‘A Rapist in Your Path’: Exploring Chile’s Viral Protest Anthem

Photo credit: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

On November 25th, 2019 – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – the streets of Santiago, Chile, were filled by thousands of women joined in protest. The Chilean women sang an anthem entitled “Un violador en tu camino” (“A Rapist in Your Path”), a song dedicated to the widespread sexual violence and human rights violations suffered by women in the country. The message of the song has resonated not only with Chileans, but with women across the globe – by the end of December, the song and its associated dance moves had been performed by protest groups as far as Nairobi and Tokyo but what inspired the viral feminist anthem that has swept across six continents?

A deeper look at the lyrics of “A Rapist in Your Path” can illuminate the issues that women in Chilean society are facing today. These roots are deeply political, with the song’s creators – the feminist theatre group Lastesis, based in the coastal city of Valparaíso – aiming to draw attention to the role of institutional actors like the police, the courts and politicians in upholding the structure of violence in Chile. For example, the choice of title by the group is a reference to “A friend in your path”, the official slogan of the Chilean Carabineros police force during the 1980s-1990s. That the song alludes to police as perpetrators of violence is an accurate reflection of reality in Chile; the Carabineros have been the subject of numerous controversies and accusations of brutality in recent decades. The violent history of this police force has been reignited since the onset of the current period of widespread protest in Chile. Beginning in October in response to rising subway fares and severe income inequality in the country[5],  the movement has since expanded to include gender issues among the various causes motivating protestors.  Chile’s National Human Rights Institute (NHRI) reports that the state’s crackdown on ongoing peaceful protests has produced “the most serious and multiple human rights violations” committed in 30 years, since the country was ruled by military dictatorship. Since the protests began hundreds of cases of legal actions for torture and other forms of violence have been filed against the government and as of December at least 26 protest-related deaths have been recorded.  Some of this brutality has taken the form of sexual and gender-based violence. From the beginning of the protests in October until late November, the NHRI filed criminal complaints relating to 166 cases of alleged sexual violence within the context of the protests. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch documents reports of forced stripping in police custody and the observation that “the police appear to be more likely to force women and girls to strip than men”, making the message of Lastesis’ chant even more unsettling: “Over your dreams smiling and sweet, watches your loving cop.”

The likeness the NHRI draws between recent levels of violence from government forces with those seen in Chile 30 years ago – during the right-wing dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled the country from 1973-1990 – can help shed light on the sources of the Carabineros’ power and abusive tendencies. During Pinochet’s regime, an estimated 40,000 Chileans were the victims of political detention, torture and extra-judicial execution, human rights violations in which the Carabineros were directly involved. Women suffered in particular as victims of sexual abuse by Pinochet’s forces – sexual assault, rape and forced pregnancy were common acts of torture used in Pinochet’s numerous detention centres across Chile. The dictator was arrested for crimes against humanity in 1998, although he was never sentenced for his crimes.

Chile’s unfavourable relationship with women’s rights extends beyond the direct actions of government agents, to the conditions experienced by women in Chilean society more generally. Chile’s 28-year-old ban on abortion came to an end in 2017, however the circumstances under which it is permitted are still restricted, and doctors can still refuse to perform abortions on ‘moral grounds’. Latin America has been named as the most dangerous region in the world for women according to a 2017 UNDP report, home to 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world – a reality which has sparked protest movements across the region, most recently and notably Monday’s protest in Mexico which saw women nationwide go on strike in protest of the country’s rampant gender-based violence. 42 cases of sexual abuse are reported to the police in Chile alone each day, but only ¼ of these result in judicial rulings. This contributes to the shocking fact that over a third (35.7%) of women in Chile who have experienced either physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime. Positive news came earlier this week with the signing in of a landmark gender-based violence law, named the ‘Gabriela Law’, which expanded the definition of femicide and increased the range of sentence that can be handed down for the crime in Chile. This milestone was somewhat overshadowed, however, by Chilean President Sebastian Piñera’s controversial statement that “sometimes it’s not just that men want to commit abuse, but also that women put themselves in a position where they are abused.” Piñera’s regressive and victim-blaming comments, alongside the abysmal conviction rate of sexual violence cases by Chilean courts summarise a patriarchal culture in which “it’s the cops, the judges, the state, the president” who are complicit; “the oppressive state is a rapist”.

