COVID-19 is a threat to every country and community, but refugee camps are dealing with impossible circumstances and are housing some of the most vulnerable people in the world. They are nowhere near equipped to deal with a pandemic. This year the Guardian have been very focused on documenting the current conditions in the Moria camp in Lesbos, Greece. One article by Harriet Grant on 11th February 2020 – ‘UN calls for urgent evacuation of Lesbos refugee camp’ – makes no mention of Coronavirus. But when we consider the devastating conditions that refugees are already facing daily, one cannot help but wonder how it is possible for them to survive coronavirus once it enters the camps. Refugees are already some of the most vulnerable people on the planet right now. How can we protect them against coronavirus when healthcare is already at crisis point? This is a question which is incredibly concerning for women and girls especially.
Image: Santosh Bhanot at The Asian Circle Chai Day 2019
Chai Day, The Circle’s annual fundraising initiative on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is about gathering to raise funds to support survivors of gender-based violence. Chai Day is an initiative to raise funds and awareness for this issue and since its inception has grown from strength to strength. Its aim to support some of the most vulnerable women and girls and the impact that the work has had is truly a testament to The Circle’s mantra: women empowering women.
Started by The Asian Circle in 2016, Chai Day has remained one of the highlights of The Asian Circle’s calendar. Following the resounding success of their 5th anniversary celebration in 2018 with high chai at the breath-taking LaLit Hotel, The Asian Circle held another impressive event for Chai Day 2019. With the aim of informing and inspiring, the committee held a seminar on ending violence against women, followed by high chai. The seminar, kindly hosted by the Peepul Enterprise in Leicester, brought together activists and the local community to share statistics, data and knowledge on violence against women and raise funds. Key speakers included Santosh Bhanot, Founder and Chair of The Asian Circle, Panahghar and Quetzal.
Image: The Asian Circle’s Chai Day 2019
Panahghar is a specialist service led by BAME women for BAME communities in the West Midlands including Coventry and Leicester, with an aim to promote physical and emotional health, well-being and personal growth opportunities from an intersectional human rights perspective. Although Panahghar originally provided services for just women and girls, in 2014 they have expanded their services to include men and boys, recognising that to reduce violence towards women significantly, men and boys must be included. Panahghar is an Urdu word meaning ‘House of Sanctuary’ or in short ‘Safe House’ and is a voluntary organisation that exists to address all forms of violence and abuse and to respond to distress and maltreatment including instances of domestic and sexual violence, honour-based violence, forced marriage, FGM/C and trafficking. They promote humanitarian, educational, developmental and environmental awareness to relieve poverty and encourage social and economic wellbeing amongst vulnerable groups. In their presentation, Panahghar spoke on the extent of domestic violence within the local area and what the human and financial costs of abuse were and highlighted the lack of funding for BME service providers both locally and nationally.
Quetzal is another Leicester-based organisation working to support vulnerable women and girls. This organisation offers professional counselling service to female survivors of childhood sexual abuse from a passionate team of psychotherapists with specialist training in responding to trauma and sexual assault. Childhood sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported forms of abuse, as the perpetrator is usually, always known to the child – making it the ultimate betrayal of trust. According to Quetzal, one of the communities that consistently under-reports childhood sexual abuse is the South Asian Community as notions of shame and honour make taking the first step particularly difficult. Through their counselling service, they have helped hundreds of women break down their psychological defences and destructive behaviours caused by the childhood sexual abuse. Quetzal used the opportunity to share their Breaking the Silence initiative, a community-based approach to raise awareness of childhood sexual abuse and to increase engagement within the South Asian community in Leicester by collaborating with community groups and other agencies to give the power for recovery back to survivors. It was good to hear about the fantastic work that both Quetzal and Panahghar are doing within and around Leicester to support survivors of gender-based violence.
