“Western feminists must wake up and realise that feminism is a global concept. We must change attitudes and behaviours when it comes to sexual abuse, domestic abuse, sexual violence and rape”
We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who joined us on 26 September for Annie Lennox: An Evening of Music and Conversation. We hope you had just as wonderful a time as we did!
You can read more about Annie’s event and how the concert is supporting some of the most disempowered women and girls around the world through the work of The Circle below:
“I am a resourced, wealthy, self-made woman. All I really want to do is enjoy my life and make the best of it. But I also want to make a contribution. I have really felt this passion. I never wanted to preach to people. It is a turn-off.”
This month The Circle are focusing on raising awareness of ethical and sustainable concerns within the fast fashion industry. The #SecondHandSeptember campaign being led by Oxfam is something that we are supporting: promoting the importance of vintage and charity shopping as a stand against fast fashion and the poor conditions and pay of workers in the garment industry.
2019 has seen some incredible activism take place on issues concerning the industry. We have seen some powerful strikes and protests on the streets whilst also seeing some moving and alarming documentaries which are showing just how much of a crisis we are in. In April 2019 I wrote an article called ‘Who Made Your Clothes?’ in which I mention Livia Firth’s important argument about the complicated issue of not wanting to buy into the fast fashion industry, whilst also being aware of the fact that many women and girls earn their living from it. We need our governments to start recognising ways of tackling this complicated crisis.
“Activism works…see you on the streets” – Greta Thunberg, September 2019 Ambassadors of Conscience Awards
Second Hand September is all about encouraging consumers to rethink their perspective on the fashion industry by asking questions such as “Where and how was this t-shirt made?” How was it transported? What affect did the transport of this item have on our planet?” . One question leads onto another. The more questions we start asking, the more complicated they become. We find that we cannot find all of the answers because of lack of transparency and this is where it becomes deeply worrying. Not only are workers dying as a result of this industry, but also young children who are living amongst the waste that we have created and developing health issues such as cancer because of it.
This month we have seen millions of people across the world strike, protest and campaign about climate change. Over the past few years we have also seen people standing in solidarity against unethical practices of the fast fashion industry as well as brilliantly made whilst upsetting documentaries which expose them. Carry on reading to find out about these incredible campaigns and people who are taking action. Be inspired to also take action in your everyday life.
On Friday 20th September 2019 millions of people around the world protested the fact that although a climate emergency has been declared, our governments are not responding. So, like Greta, passionate advocates for saving our planet took to the streets. The Guardian called it the ‘biggest climate protest ever’. For the first time adults were asked to join and this led to people leaving their work places, including doctors and nurses. Education chiefs in New York City allowed the 1.1 million children the chance to ‘attend the climate strike and hear Thunberg speak at a rally at the United Nations headquarters.’ Every person on the planet is being called to action and we need to respond.
Photo credit: Film still from The True Cost
“Poverty wages, long hours, forced overtime, unsafe working conditions, sexual, physical and verbal abuse, and repression of trade union rights are all commonplace” – Labour Behind the Label
Labour Behind the Label are challenging the ethical side of fast fashion and they are the ‘the only UK campaign group that focuses exclusively on labour rights in the global garment industry.’ They are dedicated to holding brands accountable for their lack of transparency. This incredible campaign endeavours to form international solidarity. One of the amazing things they have done has been to push UK retailers to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Labour Behind the Label is physically changing peoples’ lives. Another important part of their work are the reports that they research and publish which is vital for ensuring that we hear the truth.
Many incredible campaigns and documentaries are challenging the fast fashion industry and revealing its corrupt and hidden secrets. On 18th September 2019 a documentary called Breaking Fashion aired on BBC Three. The series follows the company In The Style who launch a collection every two weeks in collaboration with fashion influencers. The CEO Adam Frisby states that he likes to challenge anyone who says fast fashion is unsustainable. As the episode unfolded, we witness the problems that the fast fashion industry is criticized for, as being fundamental parts to how this company operates. For example, needing their factory in China to produce a size 12 product and fly it across the world in 48 hours is highlighting issues such as air pollution and the amount of plastic packaging required. What is more, who are the garment workers? We know that clothing is made in both Chinese and UK factories but what are the factory conditions like? What materials are used? If companies like In The Style want to challenge the criticism that the fast fashion industry receives then they need to show more transparency in the manufacturing process. Refinery 29 support this as Jazmin Kopotsha quoted Frisby “When people think fast fashion, that it means it’s not sustainable and it means they don’t care, I like to challenge that,” Adam tells the camera. Kopotsha then argues “In the first episode at least, it’s not explicitly clear how In The Style does so.” How can it be possible for fast fashion and sustainability to work in harmony?
Producing clothing fast means something has to give. Manufacturers don’t want to shut down or raise their prices. So, ultimately, that something is a human life. Andrew Morgan, director of the film The True Cost (2015) states that “cutting corners and disregarding safety measures had become an accepted part of doing business” until the Rana Plaza collapse. The footage of the collapse is harrowing to watch and shines a serious light on the hidden and corrupt side of fast fashion. People were saying that they could still hear screaming underneath the rubble. They were crying out for help. Lucy Siegle, one of three Executive Producers of the film asks us to question why these businesses are not able to support human rights “whilst generating these tremendous profits[…]Is it because it doesn’t work properly? That is my question.”
