Garment Workers’ Stories

Image: National Garment Workers Federation

As part of the Women and Girls Solidarity Fund, we’ve made emergency grants to partners in Bangladesh to provide essential supplies including food, protective masks and soap to garment workers who have been left destitute.

Garment workers have been left without work as factories have closed due to dwindling orders. Many of these workers are migrant women. With historically low wages, it is impossible to save and workers are now unable to pay for housing or food. We heard a number of stories from workers who have been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis:

“I am Suraiya and I am working as helper for last 4 months in Interlink Apparels Ltd. I have a daughter of 5 years old and a son of 10 years old. 10 years ago, I had early marriage at the age of 16. I did not work in the garment factory before but it was very difficult for us to run the family with the sole income of my husband. Due to the struggle of severe poverty I came to Dhaka city four months back and joined in a garment factory. My husband used to run a tea stall in Gazipur area. We have to pay 4000 bdt as house rent. It is still a struggle to run a family of four members after paying half of the wage for house rent.

Due to the lockdown, my husband cannot run his tea stall anymore and I have been laid off by my factory. I do not know whether I will get my full wage or not. We do not have any income now but we have to pay our house rent, we have to feed our children. The situation is the worst now. After paying the house rent we will not have any money to have our food even. We do not know what will happen to us.” – Suraiya, 26

“My factory is a sweater factory where I work in knitting section. In November, 2019 the factory was declared closed informing over the phone without paying the due wage. When we asked the wage for that period the management informed that, if you want to continue the work without wage come into the office, otherwise we need not to come.

The factory re-opened on February 8, 2020. We got the wage of February at the beginning of March then again the factory has closed. The factory declared closure and we are worried about the wages as we were not paid for March. The Eid is ahead and we are worried about our Eid bonus as well.

There are four members in our family and we are going through terrible suffering due to poverty. We are surviving somehow by having only one time meal a day and the condition is same among other co-workers as well. We do not have any money in our hand now and the shops are not allowing further buying without paying the prior dues. The landlord is also asking for the rent and asking to leave the house if unable to pay the rent. Where we will go and what we will eat now? When we do not have any food, maintaining social distance and thinking about hygiene issues seems like a luxury to us. We need support to live.” – Md Shahin Alam

Image: National Garment Workers Federation

“I work in a garment factory. Our factory has laid us off and we have not received the due wages. We are worried about not getting paid, but if we do that the amount will not be in full. They will deduct our wage. According to the labor law I have heard that, we can get the half of the wage for the laid off period but that will be very small in amount. How we will manage our house rent and food with this amount? I went to the local government official for the government’s relief support but the officer said as the government is supporting the RMG sector that I am not eligible for this support.” – Mos. Laboni Akter Salma

These are just a few stories of the millions of garment workers impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. We need to hold brands and retailers accountable and ensure that garment workers are provided for in this time of crisis.

We are still fundraising to support as many women and girls as possible with our emergency appeal. You can donate by clicking here. 


Women and Girls Solidarity Fund: Impact So Far

 

We want to say a huge thank you to all of our supporters, members, allies and friends who have donated to our emergency appeal that we launched to respond to the additional challenges that the women and girls in our projects are facing during this crisis. Thanks to your efforts, we have been able to directly support marginalised women and girls across the globe. We have already made emergency grants to projects support projects in Uganda and Scotland.  

Emergency Supplies in Uganda

We have provided funds to Irise International so that they can provide provision and protection to vulnerable women and child-led households in Uganda. Women, unable to leave their houses for fear of police brutality, are struggling to feed their children or access reproductive healthcare and contraception. Irise is working with local government to deliver essential supplies to vulnerable women including food, hand sanitiser, menstrual pads and educational materials.  

After ten days of distribution, Irise have been able to reach a total of 398 vulnerable people in 93 households with 136 emergency relief packs.  

This is Jess. She is 18 years old and is the sole carer for these children aged 3 and 5. She’s been working as a hairdresser, but like so many others, has been unable to work during lockdown and faces terrifying uncertainty. Irise have been able to deliver essential supplies to her and will ensure that she is able to cope over the coming weeks.  

Irise are also using funds to ensure safeguarding within the community. They are working with the local government’s probation service to report and follow-up with vulnerable girls and young people. Cases include identifying three sisters aged 19-13 years old, who have been forced into prostitution to survive. Irise was able to provide them with vital supplies and will continue to work with the Gender Officer and District Office to safeguard these girls.  

