Feminist Calendar: November and December

Photo credit: She’s Beautiful when She’s Angry, 2014.

Looking to be inspired in the run-up to Christmas? The Circle volunteer Jessi Wells has got it covered with this bi-monthly roundup of feminist events

5 November — TEDxUCLWomen 2017 (London)

TEDxUCLWomen is a movement celebrating women’s achievements and critiquing barriers to further change. This year’s theme is Home, encompassing notions of community, belonging, race, class, familiarity and discomfort. An incredible line-up of speakers will challenge participants’ perceptions and enrich their thinking around the theme.

9 November — The Space Between Us: Female poets on time, place and identity (Oxford)

At this event, curated by Poet in the City, contemporary female poets will draw on the past to explore their own modern identities and sense of belonging. Inspired by the venue — St Hugh’s College, whose first principal felt she slipped back in time when visiting Versailles — Victoria Adukwei Bulley and Patience Agbabi will explore stories from across time and space, reflecting on their own work and that of the female poets who preceded them.

16 November — Sara Ahmed and Everyday Feminism (Manchester)

Sara Ahmed’s celebrated new book, Living a Feminist Life, reveals how feminist theory is generated from ordinary experiences at home and at work — from everyday feminism. On 16 November, Ahmed will be in conversation with host Muzna Rahman. She will read and discuss extracts of her work, with a focus on intersectionality and queer and race studies; this will be followed by an audience Q&A and a drinks reception.

18 November — Feminist Futures Conference (London)

The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading charity promoting gender equality and women’s rights. Join them on 18 November for their annual conference, a day of networking, panel discussions and interactive workshops. Hear from inspiring feminists including broadcaster June Sarpong and feminist writer Caroline Criado-Perez.

24 November — Amazons and Women Warriors: visual talk by Max Dashú (London)

This live visual presentation at The Feminist Library will illuminate the hidden realities of women warriors. From the Qyrk Qyz (Forty Maidens) of Central Asia to the female general Trung Trac in Vietnam, historian Max Dashú will place the women of Amazon legend into historical global perspective.

25 November — Chai Day (nationwide)

25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Events will be taking place around the world raise to awareness of the issue: globally, 1 in 3 women experience violence in their lifetime, and in some countries this rises to 7 in 10. The Circle will be playing its part by hosting Chai Day, a chance for friends and colleagues to get together over a cup of tea, to discuss and raise funds for a good cause.

1 December — Peggy Seeger ‘First Time Ever’ UK Concert Tour (Wigan)

American folksinger Peggy Seeger is a feminist icon, “an activist, an advocate, a mover-and-shaker”. At the age of 82, she’s taking to the road this winter to promote her recently published memoir and accompanying CD. She’ll be performing hits from a career spanning six decades, interspersing her songs with readings from her book. It will be an unforgettable night!

6 December — Community Film Festival, Swindon Feminist Network (Swindon)

Over the past year, as part of the Swindon200 project, community groups and charities have been working together to produce a series of short films on the topic of equality and inclusion. The films will be screened for the first time at the Community Film Festival, which will run from 14 November to 12 December. Come along on 6 December to watch the Swindon Feminist Network’s new film, and to find out more about the issues that affect women.

10-16 Deceber — FiLiArt: Refuge (London)

FiLiArt’s theme this year is refuge, both literal and metaphorical: they will be working with at-risk women and girls, and creating a safe haven through art. Visit their exhibition at Oxford House to see creations by thirty women artists working in all different media, from sculpture to photography and everything in between.


Relationship Manager Musings: Teabags and Hashtags

 

Peta Barrett, the Relationship Manager at The Circle, on the Chai Day 2017 launch and why you should organise a Chai Day to raise awareness about gender-based violence

Colourful falling leaves, busy squirrels and tea go hand in hand for me. My autumn is always tea-inspired. Tea spiced with meaningful discussions with friends; cosy evenings in with a hot brew as energy levels start to cool with the weather; tea steaming up the windows, and tea’s magically unique comforting warmth, like a hug in a mug.

As a member of The Circle, chai tea and autumn brewed together in November also means confronting hard truths and saying enough is enough. Last month, Chai Day was launched with our members. An inspiring evening with speakers — The Circle Executive Director Sioned Jones, who shared The Circle’s mission; Santosh Bhanot, Chair of The Asian Circle, who started the Chai Day movement and shared her experiences of visiting women supported by funds raised through Chai Day, and Gina Conway of Gina Conway Salons — an inspiring member who shared her experience of hosting Chai Day at her salons in 2016.

Chai Day is an opportunity to gather people around a hot beverage on 25 November — significantly the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women — to look at how gender-based violence manifests in our community and what we can do about it. Last month was also the month when the #MeToo hashtag flooded the internet. With all the awareness scrolled and clicked through on smart phones, tablets and screens, the importance of Chai Day is more significant than ever before. It is the vital next step to engaging and talking about the issue (and I don’t mean via 140 characters in the comments thread).

As a professional working for women’s rights, a friend to many who have experienced more than just a “tap on the arse”, and as someone who can freely identify as a woman in a city where I am more empowered than most, I feel that it is important to facilitate conversations around this topic. Chai Day offers people a platform to do this. If we can ensure that dialogue about gender-based violence in our communities, and those around the world, continue past social media trends, we will be winning one small battle in the current war on women and girls.

The #MeToo storm that has hit social media is important because it has demonstrated that experiences of gender-based harassment and assault are commonplace amongst women, and that it exists across women of all ages, races, culture and class. The #MeToo trend is, in isolation, far from perfect because the victim is still being expected to place herself in a vulnerable position (by speaking out) as well as lead the discussion in a world that still largely blames the victim. It also ignores other genders affected by gender-based violence and is in danger of ignoring the serious disparities that exist between experiences and why these occur.

To prevent the hashtag from existing only as a social media flurry that will fizzle out, we need to be inspired by the overwhelming outcry and use it proactively to initiate and establish dialogues between all genders. This is important not only for the reality of the situation to take hold, but also to ensure that all people are able to reflect on the roles we play in contributing towards the inequalities that exist between genders in 2017. Uniting and talking about experiences to bring about lasting change is the real intention behind the initial Me Too campaign initiated by Tarana Burke ten years ago. It is also the inspiration behind The Circle’s Chai Day as part of the global movement for gender equality.

For these reasons and so many more I will be arming myself with my #ChaiDay and #MeToo hashtags, some hard facts about gender-based violence, videos of The Circle’s inspiring projects and some chai teabags. My invitations have gone out and we will be opening our home in London on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to friends, colleagues and people we would like to get to know better.

I am asking my guests to bring their questions, experiences, opinions and an open mind. If they enjoy the treats, hot drinks and discussions and feel inspired to donate towards projects aimed at ending violence against women – great I’ll have a money box for their small change and a PC ready for any online donations. If they don’t, it’s more important for me that they turn up and be part of the conversation. Why? Because 38% of all men and 34% of all women who participated in a study conducted by the Fawcett Society in 2016 said that if a woman goes out late at night, wearing a short skirt, gets drunk and is then the victim of a sexual assault she is fully or partly to blame. Because across the world 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate male partner. Because globally 71% of human trafficking victims are women and girls. Because I want our daughters to grow up and talk about gender inequality as something that happened in the “olden days”.

At an event at Southbank with Margaret Atwood discussing her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the question of “what can I do” was asked. Margaret simply and eloquently answered, “Imagine the world you want to live in and act accordingly”. I want a world where gender-based violence does not exist. In the meantime, I will imagine a world where women (and other genders) can talk about their experiences of gender-based violence without shame and fear of being blamed.

If my passion for this subject has inspired you and you would like to host your own Chai Day in your home, office, yoga studio, football club or hairdresser, visit our website to find downloadable invitations, promotional materials, helpful tips, videos and facts to use as conversation starters.

I look forward to raising my tea cup with yours on 25 November for a better, safer world.

 

 

 

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


The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and How You Can Help Achieve Them

Young reporters from the Pikin to Pikin Tok project in Sierra Leone. Photo credit: Child to Child.