“The whole system begins to feel like a perfectly engineered nightmare for the workers trapped inside of it.” – Andrew Morgan
If you would like to learn more about fast fashion, please read further into the following and be inspired by the collective voice of fast fashion activists and campaigns striving to make their governments listen.
Some of the people to follow:
– Livia Firth, one of the Founders of The Circle and Eco-age and Executive Producer of The True Cost.
– Lucy Siegle, Journalist and author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?
– Greta Thunberg, Climate Activist
– Vandana Shiva, Environmental Activist and author
– Tansy Hoskins, author of Stitched Up
– Stacy Dooley, BBC documentary Fashion’s Dirty Secrets
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.
“Having worked in the music industry, a largely male dominated field, from the age of 18, I am motivated to fight for women to have equality of opportunity across all aspects of life.”
We spoke to Tallulah Syron, a member of The Music Circle about her upcoming event for Irise, her record company and global feminism!
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
My names Tallulah and I’m from South East London. I am an artist, songwriter and run a record label and live music event called ‘Trash Like You’. Both the label and events are created by and curated for womxn.
Why did you become a member of The Circle?
Having worked in the music industry, a largely male dominated field, from the age of 18, I am motivated to fight for women to have equality of opportunity across all aspects of life. As a white, cis woman, I believe it is my responsibility to advocate for change for women in any way I can, particularly, those from minority groups, less privileged socio-economic backgrounds and women of colour. The Circle’s core beliefs are in promoting equal rights for women and girls around the world. Becoming a member of this vitally important organisation gave me an opportunity to expand upon the work I have been doing to create change for women. The opportunities that The Circle provides for women to work together to raise awareness, money and support for a vast number of causes is amazing, and I am excited to continue being a part of this journey.
Tell us about your upcoming event:
Under the umbrella of Trash Like You we have curated four separate shows, titled ‘Ladies to the Front – because #MenstruationMatters’. All profits from the show will be donated directly to Irise International, an important charity tackling period poverty across the UK and Uganda. Despite the title of the shows, we are committed to ensuring the conversation surrounding periods and period poverty remains open to all those who menstruate, including non binary people and trans men. Each of the four shows consist of an incredible line up of talented singers. You can expect acoustic sets from each of these, as well as discussions from members of The Circle and Irise. All four events will be held in beautiful locations across London, with our first at The Curtain in East London on the October 8th – get your tickets quick!
Why do you think the work of Irise International is so important?
The educational aspect of Irise International is amazing, giving girls and women the opportunity to access education surrounding their bodies and menstrual health is so important. I also think their efforts in tackling period poverty are vital, and has the potential to create incredible change for women around the world.
What does ‘Global Feminism’ mean to you?
To me, global feminism is about recognising that some women are faced with additional barriers, and therefore supporting all women and girls of different walks of life, not just those directly in front of you. Feminism is a global issue; we should all be global feminists.
I’d like to share a bit about my week as The Circle’s Relationship Manager, as dual South African / British citizen and as an empowered woman lucky enough to be born into a reality seemingly more equal than others. I spend most of my professional time and energy connecting inspiring women to each other and finding ways that they can support some of the most vulnerable women and girls globally. The voices we amplify through The Circle tell stories of injustices that are so far removed from my own life experiences that I desperately want them to not be real. But they are.
The women whose stories we share are more than just statistics, they are women like you and me. I could be her; she could be you. As a member of The Circle, I have found many avenues to transform the shock of these stories and my own denial, grief and anger into activism. This is not enough, but is something, and when connected with the energy and action of the other members and seeing women empowered because we are choosing to do something instead of nothing, that feels like claiming back the power to bring about the change we so desperately need. Outside of work I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by kind, supportive people, who have set high expectations for how we should be as human beings. Professionally and personally people in my life give me space to express my passion for equality, to rant, to cry, to rage and this support is essential to my mental health and wellbeing.
The first week in September 2019 has been a dark one. Media in South Africa has and continues to report stories of victims who were brutally murdered, exposing the epidemic of gender-based violence across the land. Blood of South Africa’s women spilled by men who knew them intimately or not at all. This week the echoing silence of those in power was heard loudly over the lamentations of the people. We have watched as that silence was broken with language blaming the victims for the crimes committed against them. The public lashed back as women and men shared the governments official statement with corrections made in red font, like a learned response from a teacher to a pupil whose work missed the point of the exercise entirely, the only thing missing was a red letter F circled in the top corner.
