Ah, Valentine’s Day. Every year we look forward to it, and for this Valentine’s we even created Candles of Affection with sayings like “kiss me”, “crazy 4 you”, and “ooh la la.” It’s silly and it’s fun.
But here’s the thing. Ever since Eve Ensler started One Billion Rising as part of her V-Day movement to end violence against women and girls, we’ve felt conflicted about this holiday. We love it, but raising awareness about the global abuse and exploitation of females is more important.
Eve established V-Day in 1998 to use performances of her play The Vagina Monologues to raise money to benefit female victims of violence and sexual abuse. The “V” stands for victory, valentine and vagina. One Billion Rising was launched in 2012 as a campaign to raise awareness and culminated in the largest ever global action to end violence against women. The “billion” refers to the UN statistic that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime, or about one billion.
It is atrocious that half the world’s population is abused this way. We’ve traveled, we’ve seen things, we’ve listened to women tell their stories. We’ve read articles and watched films, made donations and written posts. It’s hard to to think about flowers and chocolates when there are serious causes to fight for on behalf of women around the world – especially those without a voice.
But what we appreciate so much about One Billion Rising is its positive energy and inclusiveness. There is a great song by Tena Clark, awesome dancing, and lots of men involved. It’s about creating solidarity. Every year millions of people gather at events in every country to share stories, confirm their commitment to end all types of violence against women and girls, and join together in exuberant dance.
If you haven’t seen a One Billion Rising video, check them out below. It’s powerful.
Women deserve dignity, respect and equality. No one should be exploited by anyone, anywhere. Everyone should have the opportunity to thrive. Perhaps it’s naive to think that such a simple statement can change anything, but to us it matters. And we will keep saying it over and over again.
This Valentine’s Day we will rise for women’s equality, safety and freedom. What will you rise for?
Last Thursday was a Valentine’s Day for the history books. In a culture that emphasizes finding your one and only Valentine, I’m proud to say I had 1 billion Valentines.
As I shared previously, dance is a central love in my life so this year I gladly traded the overpriced dinner reservations, schmaltzy Hallmark slogans and slightly stale candy hearts for a day filled with dancing, celebrating, story-telling and public disruption, in honor of the One Billion Rising movement.
Not only did I have the privilege of engaging in one of my deepest passions, but I was also privileged to be invited into the stories and lives of my sisters who have lived through unimaginable violence.
From the first event I participated in – a flash mob at North Station while trains of people poured into Boston at the height of the morning commute – One Billion Rising very quickly became more than just amusing unsuspecting commuters and sharing startling statistics. Two survivors of domestic abuse who just happened to be in the station at that time came up to us afterwards, thanked us for making public an all too often silent issue, and shared their stories.
As I listened to the heart-breaking details of what these women experienced, and thankfully had overcome, it became even more crystal clear why I was rising. One Billion Rising is about creating and claiming a public space for the voices and stories of women who far too often are left voiceless and powerless. As Eve Ensler, the movement’s founder, so eloquently says, “One Billion Rising has broken taboos, lifted the veil of silence, and inspired a radical outpouring of support to reveal the worldwide system of patriarchy, which sustains the violence.”
It was indeed a radical day of collective movement – through flash mobs, public performances, and organic dance parties on the street, and collective movement building – with people in 207 countries rising up in shared outrage about the epidemic of violence against women and girls. In fact, it’s hard to find adequate words to express the feelings I experienced watching my sisters and brothers rising throughout the day across the globe, from Boston to New Delhi to Bukavu to Capetown, and thousands of cities in between.
“Pure raw unbridled joy” was the best I could summon on my Facebook wall as I went to bed Thursday night.
That is what I experienced on Thursday. But what’s more important perhaps to share is what I’ve experienced since Thursday. Coming together physically and virtually was deeply moving and motivating and achieved GREAT things for public awareness (see an awesome recap of outcomes here), but as the One Billion Rising organizers are quick to say, it was only the beginning.
It is not the end of a struggle but the escalation of it, and now the question becomes what next. V-Day is asking all of us who rose around the globe to take a simple pledge, to do one thing in the next year to end violence against women. It could be a simple action, or a monumental one; personal, or political; quiet or loud, but these actions – taken together – will create change.
I am pledging personally to continue to rise by finding more concrete ways over the next year to use my passion for dance as a tool for empowerment and healing.
As a company, Prosperity Candle pledges to use our platform in the international development and social enterprise spaces to further the discussion around how sustainable job opportunities allow women the freedom and economic independence to leave violent situations.
We also pledge to keep our Prosperity network informed about tangible actions they can take to continue to rise and keep the movement going.