Image: Speakers at The Asian Circle Chai Day 2019
Since their first meeting in 2013, the inspirational women that formed The Asian Circle were unanimous in their decision to work towards ending violence against women and girls. During the seminar, Santosh recalled this journey and spoke passionately to the audience about the need for this project to support marginalised women and girls. What followed over the next six years was an incredibly ambitious project in partnership with Oxfam India and the grass roots NGO LASS (Lok Astha Sewa Sansthan) that works in rural Adivasi communities in Chhattisgarh to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. Within these communities, baseline research found, that 3 in 4 men believe that it is acceptable to beat their wives and even more shockingly, that 2 in 3 women believe that men have the right to beat them as punishment. The project had three key objectives: to enable female survivors of violence to access counselling, legal aid and other support services; to undertake research for evidence-based programming efforts and advocacy to prevent violence and strengthen community mechanisms against it; and make the wider community aware of violence against women and motivate them to take action to prevent violence against girls and women. Santosh was able to announce that the funds raised over the last 6 years have helped build several women’s support centres and engage over 18,000 women and girls and a further 9,000 men and boys. Through training and the support networks within women’s groups, women have learnt about the different forms of violence and how to tackle them. As a result of this project, in Chhattisgarh there has been a State-Level Consultation on the State Gender Equality Policy and the project partner LASS has been awarded the Chhattisgarh State Level Honour as the Nari Shakti Samma Award for ‘outstanding improvement of the conditions of women at the margins of society’.
Funds raised from Chai Days that happened across the UK, in addition to the money raised by The Asian Circle, will go towards supporting this project in addition to The Circle’s ending violence against women projects in the portfolio. For 2019, this included the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in South Africa, ACT Alberta in Canada and Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis in the UK. Thank you to everyone who attended The Asian Circle’s Chai Day Seminar and for those who supported our projects working to tackle gender-based violence. Without our members and the Circles that they have formed, The Circle would not be able to continue empowering marginalised women and girls across the globe.
The Circle is inspired by the notion that when women come together and organise, they can be a powerful force for change. The Asian Circle, who have managed to raise a huge amount of funds for marginalised women and girls over the years, are a shining example of that force.
We know that there is a lot of information regarding COVID-19 and the impact that it will have on marginalised women and girls on the internet right now. We thought we’d share with you some of the articles and reports that we’ve been reading to help you keep informed.
Marginalised people can become even more vulnerable in global health emergencies such as the current COVID-19 pandemic due to a number of factors including limited access to health services. Previous epidemics have illustrated that primary caregivers to the ill are predominately women and that women and girls experience increased risks of gender-based violence including sexual exploitation.
There are a number of factors that put women and girls at disproportionate risk in public health emergencies, including:
Women make up large parts of the health workforce;
Primary caregivers to the ill are predominately women. This caregiving burden is likely to cause their physical and mental health to suffer and impede their access to education, livelihood sources, and other critical support;
Women are more likely to be engaged in the informal sector and be hardest hit economically by COVID-19;
Women experience increased risks of gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation;
Cultural factors may exclude women from decision-making spaces and restrict their access to information on outbreaks and availability of services;
Women might experience interrupted access to sexual and reproductive health services, including to family planning;
In some cultural contexts, gender roles may dictate women cannot obtain health services independently or from male service providers.
Social isolation policies can also put a disproportionate pressure on women and girls due to:
Additional childcare responsibilities, that more commonly fall on women;
Women and girls who are in abusive relationships may be unable to leave a dangerous environment;
Services supported survivors of violence are unable to offer shelter or in person counselling sessions.
We are fully aware that there will be some disruptions to what we and our project partners want to accomplish over the coming months. However, both they and us are taking measures to ensure that our teams and the beneficiaries are supported in their work and that the risks are minimised as much as possible. It goes without saying how proud and inspired we are by the unending commitment, flexibility and drive that is being shown by everyone to ensure our impactful projects continue as best they can. Saying that, we want to keep you as informed as possible about this issue and what the impact may be on marginalised women and girls around the globe.
Violence Against Women and Girls
Public health, the economy, and women and girls’ safety and bodily autonomy are inextricably linked.
