No Recourse to Public Funds: Migrant Women and Children Pull the Short Straw

Image: The Unity Project

The No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) policy has been catapulted into public awareness recently as it emerges that not only are thousands of law-abiding migrant families inching towards destitution amid COVID-19, but the Prime Minister had apparently never heard of the policy that dates as far back as the 1990s while the Home Secretary refuses to make an exemption during this time of unprecedented crisis.

Although NRPF predates the current Conservative government, it has been severely ramped up in the past decade under the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ endeavour. What it means is that migrants in the UK who are not considered ‘habitually resident’ are blanket banned from accessing public funds, including carers allowance, child benefit, Universal Credit, disability living allowance, housing benefit and jobseeker’s allowance. Yet the path to permanent settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain) for those on a Family Visa can take as long as ten years, during which time applicants must cough up extortionate visa renewals every 2.5 years.

The condition applies to at least 1 million adults and 142,000 children. In the midst of a pandemic where job losses are rife, this NRPF could force as many as 100,000 people into destitution or homelessness according to the Migration Observatory and the Institute for Public Policy Research. However, researchers largely overlook the gendered discriminatory nature of NRPF. Migrant women who are single mothers, pregnant, or are survivors of domestic abuse are overwhelmingly harmed by the benefits ban which, in turn, has an impact on the welfare of their children.

All over the world, women and girls are disproportionately ensnared in domestic duties and childrearing. Whenever the relationship between a mother and father breaks down, women are more likely to become the sole care giver – yet are unable to enter full time work to cover the costs. The UK’s inflexible labour market remains hostile to single mothers, leaving women with little choice but to enter zero hours contracts and other means of insecure work. However, the burden is heavier for migrant single mothers as they are shoved even further into the margins of insecurity and poverty due to the benefit ban. As a result, migrant single mothers are more likely to become trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty; unable to climb the career ladder to earn more money, yet unable to afford childcare costs even if they could work additional hours and no supplementary support in the event they fall into hardship through no fault of their own.

For migrant pregnant women with NRPF, a report published last year by the Unity Project found they are unable to take sufficient maternity leave. Pregnant women with an insecure immigration status are forced to work longer hours both before and after giving birth to cater to the high fees of their new-born baby. Even if the mother-to-be is in a secure job that can provide statutory maternity pay, after the first six weeks the maximum amount is capped at £151.20 per week which without a backlog of savings to rely on, is evidently inadequate to cover rent and other essentials, let alone a child.

To make matters worse, NRPF is putting women’s lives at risk. Migrant women are at an increased risk of domestic abuse when compared to British women, and already figures are reaching eyewatering heights: during COVID-19 lockdown, five women a week have been murdered by the hands of their abuser. Yet NRPF serves to intensify the precarity of migrant abuse victims’ circumstances as without public funds, they can be turned away from refuges. The 2017 Nowhere to Turn Project by Women’s Aid discovered only one refuge space was available to women with NRPF per every region of England, yet the recent Domestic Abuse Bill fails to extend support for women with NRPF or to prevent this from happening again. Campaigners such as The Step Up Migrant Women coalition argue the Bill deliberately ignores migrant women with NRPF, claiming the Government knows they exist but that “it is deliberately choosing to ignore their needs.”There is one, marginal escape route on offer to migrant victims of domestic abuse. The Destitute Domestic Violence Concession opens a shortcut to permanent residency for survivors with a Spouse Visa, however, the process is littered with obstacles and the paperwork is beyond reasonable. Women must jump through hoops to gain a mere three months of public funds while Scottish Women’s Aid even found some councils were advising victims to remain with their abusive partners due to a lack of support. Even so, this backdoor exit is only left ajar for migrant women under Partner Visas; other migrant women under different visa categories are offered no such escape route.

Children to migrant parents are at a clear disadvantage when compared to their peers; they cannot receive free school meals while they are more likely to face destitution and even homelessness as a consequence of their parents’ NRPF. In the event the child does not gain British Citizenship by the time they reach 18, they face international tuition fees to study in a UK university in the country that they have called home their entire lives.

One recent landmark case is exemplary of how NRPF trickles down to affect the standard of life for children. The court heard the heart-wrenching testimony of an eight-year-old British boy who had been plunged into severe poverty his whole life and even street homelessness with his mother, who has NRPF but works as a carer. The court decided NRPF breaches Article 4 of the Human Rights Act in the child’s case, and new guidance has since been issued. However, the new amendment doesn’t go far enough: only those who entered the UK via the family route may apply for protection, and even then, they have to prove that they are at risk of ‘imminent destitution’.

Already, a similar system is in place to protect the welfare of children, which is evidently failing. Local councils have a duty to safeguard its residents and issue Section 17 support in dire circumstances, yet lawyers at Garden Court Chambers have found that not only are applications “onerous, difficult and slow” as a result of austerity and budget cuts, but destitute families have even been told they are not eligible and that their kids may be taken into care. A shocking 6 in 10 families who attempt Section 17 access are refused – and even successful applicants can receive as little as £1.70 a day.

What this shows us is that whenever aid is devolved into the hands of local authorities, vulnerable people become victim to the ‘postcode lottery’ and migrant women with NRPF in particular pull the short straw. The Unity Project goes as far to argue that the Government is failing in its obligation to the Equality Act 2010, finding that NRPF serves as “indirect sex-based discrimination”.

For a country that considers itself propped up by the pillars of civility and justice, this policy that causes new-born babies and children to grow up in extreme poverty, while leaving women with the impossible choice of homelessness or domestic abuse, is in direct conflict with the UK’s commitment to human rights. It is high time the benefits ban is lifted, allowing vulnerable people to access welfare support in the same way Britons can. Until then, No Recourse to Public Funds will continue to unnecessarily spiral thousands of hard-working and ordinary  women and their children into misery and hardship.

If you are concerned about the impact NRPF is having on migrant women and children, contact your local MP today to encourage Boris Johnson and Priti Patel in changing this damaging, hostile policy.

This article was written by Olivia Bridge who is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service.


Exploitation in the Fashion Industry: An issue from Leicester to Phnom Penh

Image: Rex

Home Secretary Priti Patel has claimed to be ‘appalled’ by the illegal wages and working conditions of a garment factory in Leicester, a story that was front page news of this weekend’s UK papers. The factory, which is under investigation for unsafe working conditions and poverty wages, produces clothing for brands including Boohoo and Nasty Gal and has paid wages as low as £3.50 an hour. Although shocking, these findings are not new. Leicester is responsible for around a third of the UK’s fashion manufacturing and has been subject to claims of unsafe conditions including blocked fire exits, unsafe conditions and illegal wages for years – recently coming under additional fire for an almost complete lack of PPE for the workers who continued to produce clothing through the UK’s lockdown. When Vogue Magazine spoke to Debbie Coulter, Head of Programmes at the Ethical Trading Initiative back in 2017, she stated that workers were housed in units that “frankly you’d be fearful of entering – lack of fire safety equipment, fire safety risks, building safety risks.”

