Cybersex Trafficking

Photo credit: International Justice Misson

This month at The Circle, we have delved deeper into the issue of human trafficking and have learnt a huge amount from our project partner ACT Alberta about what makes women vulnerable to traffickers and what we can do ourselves to be more aware of trafficking victims in our own area. There are more people trapped in slavery than ever before in human history and in the following article, our volunteer Georgia takes a closer look at one of modern slavery’s most insidious practices, cybersex trafficking.

“We were left with no choice but to follow her instructions.” – Joy, a victim of cybersex trafficking for 7 years (10-17)

 

More than 40 million people are victim to different forms of slavery such as forced labour, child labour, domestic servitude and forced marriage. This month The Circle have been working to raise awareness of human trafficking among modern slavery, particularly for sex. According to the UK charity Anti-Slavery International, “human trafficking involves recruitment, harbouring or transporting people into a situation of exploitation through the use of violence, deception or coercion and forced to work against their will.” What’s more, there is another form of human trafficking which is increasing at a frightening rate.

“Cybersex trafficking is an emerging threat as internet access increases everywhere. Now, paedophiles anywhere in the world can direct live sexual abuse of boys and girls hidden in private homes.” (IJM)

 

Social Affairs Correspondent for The Independent, May Bulman, reported in November 2017 about a “new form of human trafficking that sees children forced to carry out sex acts while being live-streamed for paedophiles to watch online [which] is growing at an ‘alarming rate’, a charity has warned”. A victim as young as a two-month-old baby was reported.

The stories that victims have told of this injustice are extremely hard to read. International Justice Mission (IJM) is the largest anti-slavery organisation in the world. They work to rescue and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking among modern slavery. In February 2017 they posted a YouTube video called “What is Cybersex Trafficking?” where they explained how “Pedophiles and predators use the internet to abuse children in homes and cybercafes.” According to Alex Ilusoriio who is an Investigator with IJM Philippines, for as little as 100 dollars Western customers can watch children under 5 years old being abused by adults. This horrific and unspeakable form of abuse is destroying the lives of vulnerable children. IJM helps victims to share their stories in order to raise awareness. Just less than a year ago on 13th August 2018, IJM revealed the year-long investigation which resulted in the rescue of two young women, a teenage boy and a 12-year-old girl. One can only imagine the psychological damage as a result of this devastating crime. At the time of this report the children were receiving help from social workers.

On 20th February 2019 three operations took place to rescue 16 children over four days. Officers discovered that a man called Herman Arnett Ross, an American living in Pampanga, was “seeking to sexually exploit a teenage girl”. Days before Ross was arrested, IJM rescued 15 other children across the Philippines. The children are now receiving trauma therapy, revealing the heart-breaking psychological pain that victims of human trafficking are forced to endure.

IJM have stated cybersex trafficking to be an ‘emerging threat’. Indeed, according to this charity, a ‘simple internet connection’, ‘a webcam’ or ‘a mobile phone’ is all that is required for this form of sexual exploitation to take place and as internet access increases, so will this form of human trafficking.

Annie Kelly is a human rights journalist for the Guardian and Observer, also editor of the Guardian’s Modern-day slavery in focus series. Kelly reported for the Guardian in October 2018 on the case where “two women had been paid £33,000 by [Alain] Charlwood-Collings for procuring children as young as four and filming their rape and abuse. Some of the 46 children involved were the women’s own children or sisters. Others were the children of neighbours, or from the wider local community.” This took place for 10 years.

The fact that the abusers can hide for such a long period of time, shows how complex these operations are to report, find and arrest them. There are signs we can look out for in order to identify if a person is being exploited. According to Stop The Traffik, significant signs of sexual exploitation can include:

  • Having English vocabulary of only sexualised words
  • Emotional trauma as a result of their work
  • Restricted or no access to earnings
  • At a location the letterbox or doors of the property may appear to have been sealed from the inside

What can we do?

 

To understand more about how to spot the signs of sexual exploitation please visit this detailed page by Stop The Traffik.

Every month IJM reports one or more new cases of cybersex trafficking. This is just one charity alone. You can read the recent case reported last week on 25th July 2019 which highlights how this is a “a global crime that demands global collaboration.

By being aware we can all help to prevent these inhumane crimes. Joy, who I quoted at the beginning of this article, is now using her experience to help others. Joy argues that she believes slavery can be stopped: “I want it to stop. I believe it can stop, but I cannot do it alone.”