Survivor Services in Scotland

Across the UK, three million women experience some form of gender-based violence every year, but these numbers have risen dramatically as social isolation policies have left women and girls vulnerable to abuse. Estimates suggest that there will be 15 million additional cases of domestic violence every 3 months of lockdown globally. Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis provides free and confidential support to girls and women who have experienced rape, sexual assault and sexual violence. Due to the UK’s lockdown, the centre are unable to offer their drop-in service that is a lifeline for survivors. We have provided the centre with funds to increase website capacity and launch a dedicated text support service for survivors to access counselling and support. This service will allow the centre to respond to the needs of sexual violence who are not in a position to phone the counsellors. This service will provide vital support for at least 1,500 women and girls.  

 

 

Supporting Garment Workers

With the money that our supporters have raised, we will be able to provide food and medical supplies to 500 garment workers in Bangladesh who have been left destitute. Supporting garment workers is crucial at this time. As soon as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, major garment companies responded by pushing risk and costs down the supply chain. Garment workers in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Pakistan have been left without work with factories being forced to close due to dwindling orders. Many of these workers are migrant women. With historically low wages, making it impossible to accumulate savings, these workers are now struggling to pay for housing or essential supplies. We are working with partners to provide emergency relief packages containing food, protective masks and soap.  

The need is only going to increase as some of the world’s poorest countries begin to feel the full force of Covid-19. We have long been there for the world’s most vulnerable women and we will continue to do so at this time of great emergency.  

If you can, support our emergency appeal by donating and sharing and allow us to reach even more women and girls.  


What We’re Reading: April

Image: Stylist

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 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 May!

She Said – Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey 

 On 5 October 2017, the New York Times published an article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey that helped change the world. Kantor and Twohey out-maneuvered Harvey Weinstein, his team of defenders and private investigators, convincing some of the most famous women in the world – and some unknown ones – to go on the record. Three years later, it led to his conviction. She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Defined a Movement, is a gripping account of this story, but more interestingly, an examination of the structures that allowed Weinstein to repeat the same violence over and over, seemingly unscathed.  

Live-blog: How the Coronavirus affects garment workers in supply chains – Clean Clothes Campaign 

This blog collects daily information about how the new Coronavirus COVID-19 is influencing garment workers’ rights in supply chains around the world. It is updated daily as new information comes in from media and the Clean Clothes Campaign global network. 

Displaced and stateless women and girls at heightened risk of gender-based violence in the coronavirus pandemic 

The UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) published an article on 20 April 2020 about the effect that coronavirus is having on victims of domestic abuse around the world. UNHCR explain that isolation policies mean that there is less movement, and this increases the risk of intimate partner violence. Young women “may be forced into survival sex or child marriages by their families.” UNHCR explain what they are doing to support women and girls.  

Frame of Mind 

On 6 April 2020 Alice Aedy launched Frame of Mind which is a platform aiming to celebrate incredible female storytellers in documentary film, photography, journalism and writing. Aedy is a documentary photographer, filmmaker and activist focusing on migration, women’s rights and environmental issues. The focus will be about how female storytellers have explored social issues and created social change. Aedy shared a shocking fact from the New York Times that it is estimated only 0.5% of recorded history includes stories by women. Aedy’s project is important, exciting, and definitely one to stay updated with! Freda interviewed Aedy about her work as a female photographer which you can read here

Selections made by Anna Renfrew and Georgia Bridgett.


The Circle Joins Civil Society Coalition Calling on the EU to Re-Design the Textile Industry’s Broken Business Model

 

Today brings the launch of the Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textile, Garments, Leather and Footwear, a shadow strategy developed by a diverse coalition of 65 social and environmental NGOs.

The Circle is pleased to be a signatory to this document, joining with others to call on the EU to promote and support development of a Textile, Garments, Leather and Footwear (TGLF) industry that respects human rights, creates decent jobs and adheres to high environmental and responsible governance standards throughout its value chain, in the EU and beyond.

“This strategy is more relevant now than ever, as the coronavirus pandemic impacts global supply chains and increases the vulnerability of garment workers in some of the world’s poorest countries,” says Dr Sharon McClenaghan of The Circle’s Living Wage Project. “Stronger regulation is needed to address the negative impact this industry has on the environment and to protect workers around the world from the harmful employment practices of brands and retailers.”