These findings are clearly abhorrent, but it does beg the question, if the Home Secretary is so appalled at these conditions in the UK, then why aren’t the Government acting with the same force on those brands working transnationally?

Fashion brands outsource their manufacturing to source globally cheap labour, production is moved to wherever the labour is cheapest. Poorer countries compete against each other for the investment of garment production, selling the labour of the most vulnerable in their society for a price at which they cannot sustain decent lives. Workers’ rights and wages are squeezed to ensure the highest profits for retailers. This is a globally sanctioned system of exploitation that we know is happening yet continue to facilitate. Why are these conditions and wages unacceptable in Leicester, but an unfortunate bi-product of capitalism in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia or Indonesia? It cannot be one rule for ‘us’ and another rule for ‘them’. Fundamental human rights are the same for all humans and need to be upheld across the board with the same rigour.

Across this industry, almost 80% of the workforce are women. The majority of which, are not earning a Living Wage. In addition, these women are subject to harassment within the workplace and unsafe conditions – the extremity of which can be demonstrated in the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013, that resulted in the deaths of 1,134 people. In Vogue’s 2017 exposé of factories in Leicester, they identified that a large proportion of workers being exploited were women who had come to the UK speaking little English. Many “come to UK on a six-month visa and work every hour they can before returning home” and brands exploit their urgency to earn and expectations of the worth of their labour to ensure vast profits on cheaply produced clothing.

Image: NGWF

According to the Clean Clothes Campaign’s report False Promises: Migrant Workers in the Global Garment Industry “the lack of legal protection is at the root of much of the exploitation faced by migrant workers.” These workers are particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of workplace exploitation and The Circle has recently made emergency grants to garment workers in Bangladesh who had been abandoned by retailers who cancelled orders and refused to pay wages; many of whom were migrant workers who were excluded from even the most limited government aid during the Covid-19 crisis. In the UK too, the Government have come under intense scrutiny for the exclusion of migrant women from services and protections offered by the Domestic Abuse Bill that will be discussed today. Allowing systems that exploit the most marginalised members of society, whether that is in the UK or abroad, erodes the standards of basic human rights.

Debbie Coulter warned that multinational fashion companies “act with such impunity it is quite frightening” and we have seen during the Covid-19 crisis that brands have not upheld the rights of their workers, have refused to honour their contracts with suppliers, and yet seem to have emerged unscathed. The fashion industry cannot be a special case and now, more than ever, there is an urgent need to establish legislative change that will ensure a Living Wage for garment workers globally; from Leicester to Dhaka to Phnom Penh. Click here find out more about The Circle’s Living Wage work.

Article written by Anna Renfrew, Projects and Communications Officer at The Circle.


Domestic Violence: The Second Pandemic

Image: UNICEF/Nesbitt

Wan Fei, the founder of an anti-domestic violence NGO in China reported a huge increase in the country’s domestic violence cases in February. Jingzhou, a province in Hubei, received 3 times more reports in February 2020 than in the previous year. As cases of Covid-19 began to climb around the world, so did cases of domestic violence.

As the world’s attention was focused on the pandemic, women’s rights activists and service providers warned us that domestic violence victims would be overlooked, survivor services would be de-prioritised and the fear and tension during the crisis would result in a sharp increase in cases. As we saw the numbers of domestic violence cases rapidly increase in China where the pandemic started, we could assume that this pattern would follow in other countries. This assumption was proven to be true, as there has been an increase in domestic violence cases as lockdowns started all over the world.

Domestic abuse was a global human right issue even in pre-pandemic times. According to statistics, 1 in 3 women face physical or sexual violence, mostly perpetuated by an intimate partner. While this makes violence against women the most widespread human rights abuses, it is also the least reported. Domestic abuse is often still viewed as a ‘normal’ act due to women’s subordinate position in society and families. Other reasons may include fear, lack of resources and support, or illegal status of refugees. The last is because women who do not have a right to stay permit often do not dare to go to the police in fear of being deported. This is why it is important to note that the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, encouraged women with illegal status not to fear deportation but to report abuses.

The women who experience violence are vulnerable to sexual, reproductive and mental health risks. For example, victims are twice as likely to suffer from depression and 1.5 times more likely to get STIs. These risks are increased in times of conflict, let it be economic crisis, civil war, or a disease outbreak. It is therefore safe to assume that this will also be the case for millions of women across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic. While for some of us staying home means safety, for many women and children home means the opposite. The quarantine poses a special situation as women are trapped inside with the abusers, who are more easily triggered by things due to being in such a stressful situation. It is important to note however, that the pandemic does not cause domestic abuse, but creates ‘conductive contexts’.

We have seen several cases of the increase of domestic violence cases globally. For example in the USA, a domestic violence hotline in Portland, Oregon doubled in only one week in March. The American national domestic violence hotline reported a dozens of callers whose abusers are using the coronavirus outbreak to control and isolate them. As everyone is focused on the public health crisis, hotlines fear that violence happening in the private sphere will be overlooked. Some states even seized this opportunity to make it more difficult to access abortion as ‘non-essential’ healthcare. Even though, logically, if domestic violence cases are going up so will unwanted pregnancies.

Numbers of cases of domestic abuse is also going up in Lebanon. Calls to the domestic violence hotline increased by 110% in March 2020. The NGO Abaad started a movement dubbed #LockDownNotLockUp, where people stood outside their balconies hanging sheets with the number of the domestic abuse hotline.

Image: PATRICK BAZ/Abaad/AFP via Getty Images.

Activists in Italy reported a drop in calls to the helpline centre only to receive a record amount of text messages and emails. As victims are forced to be in the same rooms as their abusers they often cannot voice their problems out loud and this is the only way they can let others know what is happening. It is also important to remember that if women are afraid to ring helplines, but numbers of reports are still increasing globally, how many more cases are happening that goes unreported.

In the UK calls to the national abuse hotline went up by 65% in March. Another hotline, Respect, had a 26.86% increase in calls but a 125% increase in website recordings in the week starting 30 March. This shows how women in Italy are not alone, women in the UK are often unable to make phone calls and try for a silent solution as well. Additionally, The  Men’s Advice Line, who care for male victims of domestic abuse, also had an increase in calls of 16.6% and an increase of website recordings 42%.

