The tagline for the One Billion Rising movement is as emotive as it is inspirational. For those deeply invested in this global movement, which aims to change the course of our collective culture with regards to violence against women, it is a long time coming. ‘One Billion Rising’ refers to the estimate that one in three women worldwide will be beaten or raped in her lifetime, equating to approximately one billion women in total. The movement, initiated by Eve Ensler, seeks to challenge these horrifying levels of violence through a global ‘rising’, where women take to the streets and demand change on ‘V-Day’, the 14th February. We will rise in the streets of Durham on this date, using dance, poetry, and music to create our thread in this global tapestry. And through this, we seek to link the experiences and stories of women everywhere, across all boundaries: experiences which it has been all too easy for us to separate, pick apart, and blame on ‘culture’ or criminality or economic circumstances.
We rise because there have been no prosecutions of those complicit in Female Genital Mutilation in 30 years in the UK, despite thousands of girls estimated to be at risk. We rise because 140 million women and girls worldwide are estimated to be living with the consequences of this violation of their human rights. We rise because police officers refer to violent attacks against women in their own homes on Christmas Eve as ‘domestics’, and cite that the victim has been drinking. We rise because a Chief Crown Prosecutor estimates that there are 10,000 cases of threatened or realised forced marriage in the UK every year. We rise because senior figures continue to claim that such cases of ‘honour’ based violence do not require our outrage or our intervention as they are ‘cultural’. We rise because as women, as human beings, we demand more than this. We rise because we are not ‘just the women’, but the 51% of the world who have been silenced for too long. We rise because until all women are free, no woman is free.
We rise because tens of thousands of women were raped last year alone in the UK, and police officers, lawyers and even judges continue to propagate the myth that those survivors somehow chose what happened to them, or that even if they weren’t to blame, they should understand if this crime were somehow treated differently to any other violent violation of a human being. That they should understand if evidence were ‘lost’, if they received calls or letters wondering if they ‘wanted’ to drop the case because of the ‘involvement’ of alcohol. We rise because this is not confined to our mothers, daughters, sisters, friends in the UK. We rise because our culture makes a distinction between rape and ‘not-rape’, because so many survivors are afraid even to use ‘that word’, because our culture insults them again and again as they try to recover. We rise because we are still told that rape can be an ‘accident’, even as we have looked into the eyes of the men who raped us and seen their complete disregard for our consent. We rise because it is insulting to be continually asked why we did not say no when we were never, have never been asked.
As a member of our organising team said just this week, ‘it feels like it’s time’. Time for a watershed; time for a revolution. Commentators everywhere have used the former term in reference to the Savile inquiry and the hopes that it will change the culture of disbelief which prevents victims of childhood sexual abuse coming forward. We hope that such a watershed will occur, but feel that without a match to strike the tinder, it will just be another journalistic cliché.
We watched with grief, respect and solidarity as women and men across India protested the brutal death of a gang rape victim in Delhi in December. We saw editorials splashed all over our newspapers, social networking awash with commentary on the protests and the resultant response of the Indian government. We were shocked to see mainstream, reasoned debate on whether such levels of hate-fuelled sexual violence are a problem linked to a specific misogyny in India itself, or part of an international pandemic. While we would contend that both can reasonably be true, the exposure gained by the dialogue itself gave us the feeling again: ‘it is time’. It is time for us to face the reality of violence against women across the world. We must stop pretending that sexual violence is too difficult to talk about: that we have to run around the subject talking about ‘personal alarms’ and ‘violent assault’, when so many women live with the reality of rape. We must challenge a culture where comedians use rape for effect on national TV but women speaking out about the reality of their experiences are met with horrified silence. We must stop responding each time a woman’s story is heard with a distancing – it was not another time, another place, or another ‘type’ of person. It is now, and it is all of us: this must end.
On the 14th February 2013 we ask you to stand with us and join in this moment in history, with hundreds of risings happening in every part of the world, to refuse to participate in a culture which does not address and even colludes with such horrifying levels of violence. We ask nothing more than that you be with us in whatever way you are able: on the streets of Durham supporting us or giving us your opinions and encouragement from home. From 12pm until 2pm we will be rising across the city, with poetry, dancing, music, and finally speeches from professionals and experts in violence against women and girls.
Visit www.onebillionrising.org for more information.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get involved.
For further reading on the facts about violence to women take a look at these sites: