One Billion Rising

19 Feb

Every 15 seconds in America, a woman is beaten. Every two minutes, she or another is raped. Rape is the ultimate act of sexism and patriarchy; the physical manifestation of the dehumanization and objectification of woman from personhood to the worth of her vagina, and taking away her rights, choice, and agency as an individual.

Sexism is alive, well, and killing women and girls, right here, right now. Not just halfway around the world, not just during wartime, not just in poor neighborhoods, not just in the Midwest, not just in urban areas, not just in college, not just in prisons, not just anywhere. Everywhere.

To think that sexism isn’t that bad anymore, it’s time to stop navel-gazing and hold up a mirror: 1 in 3 women in this country have been raped and/or beaten. Are you one of them? Do you know one? Maybe you do, you just don’t know it.

Personally, I am very fortunate to have never been in a situation where I ever needed to defend myself, but I am still in my early twenties. Though I feel sorry for the person who may attempt to attack me one day. They have no idea that La Capitana is really a superhero, and will absolutely kick their f**king ass.

You may have heard of it. The Huffington Post was all over it,  both in support of the campaign and also presenting some harsh criticism. But RISE we did, all around the world.

Eve Ensler, once upon a time, wrote a book about vaginas featuring anecdotes from all over the world about life with that taboo thing between your legs. The Vagina Monologues became a sensation, and then a movement in its own right. With this movement came V-Day, an effort to reclaim Valentine’s Day as a feminist holiday for sexual uprising and gender liberation.

Mostly, Ensler’s campaigns, like One Billion Rising (part of the V-Day movement) have been about raising awareness of sexual violence, and raising money to fund victim’s programs and preventative initiatives. So far, it’s been enormously successful and has even achieved iconic status around the world as one of the few global women’s projects united under one roof, in a single movement, where it claims incredible power on the world stage.

One Billion Rising was organized this year on Valentine’s Day to  shine a light on gender-based violence, and specifically give women and girls a safe place to reclaim their voice and agency as individuals. The very nature of sexualized violence is a dehumanization of women to their very core, so engaging in an event like this can be healing and transformative. The big spectacle this year was simply to dance.

Women, worldwide, stood up and danced. They reclaimed their bodies and for a single day, countless women and girls raised the profile of the issue of sexual violence and rape to the forefront of the media. It sent waves throughout the world!

Is it enough?

The main criticism of this movement is that it doesn’t do enough. That a campaign as strong and well-known throughout the world, and therefore very powerful, should do more to actually include direct action for change. I understand that, but I would like to point out that not all movements were just for consciousness-raising such as dancing in a public space. Keep in mind that raising one’s consciousness, and simultaneously raising public awareness, is the spring from which change comes.

However, the event I went to was a bit more substantial than the average dance-a-thon flash mob seen over the world. The George Washington University in DC Global Women’s Institute put on an event for their E3 Initiative: (Educate, Engage, Empower).

Global Summit on Issues Affecting Women and Girls Worldwide

Participating organizations included:

This incredible event featured a Women’s Expo before the summit, and then three transformative speakers took to the podium to offer their phenomenal insight and leadership into their work against sexual violence and rape. Two enterprising grad students at GW put the whole event together, and it is sure to be the first of many annual symposiums!

Meeting of the minds: Capitana Phoenix and Zainab Bangura

Meeting of the minds: Capitana Phoenix and Zainab Bangura

The speakers were all fantastic, and they included: Zainab Hawa Bangura, the United Nations Special Representative to the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Ms Bangura has a mind-blowing story: as a young mother during civil unrest in Sierra Leone, she was approached by rebels in her small village with her son. The rebels told her they were going to rape and kill her, and she screamed at her son to run for his life. She did not clarify what happened next, or what happened to her son. But history stands for itself, and now she is the UN Secretary General’s go-to expert on preventing sexual violence.

She proposed a 6-point plan to combat sexual violence during conflict in the world: 

  1. End impunity and enact justice. Prosecution prevents crime. Enforcement leads to prevention of violence!
  2. Treat sexual violence as a national security issue
  3. Engage political leaders to strengthen the foundation of UN resolutions
  4. The international community must be consistent in coordinating the response to conflict featuring sexual violence – including a holistic approach with standardized best practices
  5. International community must also recognize rape as a tactic of war
  6. Countries must take national ownership of leadership and responsibility

Also featured were Sabrina Hersi Issa, a Somali tech entrepreneur and non-profit leader who helped alleviate hunger in the famine of Mali/Ethiopia/ Somalia during violent conflict. The last speaker was Imani Walker (first of all, everyone has such freaking cool names. I may name a daughter Zainab, Imani, or Sabrina!), the co-founder and Executive Director of The Rebecca Project for Human Rights. Ms Walker also has an amazing story – she started a nonprofit after recovering from crack addiction, which she suffered from while she was pregnant as a self-medicating response to the domestic abuse she experienced from her husband.

All of the speakers were fascinating, and it was so great to meet people who are out there, fighting on the front lines. There is no room for criticism of this event, because it absolutely engaged people in direct action, including meeting and networking with other activists and professionals, as well as adding gear to our toolboxes for us to take home, and to our legislators!

That’s my kind of Valentine’s Day!

photo 2

Lots of literature from the expo! Great stuff!

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