The summer months of January and February marked a pause in civil unrest in Chile, but 8th March saw over 1 million women take part in International Women’s Day marches across the country. Rallies and marches continued into 9th March as a combined force of feminist groups, students and others protested for wider change. In cities like Antofagasta, the protests were eventually shut down by the Carabineros with the use of tear gas to disperse crowds. Gender-based violence is clearly not a stand-alone cause in Chile, but rather a movement being fought alongside the broader social issues driving Chileans to protest and demand significant institutional reform. As we continue into March, a month often noted for experiencing high levels of unrest in the country as it marks the anniversary of the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship, the international community will watch on as the people of Chile fight for systemic change.

This article was written by Holly. Holly is 23 years old from East Sussex, England. Since graduating with a degree in Politics and Economics in 2018 she has worked and volunteered in Africa and Asia and is currently living in China. Her interests include human rights, international security and development.

 


Gender and the Climate Crisis

Photo credit: Jaipal Singh/EPA

Increasingly, the consequences of climate change are being felt the world over. Recently the media has been preoccupied with fires in Australia, flooding in the UK, changing demands for agricultural practices across the globe in response to changing weather conditions. Most of the humanitarian disasters caused by climate change, such as the food crises in Madagascar, Haiti, or Ethiopia in 2018, went underreported by the global media, despite natural disasters in 2018 alone being responsible for the deaths of at least 5 thousand people and subjected almost 29 million people to humanitarian aid. It is even less frequently reported that women are affected differently by climate change largely because of their additional responsibilities within their families and communities. How and why? We will explore these questions and consider the intersection of climate change and gender throughout this article.

Why?

Women are disproportionately affected by climate change as they are worse positioned in social, economic and political hierarchies. Women everywhere are less likely to influence decisions that affect their lives and women are more likely than men to be poor. While both men and women suffer in poverty and crises, gender discrimination means that women have far fewer resources to cope. They are likely to be the last to eat, the ones least likely to access healthcare, and are routinely trapped in time-consuming, unpaid domestic tasks. They are further disadvantaged due to lack of legal and land rights, which leaves them exposed to exploitation.

People with low income are overall more affected by crisis and the majority of the world’s poor are women. In rural areas, this can be because they depend on natural resources for food, water, and income, which are becoming increasingly scarce. Women are often the person responsible in the family for providing the resources to cook with, to use for heating, and for collecting water. Natural, local resources are disappearing and women in communities across the globe are required to walk further and further to get what they need.

Finally, women are more exposed to the negative impacts of disasters, such as sickness, injury, or even death, due to their lower socio-economic status, behavioural restrictions, and lesser access to information. In the past decades, these disasters have become more frequent and severe due to climate change.

While climate policies are yet to fully address the different impacts of climate change on different genders, there has been a shift towards implementing gender-sensitive climate policies to acknowledge the different needs of those affected and pave the way for climate action by, and for, women. Unlocking the capability of women is an important opportunity to creating and sustaining effective climate solutions.

How?

Education

Families often need to take their daughters out of school so they can help to make money, manage the household, or care for siblings. This creates developmental gaps in women’s lives that have several consequences, for instance, a lack of knowledge on climate change and ways to deal with its effects.

Child Marriage

When families struggle to survive due to the climate crisis, for example, if crops were bad and couldn’t be harvested, or the village was flooded, families might end up marrying off their young daughters to alleviate the financial strain. About 12 million girls are thought to have been married off due to natural disasters and reports have shown that human trafficking rises in areas where the natural environment is under stress. Child marriages are also linked to early pregnancy, which in itself can be a threat to the mother and the baby, in addition to limiting a girl’s access to education.