The Circle member Shannon Hodge looks at the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how we, as active citizens, can maintain the momentum, push for further progress and achieve these goals by 2030.

On 1 January 2016, the United Nations’ long-awaited — and extensively-researched — Sustainable Development Goals came into effect. And just like the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that came before them, they will last for 15 years.

This time around, there are 17 goals to reach. They are much broader and more inclusive than the eight MDGs were, and include specific targets and indicators to reach the overall goals.

And while the MDGs were largely focused on lower-income countries, the SDGs are designed to apply to all countries, no matter their income.

Proposed goals include ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, ending hunger, and reducing inequality within, and among, countries.

However, the most important Sustainable Development Goal to The Circle — and one which we strive to achieve in everything we do — is Goal 5: to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Specific targets within Goal 5 include eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls, including trafficking and sexual exploitation, eliminating harmful practices including forced marriage and female genital mutilation, and ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

To see how The Circle is working towards specific targets and indicators within Goal 5 and how you can help, keep reading…

5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation

Many of our projects focus on preventing violence against women, including Nonceba: a shelter for survivors of violence and human trafficking in Western Cape. The centre has a shelter for women who have survived domestic violence or have been victims of human trafficking. Most women in the shelter are also HIV positive, struggle to access healthcare, and have limited education and training. By supporting this project, Nonceba can provide these women with a place to stay for a whole year, where they can access counselling, legal support, healthcare, educational programmes and victim empowerment groups.

The Circle also supports a UNICEF project in Nepal which conducts research to gain a deeper understanding of the roots and causes of child trafficking, and offers direct services to thousands of girls who have been affected, including shelter, medical care and counselling.

5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life

Be a part of giving women the chance to learn their rights — and worth — with the leading lights of Myanmar project. In the run-up to the country’s elections, Oxfam worked with local partners to create women’s groups, who informed their communities about their right to vote, ran successful campaigns, gave women the skills and confidence to become local leaders, and taught them how to build their skills and run effective election campaigns.

5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences

The Scottish Circle and the David Williamson Rwanda Foundation have been busy working with vulnerable youth in Rwanda on subjects including gender equality, domestic violence, STDs, teenage pregnancy and business skills. At the end of the four-week-long workshop, all 150 children had been provided with medical insurance and were more familiar with their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

5.A. Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws

In Sri Lanka — and many parts of the world — men own a much bigger proportion of land than women. They also own most of the agricultural equipment, even though it’s often women working in the fields. However, our Planting Hope project with Oxfam is enabling women to take control of their own small business enterprises, support each other by setting up a cooperative to improve their earning power, and raise their status in the community.

A more recent addition to the list of projects we support is a Women Cooperative in Rwanda. With the assistance of Oxfam and a local partner, sixty women (eighty per cent of whom are widows) will create a farming cooperative.

Each woman is given a pig and learns about pig rearing, cooperative management and development of sustainable income-generating activities. Once their pigs give birth, each woman gives a piglet to another woman in their district, thus doubling the number of families benefiting from an increased household income.

To help us continue to work towards achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls worldwide, sign up to be a member here.


8 Things You Should Know about Fast Fashion

 

The fast fashion industry has been a hot topic at The Circle this year. Back in May, The Lawyers Circle published a report that sets out the legal argument that a living wage is a fundamental right. We are now planning a two-year campaign to ensure accountability in the fashion industry, to tackle the poverty wages that blight garment workers’ lives.

With that in mind, here are eight facts you should know about the clothes you wear…

1. The global apparel industry is worth $3000,000,000,000,000

Yes, you read that right: the fashion industry has global revenues of three trillion US dollars. To put that into perspective, you could buy seven million Ferraris with that money, or put fifty million students through university. There’s a lot of money to be made.

2. Much of this revenue comes from fast fashion

Fast fashion is a globalised business strategy which aims to get low-price clothes to the consumer as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Designs seen on the catwalk one week might hit the shops a fortnight later. This is a relatively recent phenomenon (global clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014) and an incredibly lucrative one. For fast fashion companies, that is.

