Misogyny and patriarchy pollute our world. They maintain capitalism and its excesses. At the complex heart of this is the ubiquitous and mind-numbing sexual violence towards women and girls that is a global disaster. It is time to put this sexual violence in a globally articulated collective view so that we all can fully see each other. It is time.
It is time to recognize that violence against women and girls is and remains a major political challenge of the 21st century, alongside racial, economic, gender tyranny. Sexploitation, exploitation, disrespect, disregard starts in the intimate realm of private embodied life and extends to the public realms of the economy and the state through the violence of war. Because the problem is structural and systemic it demands coalition and collective action across the globe.
I am deeply committed to the possibility of a coalitional global movement for justice that gives priority to ending sexual violence in all its differing forms. It is also true that I live in a country that at least for now, is at the heart of empire. It is problematic that global and imperial is so often one and the same system, but in this instance, One Billion Rising stands against imperial structural domination in all its forms.
There are autonomous and indigenous movements that have long fought for women’s rights to their bodies in their home countries: India, Canada, Haiti, Congo, Afghanistan, Egypt, Bangladesh to name a few. Hopefully we can all stand together, not ignoring heart-rending histories of unfairness and exploitation, but building careful coalition through and past them. The privileging of English, the easy access to high-tech by some, the tendency of some to appropriate, must be continuously unraveled in order for meaningful dialogues to emerge. A bold trust must be built at these difficult crossroads.
One billion girls and women—one in three on this globe, will face violence to their personal bodies. This violence is a global travesty right alongside, and woven into, the ecological disaster given climate change and environmental destruction, and unforgiving hunger and poverty due to excessive greed. This multi-pronged violence exists everywhere that we can see. A multi-pronged coalitional global movement is therefore needed.
On seeing and speaking “violence”
Violence has its many faces. Many of them are protected through silence and shaming. Other kinds, like warfare are normalized as inevitable. Violence breeds more violence so remains circuitous. Sexual violence is protected by the seal of powerful secrets and tumbles outwards towards nations and their war making. Militarism is a form of sexual violence that de-humanizes us all.
The women of the Philippines resist this militarism. And, after the devastating and violent cyclone that left millions homeless and thousands dead, have said that “they will be bigger and stronger than the storm”. With entire towns wiped away and many of their Islands missing, they stand against the violence of “man-made” weather.
Still, the UN and other international groups say that multiple thousands of women and girls in the Philippines remain at high risk for rape and sexual assault as the islands attempt to recover and rebuild. Environmental disasters—floods, hurricanes, tsunami’s, and earthquakes—open the doors to further violence especially against women and girls like in Haiti, when lives become unmoored.
Ending this violence is a huge political challenge of our day. Girls and women come in all types, and abilities, and races, and genders, and economic classes so this is not a singular problem to begin with. We are of every color, and size, and ability, of every religion, of every culture; we are mothers, daughters, sisters, citizens, migrants, and workers of every sort. Because each woman also has these many other identities we embody humanity when we embrace her and the violence done to her body. As such, ending violence against women encourages and imagines a plural and inclusive agenda towards justice.
Women rising everywhere
Women and girls in Guatemala, Salvador, Ecuador and throughout America Latina are finding reconciliation after decades of sexual violence in their civil war(s). Marsha Lopez Calderon says that women and men who support them are finding greater rights for women to their bodies through education and legal rights. They stand against the shame and fear and call for public reckoning. This begins to create a “justice” that matters.
Kushi Kabir who has worked for land rights, and women’s rights with indigenous people in Bangladesh’s rural villages for decades embraces One Billion Rising as a global action to mobilize these struggles for justice further. The established commitment to autonomous movements throughout 1300 villages empowers OBR activism. Bangladeshi women see violence all around them. The activism here is directed towards an accounting of the 200,000 women raped in the 1971 war; and a demand for justice for Kalpana Chokma, an abducted anti-militarist indigenous young woman who remains missing since 1996. The most marginalized of the marginal are put in full view in these struggles.
OBR as a global action for justice is dedicated to full inclusion and the overlapping needs of humanity. It stands against the violence towards women and girls by simultaneously standing forth for the protection and preservation of the earth’s soil, water, air, mountains, and so forth. Different women’s actions across the globe today demand AIDS treatment and prevention; a change in legal rights and rape law in India; rights to education in Afghanistan, re-interpretations of the Quran in Iran, and Indonesia and Pakistan; finding the disappeared in Argentina and Chile; gay rights in Russia; rights to abortion almost everywhere.
