the religious and traditional leaders who uphold these practices as adding value to the lives of women and girls. The work UN Women are doing is vitally important. We need to work with these leaders and listen to their perspective in order for them to hopefully choose to listen to the reasons why these practices are unnecessary and harmful. If the minds of these leaders are changed, so too will the minds of their communities.

Annie Lennox’s Global Feminism campaign addresses how as feminists we must be looking at gender inequality on a global scale. It is about recognising that “Feminism needs to be relevant, appreciated and respected especially where the needs are greatest —in countries where women and girls are not even near the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of being able to realise the most fundamental of human rights.” – (Annie Lennox). Feminism is about reaching out to individual women and girls and addressing their individual needs which vary depending on where you live in the world. We must make sure to help encourage and strengthen the platform for women to speak up about their experiences of FGM/C and empower social and cultural change.

The UN have made it one of their sustainable development goals to “Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation” (Goal 5.3).

It is incredible that we dedicate February to raising awareness of FGM/C. We need intense periods of time where we gather together to educate people who are not aware of FGM/C or indeed the scale of the problem. But the campaigning cannot occur only in February. In order to continue fighting for women and girls to lead healthy lives, we must carry on discussing the issue and taking action to end it.

“Ending FGM is possible in our generation. It is no longer a dream. It is happening” – Regional UN Women Ambassador for Africa, Jaha Dukureh, at the Opening Session of the European Development Days, Spotlight Initiative section, June 2018

For more information about FGM/C visit the following link

#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.


One Reason Why I’m A Global Feminist

 

Annie Lennox, Founder of The Circle, on why she is a global feminist. Join the #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist movement on social media and tag Annie Lennox and @TheCircleNGO.

Like millions of women and men, I feel hugely inspired by the development of the #MeToo, Time’s Up and Women’s March movements.

I am proud to call myself a feminist and stand in solidarity with everyone who understands the vital need for change in attitudes and behaviours towards women and girls.

The feminist movement is a broad church with different interpretations, opinions and ideas. I identify myself as a ‘Global Feminist’ to describe where I’m coming from.

I believe in equality of rights, with empowerment and justice made available for every woman and girl in every corner of the world.

#OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist is a call to action bringing collective meaning and value to the term ‘Global Feminism’.

Prof Pamela Gillies, Vice-Chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University

Feminism needs to be relevant, appreciated and respected where the needs are greatest —in countries where women and girls are not even near the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of human rights. I’m impatient to see the ‘glass ceiling’ being smashed in my lifetime, so I’m inviting you to join me and The Circle, to create a massive advocacy wave to establish the term ‘Global Feminism’ and raise a better understanding about the bigger picture of global inequality.

This call to action will only take 5 minutes of your time.

Have your picture taken holding a sheet of paper with one selected handwritten reason why you identify yourself as a Global Feminist.

Post your picture on social media, using #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist and tag Annie Lennox and @TheCircleNgo so we can see your support. Feel free to help grow the campaign by tagging other organisations you support who work for the rights of women and girls and ask your friends, family and colleagues to join in too.

You will then become part of a collective wave for positive change for women’s rights around the world!

Sarah Brown, President of Theirworld.

Here are some reasons to choose from, in case you don’t already know them:

1.There are 757 million adults who cannot read or write —2 out of 3 of these are women.
2.In Africa, 28 million girls are not in education and will never step inside a classroom.
3.Over 750 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday.
4.Every minute of the day, one young girl (aged 15-24) contracts HIV.
5.Women and girls account for 71% of human trafficking victims.
6.Every day approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
7.Women make up only 22.8% of the worlds parliamentarian seats.
8. Across the world 39,000 girls under the age of 18 become child brides every day.
9. In developing countries,20,000 girls under the age of 18 give birth every day.
10. 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime.
11. 41 million girls living in developing countries around the world are denied a primary education.
12. 1 in 3 women and girls are impacted by physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Love,

Annie Lennox


Bina’s Story of Surviving Gender-Based Violence

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Go to full article


Annie Lennox to take part in the Vatican’s Concerto di Natale

 

Annie Lennox, Founder of The Circle, will take part in the 25th Concerto di Natale — Christmas Concert — on 16 December 2017 at the Aula Paolo VI, in the Vatican, under the patronage of the Congregation for Catholic Education.

All proceeds from tickets sales, as well as the donations to the solidarity SMS number 45549, will be donated to two projects that support vulnerable children: the Scholas Occurrentes foundation and the Global Don Bosco Foundation.

The Scholas Occurrentes Foundation, created by Pope Francis when he was still Archbishop of Buenos Aires, aims to end the use of child labour, often in slave-like conditions, in Congolese mines that extract cobalt, a mineral that is essential for the manufacture of smart phones and computers.

The Global Don Bosco Foundation teaches children to use digital communication in a safe way, focusing particularly in ending cyber bullying.

Annie will be singing along a top level cast, including Patti Smith (USA), Noa (Israel), Imany (France), Joaquín Cortés (Spain), Lola Ponce (Argentina), Hevia (Spain), Al Bano (Italy), Alex Britti (Italy), Suor Cristina (Italy), Gigi D’Alessio (Italy), Fabio Armiliato (Italy), Giò Di Tonno (Italy), Andrea Griminelli (Italy), Syria (Italy), Cheryl Porter & Hallelujah Gospel Singers (USA), Art Voice Academy (Italy) and Il Piccolo Coro di Piazza Vittorio (Italy).

