Every day, girls and women the world over face a broad range of assaults which, in the aggregate, inhibit equality everywhere. In the United States, we are still dealing with a legislative assault on women’s rights, well documented here, that few people understand as a real and violent assault on women’s physical integrity and right to bodily autonomy. But there is a counter-revolution brewing, in the U.S. and across the world.
On Thursday, women and men across the world are taking a stance against these assaults as part of One Billion Rising. The protest, planned over a year ago by V-Day and playwright and activist Eve Ensler, is currently occurring across the world. It is "a global strike ... an invitation to dance ... a call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends ... an act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers ... a refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given ... a new time and a new way of being."
And it is happening today.
More often than not, people think that the “war on women” in the United States as a politically expeditious metaphor when it is not. There is nothing abstract or metaphorical about it, a reality which is too squeamish for many people to consider. However, in direct, overt, “forcible” and “legitimately” recognized ways, women in the United States experience directly recognizable physical violence, too. Among developed nations, the United States has a higher than average rate of violence against women. This violence sits squarely in the full spectrum of violence, much more crippling and extreme, that takes place in other parts of the world. It’s all threads of the same cloth.
In the fall of 2011, I wrote an article in the Huffington Post called “Violence Against Women is a Global Pandemic.” The data regarding the chronic and oppressive reality of systematized gender-based violence are still valid. (For an updated, dynamic and mappable resource, it’s useful to explore the Womenstats database, the most comprehensive of its kind in the world.)
The good news is that more and more people and organizations are working diligently to raise awareness and confront the pervasive risks that girls and women face just for being female. Among these efforts are the United Nations UNITE to End Violence Against Women campaign, which recognizes the 25th of every month as an awareness raising Orange Day, Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, the Pixel Project’s Paint it Purple initiative, and, at the end of November, the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, as well as One Billion Rising.
A visionary in this fight is Eve Ensler, who galvanized Thursday's protest last year by releasing a short film on YouTube, One Billion Rising, to raise awareness for the global strike. The strike was organized by V-Day, the international organization she founded 14 years ago whose vision it is to end this violence. The #1billionrising movement imparts, to quote a Tweet, an amazing message: “1 Billion Women Violated is an Atrocity. 1 Billion Dancing is a Revolution.”
Do you know what the laws in your community regarding domestic violence are? Do you know what the statistics regarding rape, sexual abuse and incest, domestic violence, spousal murder sex trafficking,genital mutilation (yes, including in the United States) and other forms of violence are and how they affect everyone?
A key component of V-Day’s mission is to utilize art as a change agent. Dancing won't solve the problem by itself, of course. It’s hard work to literally change the planet. Literally, change it. It is true that the idea of a global rising, especially of #1billion, at first glance implies violence, suggesting an armed revolution against oppression. But that’s not what’s happening here. This is a peaceful movement to end violence and to use art to do it. Its outrageous goal is that we take it seriously.
One in three women on the planet are raped, beaten or worse in their lifetimes. What is unimportant, funny, incidental or marginal about that? What is there not to be taken seriously?
Our battle is in raising awareness and changing culture. It’s in getting people to understand the scope and depth of the problem, the roots of the problem, the pervasive, everyday nature of it. It’s in using language that realistically represents reality, instead of cloaking debilitating violence in ‘family friendly’ terms or glamorizing it in the media or burying it in shame. Anything, it seems, but honestly considering its horrible truth.
The audacious purpose of V-Day’s #1billionrising campaign is to raise awareness, money and hope; to create concrete structures and action plans; to effect true systematized change; to empower women and girls, men and boys, in ways that transform communities. V-Day has a detailed toolkit designed to engage everyone, everywhere, in the fight to stop gender-based violence. It includes information about sharing, publicizing, hosting events and actually striking today. On Valentine's Day 2013, many people will not go to work, won't go to school, will tell people what they are doing and why and enlist those around them to actively get involved in ending violence in their communities.
There are many reasons to object to this protest, reasons about white savior messages, imperialism, generational differences and more. When I first saw the video in 2011, all of these went through my head. I was also taken aback by the subtle suggestion that women can walk away or can physically confront their abusers and dance. These voices should always be heard. It's my belief that hearing these voices will mean that the movement for women's rights and for peace will only grow stronger.
But I will go to the protests today because there have not, in my lifetime, been many examples of women and men who defend their rights and transcending differences — in this case, not only class, race, sexuality, etc., but national differences — to speak with one voice in protest. The transnational aspect of the protest is important to me, since national boundaries themselves, based on the allocation and claiming of resources, are reflective of the very systems that are at the foundation of the violence, systems which result in girls and women being historically, traditionally, and culturally being considered resources for use and allocation, as they still are today.
I will go to the strikes today to acknowledge the full humanity of all women, and because I am one of the relatively few in the world who is fortunate enough to be able to.
An earlier version of this article originally appeared on RH Reality Check.