Avon and Somerset police reported a 20.9% increase in domestic abuse incidents in two weeks, from 718 to 868. The founder of Counting Dead Women, Karen Ingala Smith, recorded at least 16 women who were killed by men in the UK between 23 March and 12 April. This is at least twice as much as the average in the last 10 years. The domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, said police are ready to deal with a spike in domestic abuse calls. The leader of the Women’s Equality party called for special police powers to evict perpetrators from homes under the lockdown, and for authorities to waive court fees for the protection orders.

In early May the government pledged £76 million new funding for domestic and sexual violence support, vulnerable children & modern slavery, but the EVAW Coalition is calling for more detail on how the money will be distributed. They are also asking the government to follow the BAME demand for ethnicity monitoring of all COVID- 19 cases, as BAME communities are disproportionately affected and therefore BAME communities and organisations deserve ring fenced funding to address this issue. As lockdown has continued, there has been a shift in awareness regarding the risk of domestic violence. Supermarkets, one of the only few places that remained open during lockdown, have run initiatives including Tesco included the national hotline on their receipts and Morrison’s opened safe places in their pharmacies where those concerned can get advice from trained consultants.

Image: AP Photo/Jenny Kane

Although we’re nearing the end of the UK’s nearly three-month lockdown, this wave of domestic violence the effects on the survivors will be long-lasting. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that support services are available to them. The Circle has supported Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis with its new text helpline, in order to reach vulnerable women and girls who may not be able to speak on the phone. We have also made grants to Irise Uganda, to support them with their emergency relief and domestic violence prevention work.

Some general and specific advice for people living in the UK

Hotlines

  • England: The National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You can visit their website for more information.
  • England: The Respect phone line 0808 8024040 is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. You can visit their website for more information.
  • Scotland: The Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is 0800 0271234 24, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Visit their website here.
  • Northern Ireland: The 24-Hour Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline is 0808 8021414, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. More information here.
  • Wales: The Live Fear Free Helpline is 08088010800, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They also have a website.
  • If you are a man experiencing domestic abuse call 0808 8010327 or visit their advice line.

Police

  • You can make silent 999 calls to the police by waiting for the call handler to pick up making some kind of a cough or any sound at all and pressing 5,5.

Bright Sky

  • The app can be disguised for people worried about partners checking their phones, provided support and information for victims.

Here are some precautions you can take to look out for each other:

  • If you are a postal worker, delivery driver, food delivery company or a carer who still visits houses, keep an eye out for any signs of abuse and to report any concerns to the police.
  • Neighbours should pay extra attention in hearing shouts, cries, or any noise that could be associated with violence. In case you suspect something bad is happening in a neighbouring house/flat please call the police.

Click here to donate to The Circle’s Women and Girls Solidarity Fund!

This article was written by Csenge. 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.


Why We Need Better Domestic Violence Legislation

Photo Credit: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Domestic violence is the single biggest killer of women globally. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that of the 187,000 women killed in 2017, over half (58%) were killed by intimate partners or members of their families. Yet domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, extends far beyond the fatal – an estimated 30% of women globally have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. It is clear that domestic violence has long been a global epidemic that requires greater international attention, but as of 2018, over 40 countries still have no laws criminalising intimate partner violence. In 2019, and especially in the wake of the recent 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, it is more critical than ever that we fight for legal protection for victims of domestic violence across the world.

Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is defined by the World Health Organisation as “behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours.” The continued absence of any domestic violence legislation in dozens of countries, including the African nations of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Middle Eastern nations such as Iraq and Syria, can be attributed to a variety of social, cultural and religious factors that differ from country to country. The absence of vital legislation places devastating limits on the support offered to victims of domestic violence in these countries – victims do not have the option to report the crime to the police, to receive support or protection from the police, or to seek punishment for the perpetrator. Importantly, legislation also serves to send a symbolic message to a society that violence is not tolerated. The citizens of these countries suffer in the absence of condemnation of domestic violence from their government, and do not get the chance to benefit from the deterrent effect that laws provide.

Unsurprisingly, human rights organisations and international legal bodies have a lot to say on the global domestic violence epidemic and the critical nature of domestic violence legislation. The landmark United Nations treaty signed in 1979, The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), states that violence against women is a violation of the right to not be “subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The right this refers to is Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, commonly regarded as a global benchmark for human rights standards. The CEDAW document explicitly outlaws violence against women, a group who form a significant proportion of the victims of domestic violence, and has been ratified by 189 states globally.

Violence against women and domestic violence more generally have also been the subject of several UN Resolutions over recent decades – another notable step in the right direction being the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which asserts not only that state actors should refrain from committing violent acts against women, but also that states should take active measures to prevent and punish acts of violence against women in both the public and private sphere.

Yet despite the importance of domestic violence legislation as endorsed by organisations such as the UN, the continued prevalence of domestic violence globally – including within many countries that have laws in place addressing the practice – makes it clear that our current laws simply aren’t enough.

A common issue affecting many states is that while some domestic violence laws are in place in that country, the legal scope of those laws are lacking, and/or law enforcement officers and other relevant bodies don’t fulfil their obligations to prevent and punish domestic violence as set out in their country’s legislation. One country for whom these issues are a reality is Tajikistan, the Central Asian nation that introduced laws regarding domestic violence for the first time in 2013. While this milestone led to positive progress in the area of violence prevention, such as awareness-raising campaigns and the hiring of more specially-trained police staff, reports from Tajikistan indicate that this progress is not nearly enough – domestic violence is vastly underreported in the country, but UN figures still estimate that at least 1 in 5 women and girls were victims of domestic abuse as of 2016. A recent report from Human Rights Watch, a leading international human rights charity, identifies the failure of the Tajik police officials to consistently fulfil their obligations to domestic violence victims, for example by refusing to properly investigate claims of domestic violence, as one factor behind this epidemic. The report also highlights the ineffectiveness of the Tajik law itself, pointing out that the 2013 law doesn’t go as far as to actually criminalise domestic violence but merely makes provisions regarding it. Having ratified CEDAW in 1993, Tajikistan is legally obligated to protect women and girls from domestic violence and to punish perpetrators of such violence – but the Tajik government is continually failing to meet these obligations.

Laws around the world in their current state often let victims down, and in any case legalisation alone isn’t sufficient to protect victims of domestic violence if it is not properly enforced or accompanied by progressions in societal views. Despite this, legislation is still a necessary first step to improving the outlook for domestic violence victims globally. Change in societal attitudes towards domestic violence often occurs before changes in law, but it is only legislation that can formally enshrine the support, protection and punishments associated with domestic violence, which in turn provide a deterrent to potential perpetrators. The causal effect can also flow in the opposite direction, with changes in legislation often accelerating developments in societal attitudes by sending a strong message from the state that certain behaviours are morally unacceptable. Whichever comes first, societal change or legal change, it’s clear from the data that laws make a difference – the average rate of domestic violence in countries with domestic violence laws is 10.8%, compared to 16.7% in countries without such laws.  To make significant progress in tackling domestic violence as a global community, a key step is working to reform legal systems wherever possible rather than operating in spite of them.