To many, South Africa represents the most progressive country on the continent. Colonisation instilled the western ideologies and systematic structures as a foundation familiar to tourists from the West. So why shine a light on country with more financial stability that its neighbours? Let’s begin with August 2018. South Africa’s Women’s Day is held on the 8 August and is meant to be a month of celebration of the mothers and daughters of the country in remembrance of the women uprising against the Apartheid Pass Laws in 1956. Instead, thousands of my South Africa sisters halted the empty celebratory tokenisms to unite their voices in protest against the gender-based violence, which currently holds more than half the population hostage to fear and threat of violence, assault and femicide. The #TotalShutdown movement saw uprisings across the country with the clear message #MyBodyNotYourCrimeScene. Fast forward to 1 April 2019, South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa declared that gender-based violence in South Africa as a ‘national crisis’. A declaration was signed with a promise to eradicate the femicide that is taking the lives of South Africa’s women on a daily basis. 2016 data from the World Health Organisation reports that the femicide rate in South Africa was 12.1 per 100,000, almost 5 times higher than the global average of 2.6 per 100,000. In his address to the Nation, Ramaphosa stated that ‘’According to the SAPS Crime Statistics report of 2018, femicide increased by 11% over the last two years,” he told the assembled crowd. “Stats SA reports that 138 per 100,000 women were raped last year, the highest rate in the world.”
Our story continues on 3 September, the date on which the body of a young women, Uyinene Mrwetyana, was found dumped in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Uyinene, a daughter, sister a friend was violently assaulted and raped before being bludgeoned to death with scales at a post office in Cape Town. The horror of crime against a woman who was simply trying to collect a parcel from the Clareinch post office has sparked a national outcry from the people of South Africa . Uyinene’s body was found a mere 15-minute drive from The Circle’s partner project, Nonceba Family Counselling Centre, a refuge for women who are victims of sexual violence and assault. Personally, this fact has hit a nerve for me. I share stories about the women empowered by the life changing work this shelter on a daily basis and our members inspire me with their ideas on how to raise funds essential to continuing this work. Even more importantly, I have heard women tell me personally about how Nonceba has literally saved their lives. Their voices are my beacon of hope this week, knowing that they are reclaiming their lives back from the violence a mere 15 minutes down the road from where Uyinene’s body was found.
I have spilled many tears this week. I have had very difficult, but important conversations with the men in my life, I have listened to the rage of women, and I have grieved for the lives of women taken by men and gender-based violence, especially in South Africa. I took some time yesterday afternoon to cry for the lives lost and those left behind, irrevocably changed forever. I had a cup of tea, put my Relationship Manager hat on and joined a conference call. I listened as members in the USA shared their thoughts with me on how they want to do more to help victims of sex trafficking by supporting our partner project ACT Alberta. Another member reached out to tell me about a series of music events she has lined up to support our projects, one of which will be a Chai Day to raise funds to support victims of gender-based violence. My inbox is full of inspiring ideas and hope from people who are unequivocally demanding change. The women I work with have, without even knowing it, pulled me from my own personal despair this week and I am forever grateful for the connections I have as a member of The Circle.
These glimmers of hope reminded me that in moments of tragedy doing something positive is always better than doing nothing.
So I took action.
I made a donation to Nonceba in the hope that I can help safe another life.
I shared stories of victims with people, in person and online, to help raise awareness and break the taboos.
I signed this petition calling for South Africa’s parliament to declare gender-based violence as a state of emergency. According to the Change.org petition, the number of women murdered by men in South Africa is approximately 3000 per year, while approximately 50,000 women will experience sexual assault or physical violence per year. By comparison, Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency in February 2019 when the more than 8500 cases of rape were reported in 2018.
I registered to host a Chai Day for The Circle to raise essential funds needed to empower victims of gender-based violence to reclaim their lives and to be part of the movement to raise awareness and end the violence.
I wrote this blog post to share the pain and stories of our global sisters.
Finally, I am asking you to join me in doing something small too, so that our small actions can collectively be part of something powerful and life changing for a woman or girl facing injustices that no human being should have to face.
The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre: Siyanda and her son
Earlier this year, Sharon McClenaghan joined The Circle as the project manager for our Living Wage work. For September, we are focusing on the progress we’ve made with this project and wanted to give our readers this chance to hear from Sharon herself. We sat down and asked her a few questions.
Welcome! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi Anna, thank you for the welcome. I joined the Circle in April 2019 as the part-time project manager of the Living Wage project. I have a background in labour rights having worked at Christian Aid for over 10 years as private Sector advisor and in that capacity as a director on the board of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) for 2.5 years. During that time I helped lead the work on improving conditions for workers in supply chains in South Africa in the fruit sector, working with high street supermarkets such as Sainsburys Waitrose and Co-op. Before that I worked on a DFID project focused on developing supermarket codes of conduct sensitive to the conditions of women workers and before that again I worked on a PhD looking at the conditions of women workers in ‘maquiladoras’ (or sweatshops) in the Dominican Republic. I also work in a team of consultants evaluating UN projects.
What have you been working on since starting at The Circle?
Since April, we have been busy working on the next stage of the Living Wage
project and building on the very strong report which The Circle produced in 2017 with the aim of producing a second report later in the year. The first report clearly establishes the living wage as a fundamental right, making the argument that production can move to other countries where wages are cheaper. In order to counter this, the second report will provide the basis of a new legal directive that will oblige garments/fashion companies to pay a living wage throughout the supply chain in all jurisdictions. New research was commissioned by the Lawyer`s Circle Steering group in April and May and this was developed into a proposal (which will form the basis of the report). In June we held a Roundtable with invited guests, the majority of whom were lawyers from academia and companies, at Matrix Chambers to discuss this and to help us think through the next stages of a legal framework on living wages and and what support we need to develop to enable this to happen.