3. While companies profit, their workers suffer

Transnational fashion corporations (the big brand names in fashion) are the real winners in this situation. They can quickly move their production to the lowest-wage states to maximise their profits. Meanwhile, the economies of producer companies have become highly dependent on the sector. This has created a “race to the bottom”, whereby states allow poverty wages in order to attract investment. Garment workers earn just $140 per month in Cambodia, $171 in parts of China and $315 in Romania.

4. Poverty wages aren’t just an issue in South Asia

The Lawyers Circle’s report on the living wage looks at clothing production in a range of countries, from Bangladesh to Morocco, from Portugal to Romania. Garment factories are spread across the globe, but their geographical diversity belies a fundamental similarity: they offer some of the lowest wage rates and worst labour conditions on earth.

5. It is mainly women who are affected

Between 60 and 75 million people work in the textile, clothing and footwear sector worldwide. Almost three quarters of them are women — 3.2 million in Bangladesh alone. Unfortunately, women are easier targets for exploitation and discrimination: they are more vulnerable to intimidation and sexual violence, and less likely to agitate for their rights.

6. Garment workers have been forced to develop coping strategies

Struggling to survive on the minimum wage, garment workers have to cut corners wherever they can. They might take out high-interest loans to pay for school books, or do extensive overtime to cover their utility bills. Many workers are foregoing vital medical treatment in order to save money, and thousands are cutting back on food (one campaigning organisation found that female garment workers could only afford to eat half the calories they needed, and would frequently faint at work as a result).

7. Paying the minimum wage is not enough

Plenty of well-known fashion companies argue that they pay their workers the national minimum wage, and should therefore be exempt from criticism. They do this knowing that the minimum wage (the lowest wage permitted by law) falls far short of the living wage (the amount needed to maintain a normal standard of living). In Cambodia, for example, garment workers can legally be paid just 6% of what they need to live a normal life. Paying the minimum wage is not enough: workers need an income that can comfortably feed their families; they need better working conditions and protection.

8. But there is hope!

Since the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh, which killed 1,334 garment workers, some progress has been made on improving conditions and wages in the garment industry. There have been numerous reports, initiatives, roadmaps and pilot projects, though most of these have yet to be implemented on a wide scale. Major brands have committed to paying the living wage, albeit with a temporal disclaimer – “eventually”, “at some point in the future”.

The Circle and The Lawyers Circle are working to accelerate the process, to ensure that companies accept responsibility for their actions and make concrete improvements to workers’ lives.

The facts in this article have been drawn from the report Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage, produced by The Lawyers Circle in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign. Click here to read the full report, and donate to help us guarantee a living wage for all garment workers.


Feminist Calendar: September and October

Photo credit: Care International.

Here’s our roundup of feminist events happening up and down the country over the course of the next two months. Whether you’re interested in sports, art, comedy or politics, there’s something for everyone!

3 September – The Feminist Library’s Feminism and Cycling Event (London)

The Feminist Library possesses a tremendous body of literature relating to women’s rights and the women’s liberation movement. You can drop in to explore their collection, or attend their events, which run throughout the year. On 3 September, they are holding a Feminism and Cycling Event to celebrate women and their bikes. The programme for the day includes workshops, presentations, discussions, music and even some feminist yoga!

8-9 September – Scotland’s Feminist Future Conference (Glasgow)

This two-day conference hosted by Engender, Scotland’s leading feminist organisation, will explore the route to gender equality in the country. There will workshops and discussions on issues from abortion legislation and the gender pay gap to the criminal justice system and Brexit.

14-17 September – Women Over 50 Film Festival (Brighton)

The Women Over 50 Film Festival does what it says on the tin: it celebrates the work of older female film-makers and performers through screenings, Q&As, talks and workshops in the lively city of Brighton. With more than fifty events on offer, you’ll be spoilt for choice!

17 September – You Know I’m No Good: Young Women’s Empowerment Festival (London)

This one-day festival at The Jewish Museum is open to feminists of all ages and genders! Hear from inspirational speakers including Laura Bates (of The Everyday Sexism Project), Gemma Cairney (Radio 1 agony aunt and supporter of The Circle) and Susie Orbach (author of the ground-breaking book Fat is a Feminist Issue). Try your hand at life drawing or feminist embroidery, and enjoy performances and panel discussions.