While the progress still needed to ensure appropriate criminalisation of domestic violence around the world can be daunting, we cannot forget the array of positive legal developments that have occurred in recent years. In the last decade, 47 economies have introduced new laws on domestic violence, bringing the total number of countries with some form of domestic violence laws to over 140. Scotland saw the introduction of a transformative new law this summer, criminalising psychological, financial and sexual abuse with a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment. In August this year, Italy also welcomed a new law designed to fast-track the investigation of domestic violence reports, which saw a significant increase in the number of reported cases in the first month alone. These new laws,  amongst many others, have been to the benefit of survivors and potential victims of domestic violence across the globe. They show us that the goal of providing adequate protection against domestic violence is a constant and ongoing process, and they provide inspiration for other countries looking for ways to refine and improve the robustness of their domestic violence legislation.

We are entering a new decade, with the target of achieving the UN Global Goals by 2030 within our sights. This importantly includes Goal 5, aimed at achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. As a global community in pursuit of this Goal, we can only hope that the legal standpoint of governments around the world continues to improve in the coming decade, and adequate justice and protection can be given to domestic violence victims globally.

This article was written by Holly. Holly is 23 years old from Hastings, England. Since graduating with a degree in Politics & 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. 


Chai Day with Shana

Image: Shana and her family

The Circle is an organisation of women empowering women and through our Chai Day campaign, Shana wants to support survivors of gender-based violence. Shana and family are survivors of honour-based domestic violence and we asked her to share our moving story ahead of her Chai Day event …

“I am hosting a Chai Day event because I know first-hand how much it hurts when you feel trapped in the abuse. I know how lost you feel, how you begin to justify the perpetrators actions and how trapped you are because you have nowhere to go and your children only know their home; even though that home is hell.

Once you look for help, you must struggle through a system that isn’t fit for purpose, relying on complete strangers and constantly repeating yourself to different organisations, being sign posted from here to there.  All you know is pain and trauma and the only thing that kept me going was faith. For me, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

I am hosting the event because my family and I were nearly killed by the perpetrator. I was so lost and confused due to the fear of cultural and societal pressures that I put myself and my family at danger. We would have been killed if I didn’t leave when we did and we were left with nothing.

I want to raise awareness because domestic violence and those who encounter it, end up normalising it and this attitude can be passed down for generations. I grew up witnessing domestic abuse and this was normal in my community, finally I entered a relationship that was also abusive. I never want my daughter be in a relationship like that and I want to teach my sons to understand that the only thing they need to control is themselves, not others. I would like all the other women suffering in silence to break the silence. I want our story to be the story of hope. It’s everyone’s duty because it effects all of society. It’s time to break the cycle.

I can’t do it alone and I want to empower others to take collective and collaborative action.”

Shana and her family have recently won an award at the Pride of St Helens Awards for their bravery and determination not to give up after fleeing domestic violence. They will continue to do what they can to support other survivors within their community. Shana is very clear that “we are not victims, but survivors and our story is something to be proud of, we believe our circumstances do not define us. We are now a campaigning family trying to bring positive changes.”

Shana’s Chai Day is happening on Monday 25th November from 12.30-2.30pm at Park Farm ACYP Community Centre, 54 Kentmere Avenue, Carr Mill, St Helens, WA11 7PG. Join her and her family to support survivors of violence across the globe.

For more information on Chai Day, please follow this link.


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle member Laura

“No matter what your contribution, being a member of The Circle guarantees that you will be supported and spurred on by an incredible group of likeminded women.”

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 bit about yourself:

I’m 35, female, a Partner at Stewarts (a litigation law firm) and, my side hustle (if non-millennials are allowed them!), a Director at Richmond Rugby Club where I used to play.

Why did you become a member of The Circle?

I joined The Circle after attending the launch of Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage, which was researched and prepared by members of The Lawyers Circle. It was an incredibly inspiring experience listening to a group of very senior female lawyers explain how they have used their skills, profile, connections and, what can only be very limited, free time to make a real difference to the lives of women globally. I decided there and then that I would join. The Circle facilitates the creation of a network of people that will use their skills and connections for a specific goal, the improvement of the lives of women everywhere. I call it the female equivalent of the “Old Boys Network”: the main differentiating factor being that the network is used for universal rather than individual betterment!

Since becoming a member I have contributed to the Tanzanian Maternal Health Rights project being led by members of The Lawyers Circle, have assisted with creating a skills database to better resource The Lawyers Circle projects, have become part of The London Circle committee, have arranged for my firm to host a number of events and in September I am taking part in The Great River Race in a Dragon boat together with 16 other members to raise funds for Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. I’ve also broadened the network. In particular, a friend’s company, Le Bus Vert in Biarritz France, is currently supporting the Dragon Boat fundraising efforts by contributing a proportion of its sales of jewellery and other items made from reclaimed materials (often those washed up on local beaches) to the cause. All because I turned up to an event at a barristers chambers on a week night!

There are so many ways of getting involved in raising funds, contributing to projects or just simply spreading the word. No matter what your contribution, being a member of The Circle guarantees that you will be supported and spurred on by an incredible group of likeminded women.

What does Global Feminism mean to you?

In my mind Global Feminism means recognising that whilst there remain many barriers and disadvantages suffered by women in the UK, I, and others, do have a voice. Having achieved that platform we should use it to advocate for those that are in a situation far worse than our own. In doing so and by taking small steps in improving the rights and opportunities available to women globally, we can make huge strides forward for society as a whole.

Are there any of The Circle’s projects that are particularly close to your heart and can you tell us a bit more about these and why they stand out?

The Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage Report really opened my eyes to the staggering inequalities and consequences of our current approach to clothing production and consumption. It not only highlighted the issues but identified the ways in which different jurisdictions, including our own, need to cooperate and legislate to ensure global change. This element of The Circle’s work stands out to me not only as an example of how the law can be used and how a group of lawyers can work together but it has affected my own attitudes as a consumer. The more the issue can be highlighted, and it is certainly being picked up by global media, the more people will start to question the impact of their choices. Consequently, the more pressure there will on governments to legislate to effect change and on fashion companies to be open about their approach. This is an area where I really believe it will be possible to see a visible improvement, hopefully in fairly short order!

Click here to become a member of The Circle and Widen Your Circle.

#WidenYourCircle #WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism


Global Feminist Calendar July and August 2019

Photocredit: Manchester Histories

Our Volunteer Pauline Stumpf has put together your Summer guide to feminist events happening across the UK!