What can we expect from the Living Wage project over the coming months?
We have a lot planned for the next few months. We are currently writing the second living wage report, due to be completed in September. In October I will attend the PLWF conference (a Dutch based initiative representing the investor sector in Holland) which encourages and monitors investee companies to address the non-payment of living wage in their global supply chains. We have worked with PLWF before to support their work and plan to strengthen this partnership. In November Jessica Simor and Livia Firth, members of the Steering group of the Living wage project will speak at the Trust conference London 2019, a global human rights forum in which they will `soft launch` the report. Towards the end of the year we are planning a Living Wage Symposium which will bring together all those working on the Living wage as well as those working on the wider issue of mandatory human rights due diligence as it relates to companies. The focus of the symposium will be to discuss the legal framework for a living wage as proposed in the report and the different work and initiatives related to this. The symposium will be ‘solutions orientated’ in focus.
What have you found most surprising about the conditions of women working
in the factory industry?
Probably most surprising and depressing s the fact that conditions remain so poor for so many women working in supply chains after so long. Initially, 20 years ago, there was a lot of hope that company codes of conduct would improve conditions but time has shown that this is just not the case. If anything the lack of a legal imperative to change has meant that for many companies, corporate social responsibility, CSR, is a rue and its `business as usual` despite promoting commitments to change.
Are you hopeful about the future of the industry?
I am cautiously hopeful (as is my nature!) about the future of the industry. I see the growing phenomena of `fast fashion` and its dependence upon cheap labour as alarming especially examples where clothes are produced here in the UK for a few pounds. However, at the same time I see a growing trend in the UK and other European countries to call companies to account for their human rights and to push for a legal solution to ensure that they take responsibility for workers`s rights. In that context I think the Circle`s legal work on the living wage is critical- while there are those working on mandatory `human rights due diligence` as it relates to companies and their supply chains, only the Circle is working on that as it relates to Living wage.
What can we do, as consumers, to support women across the globe working in the garment industry?
As consumers the most important thing is be thoughtful and questioning as to the conditions in which clothes are made. Ask questions of brands as to the conditions under which garments are produced. What is their policy on labour standards and in particular on the Living Wage? Do they have full disclosure of their supply chains and are they transparent about this? How do they investigate allegations of abuse? Ask these questions of all brands. I think its very hard to know currently which brands are `good` and which are `bad` especially since there is still no way to ensure that clothing has been produced in an ethical way with living wages paid to workers. By asking questions and demanding answers of brands we can help push them further along that road and when there is a campaign for binding legislation.
Finally, what does ‘Women Empowering Women’ mean to you?
I love the idea of women empowering women and it was that which first attracted me to The Circle. I have always been very proud to call myself a feminist and one with a lovely husband and two lovely boys so there isn’t anything remotely anti-male about the idea to me, despite it being threatening to some men. However, yes, the focus is on women making changes happen for themselves and for other women in a non hierarchical way and in a way where there is no competition or threat just the desire to improve the conditions of all women, which benefits everyone, men and women.
To support our Living Wage work click here. Sharon McClenaghan will be hosting The Circle Connects: Living Wage on 24 September for our members to find out more about the project – register here.
“Feminism is humanity’s imperative outrage against subordination of any kind, it serves to amplify the silenced voices of half of the world’s population, and is a necessary crucible for change committed to securing equal rights for women and men around the globe.”
This month, as part of Widen Your Circle, we have spoken to a number of our members about their involvement with The Circle and what it means to be a member!
Tell us a little about yourself
I wear a few different hats – I am a human rights barrister, an international development consultant, a writer and an activist. All of my work is focused on improving access to rights for the most vulnerable members of our global community.
As a child of immigrants who were born in pre-partition India, and as the first in my family to attend university, I have been acutely aware of injustice and inequality from a very young age.
In my practice as a barrister I specialise in asylum, immigration and international human rights matters. I have particular experience of working with vulnerable clients – be that representing unaccompanied children, victims of trafficking, victims of torture or those suffering from complex mental health problems.
In my role as a consultant I have spent many years ‘on the ground’ advising governments of fragile states and parties transitioning from conflict. This work has always focused on improving access to justice for vulnerable communities.
I now spend much of my time providing pro bono advice to asylum seekers on the ‘first shores’ of Europe. In our volatile global climate now, it seems more critical than ever to give voice to those silenced by injustice and inequality.
Why did you become a member of The Circle?
I became involved with the Circle in an unconventional way. A member of The Lawyers’ Circle posted an urgent message on social media asking if anyone knew of an asylum lawyer who was able to provide quick assistance.
In the customarily magical way of The Circle, members quickly mobilised and disseminated this call for help through their networks. By domino effect, the post soon found its way to me and I was able to provide legal advice which has resulted in a long-persecuted Sudanese journalist securing asylum.
Since then I have been deeply involved in both The Lawyers’ Circle and The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network. I am continually impressed by the magnetic passion, dedication and immense feeling of solidarity shared by all members of The Circle. Particularly the vigour and determination of Dima, who leads The Marie Colvin Journalists Network – I am certain that the MCJN will revolutionise the way that female journalists in the MENA are supported and enabled to undertake their crucial work.
What does Global Feminism mean to you?
A simple promise to champion all pursuits of gender equality. That is, to support all of the different demands for gender equality made by feminist communities around the world, specific to their circumstance.
Feminism is not the preserve of the educated, white, wealthy, Western woman. Feminism is humanity’s imperative outrage against subordination of any kind, it serves to amplify the silenced voices of half of the world’s population, and is a necessary crucible for change committed to securing equal rights for women and men around the globe.
To me, Global Feminism seeks to unite and forge solidarity between the various qualified factions of feminism that now exist. Be it third world feminism, postcolonial feminism or chicana feminism, let us all gather together as one inclusive movement and collectively stand up against all forms of inequality and injustice. Global Feminism is the loudest, most unrelenting, united cry against gender inequality in all of its guises – women and girls, men and boys – we must all rise up and roar together
This month The Circle is encouraging their supporters to #WidenYourCircle by sharing inspirational stories of women empowering women.
With this in mind, I decided to write about the incredible Marie Colvin and two inspirational female photographers who risked their lives, pushed through and broke down gender norms in this field of work and amplified the voices of women. These photographers are Lee Miller (1907-1977) and Christine Spengler (*1945). I was inspired to write this article from reading the catalogue Women War Photographers: From Lee Miller to Anja Niedringhaus which was created from the exhibition. The exhibition is being shown at the Fotomuseum Winterhur from 29th February to 17th May 2020.
“When they tried to get a picture, they’d have 10 men pushing them out of the way” – Marilyn Kushner
As Felix Kramer who is the Director General of the Museum Kunstpalast, argues, war and conflict still has masculine connotations despite the fact that women have also shaped our view of worldwide conflicts. A lack of educational opportunities and social acceptance meant that it was only towards the end of the 19th century that women were allowed to study photography. In the Second World War women were still not permitted to photograph on the front and their assignments were mainly photographing hospitals and civilians.
In 1942 Lee Miller stated ‘“Just treat me like one of the boys”[…]when asked under what rules she was willing to work as one of the few women among many men.’ This reveals just how hard and brave it was for women to fight for their place in the male-dominated world of photojournalism. In July 1944 Miller was assigned to a field hospital in Normandy and it is her background in the art of Surrealism and the use of her own reports that made her stand out amongst the male photographers, as Felicity Korn also suggests. Korn goes on to argue that her work breaks with the ‘“classic”’ style of war photography and that it is Miller’s background as a model and fashion and fine art photographer that led to her becoming Vogue’s War Correspondent. Through believing in her own artistic choices, Miller showed that it is her skill as a photographer that should determine where she is assigned, not gender. Although it must be addressed that according to Anne-Marie Beckmann and Felicity Korn, female photographers have said that ‘reporting as a woman from crisis zones can work to their advantage” as it is easier for them to meet with families and women affected by war.
“I wanted to report on just causes. If you ask me…’What do you consider a just cause?’, then I always say, ‘I stand on the side of the oppressed.” – Christine Spengler
1970: an armed regional conflict was taking place in Chad and Spengler, with her younger brother at the time, got out her 28mm camera and started taking pictures. This led to her arrest and jail time for several weeks. According to Ingo Borges, this experience led Spengler to become one of the greatest war photographers. But Spengler had a different focus; instead photographing the everyday lives of women and children who were affected by war. Spengler really captures the fact that these people are trapped inside a country at war with no choice but to protect themselves, their families and carry on daily life. Spengler manages to capture moments of laughter among the children who are unaware and innocent to the reality of war. In other images we see a woman defending her home with a gun, a mother carrying her baby whilst a gun is slung on her left shoulder (a female fighter of the Polisario Front in Western Sahara 1976, p. 139). Another, we see a young boy crying over his dead father in Cambodia, 1974 (p.133). Spengler captures moments which would have unlikely been focused on, but it is these moments which capture the humanity in wars of violence and destruction.
It is the incredible strength, belief and perseverance of women like Lee Miller and Christine Spengler who made it possible for journalists like Marie Colvin to report on the front lines as one of the most brave and talented war correspondents in history. Colvin worked for the Sunday Times and in February 2012 was killed in Syria “reporting the injustices of conflict, determined to uncover truth from one of the most dangerous places on earth.” Colvin was passionate about women’s rights and would mentor young female journalists who were entering into the same profession. The Marie Colvin Circle was set up in her memory by her friends. This circle supports the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network, a network that works with local female journalists in conflict zones. This important type of journalism is met with life threatening situations of violence, threats and kidnapping. The Middle East and North Africa regions (MENA) have over 100 local female journalists who are supported by this network. They can receive practical support and mentoring as well as network with local journalists in the area. Psychological support is also something the network offers as these women are working alone and under incredibly difficult and dangerous circumstances. Other types of support are also offered which you can read here.