Health

Climate change can bring unpredictable weather patterns, less food, decreasing access to safe water and unstable living conditions. These factors affect women’s health in various ways. Firstly, women and girls are more likely to starve due to differences in income, employment opportunities and even cultural traditions that allow them to eat last and smaller proportions of meals. Secondly, some diseases are more dangerous for girls due to menstruation, pregnancy or young motherhood as women in these stages are already more exposed to develop complications such as infections, high blood pressure, severe bleeding, or unsafe abortions, especially if they don’t receive adequate healthcare. Additionally, if the country is heavily affected by disasters, there will be a disruption to health services which often leads to an increase in sexual and health problems.

Gender-based Violence

As in many crisis and conflicts, research has shown that the climate crisis increases physical, verbal, and sexual abuse against women. When women and children flee their homes as a result natural disaster or poverty caused by drought or floods, they become more vulnerable to human trafficking, rape, and child marriage and it has been shown that natural disasters have increased sexual trafficking by 20-30%. Migration can also be incredibly expensive, and vulnerable women are forced into owing sums of up to £40,000 in exchange for safe passage. They are told if they won’t pay, terrible thing will happen to their families, therefore they are forced into prostitution across Europe. However, money is not the only way gangs recruit women, they also use false promises of legitimate employment, and traditional ceremonies to have psychological control over them. According to the UN 80% of all Nigerian women who arrived in Italy by boat in 2016 will be trafficked into prostitution.

Additionally, sexual abuse is often found in unsustainable and illegal businesses, for instance in illegal fishing in Southeast Asia, logging in Congo, or mining in Colombia and Peru. There is also an increasing amount of violence directed against climate change activists and defenders.

 Solutions

First of all, we must protect and ensure girls’ education. It is the basis of affecting change across the board and a necessary element of a holistic solution. Not only it is every child’s right to receive an education, but this must be utilised to prepare children for the challenges associated with climate change and provide them with the resources to face these challenges. Through education, girls need to be supported to do the best they can and more, to be ambitious and to become leaders. Secondly, to empower women as agents of change and innovation rather than considering them purely as victims of climate change. If we support women into positions of leadership, climate policy, and decision making then we are enabling an environment for gender-sensitive environmental action to flourish. Despite women’s key role in climate action and coming up with effective solutions, they are still woefully underrepresented at the leadership level, particularly women of colour. We have to start by acknowledging the fact that women make decisions on climate change every day, that they are often responsible for childcare, purchasing decisions as consumers or influencing carbon emissions as farmers. The potential of women to transform their lives is unlimited – if they are given the opportunity to shine.

At The Circle, we aim to address the inequalities that women and girls face across the globe by empowering them directly and influencing change, policy systems, and processes. To find out more about our work click here.

This article was written by Anna Renfrew and Csenge Gábeli. Anna is the Project and Communications Officer at The Circle and Csenge is one of our volunteers. Csenge is a university student, a volunteer, and a feminist. She is originally from Hungary, but has started my university in London, which she loves.


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle ally Brett

“Besides the incredible women who were my role models throughout my life, I was also inspired by my favourite singer, Annie Lennox, and her passion for equal rights and gender equality.”

At The Circle, we are of the strong belief that the fight for gender equality has to be inclusive. To reach it, men can and must stand next to us as allies to the Global Feminist movement. Brett is one of our male allies and supports our work in a number of ways. As part of #WidenYourCircle, we wanted to catch up with him to discuss what it means to be an ally of The Circle.

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire surrounded by two strong and fearless female role models, my mother and my older sister, Karen. Another woman who had a huge impact on my life was my Aunt Elizabeth, who could toss together an amazing dandelion greens salad and lived by her own rules until she was well past 100! As a school teacher for over 50 years, Elizabeth was adamant about the importance of educating girls all over the world. In addition to teaching me about global feminism at an early age, she introduced me to the visual arts which has lead me to my career as a designer today. One of the most meaningful things Elizabeth taught me is that with the right tools, I can make change happen for myself and others. A perspective that has led me to this great organisation.

Why did you decide to become an ally of The Circle?

Besides the incredible women who were my role models throughout my life, I was also inspired by my favourite singer, Annie Lennox, and her passion for equal rights and gender equality. It was through Annie’s social media posts that I first learned about The Circle and their fight for marginalised women. After winning tickets to an Annie Lennox concert and being lucky enough to meet her in person, I knew that I wanted to become a part of this cause. Just as she is, I’m passionate about the organisation’s legal assistance and education efforts and want to help this worthy cause in any way I can.