We can all be a part of this global collaboration and knowing just one of the signs above could potentially save a someone from unimaginable abuse.

“A Feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” – Gloria Steinem

 

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism

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

 


Strict Borders Make Vulnerable Women

Photo credit: structuresxx/Shutterstock.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#GlobalFeminism #WomenEmpoweringWomen


Women Empowering Women Through Art and Conversation

“Women are powerful. Women are beautiful and strong. Women are wild, raw and resourceful. We must join together, and we must use our strength and resources to overcome.”

Meet Alice Sinclair and Sophie Gradden, the women empowering other women through an evening of art and conversation on 19th June. Alice, a member of The Circle, and Sophie, a UK-based artist are putting on an incredible event to raise funds for the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre. During the art class, which begins at 6.30pm, you will be able to select a favourite female icon to paint with the aim “go wild on canvas”! As well as having creative fun, you will be connecting with like-minded women and learning more about The Circle’s projects.

This a perfect example of how when women come together and organise, they can be a powerful force for change. We sat down and spoke to them about The Circle, fundraising and feminism …


Photo credit: Fiona Freund

Alice Sinclair works in the healthcare sector and is a member of The Circle.

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I have been based in London for 12 years. I work in the healthcare sector as an NLP therapist and a trainee Psychotherapist. I am also the editor of a local magazine. I have witnessed and experienced gender inequality in many forms throughout my life. I still see it everyday, and with my work as a therapist I see the impacts. Ending violence against women is my passion. It is it very close to my heart (near the cat section). I long for a world one day where the inhabitants are like WTF is inequality? Did that actually exist?

Why did you decide to organise this fundraising event?

This event is the beginning of many. Nothing feels more close to my heart than actively supporting and holding a platform for women to come together and work towards making a difference in the murky environment of gender based inequality. Sophie Gradden is a hoot to hang around with, it will be a memorable evening.

Why do you think the work of Nonceba Family Counselling centre is so important?

As a trainee therapist most of my NHS work has been with women who have experienced violence or abuse in its many guises. It tears you down. It whittles away confidence. The trauma can have a horrifying impact on how you live your life. Abuse can lead to very serious situations such as PTSD, agoraphobia, eating disorders, addictions, self harm and suicide. These can be passed down through generations. Wonderful charities like Nonceba are a vital refuge. They provide hope, and a way forward. For a year they will protect and physically and mentally support victims of domestic abuse. Nonceba gives women a way out. It breaks that generational passing. It de-normalises.

What does Women Empowering Women mean to you?

When I was ten years old, a teacher discovered I could bowl a cricket ball better than the boys in my class. I was invited to play on the boys team as there was no team for girls. As I ran up to bowl the first ball of my first match, both teams jeered. “she’s wearing a skirt” or “get lost you’re a girl”. I crumbled. That was to be my first and last match with that team.

This was my first experience of gender based inequality. My first experience of gender based violence was when I was eight, I am less inclined to discuss this freely. The point I am getting at is, women are powerful. Women are beautiful and strong. Women are wild, raw and resourceful. We must join together, and we must use our strength and resources to overcome every single face and aspect of discrimination, sexism, misogyny and abuse. Women need women.

Sophie Gradden is an artist living and working in the UK and we’re incredibly excited to have her working with The Circle for this event!

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I am a contemporary artist, temporarily living & working in Buckinghamshire. I’ve not always been an artist mind, but always dabbled in the creative industries of furniture & interior design.

In November 2016 I reignited my love for painting and set up a makeshift studio in my home and began creating, whilst working full time. Since then, the art continues. In April 2018 I had a total mental meltdown, suffering with depression and anxiety, I made the decision to take a break, a life sabbatical as I like to label it, and dedicate myself to my art full time, no more 9-5, just painting, painting, painting. Best thing I’ve ever f**king done.

Why did you decide to organise this fundraising event?

Why would we not? Any group of people gathering together to try and do better in this world, no matter how big or small the overall impact it may have…it’s something right! The more we do it, the more we talk about it, the more people will start to realize that these sometimes minute or minor situations to the absolute horrendous (even unimaginable) us wonderful women find ourselves put into is NOT ok!! Things have got to change. This I hope is a small yet mighty step towards that.

Why do you think the work of Nonceba Family Counselling centre is so important?