Women like Lee Miller, Christine Spengler and Marie Colvin are such an important part of showing how no person should limit or question another’s ability because of their gender. If men can report on the front lines, so should women; as many female journalists have proven. They too have made history, and we must continue to remind ourselves of their work and inspire others to continue fighting for gender equality in journalism.
 See footnote 1,p. 123. Original reference quoted on p. 125 is ‘Christine Spengler, in an interview in Sigrid Faltin’s documentary film Kriegsfotografinnen: Der Kampf um Bilder, Leben und Tod, SWR/arte, 2016.’
 See footnote 1, p.123. Original reference quoted on p. 125 as ‘Christine Spengler, Une femme dans la guerre, Paris 1991, p. 19.’
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.
“No matter what your contribution, being a member of The Circle guarantees that you will be supported and spurred on by an incredible group of likeminded women.”
This month, as part of Widen Your Circle, we have spoken to a number of our members about their involvement with The Circle and what it means to be a member!
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I’m 35, female, a Partner at Stewarts (a litigation law firm) and, my side hustle (if non-millennials are allowed them!), a Director at Richmond Rugby Club where I used to play.
Why did you become a member of The Circle?
I joined The Circle after attending the launch of Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage, which was researched and prepared by members of The Lawyers Circle. It was an incredibly inspiring experience listening to a group of very senior female lawyers explain how they have used their skills, profile, connections and, what can only be very limited, free time to make a real difference to the lives of women globally. I decided there and then that I would join. The Circle facilitates the creation of a network of people that will use their skills and connections for a specific goal, the improvement of the lives of women everywhere. I call it the female equivalent of the “Old Boys Network”: the main differentiating factor being that the network is used for universal rather than individual betterment!
Since becoming a member I have contributed to the Tanzanian Maternal Health Rights project being led by members of The Lawyers Circle, have assisted with creating a skills database to better resource The Lawyers Circle projects, have become part of The London Circle committee, have arranged for my firm to host a number of events and in September I am taking part in The Great River Race in a Dragon boat together with 16 other members to raise funds for Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. I’ve also broadened the network. In particular, a friend’s company, Le Bus Vert in Biarritz France, is currently supporting the Dragon Boat fundraising efforts by contributing a proportion of its sales of jewellery and other items made from reclaimed materials (often those washed up on local beaches) to the cause. All because I turned up to an event at a barristers chambers on a week night!
There are so many ways of getting involved in raising funds, contributing to projects or just simply spreading the word. No matter what your contribution, being a member of The Circle guarantees that you will be supported and spurred on by an incredible group of likeminded women.
What does Global Feminism mean to you?
In my mind Global Feminism means recognising that whilst there remain many barriers and disadvantages suffered by women in the UK, I, and others, do have a voice. Having achieved that platform we should use it to advocate for those that are in a situation far worse than our own. In doing so and by taking small steps in improving the rights and opportunities available to women globally, we can make huge strides forward for society as a whole.
Are there any of The Circle’s projects that are particularly close to your heart and can you tell us a bit more about these and why they stand out?
The Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage Report really opened my eyes to the staggering inequalities and consequences of our current approach to clothing production and consumption. It not only highlighted the issues but identified the ways in which different jurisdictions, including our own, need to cooperate and legislate to ensure global change. This element of The Circle’s work stands out to me not only as an example of how the law can be used and how a group of lawyers can work together but it has affected my own attitudes as a consumer. The more the issue can be highlighted, and it is certainly being picked up by global media, the more people will start to question the impact of their choices. Consequently, the more pressure there will on governments to legislate to effect change and on fashion companies to be open about their approach. This is an area where I really believe it will be possible to see a visible improvement, hopefully in fairly short order!
“I believe that being an active contributor to change, regardless of your gender, is an essential part of achieving equality for women and girls.”
At The Circle, we are of the strong belief that the fight for gender equality has to be inclusive. To reach it, men can and must stand next to us as allies to the Global Feminist movement. Christian is one of our male allies and supports our work in a number of ways. As part of #WidenYourCircle, we wanted to catch up with him to discuss what it means to be an ally of The Circle.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I was born in Africa, spent over a decade in Australia where I gained my tertiary qualifications to be admitted to practice as a lawyer, and moved to London in 2009 to experience life and work in Europe. I am currently director of contracts for a US fintech company, an avid traveller, and a global feminist!
Why did you decide to become an ally of The Circle?
When I first came to learn about The Circle, men were not able to join as members. However, I felt a strong resonance with the mission and values of The Circle and wanted to support its work and grassroots projects.
In recent years, I feel that apathy has become a dangerous state of mind that is enabling rather than solving many societal challenges. I believe that being an active contributor to change, regardless of your gender, is an essential part of achieving equality for women and girls.
I decided to gift a membership to The Circle to a number of women in my life who might not otherwise have been able to join and benefit from the connectedness of The Circle’s members, on the condition that when they felt willing and able, they would do the same for another inspiring woman in their life!