Social Development Direct, following a request from the UK Department for International Development, reviewed the evidence of how COVID-19 might impact on violence against women and girls and lessons learnt from recent epidemics.
Emerging evidence suggests that COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to increase the risks of:
Domestic violence, with police reports in China showing that domestic violence tripled during the epidemic.
Violence against healthcare workers, due to the serious stress that the pandemic places on patient, their relatives and other healthcare workers. Racial and sexual harassment (both online and offline), with anecdotal reports targeted sexualised attacks against women of East Asian appearance.
Abuse and exploitation of vulnerable women workers, including street-based sex workers and migrant domestic workers.
Sexual exploitation and violence by state officials and armed guards.
Nonceba Family Counselling Centre
South Africa has gone into lockdown in an attempt to avoid a “catastrophe of huge proportions” said the president. This is a difficult time for everyone, but services such as the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre are facing additional challenges. The Centre support a community where there is high-population density, a high level of overcrowding and poverty that makes it extremely difficult to self-isolate. Women and girls in Khayelitsha are already vulnerable to intimate partner violence, but the fear, tension and stress related to the COVID-19 outbreak will only intensify the risks they face.
In addition to this, most of the women in the shelter are HIV positive and rely on the Nonceba Centre for access to healthcare. With the additional pressure on healthcare services globally, the Centre is working to ensure the safety of all of the women and children using its services.
Image: Siyanda at The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre
“Access to support for women and children may also shrink further due to social isolation and those in poverty will be severely impacted.”
Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis are working to adapt and prepare for the potentially increased pressure on their services and also the restrictions on the services that they are able to offer. As a result of the crisis, they are currently unable to offer face-to-face support in any capacity and will therefore be running increased hours on their helpline. They can now be reached Monday to Friday, 11am to 4pm.
A Living Wage
Public health emergencies can have a tremendous, sustained impact on livelihoods. This can be particularly true for women, who are more likely to be engaged in informal or low-wage activities or migrant work. The global pandemic has caused chaos and suffering for millions of garment workers across the Global South. Many factories in garment-producing countries have closed due to a shortage of raw materials from China and cancelled orders from clothing brands across the world.
The Clean Clothes Campaign is asking brands to ensure that workers who contract the virus are allowed to take sick leave without repercussions and continue to receive wages throughout self-isolation. There have also been reports of garment workers being forced to work in cramped conditions, without protective wear, despite governments introducing social distancing policies across the globe.
Although our Living Wage Project will be able to continue remotely throughout this crisis, the women and girls that it is working to empower will be severely impacted by the short-term decisions being made by brands and retailers, not only for their own personal safety, but for their livelihoods in the long-term.
Image: A Female Garment Worker/Labour Behind the Label
The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network
For the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network, their preparations to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on both their members and their activities are still speculative at this stage. In the MENA region, there are comparatively few confirmed cases right now, but states have taken early-stage measures to prevent the spread of the virus including social distancing and curfews. However, the Network has over 130 local members in more than 15 countries across the region, so the impact will vary greatly.
The pandemic could result in a number of challenges for the local, female journalists in the Network including limited job opportunities and a greater demand for mental health support during this difficult time, which will be even more difficult to provide remotely.
However, the Network is working hard with donors and partner organisations to ensure that they can respond flexibly to the needs of their members as best as they can and to strengthen the capacity of their remote activities.
To support the Network and the journalists who are at the frontline, reporting stories of global importance from some of the most dangerous places in the world, head to their website.
It is clear that COVID-19 is continuing to spread throughout India, and at a rapidly accelerating rate. In addition, Maharashtra state is emerging as the epicentre for the pandemic in India.
Educate Girls reached out to us to inform us of the steps they are taking to ensure the safety of both their staff and the communities that they serve. They confirmed that the implications of this lockdown will be severe on the communities they work in, particularly on girls. This is because most of the communities are severely marginalised and zero mobility and loss of income streams will put immense pressure on families.