We must remember even though we are still fighting for gender equality and ending violence against women here in the UK, some countries sadly are still 10 steps behind us, which is frightening. The woman I am and the women I surround myself with, friends, family, colleagues, have all come up against gender equality issues, thankfully never violence, however I speak for a mere spec of the population, in fact the world. Even bigger problem!! What about the women who don’t have a choice and the support, someone to be there for them when the world has unfairly shunned them and continues to kick them, sometimes quite literally, when they are down, Nonceba is that answer. Nonceba is a positive way forward, one of many great projects that the circle supports.

What does Women Empowering Women mean to you?

Simple…My mum, my sister, my nan (sadly no longer with us) my sister in law, my best friend, my friends, my past colleagues…the amazing woman who I didn’t know, who reached out and held my hand on the train, when I was in a state of emotional anxiety, we didn’t even speak, we only exchanged a smile as she handed me a tissue. You saved me in that moment. Thank you.

Book your place for An Evening of Art and Conversation here. We’ll see you there!

#GlobalFeminism #WomenEmpoweringWomen


Widening the Circle of Support for Women

Photo credit: Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies

In the run up to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, The Circle member Katie Rose has written this blog post about gender-based violence and some of the things we can all do to end it. Katie, as many others are, is organising a Chai Day to help us end violence against women and girls. Chai Day is about raising awareness and funds for victims of gender-based violence, about bringing together people to discuss an issue that affects women worldwide and inviting conversation to make real change. The Circle have been encourages members and non-members alike to get involved in this campaign and Katie’s thoughtful analysis of issue is a perfect example of women empowering women.

Widening the Circle of Safety and Support for Women by The Circle member, Katie Rose.

Like many of us, I have witnessed the recent media treatment of female sexual assault with despair. There are too often too many cases where a woman who has experienced trauma is not given recourse to justice. In many parts of the world, it is still the victim, not the perpetrator, who is discredited, excluded, shamed and faces further violence from society.

What can we do to change these shocking narratives and how can we support women to recover and communities to grow beyond patriarchal systems of gender-based violence and oppression? One action I have taken is to join Annie Lennox’s charity The Circle, which supports projects that do just that. I am also passionate about co-directing Sing for Water fundraisers for WaterAid projects which transform the lives of the women and girls around the world who spend 200 million hours daily walking for water.

As I feel it’s important to keep sharing messages of hope and solidarity, in this blog I want to identify some of the positive stages of recovery, so we can all help widen the circle of support for women.

1. Acknowledging Oppression

The first step is acknowledging the situation women face today. Just one of the many statistics included by Annie Lennox in her #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist campaign is that 1 in 3 women and girls are impacted by physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. These statistics are likely to be skewed, as many women are too frightened or in too much danger to speak out.

There are horrific acts of violence happening against women right now – which is why it’s important that those of us able to read this safely on laptops or phones take action in whatever small way we can. Women who have experienced victimisation are not just victims and statistics – they are strong, vibrant, creative human beings with the right to live peacefully and safely on the planet. When we stand up against oppression as individuals, we stand up for all women.

 2. Owning, Voicing and Witnessing

When a woman who has experienced gender-based trauma is able to own and tell her story, it is crucial that she is given safe, supportive witness. We need to be on the look out for signs that a woman is struggling, even before she feels able to disclose. We can encourage women to safely speak out and access confidential, professional support.

As a singer, I feel we need to empower and educate girls to feel they have a voice. A girl who knows the power of her voice can say “no”, can shout for help and can stand up to oppression. Disclosing is only one step in the road to recovery – the #MeToo movement has seen an outpouring of stories which now needs to be met with a commitment to support recovery and social justice.

3. Creating a Circle of Safety and Support

When a woman has experienced trauma, it is essential that she can access safe shelter and support for herself and her dependents. A circle of support can be formed – including her trusted friends and the health, employment, childcare or legal services she needs to access. In a caring, encouraging, empowering environment, she can recover and rebuild her life.

There are many inspiring case studies on The Circle website – including women like Bina who left an abusive marriage with the support of counselling and legal support from a woman’s shelter in India, domestic violence survivor Siyanda and her son who received help from the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre, Cape Town, and the many women who receive support at the Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis Centre.

