As highlighted by the V-Day global movement, an estimated one in three women will experience sexual or physical abuse in their lifetime across the globe (World Health Organization, 2013). These figures are damning, particularly when viewed through a feminist lens that shines a light on the patriarchal structures underlying women’s oppression. Given its endemic nature, it is understandable that violence against woman and girls has become the focus of international human rights frameworks. Indeed, feminist activists and theoreticians have fought long and hard to place gender and men’s power at the centre of such abuse. Moreover, solidarity arouses the passion required to break the silence and take a stand against inequality and injustice. The rallying cry of V-Day’s infectious anthem, Break the Chain, is a unifying call to action. The One Billion Rising Flash Mobs that take place worldwide provide a much-needed space for women and girls to come together, to demand to be seen, to demand to be heard and, most importantly, to demand change. However, as it has now become evident that gender identity plays a much more complex role than was originally realised, it is crucial that we acknowledge all forms of gender-based violence.
Though often conflated with violence against women, gender-based violence includes physical, sexual and psychological violations of men, boys and marginalised genders, albeit to a lesser extent. Indeed, when we take a closer look at masculine ideology, it is evident that the traditional norms of dominance and entitlement are a double-edged sword, at once a source of men’s power and vulnerability. For example, according to the 2002 national prevalence study conducted in the Republic of Ireland, 42% of women and 28% of men have reported some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime. It is for this reason that the One Billion Rising Flash Mob, organised by the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway) Feminist Society and Centre for Global Women’s Studies, placed a focus on violence against women, while recognising all forms of gender-based violence. Acknowledging this reality does not undermine our solidarity; rather it strengthens it, as no survivor would feel excluded. Moreover, when women, men and marginalised genders stand together in resistance to gendered norms and all forms of gender-based violence, we unite via our common humanity. This important message was inscribed on the campus pavement, in chalk at first and then by the echoes of our dancing feet.
Though challenging, preparing for the NUI Galway Flash Mob was a unifying and empowering experience for all involved. Galway is a city on the west coast of the Republic of Ireland, a city upon which copious amounts of rain falls. Indeed, living here, it sometimes feels like Galway is a type of geographical ‘Rain God,’ akin to Douglas Adams’ character, Rob McKenna, whom the clouds cherished and wanted to be near at all times. Consequently, organising outdoor events, such as a 1 Billion Rising Flash Mob, is a risky endeavour no matter the season. However, this did not deter us, and on March 7th at 1pm, the Feminist Gods smiled down upon the campus as the clouds held their peace and the driving rain ceased. Despite the persisting cold, we danced, calling for an end to gender-based violence.
Silence descended as we fell into formation, bodies bent, heads bowed close to the ground. In response to the opening sequence of the Break the Chain music track, our bodies slowly unfurled and reached toward the sky, symbolising our call to RISE. Dancing in harmony and solidarity, we broke the silence, at once literal and figurative. In so doing, we transformed an everyday space, encouraging students and staff to stop, to listen, to take time out from their habitual routines and to reflect. Those gathered to share in the performance clapped and cheered, while fundraisers from Galway charity, COPE, collected donations for much-needed local domestic violence services. A fun and creative form of political activism, Flash Mobs are disruptive, participatory and engaging in a unique and exciting way. Though lasting but a brief moment, their message lingers in the spaces occupied, in the imaginations ignited. Indeed, our call was heard, not just on campus but everywhere, as such a message travels in reverberations that feed into the larger global movement. And as the area outside the library returned to its usual bustle of noise and movement, the colourful miniature windmills planted by COPE fundraisers in the outdoor flower pots continued to swirl in the wind, raising awareness of domestic violence and memorialising our Springtime Rising.
Together we stand, empowered we dance
In reclamation and resistance
AS ONE, WE RISE!