Press Release: Coronavirus strengthens case for new EU textile laws – 65 civil society groups publish joint vision

Executive summary: Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, Garments, Leather & Footwear

Full text of the strategy: Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, Garments, Leather & Footwear


The COVID-19 pandemic exposes the extreme vulnerability of workers in global garment supply chains as never before as shops close and demand for fashion dries up.

Early indications estimate a total of £20 billion of orders worldwide have been cancelled,1 and in Bangladesh alone, the second biggest apparel producer, an estimated $6 billion in export revenue is estimated to be lost.2 This in turn is devastating for textile workers who are losing their livelihoods and sometimes their homes as a result. In Pakistan 1 million workers are set to lose their jobs3 while reports from Bangladesh indicate some 2.27 million workers are affected by cancelled orders.4 The Workers Rights Consortium estimate there are a total of 50 million workers in production factories worldwide.5 Many of these workers are young women, often their family’s primary wage earner.

“The current crisis is unprecedented,” added Sharon. “At the moment no one knows quite what the industry will look like when the pandemic ends. Our concern is that when supply chains open up again these workers will be more vulnerable to exploitation than before. We desperately need regulatory mechanisms in place to ensure that does not happen.”


The Asian Circle: Fighting Violence Against Women

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’.

Click here to watch a short video about The Asian Circle’s visit to the project.

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.

Image: Oxfam India

Notes kindly made by Ayesha Sehgal. 


A Year of Global Feminism

Image: Annie Lennox and Eve Ensler at The Circle’s Annual Gathering 2019

We kicked off the year at our Annual Gathering encouraging everyone to be courageous and confident in their actions to empower women and ‘Just do it’.  The day was full of inspiration and especially from Annie Lennox, Founder of The Circle, and Eve Ensler who talked about their activism and passion for women’s rights and left us all energised by their drive and commitment to ensure the world is an equal and just one for women. Since then our wonderful members, volunteers, allies and supporters have truly taken the words to heart and the past year has been incredibly successful and impactful for The Circle. We’d love to share with you some of the highlights of our year!

Global Feminism Campaign

 Last International Women’s Day, in partnership with Annie Lennox and Apple Music, we released a short film in support of our Global Feminism campaign. Both the short film and the campaign highlight the injustices still experienced by millions of women and girls the world over from misogyny, rape and violence to pay disparity. Every women and girl, no matter where they live, no matter the colour of their skin, no matter what religious faith, no matter what – must have access to the same basic human rights. Global Feminists believe in equality of rights, with empowerment and justice made available to every woman and girl in every corner of the world.

Annie drew support from some of the biggest names in music, film and beyond to help us, including Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Richard E Grant, Emeli Sande, Hozier, Farhan Akhtar, Richa Chada, Eddie Izzard, Gwendoline Christie, Beverley Knight and Mary J Blige. The film was shared far and wide and gave us the chance to remind the world of the huge inequalities and injustices that remain for millions of women and girls across the world. On the need for this campaign, Annie Lennox has said that:

‘We need to stand shoulder to shoulder in support of human rights, justice and equality for women and girls everywhere in the world, especially in countries where they are not even the lowest rung of the ladder.”

Image: Dua Lipa/Global Feminism Film

An Evening of Music and Conversation with Annie Lennox

In September we and 3,000 fans of Annie travelled to Scotland for An Evening of Music and Conversation with Annie Lennox in the SEC Armadillo, Glasgow. Following an incredible similar evening held in 2018 at Sadler’s Wells, Annie once again took to the stage to share thoughts, memories, and reflections in addition to treating the audience to a phenomenal musical performance. It was wonderful to see so many members and supporters there, many of which had travelled from far and wide to join us for this magical evening.  We were very honoured and thrilled that Annie was willing, once again, to deliver this wonderful event and raise valuable funds and awareness for The Circle and our work.  Using her platform on the stage to address the audience on some of the issues faced by women globally and to highlight the need for us all to be Global Feminists. A huge thank you to all who were involved, including the onstage and backstage teams, The Hunter Foundation, The Scottish Circle, our wonderful volunteers and all those that bought tickets.  It was our largest net fundraiser to date and all the proceeds go directly to empowering marginalised women and girls across the globe.