How have you used your professional skills or knowledge as an ally of The Circle?

I’ve been in the world of graphic design for 30 years.  In an effort to increase visibility for the Circle, I use my creative skills to assist with web and book design, posters, and really whatever graphic design work they need. You may have seen my creativity on display with The Circle’s e-vites and Christmas cards. Contributing my work and expertise to a greater cause is very meaningful to me. And I think it would be to my Aunt Elizabeth as well.

Find out more about the different ways you can become an ally of The Circle by clicking here.


The Circle’s Living Wage Symposium

Photo credit: Nader Elgadi

On 8 November, we continued our work to ensure a Living Wage for the millions of women working in the garment industry by convening a symposium to bring together those with the same aim. We were joined at Pinsent Masons by incredible change-makers and enjoyed discussions from the legal, investment, corporate and NGO sectors as well as academics, and policy makers including Jessica Simor QC, ASOS, Continental Clothing, BMO Global Asset management, ASN Bank, Kempen, ACT Coalition, Fair Wear and Clean Clothes Campaign amongst others.

 

We began the day hearing from our keynote speaker, the inspirational Anannya Bhaattacharjee, founder and President of the Garment and Allied workers union in Northern India. Anannya encouraged the room to push forward ‘the theme of solutions’ on the urgent issue of a living wage. She also took the opportunity to remind us of the abuse that happens throughout supply chains that is facilitated by the lack of a living wage and the fact that many consumers are unaware of the true cost of garments. The need for increased transparency was a key theme throughout the day and came up again and again across all of our panels.

“Fashion brands are the drivers of the supply chain” – Anannya Bhaattacharjee

Jessica Simor QC, the legal driving force behind our second report, used her opening speech as an opportunity to remind us that the industry is an uneven playing field. This environment is one that works against brands that want to do better in their supply chains and began the conversation of what structural changes need to be made to allow retailers, investors and individuals to introduce a living wage within their supply chains without losing their competitive edge.

 

Our different panels spoke from positions of experience across many difference fields and with a varied wealth of knowledge. However, many of our speakers spoke about how important legislation that the report outlines will be in achieving the living wage, how transparency for the consumer but also for regulatory boards is vital, and discussed different methodologies on how to implement legislation with ‘teeth’.

“The poorer you are the more vulnerable you are and the more vulnerable you are the more exploited you are …. so a living wage makes a real difference from the ground up” – Adil Rehman

 

Melanie Hall, QC, Ambassador for The Circle, and Livia Firth, Founder of Eco-Age and Ambassador for The Circle closed the day with some incredibly poignant speeches. Livia quoted lecturer and author, Naomi Tyrell, “nothing will ever change unless there is a transnational agreement on wages, otherwise the companies will keep hopping from one country to the other, in pursuit of the cheapest bargain.” This is the argument outlined in our report launched at the event wage changes must be made simultaneously and region-wide to ensure that brands cannot continue to the “race to the bottom” in countries that simply cannot turn down the employment provided by the fashion industry.

 

All those involved in this report understand that there will be obstacles and there will be resistance, but as our Ambassador Melanie Hall closed with:

“Everyone has a part to play, everyone in this room today is a consumer”

A huge thank you to all of our speakers and to JJ Charitable Trust and Pinsent Mason for their support in making this symposium happen. Keep an eye on The Circle’s website and social media for updates on our living wage work. You can read the full report here.


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


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.


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle Member Sangeetha

“Feminism is humanity’s imperative outrage against subordination of any kind, it serves to amplify the silenced voices of half of the world’s population, and is a necessary crucible for change committed to securing equal rights for women and men around the globe.”

This month, as part of Widen Your Circle, we have spoken to a number of our members about their involvement with The Circle and what it means to be a member!

Tell us a little about yourself

I wear a few different hats – I am a human rights barrister, an international development consultant, a writer and an activist. All of my work is focused on improving access to rights for the most vulnerable members of our global community.

As a child of immigrants who were born in pre-partition India, and as the first in my family to attend university, I have been acutely aware of injustice and inequality from a very young age.