Photo Credit: Half the Sky Movement

4. Justice

The inner process of recovery for women needs to be matched by an outer process of social justice. In a village featured in a film by The Asian Circle, after yet another woman was beaten by her drunken husband, women gathered together and smashed all the liquor pots. In the Samburu region of Kenya, where women are viewed as property, Rebecca Lolosoli spoke out against the rape of an estimated 1400 women in the 1980s and 90s by British soldiers. She was beaten by local men and received no support from her husband. She left her village and formed the Umoji village with 15 rape survivors, which now houses 50 women and 200 children seeking refuge from FGM, child marriage, rape and domestic violence. The women manage their own finances and land and their rape cases are finally being investigated legally.

These stories testify to the immense resilience of women in the face of brutal oppression and the power that becomes available when we join together to say #TimesUp.

5. Liberation

With support, solidarity and recourse to justice, a woman can liberate and reclaim herself from the shadow of violent oppression. She can rise up and recreate her life for herself and her loved ones.

As she does, the whole community can be transformed. Men can become allies in this process, such as the members of Uganda’s police force who after 24 women were brutally murdered, went on a walk carrying water pots on their heads and babies on their back to see what it was like ‘to walk in women’s shoes’ and to inspire other men to ‘see the benefits of equality’.

Just as everyone suffers in a world which brutalises women and girls, everyone gains when women are liberated from oppression and violence. We are all part of the change and we can all help widen the circle of safety and support for women.

Katie Rose – October 2018

Katie will be hosting a Chai Day in South London on 25th November
For more info please email info@therosewindow.org

#ChaiDay #WomenEmpoweringWomen


Our member Efe on #ChaiDay

 

Why did you decide to organise a Chai Day?

To help raise funds for victims of domestic violence, rape and sex trafficking. To join in and support them so they too can begin to heal and return to their world stronger.

What did organising a Chai Day make you learn about gender-based violence?

That there are different forms of gender-based violence and all of them need our attention. Because it is a major public health and human rights issues. I learned that young girls around the same age as my sister are been taking away from their mother’s arms and subjected to prostitution, been raped and abused physically and emotionally, and it needs to stop. I learned that if I can gather fierce and determined women in a room to support my cause, then we are one step closer to ending this for someone.

 

What are your top tips to organise a Chai Day?

Don’t do it alone. It is a ‘team’ event. So gather your friends, their friends, members of your family and their friends and host a Chai Day, because it will be so worth it when you include people in your world to support a great cause.

To find out how you can organise a Chai Day visit www.chaiday.org

#ChaiDay #WomenEmpoweringWomen


Facts and Myths about Sex Trafficking in Canada

Photo credit: Matthew S. Browning.

The Calgary Circle, the newest affiliate in our sisterhood of Circles, is supporting ACT Alberta, an organisation that works to end human trafficking in Alberta, Canada. To help end human trafficking it is important to understand the issue better, which is why The Calgary Circle committee members Helen Maguire and Susan Ferner have written this list of facts and myths about human trafficking in Canada. If you’d like to find out more about their work with ACT Alberta and donate, please click here.

FACT: HUMAN TRAFFICKING IS A CRIMINAL OFFENCE

The legal definition of human trafficking requires three elements:
1) the act of recruitment, transportation or harbouring a person;
2) by means of exercising control, direction or influence over their movements;
3) for the purpose of exploiting that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour.

Due to the clandestine nature of trafficking, it is difficult to quantify the number and determine the types of victims, but it is believed that most trafficking victims in Canada are sexually exploited.

MYTH: TRAFFICKING IS THE SAME AS SMUGGLING

Although the idea of trafficking can invoke a nefarious vision of a victim being transported across borders under cover of darkness, the reality is often far different. Trafficking victims are not necessarily moved across international borders and approximately 94% of the cases of sex trafficking identified in Canada have occurred within its borders.

FACT: TRAFFICKING IS BIG BUSINESS

Sex trafficking can be less problematic, easier to conceal and more profitable than selling drugs. On
average, every trafficked woman in Canada generates just under $300,000 for her traffickers per year.

MYTH: ONLY CERTAIN PEOPLE ARE CONSIDERED TO BE “AT RISK”

The major risk factors for being trafficked are living in poverty; having a personal history of violence or neglect; or being otherwise vulnerable to manipulation and coercion. However, the number one risk factor is being female. Women and children from every socio-economic background are at risk and anyone can be targeted and exploited.