A Living Wage

It was a year of significant achievements for our Living Wage work.  We published our latest report, Fashion Focus: Towards a Legal Framework for a Living Wage, which sets out a proposal for a new legislative framework for ensuring a living wage for garment workers.  The report was launched in November at the Living Wage Symposium we held at the offices of Pinsent Masons in London.  There we were joined by incredible change-makers from the legal, investment, corporate and NGO sectors as well as academics, and policy makers including Jessica Simor QC, ASOS, Continental Clothing, BMO Global Asset Management, ASN Bank, Kempen, ACT, Fair Wear, Livia Firth and Clean Clothes Campaign among others. The need for a significant change in the area of a Living wage, after decades of small-scale pilots and gradual changes along with more transparency were the key themes throughout the day and came up again and again across all of the panels and discussions. Moving forward, we were reminded by our Ambassador Melanie Hall that:

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

This was significant step in the project in gaining significant buy-in to the need for legislative change and input and contribution about the type of legal framework needed to ensure manufacturing brands, retailers, and importers introduce a living wage within their supply chains.  Our Living Wage team have continued working to develop this work further and deliver our outline for a legislative framework to policy-makers and experts within the EU and beyond. We are excited for what the year ahead holds for our Living wage work and will press ahead to find a legislative solution to improve the lives of garment workers who struggle daily to provide for themselves and their families.

Image: Female garment worker

 The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network

The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network (MCJN) has continued in its incredible work supporting its 170 network members who are female journalists working in conflict and fragile states across the Middle East and North Africa region. The network has given them access to training, emergency assistance, and legal aid.

Many of the MCJN’s members and mentors have been instrumental in covering historic events in countries from Iraq to Yemen, to Egypt and Morocco. Unlike foreign reporters who are sent in to report on a story and then taken out to either go elsewhere or because it’s too difficult to stay many of the MCJN members remain, in the communities they live in, with war and violence around them and dealing with the aftermath. So, we have provided counselling for members and are part of a wider community of organisations supporting journalists to deal with the issues of mental health. Dima, the MCJN Editor, and one of our counsellors spoke about the issue and action we are taking to deal with it at the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism Forum in Jordan last Autumn.

This has been a huge year for the Network and they have grown from strength to strength. Dima had this to say on their growth and success:

“We started with a concept four years ago that has now grown into a vibrant online community of more than 170 Arab, female journalists. Not only are we proud of this achievement, but also humble and grateful to have had the chance to support amazing and resilient women who battle against the odds every day to speak truth to power.”

The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre

Another one of our project highlights was to continue our strong relationship with the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre. The centre is located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside of 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 Centre was established to make up for the lack of effective intervention services and has a shelter for women who have survived domestic violence or have been victims of human trafficking. We have been supporting Nonceba for the past few years and have been inspired by their resilience and determination to empower their community and to ensure that the centre can provide a place of safety for women and their children. Most of the women in the shelter are HIV positive, are struggling to access healthcare and have received limited education and training. Thanks to our phenomenal members, The Circle have been able to continue to fund the shelter so that women can stay as long as they need rather than for the few weeks that the Nonceba Centre receive government funding for.

Image: Siyanda at the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre

More broadly our impact has been felt through a number of projects aiming to address Global Goal 5: Gender Equality including, but not limited to, expanding Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis’ service capacity for young survivors of gender-based violence, improving quality education for girls with Educate Girls in remote areas of India by providing 301 learning kits that will impact over 7,000 children, providing funding for the cost of 425 casework hours that enable ACT Alberta to carry out their Victim Support Services for survivors of trafficking which include trauma recovery, advocating for victims and improved access to the justice system, and training educators and entrepreneurs in Uganda to provide affordable sanitary products and educate girls and boys about menstrual health with Irise International.

Events

Of course, none of this would have been possible without our wonderful members, supporters, allies, and volunteers who have been fundraising and using their expertise and platforms to empower marginalised women and girls.

Great River Race

 Some members of The London Circle truly took ‘just do it’ to heart and at the Annual Gathering put a shout out for others to join together and form a team to enter the Great River Race in London last September. 17 women came together for this huge challenge to paddle a dragon boat 21 miles down the River Thames and to raise valuable funds for the women’s shelter at the Nonceba Centre. Although a few of them were experienced rowers, none of them had ever paddled in a dragon boat before and regardless of ability, they all trained hard and work together to achieve their goals. They had a wonderful race and raised over £20,000. Everyone at The Circle found it incredibly motivating and inspiration to watch the team throughout their training and fundraising. It costs just £125 to allow a woman and her child to stay at the Nonceba centre for one month, so the money they raised will be able to make a huge impact to the lives of women at the centre and we couldn’t be prouder!