Not only have they created an internal task force and provided a helpline number to assister their field team members, but they have committed to additional financial support for employees and are working with contacts at the District level Government officials, village-based influencers and parents of out of school children to ensure there is no drop in their communication. Finally, they will continue to deliver trainings whilst all teams are working from home and hope that this will enable them to emerge improved and ready to deliver better.
Evidence suggests that during past public health emergencies, resources have been diverted from routine health care services toward containing and responding to the outbreak. These reallocations constrain already limited access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, such as clean and safe deliveries, contraceptives, and pre- and post-natal health care. As a charity that exists to support vulnerable young people and their communities, our project partners Irise are enormously concerned about the impact COVID-19 is having and will continue to have on their community in East Africa.
“We know that our work is likely to be disrupted, and as one of our funders and partners, I wanted to assure you that we are putting in place a series of mitigation and adaptation plans as we learn more about the impact and scale of this pandemic.
We are worried about our staff. The majority of our team are women and face a disproportionate burden as primary caregivers to their children and wider families.
We are worried about the communities they serve who are struggling to access accurate health information and adequate healthcare.”
The organisation is running an emergency appeal to protect their staff and communities from COVID-19 and its impact. This special fund will be set aside to keep their staff and their families safe and enable them to access healthcare and other support over the coming week. This fund will ensure that every Irise member of staff’s income is secure and that they will get help to access healthcare if they need it, so that they can focus their energy on supporting families and communities during this difficult time.
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, 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.
Each month, we’ll tell you what we’ve been reading at The Circle to get you feeling engaged, informed, and inspired by the global women’s rights movement. You might find an interview, a long read, a novel, or just a short news update – so, here is our round up for March!
“The new coronavirus has reached global pandemic levels and is affecting people across the world, including garment workers in global supply chains. Protecting those most at risk means both taking steps to limit exposure and ensuring that people surviving on the poverty line are not pushed below it. Due to their low wages and widespread repression of freedom of association rights, garment workers already live in precarious situations and the economic fallout of the pandemic is having far-reaching consequences.” It is more important than ever to show solidarity towards the garment workers who are being hit incredibly hard by the outbreak of Coronavirus. From factory closures, to lack of paid sick leave we must protect the workers who make our clothes. Read now!
Published on 26th February 2020, Paulina Villegas and Kirk Semple write in anticipation of the protest in Mexico City which took place on 9 March. Women were urged to disappear from the public eye and stay at home to ‘protest gender-based violence, inequality and the culture of machismo, and to demand greater support for women’s rights.’ However, the title also refers to the murders that took place in the country earlier this month. To find out more, search #UNDÍASINNOSOTRAS on Twitter.
In Revolting Prostitutes, sex workers Juno Mac and Molly Smith bring a fresh perspective to questions that have long been contentious. Speaking from a growing global sex worker rights movement, and situating their argument firmly within wider questions of migration, work, feminism, and resistance to white supremacy, they make it clear that anyone committed to working towards justice and freedom should be in support of the sex worker rights movement.
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. This year March4Women celebrated the power and passion of women and girls who are on the frontline of responding to climate change. At The Circle, Anna Renfrew and Csenge Gábeli consider the intersection between gender and climate change, effects and possible solutions.
Selection made by Georgia Bridgett and Anna Renfrew.
“I cannot put into words the magic that makes The Circle what it is, but I do know this – when women come together we can make amazing things happen and together we have the power to change the world.”
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! Leanne is the Chair of The Oxford Circle and has taken on the role with a tour de force. The Oxford Circle are planning to host 20 events through 2020 and will be fundraising for the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in South Africa. We sat down to ask her some questions about why she became a member and her involvement in the organisation.
Tell us a little about yourself:
I’m Australian and moved to the UK 6 years ago with my husband and two sons. I have lived in various places in Oz (including a year on a island on the Great Barrier Reef), America (the year Trump was voted in, the sheer horror!) and the UK. My background is in fashion, digital media and technology, but after moving to the UK I returned to studying and am now in my final year of a BSc (Hons) Psychology. I’m also Chair of The Oxford Circle and founder of Happy Larder Co, which sells a range of ethically and sustainably sourced loose leaf teas. 100% of Happy Larder Co’s profits go to support female survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking with 20% of our Chai sales going towards The Circle.