In my practice as a barrister I specialise in asylum, immigration and international human rights matters. I have particular experience of working with vulnerable clients – be that representing unaccompanied children, victims of trafficking, victims of torture or those suffering from complex mental health problems.

In my role as a consultant I have spent many years ‘on the ground’ advising governments of fragile states and parties transitioning from conflict. This work has always focused on improving access to justice for vulnerable communities.

I now spend much of my time providing pro bono advice to asylum seekers on the ‘first shores’ of Europe. In our volatile global climate now, it seems more critical than ever to give voice to those silenced by injustice and inequality.

Why did you become a member of The Circle?

I became involved with the Circle in an unconventional way. A member of The Lawyers’ Circle posted an urgent message on social media asking if anyone knew of an asylum lawyer who was able to provide quick assistance.

In the customarily magical way of The Circle, members quickly mobilised and disseminated this call for help through their networks. By domino effect, the post soon found its way to me and I was able to provide legal advice which has resulted in a long-persecuted Sudanese journalist securing asylum.

Since then I have been deeply involved in both The Lawyers’ Circle and The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network. I am continually impressed by the magnetic passion, dedication and immense feeling of solidarity shared by all members of The Circle. Particularly the vigour and determination of Dima, who leads The Marie Colvin Journalists Network – I am certain that the MCJN will revolutionise the way that female journalists in the MENA are supported and enabled to undertake their crucial work.

What does Global Feminism mean to you?

A simple promise to champion all pursuits of gender equality. That is, to support all of the different demands for gender equality made by feminist communities around the world, specific to their circumstance.

Feminism is not the preserve of the educated, white, wealthy, Western woman. Feminism is humanity’s imperative outrage against subordination of any kind, it serves to amplify the silenced voices of half of the world’s population, and is a necessary crucible for change committed to securing equal rights for women and men around the globe.

To me, Global Feminism seeks to unite and forge solidarity between the various qualified factions of feminism that now exist. Be it third world feminism, postcolonial feminism or chicana feminism, let us all gather together as one inclusive movement and collectively stand up against all forms of inequality and injustice. Global Feminism is the loudest, most unrelenting, united cry against gender inequality in all of its guises – women and girls, men and boys – we must all rise up and roar together

Find out more about becoming a member of The Circle here!

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism #WidenYourCircle


Difficult Conversations: Human Trafficking

Photo credit: UN Women/Stuart Mannion

The Circle are in partnership with Eco-Age to champion women’s rights globally and promote Global Feminism, our Difficult Conversations series investigates the facts and figures of some of the most difficult global topics affecting women worldwide and, critically, highlight how you can get involved with driving change.

In today’s focus, The Circle’s Anna Renfrew and filmmaker and member of The Circle Anya Camilleri discuss the facts surrounding human trafficking following the UN’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, and what you can do to help.

“Human trafficking is a vast, insidious and incredibly profitable industry that takes place in almost every country across the world. Contrary to popular belief and depictions of trafficking in contemporary media, according to the UN, no country can claim that trafficking does not happen within its borders as either a country of origin, transit or destination for victims. Trafficking is a lucrative business as it produces steady profits over a long period of time as humans may be sold repeatedly and continue to work and earn money for their owners.

While it is important to remember that trafficking does not only refer to sexual exploitation but also other kinds of forced labour including agricultural work, as with many examples of exploitation, women and girls are disproportionately affected. According to the ILO, women and girls account for 99% of trafficking victims in the commercial sex industry and make up an estimated 71% of total trafficking victims.

The U.S Government conservatively reported that 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year with almost half estimated to be minors. As with any illicit activity, these numbers will only ever be an estimate, yet the demand for younger and younger girls is increasing as younger victims are deemed as being less likely to carry a sexually transmitted disease. Devastatingly, young girls are most susceptible to poor conditions and health risks and are the least able to resist.

This begs the question, how do women and girls become victims of trafficking?”

Read the full article here!

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism


Strict Borders Make Vulnerable Women

Photo credit: structuresxx/Shutterstock.com

“It is important to keep in mind that trafficking can happen to anyone, anywhere.”

