Published: 21 March 2013

by Jason Sywak, Project Manager

I am not an expert in the anti-violence against women movement. Of course, I knew it existed and that laws don’t do enough to punish offenders or protect victims but I had no idea how much of a global epidemic violence against women is. Like so many others who joined the One Billion Rising campaign, the first thing I learned was the staggering 1 in 3 statistic and the fact that one billion women and girls will experience violence in her lifetime.

Coming on board as the campaign project manager, it wasn’t long before I realized what a systemic and cultural problem – in every part of the world – violence against women is. Of all the things societies around the world could have in common, how disturbing that violence against women is one of them.

Working on issue advocacy offers its own unique paradox where you are immersed in atrocious injustices yet, while facing some of the worst images in humanity, you also gain glimpses into some of the best humanity has to offer: committed women and men working to affect real and lasting change.

Every day for the last 9 months I have read news items and heard personal stories about women and girls being raped, beaten, genitally mutilated, bought and sold like they were goods at a market. The most common thought was, “If this makes me feel awful, imagine the horror experienced by the person living it.”

There is an upside, though. During this campaign I’ve had the pleasure to work with some of the most inspiring, hardworking, and dedicated activists I’ve ever met in my life. While reading about the worst in society, I’ve seen the best come out to defend and protect. I’m still in awe at the bravery shown by some of the women who, in parts of the world where they risked physical safety by coming out to rise, planned secret events for February 14th and gathered regardless of the dangers.

Any given day could be a roller coaster ride of emotion, moving from complete disgust and frustration over a vile act of aggression against a woman, to total joy and hope upon hearing from a group of young activists planning events in their neighborhood as a result of said vile act.

It wasn’t just during working hours that I was affected by the campaign. Whether watching TV, listening to music or just riding the bus and hearing conversations around me, the culture of violence against women became unavoidably present even in the most mundane activities.

These instances all served as fuel and inspiration throughout the campaign, but those roller coaster moments all served a more significant purpose: the realization that, in our society, we are all survivors of violence against women. Even those of us who are not physical victims of violence are still living within a system that embraces it, sometimes even encourages it.

After 9 months of coalition building, event planning, and activist outreach with One Billion Rising, I’m still not an expert on VAW. I don’t want to be, either. If working on One Billion Rising gives me just one takeaway goal, it’s to continue working on not becoming a VAW expert.