STRIKE, DANCE! Eve Ensler’s
One Billion Rising/ Feb. 14. 2013
I was in the room 15 years ago, when activist and playwright Eve Ensler announced her intention to use proceeds from her award winning play “The Vagina Monologues” as a vehicle to raise funds and awareness to stop violence against women. That night, V-Day, the global initiative to end violence against women and girls, was born.
Fifteen years later, some extreme attacks have again forced the issue into the national and international spotlight, as well as into people’s hearts and psyche: stories such as Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year old girl shot in the head in Pakistan for advocating for girls’ education; a 16-year-old student in Steubenville, Ohio, allegedly drugged and repeatedly raped and dragged unconscious from party to party by a group of high school football players; and the horrific and savage gang rape and murder of a young medical student on a bus in Delhi, India, sparking a mass protest. And these are only a miniscule fraction of the unthinkable incidences that take place daily around the world—in numbers so alarming, says Eve Ensler, that they have motivated V-Day’s new global action campaign, One Billion Rising. The campaign will culminate on February 14, 2013, when V-Day invites “one billion women and those who love them to walk out, dance, rise up and demand an end to this violence.”
“When we started V-Day,” explains Ensler, “our idea was to go out of business. We weren’t planning to be here fifteen years later—we were going to end violence. And we’re still here and violence is still happening, so we really just started thinking how are we going to escalate what we’re doing? How are we going to bring it to the next level?” Ensler says that one statistic in particular had “haunted her for years,” the staggering UN estimate that one out of three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. With the world population at seven billion, Ensler said she “started doing the math,” and “realized it’s over one billion women on the planet will be raped or beaten. And that is simply insane.” She started thinking, “What if we did a call to those one billion to walk out of their jobs and schools and houses and to get with their posses and groups and to do a global dance action?”
Ensler says that one important element of One Billion Rising is that groups that were otherwise not actively working on the issue have been brought into it, forming coalitions and alliances. To date, One Billion Rising events are being planned in more than 193 countries. Thousands of participants and 13,000 organizations around the globe have already signed on including MTV, Amnesty International USA, Sonke Gender Justice Network, International Rescue Committee, European Women’s Lobby, NOW, and the AFL-CIO. Actors and V-Day board members Jane Fonda, Rosario Dawson, Thandie Newton, Charlize Theron and Kerry Washington, along with high profile figures like Yoko Ono, Jessica Alba, Anne Hathaway, Donna Karan, Jennifer Lawrence, Dylan McDermott, and Robert Redford are also on board to support the campaign. The Dalai Lama has pledged his solidarity to the one billion women around the world.
Ensler says it has been exciting to “see the outpouring of response – thousands and thousands of groups, we have all kinds of artists and celebrities, we have activists, we have parliamentarians. It’s fantastic to see what’s happening.” She is hopeful that the coming together of these diverse communities around the world will help us to see “the universality of violence against women, to see that it’s not based on your culture, or your clan, or your village, or your religion, but it actually is what patriarchy rests on. It’s the methodology that keeps patriarchy in its place and it doesn’t matter what country it’s in.”
On a multi-continent tour to raise awareness about the One Billion Rising campaign, Ensler has stopped in Australia, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Croatia, Serbia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, and the Philippines. In January of this year, Ensler visited Trivandrum, Mumbai, and Delhi, India, and Dhaka, Bangladesh. Her tour of India coincided with hundreds of thousands of Indians rising in protest against the gang rape and murder of the 23-year-old Delhi student and the exponential increase in crimes against women in a culture of impunity. Ensler met with women’s and activist groups, attended vigils and demonstrations and spoke, along with notable Indian figures, about using the outrage over this high profile case to address and end the epidemic of rape and violence that plagues the country.
In February, Ensler will visit Paris, Brussels, and London, and then participate in One Billion Rising from Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape is used as a weapon of war. Congo is also where V-Day has opened City of Joy, a center where survivors are provided with support to heal and are trained to develop their leadership and life skills, turning, Ensler says, their “pain into power.”
Ensler is purposeful about incorporating dance into the One Billion Rising campaign. She says, “Dance is such a profound thing. You take up space when you dance. It’s a communal experience. You are truly authentic. You’re in your body. You’re sexual. You break the rules. You’re alive.” She adds that she particularly feels that in the Congo. “When women dance, I feel like everything is possible. It is so transformative in terms of turning pain to power. I’ve seen women who’ve suffered the worst, worst atrocities, but when they dance, they come into another energy. They come into another force.”
No matter where on the planet you are, Ensler says that, “Everybody can be a part of One Billion Rising. You can really make it as elaborate or as simple as you desire. You can dance in your backyard or organize a dance for thousands at your town square. But getting involved in it is stepping into the Rising, stepping into the possibility of all of us shifting the paradigm and realizing that another world is possible. ”
For ideas on how to participate, visit “Ways to Rise.”