Last year, my daughter performed in and directed UCLA’s production of Eve Ensler's award-winning play "The Vagina Monologues." The show was part of a worldwide campaign to raise awareness and money for organizations working to stop violence against women and girls. Her campus donated funds raised to both a local women’s shelter as well as programs for survivors of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
UCLA is one of thousands of campuses and community groups in over 140 countries that have been part of the V-Day movement over the past 15 years. V-Day activists have raised consciousness, changed laws, funded rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters, educated their communities, and raised over $85 million for groups working to end violence and serve survivors including 14,000 community-based programs in the Congo, Haiti, Kenya, South Dakota, Egypt and Iraq.
V-Day has reached more than 300 million people worldwide with its message of empowerment in the face of the global epidemic that is gender-based violence - rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation, and sex slavery.
From V-Day to One Billion Rising
Now Ensler’s original vision has blossomed and will culminate this Valentine’s Day when the global campaign One Billion Rising hopes to mobilize one billion women, men and children to express their outrage, demand change, and dance in defiance of the injustices that women and girls suffer. (Click HERE to find an event near you.)
"More than 1 out of every 3 women on this planet will experience violence during her lifetime. With 7 billion people on the planet, that's one billion women. Stopping this violence is as crucial as addressing the issues of disease, hunger, and climate change," says Ensler. "One Billion Rising is a global strike, a call to refuse to participate until rape and rape culture ends."
Combining creativity with educational campaigns, One Billion Rising is generating what some are calling a ‘feminist tsunami.” Flashmobs, performances and rallies are planned in some 200 countries and territories.
Famed choreographer Debbie Allen created the piece, Break the Chain, which tens of thousands will dance in flashmobs on February 14th. Allen says it is perhaps the most important thing she has ever done. “This is part of a huge international worldwide initiative for women of all races, creeds, religions and colors to come together in unity, with one voice in solidarity against violence towards women…this is one dance that actually speaks.”
Rape as a Weapon of War and Militarism
Speaking out has not been easy for victims of rape, especially when it’s used as a weapon of war. From Bosnia to Darfur, Iraq to Rwanda, the statistics are staggering. The humanitarian group, International Rescue Committee (IRC), says between 2003 and 2008, it treated 40,000 rape survivors in Congo’s South Kivu province alone. Says Hillary Margolis, who runs the IRC's sexual-violence program in North Kivu, “The data only tells you so much,” indicating that real figures are much higher and most rapes go unreported.
In the Eastern Congo, UN statistics indicate some 200,000 women and girls have been raped since 1998, the majority are adolescent girls between 12 and 14 years old.
Sexual violence as a tactic of war was denounced by the UN Security Council with the unanimous passage of Resolution 1820 in 2008 but despite the international outcry, the practice is still widespread. Warring groups use rape as a weapon because it destroys communities totally, says Major-General Patrick Cammaert, former commander of UN peacekeeping forces in the eastern Congo. “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.”
But for female soldiers in the U.S. military, it is increasingly pretty dangerous to be a woman in the ranks. The U.S. advocacy group, Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), reports that “despite Pentagon studies, task force recommendations, and congressional hearings; rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment continue to occur at alarming rates year after year.”
Sabrina Rubin Erdely, writing in RollingStone (“The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer” – February 14, 2013), says “research suggests that one out of every three women in the U.S. military is the victim of sexual assault making military women twice as likely to be raped as civilians.”
Congress Fails to Act on the Violence Against Women Act
It’s interesting that One Billion Rising is taking place at the same time that the U.S. Congress is considering reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). What has been the roadblock to the bill’s passage? It comes down to jurisdiction of Native American tribes over domestic violence crimes committed on Native American lands by non-Native Americans. According to a 1999 Department of Justice report, at least 70 percent of Native American female victims were victimized by non-Native American perpetrators.
Overall Native American women suffer some of the highest rates of violent crimes. One in three American Indian women has been raped or has experienced an attempted rape, according to the Justice Department. Their rate of sexual assault is more than twice the national average.
Katrice Romero, a member of the Nooksack Indian Tribe in Washington state, writes in the Seattle Times, “Despite efforts to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the Violence Against Women Act in 2012, the House GOP has held a flagrantly negligent, uncompromising stance on its version of the bill.”
Not surprising from the party whose ranks include congressmen whose views on rape border on medieval. But confronting such attitudes and the violent behavior they perpetrate is what One Billion Rising is about.
When people from all walks of life, cultures and countries take a stand against the atrocities women and girls endure, it is truly inspiring. One Billion Rising begins with one. One woman. One man. One child. You. Me. We. Together we will not only cast a spotlight at women and girls as victims of violence and the violence plaguing so many societies, but also celebrate such a massive outpouring of human solidarity.
To learn more about One Billion Rising, click HERE.
To find a One Billion Rising activity near you, click HERE.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project
Felicia Gustin has been with War Times since the beginning. She currently works at SpeakOut, a national organization working primarily with colleges, universities, and high schools and dedicated to the advancement of education, racial and social justice, leadership development and activism. She is a long-time activist in international solidarity, peace, racial justice and labor movements. She was a journalist for 10 years in Cuba and is currently working on several projects - an historical memoir and a poetry collection, among others.
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