I am proud to now have been able to join as an ally, and to stand alongside other members and allies of The Circle to amplify the voices of women and girls who have been disempowered and marginalised.
Is there anything you have gained from becoming an ally of The Circle?
Over the past two years, I’ve attended a number events hosted by The Circle, from film screenings to networking evenings to book talks. All of these have educated me on the challenges that women and girls across the world face each day, and the need for action by all members of society.
Most importantly though, I’ve been fortunate to meet a range of passionate women and allies, a number of whom have become friends and professional contacts, and who have challenged me to become an agent of change.
Find out more about the different ways you can become an ally of The Circle by clicking here.
Susan Ferner is a member of The Calgary Circle who has channeled her experience of coming close to traffickers and her subsequent heightened awareness of the issue into a beautiful creative writing piece. Since becoming a member, she has formed The Calgary Circle and focused their attention on addressing the huge issue of sex trafficking within her own country. This piece and the efforts of their circle on the other side of the pond are testament to Susan’s determination to use her own experience to empower other women.
On a warm September evening in 2017, I walked along a single lane highway that led to the border of Iran and took photos of the Zangezur Mountains and Voghi River valley. I had embarked on an off-the-beaten-track trip in Armenia just two weeks prior. Armenia is a tiny Christian country in the Caucasus that boasts home to the oldest churches in the world, with mysterious monasteries dating back to 200 AD. After spending days exploring ancient churches and fortresses, I set out with two friends to discover the more isolated Syunik Region. My friends were at the hotel when I ventured down the road for a short walk, armed only with my camera.
Transport trucks and buses lumbered by sporadically as they wound their way up the mountain pass, confined by a wall of rock on one side and a steep slope on the other. The borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed, but goods pass freely between Russia, Armenia, Georgia and Iran. One hot commodity is women. We had long ago left behind the red neon lights and silhouettes of naked women that adorn the strip clubs in the outskirts of the country’s capital, Yerevan.
The heat of the day had broken and my shadow formed a long black silhouette ahead of me. Engulfed in a dusty haze, the mountains rose up around me. Dead grass swayed back and forth in the breeze along the steep slopes. I heard a car whizz by, followed by the sound of the
engine as it ground into second gear. I turned to watch a white Lada pull a U-turn before a hairpin curve, a blind spot in the road. The car drove slowly back towards me. Dark tinted windows lowered and four men stared hard-eyed at me. They appeared to be in their early twenties. The car came to a dead stop thirty feet down the road. The front passenger, with black hair, fair skin and dark eyes, got out of the car and walked slowly towards me. He tugged on his cock, unexposed, and called, “Russa?”
“Nyet Canada.” I yelled. I backed away quickly and faced the man.
“Russa!” he insisted.
My heart raced. My mind was clear. These men thought that I was Russian. A prostitute. Fair game. Then the driver got out of the car and walked slowly towards me. “Russa! We police. You come here!”
I knew the police in Armenia did not look anything like him. I also knew that sometimes pimps pretend to be the police to frighten women to come closer. “Fuck off! Fuck you!” I screamed.
My heart pounded. I ran across the road, seized a large rock on the side of the highway and hurled it in the direction of the driver. It fell purposely short of my target. I picked up another and winged it closer to his feet. I grabbed a third and sprinted back across the highway.
I faced the two men and felt the heavy weight of the rock in my hand, ready to launch it. Surprised, the driver stopped. Angry, the passenger cursed me. “Bitch!”
“Fuck off! Go away. STAY AWAY,” I yelled.
Silence. The men looked me up and down. Was that the sound of a motor in the distance? I was not sure, but maybe that is why they got back into their car. As they drove away, an uncontrollable wave of anger slammed into me. Furious, I raised my camera and zoomed in. I took two photos. One of the driver’s profile with a sneer on his face and his third finger raised high in the air. And one of the license plate. Brakes slammed. Doors flung open. The passenger in the front seat jumped out and came straight at me.
My mind was focused on one thing, and that was getting away alive. I distinctly remember thinking that I am not ending my life in Armenia. I rested my hand on the highway guardrail and leapt over it. I hunched down low and – half running, half skiing – slid down the steep slope. I did not look up until I moved into deeper brush and thorny bushes, fiercely seeking a place to hide. I scanned the top of the slope and guard rail. No one. I scoured the brush. The men were nowhere to be seen.
I had one hour to get off the mountain before dark.
Calm down. Breathe. Think! Which way to go? The steep climb back up was not an option, the white Lada might be waiting for me further along the highway. I had no choice but to angle further down towards the town. My steps were firm and deliberate. I did not want to trip and fall into the empty space – the void – that lay between the top of the bushes and the ground below. My pace slowed as I struggled through the brambles and stinging nettles. I thrashed along as red welts and deep gashes appeared on my hands and legs and ankles. At last, I saw signs of civilization. The rails of an abandoned railroad gleamed red in the failing sunlight. I followed the tracks which led me to an isolated cemetery. The graves were marked by the somber portraits of men and women, their faces etched into the granite and star at me. They reminded me of the eyes of those four men in the white Lada. Dispassionate and cold.
This was not the place for me.
