Published: 16 May 2013

by Karin Heisecke, Regional Coordinator EU

When I first got involved with V-Day in early 2001, little did I know that the movement would become one of the few constants in my life over the following decade, as I was moving across Europe, changing cities, changing apartments, changing jobs.

It would also be among the most constantly challenging elements in my life, pushing me to challenge my belief systems; to move out of my comfort zone; to turn pain to power; to sometimes be creative and intuitive instead of intellectual and rational; to dare to ask; to dare to celebrate; to look for allies in unusual places; to be bold; to trust in the process; to “think the unthinkable”: to have a vision of what the world will be like when violence against women and girls will have stopped.

The idea to mobilise one billion people across the world to strike, dance and rise together to demand an end of violence against women took me out of my comfort zone—even after the many years with V-Day. Would an invitation to dance not seem like a rather trivial thing to do, if our aim was to end unspeakable atrocities?

The journey started with the launch of OBR in Europe on 6 March 2012 at V-Day European Parliament. Following a stellar performance of The Vagina Monologues by nine wonderful Members of the European Parliament (the “vagina team” at the EP), Eve invited the 500+ audience (made up of EU decision makers and lobbyists) to join V-Day on 14 February 2013 and to be part of One Billion Rising. This was, in many ways, diametrically opposed to the usual staid political activity in Brussels…  and the response was amazing. It seemed that people had been waiting to move their political work from their heads to their bodies.

In the time leading up to 14 February 2013, more than 30 MEPs made public statements, sharing their very personal reasons why they will rise on 14 February, as well as the political changes they wanted to see so that we achieve the goal of ending violence against women and girls. They invited people in their constituencies  and in Brussels to join them. So did the President of the European Council, seven European Commissioners, other senior officials and European NGOs. The European Union was rising! The United Nations came on board, too, as well as national Parliamentarians and government members.

In late January, the fabulous V-MEPs invited Eve to Brussels to join the for the first ever dance flash mob in the European Parliament, with over 20 MEPs, their staff and more supporters dancing for OBR, matched by as many journalists and TV crews. It was a revolutionary, energetic moment that quite literally moved the EP. The international media coverage of it shifted the mobilization across Europe to a higher gear.

The MEPs had opened up and made themselves vulnerable by sharing very personal stories, and I guess that for quite a few of them, dancing at their workplace meant stepping way out of their comfort zone. I had the privilege to support them, as they were joining forces, women and men, across national and political divisions, in solidarity to end violence against women and girls. Working with the MEPs and with their staff was wonderful; their dedication, creativity, energy and team spirit made it all happen, It was miles away from the stereotypes of the EU as a heavy bureaucracy of grey suits.

A week later, a strong resolution on the elimination of violence against women and girls (in view of the forthcoming UN Commission on the Status of Women) was adopted by the EP plenary. In the same week, Portugal was the first EU Member State to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The Rising had begun.

On 14 February, MEPs were rising on the steps of the Austrian Parliament in Vienna, in Heidelberg, in Bucharest, in Helsinki, in Port-au-Prince, … European Commissioners rose in Brussels twice in one day — at lunchtime at the European Commission headquarters Berlaymont building and later in the day in the centre of town. The European Institute for Gender Equality was rising in Vilnius. In Risings across the continent, people were dancing the waltz, the tango, the Break the Chain choreography or just freely, following their intuition.

By then, I was back in my “home base” in Berlin, where I had also been mobilising and supporting local organisers in the months and weeks leading up to 14 February. It was wonderful to see how the campaign was snowballing with more than 200 events on and around 14 February. Many V-Day veterans were mobilising, and many new activists came on board for the first time. Local coalitions were forged by groups and individuals that had never worked together previously: dance teachers, politicians, healers, activists, women’s shelter workers, journalists, celebrities. Everyone was on board, from burlesque dancers to Parliamentarians, from women’s rights organisations to youth sports federations, from transcultural initiatives to trade unions, media and artists.

One of my most intense OBR experiences in Berlin was working with hip hop artist / activist Sookee and filmmaker Luci Westphal. Sookee’s song “1 billion”quickly became an OBR anthem in Germany and beyond, as the video that Luci shot for the song went viral. From the first brainstorming on a concept to the actual filming, we had exactly one week and practically no budget. It felt like mission impossible, but I trusted the process. Thanks to everyone’s dedication and good humour, and with an amazing team of volunteers, we made it happen  — quite literally overnight.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, the President of the Senate (who had, in late January, hosted a dinner for Eve, bringing together politicians, activists, media and artists in support of OBR) had joined the Rising, as well as the Prime Minister, who invited his social media followers to rise on 14 February, as did other Heads of Government, Ministers and Parliamentarians in countries across Europe.

On 14 February, I had planned to participate in each of the OBR events that were taking place in Berlin, starting from mid-day onwards (I knew of six, but there may well have been more), but I ended up stuck at my desk until the late afternoon, answering media requests. I made it on time to Brandenburger Tor, where the biggest Rising was happening. I arrived when the place was still empty, but posters with the V-Day brackets already indicated that V-Power was about to take over. The square in front of the landmark Brandenburg Gate filled up quickly, and soon, 5000 people of all ages, women and men, politicians, activists, entire families, were dancing to Break the Chain, demanding an end to violence against women and girls. Berlin was RISING. I then moved on quickly to my next stop for this exceptional day, the V-Day performance of The Vagina Monologues, a stunning show that was sold out weeks in advance. The Rising and the dancing continued at the OBR party that followed the performance.

The actual magnitude of the Rising unfolded in the following days, when I realised that we had succeeded in putting violence against women and girls in the centre of attention in Germany, across Europe and around the world: in prime time media, on the political agendas, on the streets, in schools, in theatres, in sports arenas, in shopping malls…

The video that finally brought tears to my eyes was a short local TV report on a Rising of around 300 teenagers at a school in the region where I grew up. I had been in touch with the organisers who had worked with them in the months before, addressing issues of self-image, gender roles, relationships, violence. They had shared with me how transformational the process leading up to 14 February had been for the teens. This was what One Billion Rising was about: a process that had brought them to a place within themselves from where they could step outside, feel good in their bodies rather than self-conscious or intimidated.  Where they could talk about the abuse they had suffered. Where they could take up space, be heard and seen, with the knowledge that they were part of a global network of solidarity, moving towards a world free from violence against women and girls.

My journey with V-Day, and being part of the movement’s biggest and boldest action to date, has been a rollercoaster. It took me across Europe, to high-level political decision makers, intergovernmental organisations, to queer hip hop artists, activists and skaters, and back to my home town. Once again, I had stepped out of my comfort zone, trusted the process, found allies in unusual places, made new friends and reconnected at a deeper level with old ones.

I know the journey is not over yet. Violence against women and girls has not yet ended. But I know we have a billion allies who are committed to make it happen.

We will continue to fight for new laws and to ensure that the existing ones are applied. We will continue to advocate for effective prevention and for support services for survivors. We will continue to work to ensure that the necessary resources will be made available.  We will continue to do whatever else is necessary — until the violence stops.