4 July – Code and Stuff (Manchester)

This fab group in Manchester want to make tech more diverse and welcome more women and non-binary people to Tech by bringing those who are learning how to code or are interested in learning how to code together and helping you grow your coding skill.

Come along and learn how to code (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) during our weekly coding session with the help of an experienced mentor and various online resources and platforms. If you’re working on any other languages or frameworks not mentioned here and need help, please send them an email and they will happily try and find you a mentor to help you.

7 July – Women’s World Cup final screening with Fawcett Society (London)

The Fawcett Society campaigns for equal pay, equal opportunities, and equal rights. They teamed up with Camden Town Brewery to show the Women’s World Cup final.

9 July – The Circle Connects (Online)

The Circle Connects is an online networking with the Relationship Manager and members of The Circle who are interested in being active through their membership. Whether you’re new to The Circle or can’t make some of our events due to your location, then you may consider joining us to meet fellow members and allies.

Join The Circle’s Relationship Manager online for an informal discussion as she gives updates from The Circle’s core team and our individual Circle committees that are tailored to the members attending. Peta hosts online conversations every few months to connect members virtually, to share inspiring stories of members taking action for The Circle and to answer any questions you may have.

11 July – Empowerers and Entrepreneurs: Networking with Badass Women (London)

Lone Design Club is hosting a networking event for female empowerers and entrepreneurs to unite, network and hear the amazing stories from some women who have achieved great things. Welcoming all entrepreneurs, founders, women in business, lovers of independent emerging labels, or those who are simply curious.

Owing to the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament and the sports theme of the store, they have selected a number of sports related speakers who will talk about their experiences in the sporting industry, what issues they faced, how they persevered and reached the height of their careers as well as women in fashion and business creators.

11 July – Feminist Swearing Night (Brighton)

This is an opportunity to sound off about the patriarchy, politics, inequality and injustice through stand-up comedy, rhyme, song, swearing, ranting or any other means of expression. The evening will be led by comedians and poets and all ticket sales will be contributed towards fundraising for The Survivors Network.

July 12 – Shado Issue 02: Global Womxnhood x The Vavengers (London)

The aim of this issue is not only to broaden definitions of what it means to identify as a woman, but also to raise the profile of the work of different global women’s movements which are working to highlight injustices and human rights violations which pertain specifically to womxn and girls. Shado are so excited to share this issue with you, which features stories and features from womxn from 36 countries around the world.

Shado will be teaming up with anti-FGM organisation The Vavengers to bring you a night of music, art, spoken word, food, drink…and, most importantly, celebration and inclusion.

13 July – Feminist Art Collage Workshop by Seana Wilson (London)

This collage workshop uses feminist art, activism and current issues to inspire a new way of seeing the images that we are exposed to daily through media. Past participants described feeling relaxed and meditative during the workshop, enjoyed the exchange of ideas with a group of like-minded people and went away with a new conscious view on how women are portrayed in everyday media. This workshop is part of ‘Embrace Your Space’, a four-day festival of body positivity at CAVE, Pimlico.

15 July Black Country Women’s Aid & The WDVF Stalking and Coercive Control training (Wolverhampton)

The Coercive Control and Stalking training course aims to raise awareness around the impact of these crimes on the people who experience them.The course will explore the links between coercive control and stalking, and the differences between stalking and harassment. During the session we will explore case studies and the use of specialist risk assessments in providing effective support to victims of stalking. The course will also provide information on local specialist support services in the Wolverhampton area and how to access them.

The organisers recommend that you also attend, or have previously attended the Wolverhampton Domestic Violence Forum’s Coercive Control & Domestic Violence session.

16 July – Human Trafficking Webinar (Online)

You are invited to attend the latest event in our webinar series, Human Trafficking, with members of The Calgary Circle and ACT Alberta’s Manager of Training and Education.

Human trafficking occurs throughout Canada and within Alberta. ACT Alberta – the Action Coalition on Human Trafficking Alberta – has arisen in response to this violation of basic human rights. ACT Alberta works collaboratively with law enforcement, government agencies, and non-governmental organisations to identify and respond to human trafficking in our province.

This will be a great opportunity to find out more about our project with ACT and how The Calgary Circle have been supporting this organisation.

17 July – Know Your Worth: Getting Paid and Negotiating (London)

A kick-ass panel of women discussing “Know your worth: getting paid and negotiating”, followed by a Q&A and then drinks at Huckletree in Shoreditch. This discussion will be a positive discussion about women and money and tips on how to understand your value and how to ask for what you think is fair and get what you want.

23 July – Remembering Resistance (Manchester)

Remembering Resistance is bringing to life the history of women’s protest in the North of England.  The project is celebrating and cataloguing women’s efforts to bring about political change over the last 100 years by creating an archive of women’s activism to inspire future generations.

To ensure the voices of women who have been involved in protest are preserved, we are gathering accounts of protest actors, past and present. If you’ve been involved in campaigning and want to share your experiences, we would love to see you at our pop up event. Here you will be able to record your stories, map the routes your protest took and help develop a timeline of women’s protest movements. The aim of the project is to inspire the next generation by celebrating women’s role in activism. We can’t do this without your stories, so do please get involved!

25 July – Blooming Apples Art Exhibition (London)

Blooming Apples is a group of women standing for other women to rise together and bloom together as powerful and self-expressed individuals who once upon a time were victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Their very first event is an art exhibition featuring artists and creatives such as painters, illustrators, photographers, performing art and screening. “The Blooming Apples” exhibition is inspired by Rupi Kaur’s Poems from her books ‘Milk and Honey’ and ‘Sun and the Flowers’. The event/exhibition aims to be very sensory, interactive and impactful while inspires the viewer to rise and bloom again and again.

31 July – The Feminist Book Society: How to Change the World (London)

Join co-founders Katy Loftus and Eleanor Dryden as they speak to three phenomenal women who through their work and writing prove that it’s possible to change the world, and give us the tools to do it.

The speakers include: Zahra Hankir, a Lebanese-British journalist who writes about the intersection of politics, culture, and society in the Middle East, Gina Martin, an activist and writer. Gina led the successful national campaign to make upskirting illegal, which saw the Voyeurism Act being passed in early 2019 and coming into effect in April and Bethany Rutter, a writer, editor, fashion blogger, and a fierce UK voice in the debate around body positivity.

Multiple dates in July/August – The Feminist Jack the Ripper Walking Tour (London)

You may have heard the story of Jack the Ripper, but how much do you know about his victims? This tour investigates the grim and unfair situations women had to face in the 19th Century. This is a chance to hear about the real women behind the glorified vision of ‘Jack’, visiting the streets they would’ve known and seeing the physical reminders in an area that has changed almost beyond recognition. The walk will concentrate on women’s lives rather than their murders and aims to inspire you with the stories of brave and brilliant East End women, past and present.