I’m curious by nature, a self-confessed chatter box, and love a good challenge. I’ve trekked Peru, the Great Wall of China, and Mount Kilimanjaro for charity, and for the last four years my friend Jane and I have been doing 100km ultra challenges. This year we are completing another 100k challenge to raise money for The Oxford Circle. We aim to complete this one in under 25 hours, which is a big change from last years 35 hours. Watch this space…..!
Why did you decide to become a member of The Circle?
Serendipity. In 2018 I purchased a ticket for an a talk on domestic violence via Eventbrite. Paying little attention, I had no clue that it was an event for The Circle or that it was actually for the previous month! The Circle’s wonderful Relationship Manager Peta Barrett called to let me know and we ended up talking for ages about The Circle and the amazing work they do supporting disempowered women. I loved Peta and the whole ethos of The Circle and signed up on the spot.
Since then I have met such an amazing group of women, some of which have become lifelong friends. The Circle members bring such passion and diverse skills to the mix and the variety of events and initiatives that have come out of that has been amazing.
Are there any of The Circle’s projects that are particularly close to your heart and can you tell us a bit more about your involvement?
All of them! The Oxford Circle supports the Nonceba Centre in South Africa, which supports victims of domestic violence and trafficking. ACT Alberta, which is supported by The Calgary Circle, also work with victims of trafficking. I can’t imagine having someone take away my freedom and subject me to the level of trauma these women have experienced. I think the work that all of The Circle’s projects is doing is incredible but it saddens me that they have exist in the first place. With The Circle, I love that we can do something tangible to help women less fortunate than us.
What does Global Feminism mean to you?
Audre Lorde said it perfectly when she said “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
I believe we all have an obligation to speak up against inequality and injustice, and to help amplify the voices of those less fortunate than us. The liberties we experience today are the result of those who have fought before us. We owe it to women all around the world and to future generations who will look back on the things we do today and the battles we fight and thank us for it.
How have you used your professional skills or knowledge as a member of The Circle?
I have to say, The Circle members are so inspiring that sometimes I feel like my skill set is completely lacking in comparison! However, it’s important to remember that we all have important skills to bring to the mix. I think BIG and I love taking on a challenge, which the poor Oxford Circle committee have had to get used to. We’re running 20 events in 2020 and I couldn’t have done it without them. Amy and Hannah are amazing event planners and Sue is such a depth of knowledge and kindness. I’m no good at getting things done on my own and that’s what’s I love about The Circle. You can have an idea and before you know it there’s a group of women wanting to help make it happen. A perfect example of this is late last year we ran an Active Bystander Training Workshop in collaboration with Active Bystander. Su is a member of The Circle and had kindly offered for her and Scott to run a workshop and raise money for The Circle. A few interested members pulled together and we managed to find a corporate sponsor, Adobe, who not only provided the venue but also very kindly put on a selection of food and wine. The event was a huge success. Another example is Jumble Fever happening in Oxford Town Hall on Saturday 18 January. Claire, one of The Circle’s Trustees, started this event last year and it has already grown to a much larger venue with an incredible list of people helping to run it, collect goods for sale, model the clothes, take photographs, and promote the event. We’ve got local DJ’s and bands on the day and some amazing raffle prizes and items for sale donated by Annie Lennox and Colin Firth.
I cannot put into words the magic that makes The Circle what it is, but I do know this – when women come together we can make amazing things happen and together we have the power to change 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.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of press concerning the experience of victim-survivors reporting instances of sexual assault in the UK as organisations attempt to shine a light on the monumental and often fruitless task of taking to trial crimes of rape and sexual assault. There is little chance of the perpetrator being brought to justice, and time and time again women have described how traumatic navigating this system can be. Of course, there are many who have found closure through this process and have had positive experiences with the police and legal professionals. Last week Cosmopolitan published the article What really happens when you report a rape detailing the experiences of 15 people across the UK, including the testimony of one woman who stated that “I think reporting this crime and going through the justice system has really aided my recovery and I am so pleased that I did it” after her perpetrator received a nine year sentence. However, for many women this is not the case.