22-24 September – Nasty Women Exhibition (London)

Nasty Women is an international art movement promoting solidarity in the face of threats to women’s rights. Seeking to raise funds and provide a platform for collective resistance, it displays work by female artists who identify as ‘Nasty Women’!
The London edition is taking place in Shoreditch at the end of September. It will feature paintings, photography and sculpture by up-and-coming artists. Show your support — all money raised will go to Rape Crisis UK and Women for Women International.

10 October – Ada Lovelace Day (London and around the world)

Ada Lovelace Day is an annual celebration of the progress and achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). There are grassroots celebrations around the world, but the flagship event — held at The Royal Institution in London — is not to be missed! It will feature leading STEM women giving talks and performances about their work.

11 and 12 October — The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth Book Launch (London and Sheffield)

Anti-violence campaigner and renowned author Julie Bindel will be launching her new book on the global sex trade, The Pimping of Prostitution — Abolishing the Sex Work Myth. After sharing her extraordinary journey of discovery, Julie will be joined by a panel of sex trade survivors who will be sharing their own experience and knowledge.

13 October — The Oxford Circle Fifth Anniversary (Oxford)

The Oxford Circle is a branch of The Circle led by women based in Oxford. And it is turning 5! We are going to celebrate with afternoon tea at the Malmaison hotel, a converted prison in Oxford Castle. Expect raffles and talks by leading experts in women’s health and female genital mutilation (FGM).

All funds raised will go towards supporting the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in Cape Town.

14 October — Rally for Choice (Belfast)

Rally for Choice is a demonstration of support for a change to abortion laws in Northern Ireland. It is organised by a cross-community group of activists who advocate for free, safe and legal access to abortion. With support from The British Pregnancy Advisory Service and Amnesty International UK, Rally for Choice 2017 is sure to be a huge event.

19-29 October — Women in Comedy Festival (Manchester)

Who says women aren’t funny? The Manchester Women In Comedy Festival has been described as one of “the UK’s best comedy festivals”, combining laughter with feminist principles. This year’s event includes solo shows, open mic workshops and a writing competition, so everyone can get involved!


The Asian Circle Summer Party, 2017

 

The Asian Circle Summer Party, 2017 — press release

The Asian Circle Summer Party is beginning to become a bit of a tradition. The annual bonanza was hosted once again at the fantastic Bangalore Express restaurant near Bank Station, in central London. A prime location for an evening of inspirational, thought-provoking speeches and laughter.

The evening started with guests arriving and mingling, with complementary drinks and light snacks. Designers Natasha Khushi of Opuline and Geeta Handa of C-Atomic showcased their collections to guests, with items available for purchase on the night.

This year, The Asian Circle was delighted to welcome guest speaker Caroline Sweetman from Oxfam and a very special guest headliner, the award winning comedian and columnist Shazia Mirza. As Shazia arrived, the photo opportunities and fanfare flowed. Half an hour after her arrival, the speeches began. Opening was by Santosh Bhanot, founder of The Asian Circle, who ended her speech with a video showing the importance of the work The Asian Circle is doing supporting the impoverished Adivasi communities in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, in India.

Caroline followed with some inspiring words on why over twenty years after she took up her role, fighting against the injustices that women face across the world remains such an important part of her work.

Finally, it was time for headliner Shazia, who brought the house down with laughter during her half-hour set.

The Asian Circle’s project

Of course, this event, like all of The Asian Circle’s, was held to raise awareness and much needed funds for the our current project in the Chhattisgarh region of east India.

The Asian Circle’s main objective is to tackle the issue of violence against women, which is the most common form of human rights violation in India. It is such a deeply-ingrained, socially-accepted ‘right’ for men to physically, sexually or mentally abuse their wives in the country, that women are trapped in a life of violence, shame and stigma. They suffer from lack of support from the police and the legal system. This lack of support prevents many women from reporting domestic violence and seeking help. The Asian Circle is working with Oxfam in the tribal Adivasi communities in India to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women.