12 June – 8 September 2019 – Kiss my Genders at Southbank Centre (London)

Kiss My Genders is a group exhibition celebrating more than 30 international artists whose work explores and engages with gender identity. It brings together over 100 artworks by artists from around the world who employ a wide range of approaches to articulate and engage with gender fluidity, as well as with non-binary, trans and intersex identities.

Working across photography, painting, sculpture, installation and video, many of the artists in Kiss My Genders move beyond a conventional understanding of the body, and in doing so open up new possibilities for gender, beauty and representations of the human form.

9 August – The Media Circle Networking (London)

The Media Circle is one of the newest circles being formed within The Circle. We are still organising ourselves and defining our goals and commitments. Those of us involved in the executive committee would like to invite you to an informal event of networking and discussion on the evening of August 7, 2019 in Central London. Our group is made up of media practitioners in London and we have enjoyed working with one another to define what The Media Circle can accomplish. It is an exciting moment for us as we move ahead on our ideas for supporting women’s empowerment. Perhaps the Media Circle is a good fit for you, too? We hope so!

24 August – The Guilty Feminist X Secret Policeman’s Tour (Edinburgh)

Join comedian Deborah Frances-White for her comedy podcast, recorded in front of a live audience. Each episode, Deborah and her special guests discuss their noble goals as 21st century feminists and the paradoxes and insecurities which undermine them. The podcast has become a comedy phenomenon with over 60 million downloads since it launched in 2016. Guilty Feminist live presented by Deborah Frances-White and Amnesty International

12-24 August – Shrew (Edinburgh)

Mrs Pankhurst’s Players present Shrew, their original take on one of Shakespeare’s most controversial plays. The Taming of the Shrew was described by George Bernard Shaw as “…altogether disgusting to modern sentiments”. This radical adaptation releases Shakespeare’s text from its comedic origins, reworking the original play to tell Kate’s story – a journey from strength and independence to a forced arranged marriage, foregrounding female experience in a man’s world.

 

Pauline is from France and is currently a second year Political Economy student at King’s College London with a deep interest in Women’s Rights and Feminist Issues.

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism


Feminist Calendar: September and October 2018

Photo credit: People’s History Museum

Our volunteer Anna Renfrew’s guide to feminism this autumn!

13 September — Indian Suffragettes, Female Identities and Transnational Networks (London)

Dr Sumita Mukherjee looks at the activities of Indian campaigners for the female vote in Asia, Europe, USA, Britain and other parts of the British Empire, and how they had an impact on campaigns in the Indian subcontinent.

In the context of her new book, she discusses the experiences of the Indian suffragettes who travelled around the world to lobby the British parliament, attend international women’s conferences and conduct speaking tours to gather support for Indian women.

Dr Mukherjee will demonstrate the ways in which the suffrage movement was a truly global enterprise, not solely confined to Britain or America, that involved and affected women from a range of diverse backgrounds.

Come to listen to this fascinating talk, have a bite to eat in the Pay What You Can Cafe and view The Women’s Hall exhibition at the same time!

14 September — The True Cost Screening (London)

As part of London Fashion Week, The Circle and the UK Asian Film Festival are organising a one-night-only screening of “The True Cost”, produced by The Circle founding member Livia Firth.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Livia Firth, author of “Slave to Fashion” Safia Minney and Jessica Simor QC, co-author of The Lawyers Circle report “Fashion Focus: the Fundamental Right to a Living Wage”.

20 September — The Women’s Movement in Pakistan: Activism, Islam and Democracy (London)

Ayesha’s book details the history of women’s social, legal and political status in Pakistan as contested through its urban-based modern women’s movement. Since the 1980s, a small but influential group of activists have been advocating for their rights, the restoration of democracy and a secular state.

This began in response to the state’s growing use of Islam for political purposes, which peaked under General Zia-ul-Haq’s military rule (1977-88), during which the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan and rise of political Islam worked in favor of his domestic policy of Islamization. Pakistan became an increasingly exclusionary state, with religious minorities and women facing growing discrimination.

Despite setbacks, such as another period of military rule and rise of the Taliban, activists succeeded in winning back some of their rights. Recent years have seen unprecedented legislative reform, policy changes to reverse discrimination and the first substantial increase in women’s political participation.

23 September — Women Making Change (Glasgow)

Explore the place of women in change-making with this empowering and celebratory event, presented in partnership with the Glasgow Women’s Library.

Through an afternoon of talks, panel discussions and workshops we will celebrate the achievements women have made in shaping a fairer and more balanced political, social and cultural landscape —and, in keeping with Take One Action’s raison d’être, explore current challenges in civil society, politics, media and international development.

Hear from Naila Ayesh, protagonist of “Naila and the Uprising” and founder and director of the Women’s Affairs Centre in Gaza, as she reflects on her personal experience of being on the frontlines of political change; explore how we can achieve better representation for women in policy, environmentalism, culture and academia through an inclusive panel discussion; and develop your own practical skills and understanding of activism and creative resistance through a selection of interactive workshops.

27 September — Slay In Your Lane (Glasgow)

“Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible” by Yomi Adegoke & Elizabeth Uviebinené —in Conversation with Tomiwa Folorunso at Glasgow Women’s Library

Black women today are facing uniquely challenging experiences in all aspects of their lives. Yet when best friends Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené searched for a book that addressed these challenges they realised none existed. So “Slay in Your Lane” —the lovechild of exasperation and optimism— was born.

From education, to work, to dating, to representation, money and health, this inspirational, honest and provocative “Black Girl Bible” explores the ways in which being black and female affects each of these areas —and offers advice and encouragement on how to navigate them.

Illustrated with stories from Elizabeth and Yomi’s own lives and from interviews with dozens of the most successful black women in Britain —including Amma Asante, Charlene White, Jamelia, Denise Lewis, Malorie Blackman and Dawn Butler MP— “Slay in Your Lane” recognizes and celebrates the strides black women have already made, whilst providing practical advice and inspiration for those who want to do the same and forge a better, visible future.

9 October — How Science Got Women Wrong, with Angela Saini (Oxford)

Shedding light on controversial research and investigating the ferocious gender wars in biology, psychology and anthropology, Angela Saini, to mark Ada Lovelace Day, will talk about how women are being rediscovered. She will explore what these revelations mean for us as individuals and as a society, revealing an alternative view of science in which women are included, rather than excluded.

This talk will be followed by a drinks reception, book sale and signing.

11 October — Womens’ Lives Leeds Drop-In Session (Leeds)

Womens’ Lives Leeds are holding a weekly drop-in session in the GATE every Thursday morning for women who’d like to speak to someone in confidence about their health, wellbeing or relationships.