Repeatedly, victim-survivors have described instances of inadequate communication from officials, concerns for their personal safety and perceptions of the system being weighed in favour of the accused all as challenges in their own justice journeys. The majority of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported to the authorities as the legal process can be a lengthy and daunting one. However, systemic failures to reporting victims are at the heart of such low confidence in the current system as one that fairly and adequately represents the interests of women taking the brave step to report.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition, one of the projects funded by The Circle’s Chai Day initiative, is in the process of taking the Crown Prosecution Service to court over the ‘catastrophic’ drop in rape prosecutions (down by 44% since 2014) whilst the increase in the number of rapes reported to the police is up by 173%. The lobbying organisation ‘have heard from many women who have decided to report rape to the police; have endured what can be very gruelling questioning and possibly medical examinations; have had to sacrifice their phone, computer and personal records; endure an agonising wait; to then be told that the case has been dropped’ whilst the Guardian reported last year that a training session at the CPS encouraged prosecutors to take the ‘weak cases out of the system’ to improve its conviction rate.
A culture that discourages victims from speaking up to report their abuse is not one that supports its most vulnerable. Global Feminism is a movement designed to highlight the rampant inequalities across the globe that women and girls still face, drawing attention and encouraging action to the abuses suffered by women globally.
For the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, The Circle wanted to examine the process of reporting for victim-survivors around the world and the enforcement of women’s right to be free from harm through The Circle’s projects providing front-line services to victims of violence. Despite the increased our exposure and awareness of the issue of sexual violence in the aftermath of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, victims of rape and sexual assault are still being victimised and consistently let down by the criminal justice system.
We see victim-survivors being discouraged at every stage of the process, impeding their access to justice. It is clear that negative attitudes and prejudices are influencing the way that woman are treated in the judiciary system resulting in not only a woefully low number of convictions but also a prevalence of shame placed on the victim.
The Circle supports the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in South Africa, located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside Cape Town. For years, unemployment and crime rates have been high, particularly around violence against women and children with little services and support for the victims. The centre has a shelter for women who have survived domestic violence or have been victims of human trafficking. Most women in the shelter are HIV positive, are struggling to access healthcare and have received limited education and training.
Violence against women is the most common form of human rights violation in India. Shame, stigma and a lack of support from the police and legal system prevent many women from reporting domestic violence and seeking help.
Whilst there is a level of shame ascribed to victims of sexual assault in India, for those who do come forward and choose to make an allegation to the police the process can result in further shaming and dismissive responses.
“The doctor said to my daughter ‘If they had forced themselves on you, there should have been marks on your body – but you don’t have any. You must have done this of your own free will.” – Palak’s mother, Palak (name changed to protect her identity), a Dalit woman, was 18 when she reported being kidnapped and raped in Madhya Pradesh, in June 2013.
Human Rights Watch also found that police were often reluctant to file allegations, particularly for victims from a socially and economically marginalised community. Citing that ‘police sometimes pressure the victim’s family to “settle” or “compromise”’. Often, Dalit or other “low-caste” families are encouraged to drop their case if the perpetrator is of a higher caste.
One of the projects funded by last year’s Chai Day was a number of survivor centres in rural communities of Chhattisgrah and Odisha to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. In Chhattisgarh, there has been State-Level Consultation on the State Gender Equality Policy, which had not been revisited for more than a decade. Projects and community building like this are essential to support victim-survivors who feel they are unable to approach or are refused help by the police.
Bina and her son were offered counselling and legal support.
