20 years ago Eve Ensler sent a fax to the Center for Women War Victims in Zagreb offering her support; I did not know that this message would change my life.
It was 1994 and the war stretched from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the flow of refugees, mostly women and children, trying to find temporary shelters in Croatia while aiming to escape to some ‘safe place in Europe’.
The news of rapes in the war spread in the world press, including pictures of young women rejoining with their mothers after time spent in a rape camp. Eve had seen that picture; many had seen that picture.
But only Eve reacted.
That summer was warm, with few storms that darkened the sky. Refugees were cueing
in front of the embassies, waiting for papers to leave the country, cardboard paper served as their beds.
Eve stayed that summer with me and my colleagues in the Centre, sleeping on the red sofa in the office, visiting dusty camps situated on the outskirts of the town. I was running self-support groups for women, she was making coffee. We both cried.
We talked and talked. We talked to women who were accusing the war for their loses. Women shared their dreams of return. Several shared their nightmares.
My Vagina was my Village monologue was inspired by horrifing story Eve heard that summer.
A few months later I was sitting in her appartment in New York, surrounded by people she invited to hear what was going on in former Yugoslavia and what women had to witness and experience.
The war ended in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. New countries emerged with a new forms of violence against women.
The war moved to Kosovo, then Iraq, Afganistan, Sudan, Congo, Syria… It does not matter which country and which army, but the consequences were written into women’s bodies.
It was inevitable that more global answer was needed.
In 1998 the V-Day movement was founded, inspired by The Vagina Monologues and women’s desire to change the culture of violence. V-Day has spread like a firework because its mission is very simple: violence against women and girls must end.
The Balkans and One Billion Rising
The Balkans was an obvious place to embrace V-Day. The Vagina Monologue were performed by activists, politicians and actors across the Balkans, including minority Roma women in Macedonia and women with disabilities in Croatia. Post-war regions hosted a V-caravan, jointly performed by actors in Sarajevo, Zagreb and Belgrade.
When One Billion Rising campaign was launched in 2013 the Balkans answered by organising risings in small communities and big towns. Justice for the Balkans is crucial, that is why women from women’s groups across the Balkans responded in organising One Billion Rising campaigns including youth and worker’s unions, sportsmen and singers, dancers and politicians. To become part of the revolution of women and men who walked out, danced and demanded to end violence against women and girls meant to make strong alliances, to unify voices, and mobilize women and men to rise up and demand justice.
It was time to demand justice, it was a ‘paradigm shift’ since the figures are alarming: the post-war situation did not prevent escalation of violence, it just changed its form.
Women’s rights activists used last year’s One Billion Rising for Justice to protest and demand improvements in the legal procedures, and above all changes in institutional practices that would bring justice for women. For example, changes in Croatian Criminal Law, beginning in 2013, eliminated domestic violence as a specific felony offense which led to offenders receiving only short sentences. Such a practice sends a message that violence
against women is not a serious crime.
This is why we need One Billion Revolution.
One Billion Revolution
To end violence against women, activists say, is not sufficient that women activists support women, but more comprehensive support from institutions is needed. Countries have
signed the Council of Europe’s ‘Istanbul Convention’ on preventing and combating violence against women, but it has not yet been ratified.
We need One Billion Revolution since more than two decades after the War in the Balkans, the legacy of wartime sexual violence is still far from being addressed. Victims of rape or other sexual violence during the wars/conflicts are still waiting for JUSTICE. In Croatia, for example, only a few cases have been prosecuted and survivors have received little assistance. Recently Croatia passed a law that would grant survivors recognition and status, and hopefully compensation. Thanks to women’s groups, psychosocial and legal support to survivors has been given, and they are lobbying so that new law adopts a feminist approach to victims.
President of Croatia supports OBR
To ask president of Croatia, Dr Ivo Josipovic to join the campaign was rather simple task. He himself started organising men against violence against women and he gladly joined the campaign in demanding justice for women. Our first One Billion Rising was under his auspice, and while women were dancing and singing, he challanged men to commit to end violence.
Hockey, futball, and rugby players sent strong message that violence is not going to be tolerated anymore.
February 14th 2014 might have been cold winter day, but our comittment to end violence warmed it up with passionite hearts and lampoons over the city of Zagreb .
One Billion Revolution 2015
On August 28 Eve came to Croatia. It should have been just for a 3-day-weekend, after her long trip to Africa. Since we were in Istria, a wonderful Croatian peninsula, where activists in several Istrian towns organised One Biliion Rising events, I organised a meeting with them in a beautiful art gallery on hostorical Roman forum so that they could meet and talk with Eve.
President of Croatia Ivo Jospipovic was that day in Istria and joined us in a pre-launch of One Billion Revolution.
Eve spoke about why One Billion Revolution was needed, since situation for women concerning violence is worsening due to the economic crisis and neoliberal capitalism, and that there is no time to waste.
President said we had to “listen to Eve’s message because there is no human society when there is a violence and we have stop it. Statistics, indicators and generalizations are fine, but we have to face every single act of violence. Part of the battle for equality between women and men is battle against violence against women, but also battle for equal opportunities for all women and men”.
Eve thanked to President Josipovic on his support – he is the only president supporting the campaign and thereby sending to other presidents and prime ministers a message to participate in struggle for women’s human rights.
It was President’s birthday that day and he shared birthday cake with women.
I wished there would be more presidents and ‘state heads’ to support One Billion Rising.