No appointment needed, just call in to the GATE any time between 11 am and 12 pm on Thursday mornings.

Women are also welcome to their weekly women-only walk, which sets off from the GATE at 10 am.

13 and 14 October — WOW Festival Exeter

The Circle is proud to announce that we will be part of the second annual Women Of The World Festival in Exeter. The festival is taking place on 13 and 14 October across three venues —RAMM, Exeter Phoenix and Exeter Library. The programme is jam packed with artists, writers, politicians, comedians and activists. It is bound to be an inspiring and thought-provoking weekend.

The Circle’s Relationship Manager Peta Barrett will be joining a panel discussion focused on “Building the Sisterhood”. We will also be sharing information about the important part we play in the global movement for gender equality at the WOW Market Place.

We hope to see you there!

If you are based in or around Exeter and are interested in becoming a member, get in touch before the event and come say hi.

18 October — Women of Colour in UK Labour History: Film + Discussion (London)

Join us for a documentary screening about the 1976 Grunwick Strike, which was led largely by migrant women workers of South Asian origin.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion about the overlooked contribution of WOC in labour history, as well as interactions of race, class and gender in industrial action and activism.

Throughout autumn, until 31 December — A Woman’s Place: Ambleside’s Feminist Legacy (Leeds)

This exhibition at Armitt Museum in Cumbria celebrates the pioneering women who lived in the local area in times gone by —from journalist Harriet Martineau, often described as the first female sociologist, to the author and conservationist Beatrix Potter.

Until 2019 — Represent! Voices 100 Years On (Manchester)

This exhibition reflects on those who campaigned for better representation, most famously the suffragists and the militant suffragettes. The recently acquired Manchester suffragette banner will be displayed for the first time alongside sashes, brooches, photographs and cartoons, helping to paint a picture of what representation meant in 1918.

This family-friendly exhibition also questions how far we have really come in 100 years. It gives a platform to individuals and communities, including LGBT+ youth charity The Proud Trust and Safety4Sisters, who are still fighting to make their voices heard today. Crowdsourced items, including placards from the 2017 Women’s Marches and a jumpsuit from the Sisters Uncut 2018 BAFTA protest, tell the very personal stories of today’s movements and campaigns.


Feminist Calendar: July and August 2018

Now – 4th November – Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up (London)

This V&A exhibition presents an extraordinary collection of personal artefacts and clothing belonging to the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Locked away for 50 years after her death, this collection has never before been exhibited outside Mexico.

20th July – 100 YRS Suffrage – A Feminist Festival (Leeds)

100 Years of Suffrage is a feminist festival taking part over three weekends, July 20th – August 5th. The event will be held at Aire Place Studios

The festival opens on Friday night with an exhibition featuring two feminist artists whose work, whilst working in completely different styles, looks into redefining beauty standards. This will be followed by an after party featuring women and non-binary djs.

The next event is a day of workshops and talks for women and non-binary people. It really focuses on the last 100 years of suffrage and what the next 100 years have in store for feminism. This will feature talks about suffragettes of colour, talks from women MPs and their experiences in parliament and feminist activists will discuss their battles with law changes and policy makers. This will culminate in a spoken word open mic where women and non-binary people can share their political experiences.

The final event is a peddle powered feminist cinema, showing independent films from women and non-binary directors featuring films with the theme of suffrage and how far we’ve come. Vegan food will be on sale.

The aim is to bring the community together to learn, share and celebrate the last 100 years of suffrage.

21st July – East End Suffragettes in the Archives (London)

A special day exploring East End suffragette stories in Tower Hamlets archives. A great introduction to what collections the archives hold and how to use them.

Workshop: Suffragette Sources at Tower Hamlets Archives
11:00am – 1:00pm, drop-in

Discover some of the suffragette sources from the collections at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives. Read the real Woman’s Dreadnought, see our first edition copy of The Suffragette signed by its author Sylvia Pankhurst, and browse our unique collection of pamphlets, news cuttings and photographs. With an introduction from Robert Jones, Heritage Officer (Library), and then a chance to explore the material.

21st July — East End History Club Suffragette Special

2:00pm – 4:00pm, drop-in

A special edition of Tower Hamlets Archives regular East End History Club, exploring women’s lives in Tower Hamlets throughout the twentieth century. These sessions are ideal for those who are curious about local history and want to find out more. There’s no need to book, just drop in. Tea, coffee and biscuits provided.

24th July — Webinar: Refugee Women

Levels of displacement have never been higher than they are now. There are currently 68.5 million forcibly displaced people. 28.5 million of those are refugees and asylum seekers.

Refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls face challenges on multiple fronts, including their gender and their situation as displaced people. Displaced women and girls are at a higher risk of experiencing sexual violence and many have to give up their education.

Join us in our second webinar to learn about these and other challenges that millions of refugee women and girls are facing and find out more about how you can support them to overcome these challenges.

Speakers will be Laura Padoan, a UNHCR Spokesperson, and Claire Lewis, from the UNHCR Global Goodwill Ambassador Programme.

27th July – Red Light: Sex workers’ and allies’ fundraiser party (London)

The Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM), the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) and Scot-Pep are having a party and you’re invited!

They’re raising money for a plaque commemorating beloved friend Laura Lee, who tragically died this year. Laura was a giant among sex work activists, a fearless campaigner and a dear comrade. They will be remembering Laura with a minute’s silence at the event.

Further money raised will go to Sex Workers’ Alliance Ireland (SWAI), who are fighting against the Nordic Model in Ireland.

Come for music, drinks, dancing and love!

3rd-27th August – Hot Brown Honey (Edinburgh)

Hot Brown Honey turn up the heat with lashings of sass and a hot pinch of empowerment in the smash-hit, genre-defying, award-winning firecracker of a show that’s taken the world by storm. Taking on intersectional feminism, cultural appropriation and female sexuality, this is a must see at the Edinburgh Fringe.

5th August – Screening of “Shireen of al-Wajala” (Leeds)

Aire Place Studios warmly welcome you to celebrate the end of “100 Years of Suffrage” with a pedal powered screening of ‘Shireen of al-Walaja’ Shireen is a powerhouse of everything it means to be a woman. As her Palestinian village shrinks, Shireen’s strength and courage grows. Please note this film features state violence.

9th August – Girl by Girl, Vote by Vote (Glasgow)

This Story Cafe Special is part of our Vote 100 programme, marking 100 years since some of the first women in Britain were granted the right to vote. Bring your daughters, granddaughters and nieces to celebrate!

Story Café Special: Girl by Girl, Vote by Vote, Thursday 9th August, 12.30pm to 2.30pm, for anyone aged 10+
This event is aimed at girls and young women 10+ but all are welcome. All children must be accompanied by an adult.