FACT: VICTIMS ARE PREDOMINANTELY WOMEN

Approximately 95% of trafficked victims are female: most under the age of 25. Of note, in Canada, indigenous women are disproportionately affected. Although indigenous people make up approximately 4% of the population, they account for approximately 50% of sex trafficking victims.

MYTH: VICTIMS ARE PHYSICALLY FORCED INTO TRAFFICKING

Relationships between traffickers and their victims often begin with what the victim believes to be a friendship or romantic relationship. A common technique used by traffickers is to lure teens and young women into sex trafficking by treating them well, initially. Many victims are recruited through the internet or by an acquaintance. Often, the victim is “groomed” by someone pretending to be her boyfriend or friend who promises her a better life and buys her gifts. The average age of girls who are manipulated in this manner is 13. In the case of older teens or young women, the trafficker also buys gifts and may promise her a good job in a new city. Once a relationship has developed, the trafficker is able to more easily emotionally manipulate the victim and exploit her vulnerabilities. The trafficker often becomes violent and may threaten and isolate the victim but continue to show occasional affection. Through these tactics, the trafficker gains control and the victim can be coerced into selling sex for others’ profit. Because of the nature of the relationship and how it is developed, the victim might not understand that she is being trafficked.

FACT: TRAFFICKING IS A HIDDEN CRIME

Much of the sex trade has moved away from the street to the internet. The solicitation of sex predominantly occurs online through local classified and escort pages, which makes it difficult to locate and identify sex trafficking victims. Victims often do not come forward for many reasons, including fear of retribution and further violence from their trafficker; fear of arrest because they have been coerced into performing illegal activities; lack of knowledge about their legal rights, and lack of understanding that they have been victimized and trafficked.

Prosecution is often difficult because victims are often frightened and unwilling to testify against the perpetrators. It can also be difficult to prove in court that the woman was, in fact, a victim and not a willing participant due to the coercive nature of the relationship between the victim and trafficker. Because of these reasons and more, most (60%) of trafficking cases in Canada have resulted in a decision of stayed or withdrawn whereas only 30% resulted in a guilty finding.

Written by Helen Maguire and Susan Ferner.


SeeMe x The Circle collection

 

See Me and The Circle have launched a beautiful and ethically-made jewellery collection to celebrate ten years of Women Empowering Women.

SeeMe is a fair-trade verified brand that produces sleek heart-shaped jewellery and accessories and provides ethical sourcing for other fashion brands.

SeeMe employs women, often single mothers, who have suffered violence and were ostracized from their communities in Tunisia. Through training SeeMe employees learn the craft of jewellery making following ancient Tunisian techniques. Therefore, while fostering their country’s traditions, they also secure a workplace for themselves and a future for their families.

In our joint collection, SeeMe’s heart is inserted into a circle to represent the unity and the empowerment among women that both SeeMe and The Circle support. All funds raised through the collection will go towards supporting marginalised women and girls.

Click here to shop the collection online.


The Circle Member Ann-Marie O’ Connor reflects on #March4Women

Photo credit: Judit Prieto | #March4Women 2018, London.

On 4 March 2018, several members of The Circle attended the #March4Women rally in London with their friends and family. Ann-Marie O’Connor is one of those members. She has written about why she marched and why she will continue to support feminist causes in the future.

In this historic year that marks the 100th anniversary since some women got the right to vote, it could not be a better time to mobilise the surge of feminist energy currently being displayed throughout the world. History certainly appears to be repeating itself with the involvement of Helen Pankhurst, great-grand daughter of Emmeline, who also marched for women with us on 4 March 2018. I was reminded through her various media interviews that the struggle was never just about getting the vote. In an interview before her appearance at the Women of the World Festival 2018 at London’s Southbank Centre, she said “it was about individual women saying enough is enough, and there’s more that I want to do with my life, and I feel that my daughters should be able to do more with their lives” (Global Citizen, 7/3/2018).

Yes, my sentiments exactly and one of the reasons I wanted to take my own daughter with me to the march. But another reason for me was creating for her an understanding of the importance of taking the baton from one generation and passing it to the next. In these turbulent times we live, rights that have previously been won and fought for cannot be taken for granted and still need to be maintained. Women’s rights are still the fight of our generation. Keeping up the strength and resolve that is needed for current struggles is a legacy that hopefully we can, by our own participation, pass on to future generations of women, so that they can empower themselves for future struggles.

