Shedding light on gender-based violence: JSCFS x Halo Project

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As the world prepares to celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s crucial to spotlight initiatives that amplify the voices often marginalised within the gender equality discourse. Among such endeavours stands the Durham Student Halo Project, a beacon of hope dedicated to confronting the stark realities of gender-based violence faced by ethnic minority women. The Durham Student Halo Project, as a hub of the wider Halo charity, emerges as a vital force in challenging systemic injustices. What’s more, in a remarkable display of collaboration, this year’s John Snow Charity Fashion Show (JSCFS) has chosen to align their efforts with the Halo Project. This strategic partnership not only underscores the significance of the charity’s mission but also highlights the collective responsibility in addressing gender-based violence. In speaking with both groups, I have been given the inside scoop on what big things are to come in the near future. 

“While the origins [of female genital mutilation] aren’t clear, they are practised in many parts of the world like Asia and the Middle East and not just Africa, which tends to be what people initially think of” – Naomi Lawal, Publicity Officer for the Durham Student

The more widely works on supporting Black and other minoritised victims and survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, and what they have termes as other ‘hidden harms’. Publicity Officer explained that the charity’s work stems from there being a “misunderstood … collective perception that these issues are just cultural practises, without recognising the colonial roots and how these practices were reinforced under colonial rule”. Namoi expands on this and explains that “while the origins [of female genital mutilation] aren’t clear, they are practised in many parts of the world like Asia and the Middle East and not just Africa, which tends to be what people initially think of”. Naomi has emphasised how the charity’s work is crucial to “debunk such ideas so that it’s treated as a human rights violation” in order to treat these issues with the adequate levels of severity. She discusses the need for a more international approach to be taken towards gender-based violence as “there is a racialized perception of such practices, [so] ethnic minorities face discrimination and bias within legal and healthcare systems. Mainstream support services are already lacking in cultural sensitivity and remain unresponsive to the needs of the survivors, which may cause further distress for victims.” That is where the has stepped in, and we can hear more about how the Durham Student continues the charity’s work.

Co-Vice President, Ojasvi Chugh, explains how their work at the University is “really meaningful … bringing in a positive impact into our lives as well”. Ojasvi explained that at the Durham branch they aim to “[provide] this sort of safe haven for victims on campus to reach out to us and for us to direct them”. She emphasised how being involved in the bigger charity shows people on a university level that you can “bring in a tangible impact on people’s lives”. The work that the undertakes is inspiring, as they have established resources that educate and eliminate bias, opened Halo Homes, Survivors Forums and various Student Hubs. Naturally, this leaves us wondering what work is being done to raise awareness for the charity. Whilst the Durham team have taken on various endeavours to further the charity’s aims, a particularly exciting collaboration has emerged with JSCFS. 

“We want to try and be empowering for all of our models … the Halo project works to empower survivors” – Max Roulstone, President

Charity fashion shows seem to be a uniquely Durham event, and Creative Vice President, Chloe Jackson, explained just that. “It’s kind of become ingrained within the Durham University culture in the fact that all the colleges have their own show emphasising that it’s part of college life as well.” President, Max Roulstone, explained that from a charitable perspective, they tend to be more successful than traditional fundraising events as having “an actual event makes it feel like the people there”. Max explained that they don’t just ask for donations off of goodwill, but people are able to get something back from their charitable donations. The reasons that have chosen to go with the this year is founded in the charity’s ethos. Max explained that, “it’s important to sort of give them funding that we know they’re going to use really well. We also just found that a lot of their values kind of aligned with what we’re going for this year.” Max emphasised how the is centred around empowering women and how “we want to try and be empowering for all of our models and the Halo project works to empower survivors”.

Since the Durham branch of the was initiated in 2014, Ojasvi explained how, “the University has been really helpful and supportive, and that’s evident in the fact that it’s been running for 10 years”. Established by a student at the time, Ojasvi discussed the motivations behind this branch. “They essentially wanted to break generational cycles of abuse through activism at the university level, so their main goals were twofold. “One was to raise awareness about these issues and to help victims and potential victims reach out to them, and also to, secondly, understand the difficulties that victims face and the reasons why they don’t speak up, which has to do with the fact that there are taboos associated with these issues.” 

Charity plays a vital role in university life, fostering a culture of empathy, community engagement, and social responsibility among students. Beyond academic pursuits, engaging in charitable activities provides students with an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others and contribute positively to society. Despite this, it can mean different things for everyone, so I asked our interviewees what charity means to them. Whilst Max emphasised that it’s about “… being humble and aware that you’re almost certainly more privileged than other people around the world and just giving up a little bit of your time”, Naomi mentioned that charity is “… not only an opportunity to raise money and provide, but also to shape public opinion and influence policymakers to bring about changes to legal systems that protect victims and ensure mental health well-being”. Ojasvi explained how “charity is about giving back to others who are in a less privileged position than you are and supporting underrepresented special groups” whilst Chloe aptly summed up that “privilege at this university is undeniable”, so “… being able to see the impact you’ve had for people who typically have been silent voices … is always such an amazing thing to experience”.

The benefit of Charity is undeniable, and supporting the through the Durham Hub is a good start for everyone. A sure way to do that is through all the events leading up to this year, as well as the walks to come this summer. We’ve been reminded to “keep an eye on the social media” which has been a huge success this year. Chloe explained how using their social media platforms was important for “making sure we use the models throughout the year [so] it’s not just a case of they have the headshot, they’re doing the show and that’s it. So getting them constantly involved, showing them off a bit more through the video content, especially with the meet the models and seeing what they did for their little second video.” are bringing us bigger and better things this year, with Max hinting at “looking at doing some more unique collaborations with possibly other college fashion shows” as well as a  successful TikTok platform, the launch of their very own college drink and masses of other engaging content. reminds us that charity is about human connection and that giving back to communities can be exciting and empowering. 

are bringing us bigger and better things this year

Both the Durham Student and the John Snow Charity Fashion Show, as student-led initiatives, are catalysts for change. Through their advocacy and action, they illuminate the path towards a more equitable future, where every woman’s voice can be heard and valued.

Image credit: Durham Student

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