Image: Friends and Members of The London Circle for The Great River Race

Jumble Fever

After the huge success of The Oxford Circle’s Jumble Fever in 2019, the team held an event even bigger and more ambitious this year. Having outgrown its original location, this year’s event was held in Oxford Town Hall and raised over £11,000 for the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre and the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network. Special guests included commentator, activist and TV presenter Caryn Franklin MBE and performances from Oxford bands The Mother Folks and The Kirals, DJs, and MC for the day Her Who. The volunteer team were incredibly busy in the months before the event and on the day to ensure the day was a success and all the people who came could find a great bargain in mountains of donated items. There were numerous stalls selling everything from women’s clothes, children’s items, books and bric a brac and there were celebrity donations including those from Colin Firth and Annie Lennox.

Chai Day

We would like to thank each and every one of our supporters who held a Chai Day this year. Chai Day is a fundraising initiative beginning on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to bring people together over a cup of Chai and raise funds for survivors of violence. This year, we will use the funds raised to support the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre, ACT Alberta, Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis and the End Violence Against Women Coalition. Our amazing supporters held Chai Days in schools, universities, churches, community halls and offices and we really appreciate their support.

Image: Chai Day

This year The Healthcare Circle was launched at their first event welcoming speakers from various specialism and expertise from the healthcare sector. FGM/C specialist midwives Joy Clarke and Huda Mohamed, Obstetrician Dr Brenda Kelly ad Psychotherapist and Activist Leyla Hussein joined the for the panel discussion Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: How best we can support women and girls?

Other highlights included being joined by Lorna Tucker and Charon Asetoyer for our screening of Amá to shed light on the important story of abuses committed towards Native American in the 1960s and also at our launch of Chai Day 2019, at which we were also incredible privileged to have our friends from Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis in attendance.

The Music Circle also took on the ambitious challenge of organising a series of fundraising events in collaboration with record label Trash Like You. Tallulah, a new member of The Music Circle, brought together fellow members and fantastic womxn artists for some incredible performances to support The Circle’s project with Irise International.

Image: Members and guests at the launch of The Healthcare Circle

Thank you!

We want to say a huge thank you to all of you for your continual support over the last year to help us change the odds stacked the most disempowered women.


The Impact of COVID-19 on The Circle’s Projects

Image: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

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.

“We know that when emergencies hit, women and girls come last” 

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

Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis

For women and children experiencing domestic abuse and sexual violence, home is not always a place of safety. Perpetrators will use infection control measures as a tool of coercive and controlling behaviour. According to the Joint Statement on COVID-19 from VAWG services across the UK:

“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.

“I have talked to some workers and they were saying ‘more than the virus we might die of hunger’ because they don’t have access to food”

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.

Educate Girls

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.

Irise International

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.

For more information about our projects, click here.


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle member Saz

“I want to open up discussion in the community to these issues honestly, and without repercussion, to allow women to express their voices.”

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

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I am a daughter of twice migrants from India. My parents migrated from Gujarat, India to Tanzania, after partition, my father leaving in the late ‘40s and my mother and older sister joined him in the ‘50s. I was born in Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania before it decided that it too wanted independence for the British Empire. My father decided to move us, by then we were a family of five, to India for a short period of time while he established himself in England. My mother, two sisters and my brother arrived in 1967, and we settled in Coventry. My father had arrived earlier and had secured a job in a car factory, using his skill as a car upholstery on the production line.

My parents were typical Indian parents of their generation, telling us education is a key to success and encouraged us regardless of our gender to study.

My life has been good, fortuitous opportunities have come my way, I was given a commission straight after university to illustrate a book, a job offer at the BBC in the Creative Arts Department followed where I worked on and off until 2006. I began working as a freelancer for BBC, Sky and other production companies as a motion graphic designer and interactive TV designer. My personal life is great I have a wonderful husband and two gorgeous sons. But, not everything has been smooth sailing and I am glad that I have experienced some lows as well as some highs.

Why did you decide to become a member of The Circle?

I was introduced to Oxfam and The Circle by Santosh Bhanot, the Chair of The Asian Circle. Santosh and I have known each other since our sons were in the same reception class. We have spent many a time over tea and PTA meetings discussing how we could give back to the community. We both had a similar upbringings that included lots of volunteering at the temple helping others. I believe that The Circle’s mission fits well with my goals in life.