Progress so Far

In Chhattisgarh, there has been a state-level consultation on the State Gender Equality Policy, a policy that had not been revisited in more than a decade. Women from across the state took part, reflecting their concerns and issues with the policy gaps.

Notably, our partners that are working on the ground have received an award for the positive outcomes of their work and for helping to forge happier communities.

In Odisha, Gender Times sessions were organised at colleges, which increased engagement of adolescents and youth groups with gender issues.

This fantastic evening was held to generate much needed donations. Here is a breakdown of how funds can help with different aspects of the existing project:

  • £100 could provide vital legal aid to five women.
  • £300 would cover monthly counselling sessions for twenty women facing violence.
  • £500 would cover setting up a support network for survivors.
  • £1,000 would cover awareness-raising sessions for 100 men, to educate them on violence against women and challenge entrenched attitudes and beliefs about women.

To find out more about the project and donate, please visit our Brave New World project page.


Karigari London — an exhibition of artisanal Indian fashion and decor

 

Karigari London, 2017 — press release. 

The Asian Circle was delighted to be the charity partner at this year’s Karigari London exhibition. The event took place at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan centre, in West Kensington, London, between 22 and 25 June 2017.

The term ‘karigari’ in Hindi means a craftsman who specialises in traditional arts. Six like-minded women entrepreneurs have come together, creating the first UK-based collective to celebrate and showcase the rich craftsmanship of Indian artisans. The collective is based on their love for preserving traditional heritage and slow sustainable fashion.

Curations included handwoven fabrics, embroideries, artworks, silver and gemstone jewellery, traditional clothes, rugs and other homewares from India and South Asia.

The three-day event kickstarted with a launch reception on the Thursday evening. Speakers included The Asian Circle founder Santosh Bhanot, who talked about the importance of the work that The Asian Circle is doing alongside Oxfam in South Asia. Santosh said that ‘The Asian Circle’s ethos of “women empowering women” is very much at the forefront in this partnership. Much of the art comes from the talent in small villages where traditional arts skills are practised to form beautiful creations with fine sensibilities’.

Complimentary drinks and snacks flowed as the evening went on before the first day of the exhibition came to a close.

The next day, visitors started arriving from 11 am to see some of the best Karigari work on show in London. Guests were so impressed with the work on show that competition was rife for who would end up taking home some of the clothing on display!

The Asian Circle had a constant presence at the event to raise awareness about violence against women and funds for their project in central and east India. The Asian Circle sold handmade chokers designed by C-atomic, and raffle tickets to win a beautiful Gond tribal bronze statue, handcrafted by the leader of one of the women support groups that The Asian Circle has helped set up in India.

A massive thank you has to go to the designers for inviting The Asian Circle, as well as pledging a very generous donation to the project. We look forward to next year’s Karigari!

The Asian Circle’s work in India

The Asian Circle and Oxfam are supporting survivors of gender-based violence in rural areas of Chhattisgarh and Odisha. Oxfam and The Asian Circle are setting up support groups and shelters for survivors and organising debate groups to challenge the social acceptance of violence against women.

To find out more about the project and donate, please visit our Brave New World project page.


A new lease of life for the Pink (Rickshaw) Ladies

Nasreen Ghafoor, one of the first drivers at The Pink Rickshaw. Photo credit: The Environment Protection Fund.

With a video call full of laughter, female empowerment and even tears, some of the members of The Circle caught up with the women of The Pink Rickshaw Initiative, a project envisioned and implemented in Lahore, Pakistan, by The Environment Protection Fund (TEPF).

The project has two goals: to enable women to become economically independent and to provide a safe public transport option to the women of Lahore.

Zar Aslam, founder of The Pink Rickshaw Initiative and President and CEO at TEPF, started by introducing some of the women involved in the project, including single, mother-of-one Ansa Noreen, who has now been driving her pink rickshaw for over a year.

Women such as Ansa are trained to become rickshaw drivers and leased a pink rickshaw to work with for two years. During that time, they are expected to contribute back to the scheme with an affordable part of their income so that other women can join the project and become rickshaw drivers too. At the end of the two years, they become the sole owners of their pink rickshaw.