Other mobilizations recognize the rights of hundreds of thousands of indigenous women in Peru who were illegally sterilized during the Fujimori regime. There are OBR actions against sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape by US Farmworkers and members of the US military. There are demonstrations across the globe against the sex trafficking of women and girls in Mexico, the Balkans, and South-East Asia.
Fartuun Adan, director of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center, living in Mogadishu, Somalia mobilizes people in rape crisis and women’s safe houses to let women who have been victimized articulate their voice. They advocate for human rights and gender justice against violators and abusers throughout South Central Somalia.
These varied commitments to justice are often unified through the visor of sexual violence. Although multiple and differing venues result from individual and cultural agendas, they coalesce and solidify around the intersecting human needs for bodily integrity—be it a human body, or a body of land, or body of water. The fight to end sexual violence can spearhead a global movement against misogyny, and racism and capitalism. It is the intimate secret of it all.
The struggle for justice condemns the physical assault against female bodies and extends to the assault against the human family and the earth it inhabits. Movements to end poverty, corruption, starvation, environmental plunder, imperialism, forced migrations, exploited labor, global patriarchy, political repression, racisms, endless refugees of religious wars instigate an inclusive humanity. It is a justice that is simultaneously intimate and public.
Women in India alongside OBR activists rise to remember Jyoti Singh Pandey. Her father says: tell the world my daughter’s name. All movements for justice must follow this lead of complete transparency. It is then necessary to stand against India’s High Court’s ruling that recriminalizes gay sex, and against Putin’s legislation in Russia to further criminalize homosexuality. At the same moment “we” must stand against the violence of poverty for billions across the globe. And stand against the over-consumption of too many while millions are made migrants, and refugees, and homeless.
Bodily harm and its environs
Women and girls are the workers of the world: from fast food, to para-professionals of every kind, to farm-workers, to sex workers in all their variety, to migrant laborers crisscrossing the globe, to hauling water and gathering wood, to the dagonmei in China’s mind-numbing I-pad factories.
It is no small point that too many of the women and girls in the Congo and Rwanda who have been brutally raped and murdered were out gathering firewood.
Women in the Congo suffer the violence of war rape, and yet their pain is silenced in and by the notion of “ethnic” warfare and corporate interest for Coltan, the prized resource in producing cell phones and the like. Rape and its terrorization of women and girls have little “political” salience, even with its extraordinary presence. It is time.
There are too many kinds of bodies and so many kinds of environments. Environmental justice demands seeing the thick intersection of multiple locations: cultural, political, economic, which all are absorbed in and with the body. Environments seep into each one of our bodies, and there is also an environment that engulfs them. There is no simple inside or outside.
Bodies absorb the earth’s violations and the earth’s carcinogens pollute the globe simultaneously. There is a rhizome knotting of people’s lives together with each other. The interconnections between each self demand a shared action. Collective publicizing of private wounds resists feelings of unworthiness, worthlessness and shamefulness. Bodies matter because they can always be un-shamed, and made defiant. And the globe is depending on us.
Borders between our bodies and their locations are fluid. When OBR activists dance in the streets they expose this intimate politics of complexity and inclusivity as it releases people from their silence and loneliness. When one uses their body to speak through dance on Feb. 14th one frees itself of fear that begins to unleash the possibility for revolutionary action.
Revolutions from the Body Towards Justice
The people of the globe are not a unified whole. The layers of power and privilege punish some of us more than others. But there is a possibility of comradeship that One Billion Rising nurtures and rises with. It is the sharing of women’s intersectional selves that crisscross with another to find partial and similar needs in their polyversal form. Each of us is more similar than different to each other so we must embrace one another in the quest for an inclusive justice.
For those who despise all forms of violence we must connect our strategies and our energies so that we interconnect with each other along the many individual fault lines of both personal and public life. Commitments must be melded to each other where they overlap, and not splinter where they differ. These coalitions of the 99 percent dedicated to peace and justice can be an irrepressible force.
Dance and march and demonstrate: male, female, gay, straight, trans, sex workers, food preparers, union activists, environmental justice workers, in black, and brown, and white and every other color. One Billion Rising reaches towards any one who wishes to protect and free our bodies and the planet from abuse. End all wars, especially the wars on women and girls and “womanly” men and all who love them.
Save our bodies/our planet. This revolutionary justice is intimately public and publically intimate. No more secrets or silences can be allowed. It is time.
It is time to make a global revolution that is personally political and politically personal. And given that revolutions are a collective process and not a singular act, help start the next one on February 14th with a massive expression of liberation.
An edited version of this piece appeared on AlJazeera.com