One immediate action here in the US is to ensure the re-authorization of Violence Against Women Act – which provides funding and legislation to address domestic and sexual violence. In fact just in time for OBR, the Senate passed VAWA last week, and it is now being considered in the House. Contacting your elected officials and stating your support for VAWA is a simple and significant action step to take this week.
Did you rise up on Valentine’s Day? Did you make a pledge to take action? Share your experiences in the comments below and please post your photos and thoughts on our Facebook page!
What do the rural grounds of Kajiado, Kenya; the streets of Wentworth, a township in South Africa; and the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. all have in common?
They are all places that I have danced. They have all provided the foundation for moments where I have entered seamlessly into community with others through the power of movement. Where the shared language ran much deeper than any words could express. And they are only a few moments in my life story of dance.
Another part of my life story is a deeply engrained passion and commitment to investing in women and girls, both locally and globally. I have been advocating alongside and for the rights of my fellow sisters for over a decade, through many incredible organizations including the Girls Scouts, the United Nations and now Prosperity Candle.
These two life stories are becoming intimately and publicly intertwined in a magnificent way a week from now – the countdown is on for the One Billion Rising movement on February 14, 2013, spearheaded by the luminary Eve Enslerand V-Day.
ONE BILLION RISING began as a call to action based on the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS.
Putting that into context, that means that if you have 3 sisters, 3 girl friends, 3 daughters . . . at least one of them is likely to be a victim of violence.
That’s unacceptable. It’s truly, deeply, fundamentally unacceptable. And it creates a fury within my heart and soul. This fury can be channeled in many different ways, and on different days, I do channel it differently – I dig into making Prosperity Candle’s business model work for more women entrepreneurs, I let a flurry of punches loose on the punching bag in boxing class, I spend time with close friends who listen and share my rage, I lift up my despair in prayer.
And now I will dance.
Agnes De Mille once said “To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.”
On February 14, I take this power and will channel my fury alongside many of my friends, colleagues, mentors and strangers who share this collective rage, in a massive movement, an uprising, to demand an end to these unacceptable statistics.
trigger warning: powerful reenactments of violence against women
This isn’t just a purpose driven act for me personally. It is also something that Prosperity Candle as a company stands firmly behind and uses as a beacon to drive our mission. Our work is built around creating sustainable businesses for women in marginalized communities so that they may have opportunity, agency and dignity – to have control of their own destiny and to no longer be victims of violence due to economic insecurity and dependence.
We have established our work in Iraq and with women refugees in the U.S., and this year, with the help of our new sister non-profit Prosperity Catalyst, we are expanding our work into Haiti, a country where reports say that 90% of women will experience violence in their life time.
While the solution to this exceptionally unacceptable statistic is multi-faceted, the economic piece is fundamental. When one of our community partners, the fiercely brilliant Elvire Eugene, Founder and Executive Director of the Association Femmes Soleil d’Haiti (AFASDA), is asked about the root of violence for the women she works with, she says without hesitation that it is economic dependence. What the women of Haiti need is sustainable and profitable jobs. It is what women all around the world need to break this pernicious and unacceptable cycle of violence.
I could give you a whole host more statistics that will enrage, infuriate and rip at your heart. But instead, I’d rather give you faces and names. The women and girls that I rise on behalf of and dance alongside of.
I dance for Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23 year old victim in the horrific Delhi gang rape case.
I dance for Josaphine, Nasula, Damarask, and Elizabeth, at A.C.K. Oloosuyian Secondary School in Kajiado, who shared with me their dreams of becoming lawyers, presidents, doctors and pilots, instead of being married at 13.
I dance for Moo Kho, our remarkable Production Manager at Prosperity Candle, who spent years in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border before being resettled with her family in the US in 2008.
I dance for Jessica Greer Morris, Dom, Ashley and the fellow fearless young women of Girl Be Heard, who are using the power of performance art to be seen, heard and respected.
I dance for Malala Yousafzai, the intrepid 15 year Pakistani girl recovering from an assassination attempt by the Taliban, who has become a symbol for girl’s education and equality worldwide.
And I dance for Shiloh, my 4 year old housemate and Lael, my 2 year old cousin, because I believe they deserve a much safer and supportive world within which to grow and flourish, and I refuse to just stand by and let them become another statistic.
Who will YOU dance for?
I invite you to take this power and join me, join Prosperity Candle – Ted, Siiri, Kim, Moo Kho, Landie, Luma, all the women we work with; join the activists, writers, thinkers, celebrities, and women and men across the world as we express our outrage, demand change, strike, dance, and RISE in defiance of the injustices women suffer, demanding an end at last to violence against women.