I continued through the cemetery and followed a rough dirt road that led to the outskirts of town. I heard shouts of laughter from children who played in the streets. Three young girls and a boy chased a dog and threw small rocks at it. I slowed down and passed by row upon row of heavy grey Soviet-style apartments. Apart from a few Toyota trucks, all I saw were white Ladas, but no sign of the four men. I am not sure if I would have recognized them. The entire episode on the side of the road felt like an eternity, but I believe it all happened in less than four minutes.
Seated on the plaid sofa in our hotel room, my friends turned pale as I recounted my story. My arms and legs were dirty, scratched and bloody. Peter looked grim, and gave me a long hug and said, “Those bastards.” Sonia could not believe that I jumped the guardrail. “I would freeze,” she said.
Years ago, I said, I read a story in the Globe about a woman who was forced into a car, repeatedly raped and then murdered. The RCMP say that if you think someone is going to attack you, swear and scream and throw things. An attacker is looking for someone who freezes. He does not want a fight. He wants an easy target. And anyone who wants to drag you
into a car is going to do terrible things, so it’s best to fight and run. Even if he has a gun. Run! It’s hard to shoot a moving target. I never forgot that article.
Although friends at home questioned why I walked alone on the road to Iran, neither Sonia or Peter wondered why. We had been told that Armenia is safe for tourists, a new frontier for backpackers and travelers. Until that moment on the road, I had experienced only gracious and generous hospitality from the local people. It was not too late in the day nor was it too dark. I may be a seasoned traveler, but perhaps I was naïve in this case? Or perhaps it was just bad luck.
We went to the local station and a serious policeman looked over the photographs and noted the license plate. Twenty hours later, the same policeman informed me that he had visited the “boys” that evening and it was all a cultural mistake. He said that the boys thought that I was Russian. They were young and drunk and stupid. The policeman reminded me that Armenia is a safe country and things like this never happen here. Then he said, “This can happen anywhere in the world, can’t it?”
“Yes,” I said. “It can.”
“Did you really throw rocks at them?”
“Yes, I did.”
“What do you want to do now?” he asked.
Surprised, I stopped to think. In Canada, I would not press charges because there is no case. The men approached me, I swore and yelled at them, the situation escalated, but they did not touch me. I kept my distance, threw rocks, jumped the guard rail and scrambled down the mountain. In my mind, there was no legal battle and even if according to an Armenian law there was a case, it was my word against theirs.
“Nothing,” I said. “I don’t want to do anything. I’m leaving Armenia in a few days and I won’t be coming back for a court case.”
It was only later that I learned from an Armenian friend that prostitutes walk the roads and highways. The prostitutes are Russians. Girls and women who are baited with the promise of work and opportunities and lured away from Russia. They are transported thousands of miles away from home. Enroute and in the new country, they are repeatedly raped, beaten and threatened by pimps who lock them into rooms and brothels and put them on the streets and highways.
When I arrived back in Canada, one thing struck me. Viscerally. I have the freedom to yell and swear and run. I can hurl rocks and I can howl. But the girls and teens and women who are trafficked out of Russia do not have that freedom. They cannot run, and if they flee, where will they go? A Russian woman on the side of the highway has no choice but to climb into that car with four drunk men because a pimp is holding a gun to her head.
A few weeks after I got home, a friend at work told me a story. His wife’s friend, Claire was shopping at Market Mall with her 15-year-old daughter, Emily. They were eating at the food court and Emily went to the washroom. Claire waited and waited. Emily was taking a long
time, so Claire went to check on her. She found the teen slumped semi-unconscious between two women.
“What’s the matter”?
“Oh nothing,” one of the women replied. “Our friend is sick and we are taking her outside.”
“Your friend? Sick?? That’s my daughter!”
The women dropped Emily and ran. Claire later learned from the police that abductions happen in Calgary and across Canada. She also learned that a teenage girl has a street value of $260,000 a year to a pimp and an organized crime ring.
Late in October of that year, I saw a young Indigenous girl on the downtown streets of Calgary on a cold rainy night. She was on the corner of an intersection with an older man. The traffic light glowed neon red on the wet pavement. The man walked between a few cars and panhandled until the light turned green. The girl waited on the sidewalk. Feeling utterly useless, I drove off. Then I pulled over about a block away and stopped. I paused. Then I called 911. After I explained the situation, the woman on the emergency line asked me if I thought the girl was in imminent danger? Was she being prostituted?
“I don’t know,” I said. “All I know is that it is late at night and the girl is so young, only about thirteen. She seems excited to be there, wide eyed and innocent. She’s not tough and beaten up. She’s alone with a man who is in his forties. It’s a rough corner. So yes, I think that she is in imminent danger.”
The 911 operator promised to send a car over. As I drove away, I thought about how the girl should be at home, sleeping, and going to school the next day. She would be in Grade 7. I have no idea if that phone call made any difference. All I know is that the policeman in Armenia was right, sex slavery is happening everywhere in the world, hundreds of thousands of miles away. And right here in Canada. Just a few kilometers down the road from home.
If you are feeling inspired by Susan then click here to find out more about becoming a member!