In the summer of 2013, a group of high energy women sat around a table at the Oxfam office to discuss ideas on how to bring our vision “to work with vulnerable women in South Asia who haven’t had the opportunities and means to support themselves” to fruition. Since then I’ve been a core committee member, organised fundraising events, and spoken to other Asian Women’s groups about our work. I dipped out from full involvement whilst I went back to university to get my Qualified Teacher Status in 2014.

You’ve been involved with The Asian Circle for a while, can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve achieved with them?

Since its inception, The Asian Circle has grown from strength to strength. We have highly motivated, passionate British Asian women who give their time generously to organise our events, for example, launch at Houses of Parliament, screening and Q&A of True Cost at SOAS, screening and Q&A of Bhaji On the Beach, Chai Day at the LaLit to name a few. We arrange to speak to organisations, universities, women’s societies and we recently hosted a conference with Peepal Enterprise in Leicester on issues of domestic violence and the lack of funding and support here and in India.

Over the last five years, The Asian Circle have worked hard to raise awareness and funds to support a pilot project, created with Oxfam India and local NGOs, amongst the tribal communities of Chhattisgarh, India – to end domestic violence and empower women and girls. We have helped provide support centres for counselling and legal aid, created ‘vigilance networks’ of women to support each other and training programmes for the police. We also have engaged with different organisations, the state government, police and community groups to highlight issues with violence against women. We were thrilled that the local NGO LASS received a prestigious State Award- ‘Nari Shakti Samman’ for outstanding improvement of conditions of women at the margins of society’. This project is now being supported by International funders for state wide deployment of the project.

We are currently sending the sum of £11,500 to Oxfam India on Violence Against Women & Gender Justice Programme in Chhattisgarh – a further build on the VAW project with a focus on Gender Equality.

The new programme will focus on education and change in the community on gender inequity.

● Meeting with a community-based group, using two curriculums “Gendernama” (About Gender) “for men and boys and “Jago and Jagao Badlao ki Aur” (Wake and Awaken for change) for women and girls is being successfully executed in the groups.

● Awareness camps are also being set up in the community, to discuss gender stereotypes in the community and legal services for women.

● Engagement with youth in colleges to discuss various gender related topics like, gender stereotypes, gender and sexuality, patriarchy and gender, power and privilege etc. The BNS (Bano Nayi Soch), champions selected from these youth groups are used to spread the message further afield.

● Running 2 women support centres in Chhattisgarh. These 2 centres are run in space given by the NGO’s partners to provide socio-legal support to survivors of domestic violence.

The Circle is an organisation of women empowering women. How does your upcoming book seek to empower other women?

As I mentioned before, I have had some lows in my life too, and 28 years ago we had the fortune to have a special child join our family. He lived for 8 weeks and we are grateful that he came into our lives.

The first couple of years after his death, I buried my feelings. I have always felt sad in January to March and I have put it down to the worst time of the year for everyone who lives in the Northern hemisphere, short dark days, grey cloud-filled skies. Two years after his birth, we had a healthy baby boy, and three years later another. January become a time of celebration, all our children are born in January. Work, motherhood, life, in general, took me to new levels. I held down a successful, but a stressful job working for BBC News and Current Affairs, my sons were bright and healthy.

As the year’s passed, I heard about other women who also dealt with issues of postnatal depression, anxiety and guilt. Any woman who has had a sick child knows of the guilt, the what if I did this, what if I did that, is it my fault? My mind went into overdrive, and every year the thoughts kept flooding back, that it was all my fault.

In 2006 after leaving the BBC and starting work as a freelancer, we were given the news that my father was diagnosed with bone cancer. I grieved for my father, but I grieved for our son. I joined a creative writing group and the novel just spilt out of me, I remembered every comment, every incident in vivid colour, the feeling of inadequacy, the search for a miracle to prolong his life. Again, life got in the way, my father who had been given 3 months lived for 3 years, so we savoured every minute with him.

In late 2016, I suffered from my first panic attack, and it left me shattered. I am known for my can-do attitude, had retrained to be a teacher and was enjoying seeing my students make good progress and grow into confident young adults. I couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t go into the classroom. I started counselling again, and things had moved on from my first session in the ‘90s.

It is important when you have counselling, that the counsellor understands, this time when I mentioned my extended family, she knew. In the ’90s, when I talked of the nuances of Indian families and how I felt my counsellor told me to stop all ties with the people who made me feel this way. Her words still ring in my ears. You don’t have to see your family if you don’t want to, you can always decline the invitation. She had no idea of the cultural pressure and significance of that remark.

