Tuesday, 26 February 2013

One Billion Rising

As 109 balloons rose up into the skies above Parliament Square on Valentine’s Day morning, a billion people across the planet prepared to rise up to oppose violence against women. The brainchild of the playwright Eve Ensler, of The Vagina Monologues fame, ‘One Billion Rising’ saw women, men, and children across 203 countries take to the streets to dance in protest, in unity, and support. Statistically, one in three women will be subjected to sexual or physical violence at some time in their lives, which constitutes a billion global victims.  

The international day of action was the culmination of a project coordinated by Ensler’s ‘V-Day’ organisation, which has raised over $85 million in the last 15 years to fund education and anti-violence initiatives across the world. In addition to messages of support from world leaders including David Cameron and his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard, a sprinkling of celebrity activists like Thandie Newton and Anne Hathaway, folk of every creed and colour were galvanised into a potent display of people power, performing Debbie Allen’s spirited choreography. 

600 Egyptians danced together in western Cairo, others on the shore of The Red Sea. Human chains stretched across Dhaka, as Polish women danced inside the Warsaw Central train station. Similar scenes were witnessed in Ethiopia, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Afghanistan, along with most major cities across the western world. Eve Ensler was among the hundreds dancing in the City of Joy, the refuge for rape victims she established in the Democratic Republic of Congo, still regarded as the rape capital of the world.

Ensler described the global response to One Billion Rising as “beyond her wildest dreams,” and she is a woman who can certainly dream big. But now the dancers’ blisters are better, and the press releases have wrapped last week’s fish and chips, what should a worldwide refocusing on the issue actually look like?  

Despite warm words and admirable intentions, the pursuit of progress faces substantial stumbling blocks on both a personal and parliamentary level. In the United States, the Guardian reports Republican resistance to the Violence Against Women’s Act, because its proposed legal protections would extend to undocumented immigrants. Would that equate to an essential economic adjustment in times of austerity? Or proof that only in a puppet democracy do human rights come with strings attached?

Our political representatives have long had an ability to water down a bit of people power into policy impasse. Just as appalling, however, were the unpublishable utterings of a knuckle dragging minority on twitter, poignantly proving the need for the project they so poisonously opposed. 

As parents, we are patently aware that whilst our offspring may not always adhere to what we tell them, all too often they hear what we say. Whether we like it or not, that puts fathers in the frontline when it comes to instilling in our sons an ingrained acceptance and respect for the women and girls around us, which endures no matter how bad your day, or how much you drink. When that respect becomes as deep and dependable in our young men's lives as the very blood in their veins, then a lot less will be spilled.

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