The Circle gave me the ideal opportunity to march alongside other members whilst also hearing speeches from many inspirational women. Especially heartening was having the march endorsed by Mayor Sadiq Khan, espousing the message that London should be a beacon for gender equality. In fact, it was wonderful to see so many men of all ages marching also. As I have a son as well, I do feel a responsibility to educate him about gender equality, particularly with regard to the area of relationships and respect towards women. As he also deserves to be treated with equal respect, I hold on to the hope that this reciprocity should lay the foundation for all future healthy relationships. Now that his sister has experienced her first march and had fun, I’m hoping he will join us next year!


Bina’s Story of Surviving Gender-Based Violence

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sexual violence in conflict and the use of women as weapons of war

Photo credit: Jan Dago. Published by Alexia Foundation. Internally-displaced civilians during the Sierra Leone civil war.

In modern wars, it is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier on the front line. Women can endure violence, rape and even see their children killed.

In 2008, the United Nations formally declared rape a “weapon of war”, and Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN force commander, spoke of the spread of rape as a war tactic, saying: “It has become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.”

The first order of business in conflict zones is usually to deprive women of education and health services, restricting any kind of participation in economic and political life. However, in recent conflicts, sexual violence statistics have skyrocketed with staggering levels of mass rapes being reported.

Declared over in January 2002, the civil war in Sierra Leone had raged for more than a decade, leaving half of the pre-war population displaced, 50,000 dead, 100,000 mutilated and over a quarter of a million women raped.

In a three-month time period during the 1994 genocide, more than 250,000 women and girls were raped in Rwanda.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo – also known as the rape capital of the world – 48 women were raped every hour during the 2011 conflict, making the statistics almost one woman per minute.

There’s no denying that rape in wartime is an act of violence that targets sexuality. Moreover, militias quickly discovered that the most cost-effective way to terrorise civilian populations is to conduct rapes of mass brutality. The humiliation, pain, and fear inflicted by perpetrators not only dominates and degrades the individual victim, but also her community.  

Christina Lamb, foreign correspondent for The Times, told in a TEDxExeter talk in May 2017 of some of the things she had witnessed when working in the field.

“Over the last year I’ve seen worse things than I’ve ever seen before,” she said.

“In Northern Nigeria three years ago, around 200 girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok and the story made international news for around two weeks. I went there and found out that, actually, more than 1,000 girls had been abducted, unreported. And when I spoke to these girls, they had terrible stories about being gang-raped by Boko Haram fighters and being forced to marry them.

“Some of them had escaped and were in camps but they told me that their own families wouldn’t take them back because they saw them as being sullied or they were worried they’d been indoctrinated. In fact, one of them – a little girl – had been so badly raped that she couldn’t walk. She shuffled like a crab.”

Modern wars are increasingly characterised by these barbaric acts of sexual violence to terrorise populations and destroy communities.

“And then there was the Yazidi girls. 5,000 of them abducted by ISIS and sold for less than the price of a cigarette packet. I spoke to one of them who had been released and she told me that the worst night of her life was when her captor – a fat judge – brought back a 10-year-old girl and raped her in the room next door to her, as she cried for her mother all night”, said Christina Lamb.

ISIS continues to unleash violence that disproportionately targets women and girls as young as three and the victims are often enslaved, sexually abused and traded like chattel in the human trafficking underworld where their payment is then used to fund the war and further terrorist attacks.

Even after conflict has ended, the impacts of sexual violence persist, with unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and stigmatisation rife in post-war communities. Widespread sexual violence itself may continue or even increase in the aftermath of conflict and meeting the needs of survivors — including medical care, HIV treatment, psychological support, economic assistance and legal redress – often requires resources that most post-conflict countries do not have.

So, what can we do to help?

Advancing women’s rights and empowerment is vital in addressing the needs of female survivors worldwide. Not only do we need to raise awareness of atrocities against women and girls, but we also need to fight for justice and reforms in policy and foreign diplomacy.

We must work to remove the stigma around sexual violence, help women and girls tell their stories and create and help existing support systems for survivors. The Circle strives to achieve all of these.

By supporting projects worldwide, The Circle works with women who have experienced sexual violence in projects such as the Nonceba Women’s Shelter, those fighting domestic violence in India and the courageous female journalists of the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network, who give a voice to the incredible – and undoubtedly brave – survivors of conflict from around the world.

 

 

 

 

Written by @shanhodge.
Shannon is a Journalism graduate and a volunteer at The Circle.