My new sessions dealt deeply with my emotions through the lens of my upbringing. She told me to reread my novel and use it as a way to understand my feelings to move beyond grief.

So that is when my novels, My Heart Sings Your Song and Where Have We Come became a reality. I researched and read books to gauge the market, did I want to write a self-help book, should I write a blog and tell people of my experience. Then I came across a group of writers Cecilia Ahern and Jojo Moyes to name a few, who didn’t always write the typical tale of happy ever after. I read books published by South Asian authors, many with experiences that resonated with me, but none that I could identify with. I have grown up in England, I straddle both cultures, I’m a British Asian, foremost. My Gujarati background is the icing on the cake. My parents didn’t once blame me for my child’s illness. Many others did, my reluctance to follow rituals, customs, every superstitious belief, the alignment of planets, anything to beat me with to justify their anger at seeing our child as he was. I believe it’s in the psyche of the South Asian community to first and foremost blame the women. What annoyed me most as I was researching was that nearly thirty years after my experience, women were still being subjected to the same superstitions and customs in Britain. Some of the families that practised this were the third generation out of India. Women who were my age, telling their daughters, daughters-in-law that their child was disabled because of what they had or hadn’t done.

I sent a couple of chapters and an outline to people and received favourable comments, encouraging me to write it, but no-one was interested in taking me on as a writer. The book became a monster, both in its desire to be fed and its size. I edited scenes out, created chapters and asked people to help structure the story. My journey isn’t typical, I decided I would self-publish, whilst I waited for my early readers to get back to me with comments and alterations. I learnt what I could about publishing, the drafting, the formatting, the editing, and eventual publishing. I chose to have all the processes in my hand, after all, it is my story and I didn’t want comment or edits from people who didn’t know it or understand the cultural relevance of it.

My only aim is to tell the story, that was the goal I had set myself, but I’d also set another which has helped me through the difficult process. If I can help one woman, someone who is in or has been through a similar situation understand that they are not alone, then I have done my job.

So what’s next for me, I have got the writing bug, I have stories that I want to tell, stories about multicultural Britain, about friendships that grow regardless of background and race. I want my stories to be read by a broader readership, not just aimed at South Asian readers. The University Series that I’m planning deals with issues, such as bereavement, depression, disability, cancer, infertility, caste, interfaith relationships, infidelity, divorce, homosexuality, sex before marriage, topics that are still taboo in the community. I want to grow as a writer, learn the craft, tell stories of women from different communities, stories that people like me can identify with.

As for my anxiety and depression, I’ve heard things have changed; more and more support groups are being set-up in communities up and down the country to deal with depression in the South Asian community. It is a taboo subject that hardly has any airing. No-one, who has a thriving career, a big house, healthy and happy families can get depression. It’s good that finally, we are talking about it. I want to open up discussion in the community to these issues honestly, without repercussion, to allow women to express their voices.

Mostly I want people to realise that there are ways to express your emotions. For me it was storytelling, but it can be music, art, anything that allows you to deal with your emotions. If all you want to do is rage at a mountain than rage at it, it is your right to do what helps you cope. Anything is achievable if you put your mind to it.

What does Global Feminism mean to you?

When I started to work in a male dominant newsroom in the ‘80s I was optimistic that finally women were given the same opportunities as men. As the years’ progress, I began to realise that feminism explores the idea of equal rights for women but not necessarily equal rights to all women in all society.

The world is getting smaller and we hear more and more about the injustices faced by women across the world, how patriarchal societies, poverty, governments perpetuate the inequalities faced by women. Global Feminism for me means the right for every woman to equality at home, in the workplace and in society. It is about giving women opportunities to assert their rights. It is about making change happen by giving our voice to those who do not have one.

For more information about My Heart Sings Your Song & Where Have We Come click here

Or find Saz on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

 


The Healthcare Circle Hosts The Goddess Space

Photo credit: The Goddess Space

Chair of The Healthcare Circle, Alice Sinclair is teaming up with Anoushka Florence of The Goddess Space for an evening of goddess vibes for a good cause. We spoke to both Alice and Anoushka to find out more about this event to raise funds for The Circle’s projects and what you can expect from the session.

Alice, what advice would you give to someone thinking of fundraising for The Circle’s projects? What inspired you to collaborate for this workshop with Anoushka?