For information on attendance and sale of tickets, please visit the Concerto di Natale website.


Annie Lennox on CBS The Talk

Photo credit: Johnny Vy/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

The Circle Founder Annie Lennox was on The Talk, on CBS, on Tuesday 7 November, to talk about her career and activism.

Annie talked about who inspired her as a young musician, being a mother and being described as a “gender bender” in the eighties. She also explained how she found her passion for women’s rights, and how seeing the devastation that HIV/AIDS has caused in Sub-Saharan Africa motivated her to become an activist.

About The Circle, Annie said “14 million girls around the world are not getting an education. One in three women around the world are exposed to gender-based violence, violence and abuse… There are huge things going on with women around the globe. This is why I call it ‘global feminism’ and this is why I founded The Circle, to inspire women”.

If you would also like to support women and girls around the world, click here to donate or become a member of The Circle.

 

 


“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.


Singer Annie Lennox Calls for Solidarity to Help Most Vulnerable Women

The Circle featured in Thomson Reuters Foundation News

 

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

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

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

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


Who is a Refugee? 8 Things You Should Know about the Refugee Crisis

Image credit: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times.

“Imagine living in a refugee camp where you are too scared to go the toilet, or being subjected to sexual harassment on a daily basis in your host community because of your gender or identity. This is the terrifying reality for hundreds of thousands of women and girls and LGBTI refugees around the world, and the shameful inaction of wealthy governments is prolonging it.”

These are the words of Catherine Murphy, Acting Director of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Programme at Amnesty International. In the run up to Refugee Week—19-25 June—, at The Circle we will try to address some of the misconceptions surrounding the refugee crisis, in particular trying to put a spotlight on the challenges and dangers faced by women and girls when leaving their home countries.

1. Who is a refugee?

According to UNHCR, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their country due to fear of violence or persecution. They most likely cannot return home because of war, or ethnic, tribal or religious violence or persecution. Refugee status entitles someone to legal protection and material assistance. States are required to protect refugees and not send them to countries where they risk violence or persecution.

2. Who is an asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is someone in the process of applying to be recognised as a refugee.

3. Is it easy to claim asylum?

The short answer is no.

Claiming asylum can be a complex process that can take many months. Asylum seekers have to prove to their potential host state that going back to their home country would put them at risk of persecution “for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. And even then, many applications aren’t successful—in 2015, 64% of initial asylum applications were refused in the UK.

Around 50% of asylum seekers are detained in Immigration Removal Centres while they await the decision on their refugee application.

4. Who is an economic migrant?

Someone who moves to another country driven by poor working or living conditions in their country of origin.

5. What is the refugee crisis?

In the past two years, Europe has experienced the largest movement of people since the Second World War. Around 1.3 million people claimed asylum in the EU in 2015 and a further 1.3 million in 2016, but the number of people who have been granted refugee status is much lower – approximately 292,000 in 2015 and 366,000 in 2016 (although the process of applying for asylum is long and those granted asylum may have applied in previous years).

Most asylum seekers have fled war and violence in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, but many others come from Kosovo, Albania, Pakistan and Eritrea.

6. Is the refugee crisis over? Why isn’t it in the media as much as it used to be?

It would indeed seem the refugee crisis is slipping out of mainstream consciousness. Although the number of refugees entering Europe peaked in 2015 (at 1.5 million), and the number of refugees arriving continues to decrease, over 70,000 people have entered Europe via the Mediterranean so far in 2017.

In addition to this, a number of interesting conclusions were drawn at a UNESCO conference on media and migration, which could help to explain the treatment of the crisis by the media. Firstly, journalists often misuse terms such as refugee and migrant. Some also fail to synthesise political rhetoric, leading to misleading and untrue stories, and there is failure to contextualise stories within the context of the refugee crisis.

According to Dr. Guita Hourani, Director of the Lebanese Emigration Research Centre at Notre Dame University, this comes down to a lack of training. Experts at the UNESCO conference agreed that newsrooms lack the means and support to be able to cover the crisis appropriately.

7. The situation in 2017

As of 30 May 2017, in the EU there have been:

• 124,000 applications for asylum
• 70,877 arrivals by Mediterranean sea (of which 11% are women; 16.5% are children)
• 1,729 dead and missing in the Mediterranean

8. Some of the issues that women migrants and refugees face

Most refugees worldwide are hosted by developing countries; nearly 500,000 people currently live in refugee camps across Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon—camps which can be highly dangerous for women. They often face sexual assault and violence when collecting firewood for cooking and when walking through poorly lit camps to use the toilet at night.

In addition to that, women do not have access to clinics they need in order to ensure their sexual health and their health during pregnancy. 15% of women fleeing conflict while pregnant are likely to face a life-threatening obstetric complication, with aid rarely to be found.

We’d like to hear about women-led projects helping refugees and of course stories from women refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. If you’d like to share your story with us, email us at hello@thecircle.ngo.