For Ansa Noreen, things weren’t easy when she first received her rickshaw.

“My family were extremely angry with me at first but I was not disheartened. I thought, ‘I have just been given a new life, I don’t care if no one speaks to me’. People even told me to sell the rickshaw but I won’t part with it till death”, she said.

Ansa, who lives with her daughter, has also faced problems from male rickshaw drivers: “They often start arguments and try not to let people on my rickshaw but I stand my ground, keep myself to myself and wait for customers to come to me. When women and girls see me, they get excited and scream ‘wow a pink rickshaw, we will take this one!’ – it makes them happy”.

According to Stop Street Harassment, 92% of women surveyed in Islamabad said they would like to have access to women-only public transport, and a report published by the ILO Country Office for Pakistan in 2011 showed that the lack of safe transport for women in Pakistan “has exacerbated socioeconomic exclusion”. The Pink Rickshaw Initiative is trying to address this issue by offering a women-only public transport service.

Having driven the women and girls of Pakistan around for a year, Ansa’s tenacity and hard-work led to her being given the Token of Appreciation award from Lahore University of Management Sciences, where she received a standing ovation after sharing her story.

“Some women got emotional and cried and told me that I am a very strong woman and that I am to stay like this and not to relent to the pressures of society. I really liked and appreciated that.”

Speaking on how The Pink Rickshaw Initiative has changed her life, Ansa concluded: “Now I have a good life, a very good life, and I am very happy and grateful to you all [The Circle members] and to the Madame [Zar Aslam] for that. May Allah bless you all and may you all help lots of other women to be happy the way I am.”

Another beneficiary of the scheme is 36-year-old Rehana Kausar, who lives with her four children and husband in a joint family system, where 28 people live in one 1,600-square-foot house.

Having received her keys for her rickshaw in December 2016, Rehana joined the scheme to provide a brighter future for her children.

“I have learnt to drive the rickshaw so that my children can get the best education I can provide them with. Thanks to all of you, I am already more financially secure and have covered my children’s school fees. What more can I ask for?” she said.

The Pink Rickshaw Initiative aims to challenge gender roles and help bring down stereotypes in Pakistan by helping women learn to drive and earn a living. And we are achieving it together.

42-year-old Sanya Noordin says her rickshaw, which “flies like an aeroplane”, has not only helped her to regain her economic independence, but also pushed her to help others.

“I was doing my usual run picking up fares when an elderly, disabled man approached me. He had no legs and nobody would take him, so I told him to get in”, she said.

“It was a three-hour journey but I ended up making fares both on the way there and the way back — and the best part was helping somebody in need, that makes me happy.”

Other beneficiaries pointed out how the benefits of the scheme have a ripple effect that reach their wider community too. Malika Nisreen believes it has helped her stand on her own two feet and not have to depend on the support of her children, increasing their overall family income, and 35-year-old domestic cook Nasreen Ghafoor believes her rickshaw (aptly nicknamed Pinky) has helped bring good luck and opened more doors for women in Lahore, as well as making women and girls feel safer when travelling with a female driver.

The empowering, inspiring chat with the lovely ladies of Lahore ended with these kind words from Zar Aslam: “I have always said ‘be each other’s strength, be of help to each other and pave the way for each other’ — like the women at The Circle have paved the way for us”.

To learn more about The Pink Rickshaw Initiative or to make a donation, please go to The Pink Rickshaw Initiative.


@shanhodge
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.


Singer Annie Lennox Calls for Solidarity to Help Most Vulnerable Women

The Circle featured in Thomson Reuters Foundation News

 

LONDON, June 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The challenges women face in the developing world, such as poor education and healthcare, child marriage and female genital mutilation may seem insurmountable, but change can come through solidarity from women in rich nations, said singer Annie Lennox.

While the disadvantages of women in poor countries are not being addressed, women in rich countries could use their power for good, Lennox said.

“This is how I see feminism, about the empowerment of women,” she told the Fortune Most Powerful Women International Summit in London on Tuesday…

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