Sheena Wilkinson, one of the UK’s foremost writers for young people, will reveal the secrets behind her latest novel, Star by Star, a bold tale of Suffragettes and heroes, courage and survival.

13th August – Rose McGowan with Afua Hirsch (Edinburgh)

In 2018 the film industry, for so long a haven of misogyny and sexism, has found itself at the heart of a worldwide ‘cataclysmic global reckoning’, in which women everywhere are standing up defiantly against predatory male behaviour. In Brave, the American actress Rose McGowan recounts her fight against the Hollywood machine. Today she talks to Afua Hirsch about her campaign to help all women reclaim their lives.

Part of the Identity Parades series of events and sponsored by Open University.

16th August – Networking Summer Drinks (London)

The Circle welcomes members and their guests to a summer networking event in August. Share a cold beverage with like-minded individuals who are working with The Circle to empower some of the most marginalised women and girls in communities around the globe. At the event you can learn more about the projects we are supporting and ways that you can get involved to make a difference.

The event will take place at The Rotary, a venue with a beautiful outdoor space just outside Regent’s Park.


Processions: We have the vote. Now we want equality!

Photo: Peta Barrett at Processions, in London on 10 June 2018.

The Circle Relationship Manager Peta Barrett shares her thoughts on the Processions march that took place in four UK cities on 10 June 2018 to commemorate the Representation of the People Act centenary. Peta marched in the Processions in London along with members of The Circle and thousands of other women and girls.

Central London has never looked as beautiful as it did on Sunday 10 June 2018. The sun lit the greens, purples and whites of the suffragette colours worn by smiling women and girls of all backgrounds gathered to commemorate 100 years since the first women received the vote in the UK. I was thrilled that one of the first banners spotted read “Sisters are doing in for themselves”, lyrics from The Circle’s Founder Annie Lennox. I grabbed the opportunity for photo because it made me feel connected to all the members of The Circle gathered in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff, all of our members who could not be there in person and the women of The Circle connected to us by our projects near and far.

 

I looked around me at the costumes, the banners, the sheer positivity of the crowd and I felt the spirit of the suffragettes with us as we walked in memory of everything they have done for us and for the long road we still need to walk for gender equality. It was wonderful to be surrounded by women and girls of all generations, some of whom had travelled from all over the UK.

The morning after Processions a close friend asked me, “who received the right to vote in the UK one hundred years ago?”

To set the scene… Up until 1918 only men aged 21 or older who owned land had the right to vote in the UK. The suffragette movement lead to the introduction of the Representation of the People Act in 1918. This allowed women over the age of thirty who owned property, or whose husbands did, the right to vote. Not all women could vote. In fact, only 22% of women living in the UK at the time received the right to vote in 1918. It is also interesting and important to mention that the Representation of the People Act also further extended the right to vote to all men over the age of 21 regardless of their property ownership status.

It would be another ten years before the Representation of People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 was introduced into British politics, giving women equal electoral rights as men. What this tells us is that the suffragettes continued to fight together for equal rights. 22% representation was not good enough; the exclusion of any woman was unacceptable. The fight would continue until all women had the same right to vote as men. And finally, in 1928 all women aged 21 and older regardless of property ownership were given the right to vote. Sylvia Pankhurst is quoted in 1931 as saying ‘’as to the suffrage movement, it was a gathering of people of all sorts, united by one simple idea, which necessitated the surrender of no prejudice of race or class”. So, if you were at the Processions celebrations over the weekend, think of this as the dress run for some serious partying in 2028!

“What difference does political independence have?” you might ask. Women in the UK were given the right to vote in 1928 and are living in a country that the World Economic Forum (WEF) considers to be one of the most equal in their Global Gender Gap Report in 2017. By comparison, Saudi Arabia, which is ranked as one of the worst countries globally in the same report, only extended their women citizens the right to vote in 2015. Working for The Circle my focus is on the most marginalised women and girls, but I learnt that, despite having the vote for 100 years, the UK also has a lot of work to do to achieve gender equality. So as one of my favourite banners from yesterday reads – “We Have the Vote. Now We Want Equality’”. Equality for all women. And we will not stop until every woman is empowered to make her own choices and make change happen for herself.

In 2018 we find ourselves in a very different world where the stories of history are being re-examined and often criticised because they have often been told by the same perspective – overwhelmingly that of white heterosexual middle and upper-class men. Looking back on the suffragette movement I am thus further inspired when I really reflect on Sylvia Pankhurst’s words in 1931.

“… as to the suffrage movement, it was a gathering of people of all sorts, united by one simple idea, which necessitated the surrender of no prejudice of race or class”.

Sylvia Pankhurst

With only 22% of women receiving the right to vote and this being reliant on a property ownership, the majority of the women represented by that percentage would have been wealthy white women.  The suffragette movement in the UK wasn’t directly campaigning with a racial agenda to exclude ethnic minorities, which was the case in examples seen in countries like the USA, Australia and South Africa. For example, the suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh, goddaughter of Queen Victoria, was born of Indian and German-Ethiopian ethnicity. Sushama Sen (a woman of Indian ethnicity) recalls in her book Memoirs of an Octogenarian that when the suffragettes heard of her activities campaigning for the women’s vote, they invited her to join their demonstrations in Piccadilly in 1910. However, through my research I have found no evidence to suggest that specific consideration was given to women of ethnic minorities who would have been less able to realise their rights due to the oppression faced in addition to sexism. What is inspiring about the suffragette movement between 1918 and 1928 is that despite the more privileged women in UK society having received the vote in 1918, the fight for political equality continued. It unified women from all walks of life, living in the UK, to stand together for political equality, regardless of who they were. We are celebrating today because together, they won.  

In 2018 there are huge inequalities that exist between women and men. The experiences of those inequalities between women are also worlds apart. As a South African woman, the challenges I have faced because of my gender are hardly a drop in the ocean when compared to Siyanda, a woman who is committed to self-empowerment at the Nonceba Women’s Shelter in South Africa, a project supported by The Circle. The difference between us is that, in addition to sexism, Siyanda has faced challenges connected to her ethnicity, lack of access to education and financial independence, which are all beyond her control. Now in 2018 we have more knowledge, we have the gift of hind sight and we can see how the road to gender equality is longer for women who are facing discrimination on multiple fronts. I am part of the small percentage of women who are closer to equal rights than most. The suffragettes focused on women in the UK, but they did not have the internet to connect them to their global sisters. The suffragettes had bells to make noise, we have various forms of media. As women today, we also have networks and influence that the suffragettes could only dream of in 1918. With the inspiration of the suffragettes behind us and the winds of change in the global movement for gender equality powering our sails —I ask you to remember where we have come from and to please join me as we continue to fight for equality for all women, especially those who are still treated as far less equal than you or I.

 

 

 

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