People like to get behind a project, especially if they can really see the benefit of it. So Clarity is important, such as where the funds are going and how they are directly help. The cardinal rule of fundraising is that if you don’t ask, you won’t get anything! When Anouska and I  met to discuss the possibility of collaborating to raise funds for The Healthcare Circle, it was serendipitous; when we both came to the meeting with similar thoughts as to what we wanted to do and how we wanted to work together on fundraising.

Fundraising takes time and you need to consider what time you can afford to invest in trying to raise funds, my preferred way to manage projects is to figure out how much time i would like to dedicate (or can spare) then see where i can fit it in (usually at weekends) then i plan accordingly. Drawing on local resources is also very helpful, turn you head to who you know and don’t be afraid to approach when an opportunity arises.

I think its fairly self explanatory as to why team up with Anoushka, she has been holding these wonderful supportive circles for years, empowering women. 

Anoushka can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?

I founded The Goddess Space 5 years ago, seeking to create safe and sacred space for women. My work is based on the ancient feminine practice of The Women’s Circle and seeks to revive these spaces around the world. Helping women remember and access the deep power within. 

Can you tell us a little bit more about your upcoming event with Healthcare Circle and Goddess space?

Working with the energy of the Full Moon and harnessing the glow from International Women’s day you will be invited into a dreamy, magical space to reconnect back to yourself, your sisters and the universe. From meditation to intention setting, sharing, and energy cleansing it will be an evening filled with magik.

What inspires you to work with women, and what does global feminism mean to you?

My inspiration in working for women lies in my deep knowing that to empower ourselves and each other will lead us back to the remembering of our true nature.

How would you describe this gathering to someone who hasn’t experienced it before?

It’s like a big hug; a space for you to leave the outside world behind, to just be, exist and reconnect to your true essence. 

Empowering women is clearly something that is at the heart of your work. At The Circle, we aim to empower some of the world’s most marginalised women and girls. In your opinion, how important is it for women to come together and make change happen?

I believe this is the very thing that will, in fact, heal the world. 

To book your place at The Goddess Space fundraiser on 10 March click here!


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle member Diane

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

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I am the Chair of The Music Circle, a mother, partner, daughter, sister, woman in music, strong woman, student and local council officer!

I am a mother of two teenagers, which has its challenges, but I am so mega proud of them. Initially a working single mum with two kids under the age of two and suffering with severe post natal depression, it was tough. So when the opportunity came up to do what I had always dreamed of, which was work in the music industry, I jumped at it. Within two years I had started my own business RM2 Music, a management company, and live music agency. I’ve been doing this ever since!

A few years ago, I will admit that the industry had left me a bit jaded and so made the decision to take a step back. I have scaled back on the operations and my own responsibilities and now work for my council helping to support local businesses, which I love. Taking that step back helped me fall back in love with music so I can be very selective on what I take on; RM2 Music lives!

To relax I love strength training and have competed in a few strong woman competitions. It is so empowering and reminds you what awesomeness there is within the female form. As well as being physically fit, I am now exercising the brain and have just started studying for my Masters degree which is very scary – I’m still trying to understand the title of my first assignment!

Why did you decide to become a member of The Circle?

Because women are awesome! There is nothing like a strong sisterhood when we come together in solidarity there is a magic and a strength that manifests which lifts and inspires you. To be able to help and provide a voice for those less fortunate than yourself is an honour. I’ve always been a strong advocate for women, whether that be in business or in music, so joining The Circle seemed a natural move.

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?

When I became the Chair of The Music Circle we were already supporting Irise, an project partner addressing the taboo and shame of periods, not just in Uganda but in the UK too.  It has been great what Tallulah and Ava have been doing, holding music evening raising the profile of the issues and funds for the charity. As a survivor of abuse the statistic that 1 out of 3 women are victims of the crime touched me deeply. Not a lot of women have the opportunity or strength to get their apology or justice so to be able to give them the support and break the silence is very important to me.

I recorded a video in late 2019 to share my story of abuse as a girl, the apology I sought out and received, and my journey with The Circle:

What does Global Feminism mean to you?

Highlighting the inequalities against women and opening the conversation to all, including men, as it’s important they are part of the solutions.

How have you used your professional skills or knowledge as a member of The Circle?

Project management and industry contacts have been pulled upon to bring events together and help reinvigorate The Music Circle which is our priority for the next year.

To find out more about The Music Circle and what their members have been doing to empower women and girls, click here.