ACT Alberta is an anti-trafficking organization in Canada working collaboratively law enforcement, government agencies and non-governmental organisations to identify and respond to human trafficking in Alberta. One of their primary operations is providing victim support services for victims of sexual trafficking, in which they delivery trauma recovery, improve access to the justice system and obstacles within that system for victims. It is important to note here that the service receives funding from the Canadian government for those victims who are willing to go through the judiciary system, however, as we have seen in previous countries, women often feel that this isn’t an option, particularly those from marginalized communities and those whose immigration status may be at risk. Victims who do not have permanent right to live in Canada are often wary of approaching the police for concern that they will be deported, believing that their current situation is preferable to returning to their country of birth.
In cases across the world, even those women and girls who come forward are being dismissed and let down.
Tina Fontaine’s great-aunt, Thelma Favel showing a photo of the girl. Photo credit: Aaron Vincent Elkaim for The New York Times.
Across the globe, attitudes towards victims of rape and a prevailing tolerance for rape and serious sexual assault is resulting in a lack of justice for victim-survivors. Women are reluctant to come forward and when they do, their experiences can be traumatic. Front-line services delivered by our Chai Day projects are so important because the judiciary system is failing women who make the brave decision to come forward and report rape and serious sexual assault.
It falls on projects like Rape Crisis, ACT Alberta and the Nonceba Centre to fill the gaps in services that the judiciary system is failing to provide, to support victim-survivors through their navigation of the criminal justice system and ensure that their rights are being observed. These organisations are woefully underfunded and often receive incredibly limited or no funding from the government.
“I guess, the, kind of, base point for all of that was [local] Rape Crisis believed me. They never questioned me. They never challenged it. They’ve never said, well I don’t know, when the police seem to think different. They’ve always believed me and they have gone from that perspective, and so I knew I could trust them. And that trust has, you know, built and remained … they worked at putting, sort of, coping mechanisms in place for when I couldn’t manage” – Rebecca
Chai Day is about gathering together with friends, family or colleagues to raise funds to support survivors of gender-based violence. November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the sixteen days that follow is your chance to host a Chai Day.
This article was written by Anna Renfrew. Anna is The Circle’s Projects and Communications Officer and has been heading up preparations for our Chai Day campaign. She has written a number of articles for The Circle, taking a particular interest in the global issue of violence against women.
Filmed in Cape Town’s notorious Lavender Hill, Waves explores the perspective of three young girls as they grow up together in South Africa. We spoke to Jessie Ayles about this incredible project and the issue of gender-based violence.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?
I’m a documentary filmmaker based in London – I’ve always been motivated by imbalances or injustices in the world, and try to pursue projects that reflect on these types of issues to create an impact or some form of change or conversation.
Why did you decide to focus on the issue of gender-based violence for your project?
Women, in all walks of life, often draw the short straw, whether you’re looking at gaps in wages, structures of society, education or more urgent matters like gender based violence. Women in these communities, as we know, suffer huge amounts of gender based violence and attacks, there is still a very strong patriarchy in these communities that place young girls at the bottom of the ‘food chain’ – I was interested in exploring the feelings of young girls there, to translate their point of view, and their own experiences so that people would really be able to empathise and understand the extent that this affects a life.
One of The Circle’s EVAWG projects is located in South Africa, but violence against women is a global issue, why did you decide to focus on this country and community in particular?
My parents are South African and I have dual citizenship, but I actually grew up in London, so i’ve always had a connection to South Africa and interest to understand the country and its complexities.
I think what also really motivated me to work with this community is that most South African’s ordinarily would never really enter these communities due to fear of crime, and in turn never really understand what life is like for the most vulnerable there. It’s a country largely still divided by wealth, and I wanted to create something that would offer an insight from marginalised voices we ordinarily wouldn’t be able to get access to, especially as young girls, and break down these barriers.
What was the experience of filming on such a difficult subject? Particularly with such young women.
I was lucky to be able to really take my time making this film, I spent a lot time just getting to know the girls at surf lessons, and listening, so by the time we started filming we just felt like friends hanging out. I think this really helped them feel comfortable with me, and also meant the filming days were never too intense. It was difficult and shocking for me to hear how these girls felt, but to be honest, for them, I think this type of violence had become quite normal that they were almost used to talking about it.