The Home Office stated in November 2016 that: “The trafficked women from Nigeria end up being healthy and are held in high regard upon their return from Europe.”

Their statement is problematic for a number of reasons, but potentially the most startling is that we can see how hostile the UK is to victims claiming asylum and unworried about their deportation because they return ‘in high regard’. We should be more supportive, accepting, and open to asylum seekers, as they all have reasons they came here for a better future.

Human trafficking is not a recent trend, it has been happening for decades. However, in today’s globalised world there are an estimated 20.9 million victims of trafficking, with the majority being women. While women can be trafficked from anywhere to any country, in Europe most of the victims are from countries in Eastern and Central Europe such as Hungary and Poland, while victims taken outside of Europe concentrate from Nigeria, China, Morocco.

Often, human trafficking is linked to migrant movements and the governmental policies that try to regulate them. As migration increases, especially as it has done to Europe over the last few years – quickly and without general regulation policies– the instances of trafficking increase as migrants become increasingly desperate to cross borders. As David A. Feingold said in 2009,“Trafficking is often migration gone terribly wrong”. When people are not given the opportunity to legally enter the country of destination, desperate people might turn to other possibilities in order to escape unimaginable situations of hardship in their home country. Studies have shown that as borders become stricter, smuggling increases, as people use third parties to get out of the country, and to get into others. The strict laws imposed to reduce migration into the country actually render these people vulnerable exploitation as they are reluctant to go to the police for fear of being deported.

If we want to look at a specific country regarding human trafficking in Europe, Nigeria is a very interesting case. Devastatingly, the UN said that 80% of all Nigerian women who arrived in Italy by boat in 2016 will be trafficked into prostitution. When women arrive in Italy they go through migration receptions, which are used as holding pens for women who are collected and then trafficked across Europe. However, this relationship between Nigeria and Italy has been operating for decades. In 2014, about 1,500 Nigerian women arrived, in 2015 around 5,633, and only in the first six months of 2016 about 3,600. With the increasing numbers of victims, the trafficking network itself in growing as well.

Many women are brought in specially for sexual exploitation purposes, but there are also hundreds who are coming for a better life. The journey itself is very complicated, firstly, because women are often victims of physical abuse, trafficking, and sexual exploitation on the road. Moreover, as it is very expensive, women and up owing money around £40,000 which they are expected to pay back. They are told if they won’t pay, terrible thing will happen to their families, therefore they are forced into prostitution across Europe. However, money is not the only way gangs recruit women, they also use false promises of legitimate employment, and traditional ceremonies to have psychological control over them.

There is a large diaspora of 200,000 legal residents of Nigerians in Europe. Obviously, this number excludes all the women who are being illegally trafficked on the continent. While many legal residents live in the UK, Germany, and Spain, the ultimate trafficking destination is Italy. There are around 10,000 Nigerian sex workers in the country now. While the first Nigerian women working in Italy as sex workers around the 1970s chose to do so, after strengthening the borders and making it difficult to arrive this have changed. As women arrived by having huge debts, and they needed to get rid of that quickly, trafficking for prostitution seemed like a prospect. Young women were usually promised a good job, and then ended up being trafficked for sexual exploitation. Nowadays, Nigerian sex work usually work on the street, and receive low-wage for their work.

Arguably, one way to start reducing trafficking would be to have more open borders of countries, so people could move more freely. Immigration should be viewed positively with more support services for those needed. Additionally, it would also be important that besides preventing trafficking, we should also aim to help those who had suffered trafficking beforehand. There should be more support services for the victims and a promise that they won’t be deported in exchange for going to the police.

It is important to keep in mind that trafficking can happen to anyone, anywhere. While I was focusing on Europe, because female victims here are particularly vulnerable to strict border control and regulations, human trafficking is a global phenomenon, in which the majority of the women can become victims.

This article was written by The Circle Volunteer Csenge Gábeli. Csenge is a university student, a volunteer, and a feminist. She is originally from Hungary, but has started my university in London, which she loves. She is interested in communities, women’s empowerment, LGBTQ+ rights, and children’s rights. 

#GlobalFeminism #WomenEmpoweringWomen