There was another aspect to filming, and that was that I was able to offer the girls a voice – I think that they felt special by being a part of the film, that their story and feelings were important.
So, despite the subject matter of the film being so sensitive, the girls were at the end of the day still just young girls, they loved getting extra time surfing, playing, laughing, going on trips with me that they normally wouldn’t be able to get access to – and I really loved that experience too.
The film is incredibly beautiful and moving, what did you find most challenging about the process?
I think the biggest challenge with this film, and filming in the community was safety and access. The area that the girls live in is Lavender Hill, it’s notorious in Cape Town for gang violence and crime, it’s really not a safe area to drive in, you roll the dice every time you enter. This being said, I couldn’t get any funding to make this film so wasn’t able to hire security or special transportation. So that was very limiting, we would have to work out which days and times would be less of a risk to go into the community and set our self time limits filming on the streets etc I think we got everything we needed for the film, but I would have loved to embed myself a little more into their daily home life if the limitations weren’t there.
The Circle is an organisation of women empowering women. Is that motivation something that you feel plays a role in your work?
Yes definitely. I think I spent quite a long time not really honing in on what I care most about – I was making a documentary about a Burmese guerilla fighter about 5 years ago, someone who had rebelled against the Burmese military and gone into exile in Chiang Mai, he had given up everything for what he believed in. He kept on asking me why I was interested in making a film about him, he couldn’t quite understand – I told him it was because he was fascinating, but he was still confused, he kept on telling me ‘Jessie, you’ve got to find your people’. At the time it didn’t register, I just thought ‘What people…I don’t have the same sort of authoritarian government to overthrow like you did, ’. But then it clicked, by highlighting women’s stories and voices – whose injustices I can personally relate to – I feel more like I have found ‘my people’ to fight for.
What would you encourage those watching the film to do in order to support women and girls across the globe who are survivors of gender-based violence?
The scale of this issue is so large that it can feel a little daunting sometimes at where to start or what can be done to help. But in my experience working with NGOs on the ground, I see how much of a difference these organisations can make to someone’s life. The surfing that offers these girls an outlet in the film was organised by an NGO called Waves for Change – a small thing like a surfing lesson once a week can make all the difference to someones life – it can give them that breath of air they need or support to keep going.
So my advice would be to do some research on NGOs, like The Circle’s EVAWG projects, and donate whatever you can to help keep them going. You could also volunteer at NGOs if you live near one that’s making a difference to women’s lives, or even keep spreading the message and raising awareness to keep the conversation going.
What is the situation in South Africa like now?
Unfortunately since the filming of Waves the situation in South Africa has become even more volatile for women. A spate of recent sexual assaults, murders and kidnappings of young girls and women caused outrage and saw country-wide protests – demanding the government to effectively tackle the issue. While some policies have been amended, like the retraction of bail for rape suspects, there is still a huge space for work needed to help support victims, prevent violence and create gender equality and awareness. This is why I believe NGOs are so important right now for those South Africans who have to live through this on a daily basis.
You can watch Jessie’s award-winning short film here:
One of our Chai Day projects is located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside Cape Town. Khayelitsha is the largest township in the Western Cape province and has a high level of overcrowding and poverty. For years, unemployment and crime rates have been high, particularly around violence against women and children with little services and support for the victims. The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre offers survivors offers a place to stay, individual and family counselling, legal support, access to healthcare, educational programmes and victim empowerment groups. Find out more about hosting a Chai Day to support women and girls across the globe here.
Jessie is a South African and British filmmaker. Her work shines a light on female-centred stories and marginalised voices, bringing a cinematic and fresh perspective to socially conscious stories. She studied Film & Literature at Warwick University, then went onto a Masters in Screen Documentary at Goldsmiths University where she won a One World Media Bursary.
Jessie’s interest in impact and stories that highlight morals or human rights, with her distinctive style, led her to work with the social impact arm of many brands and NGOs, creating poignant film campaigns for clients such as Nike, Google, M&C Saatchi & Always.