One in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime; ending violence against women is as important as ending poverty, or Aids or global warming. That’s why I want you to join our campaign
By Eve Ensler
Cassandra keeps calling to me. Cassandra, given the gift of prophecy by Apollo, but then punished with a curse ensuring no one would ever believe her once she rebuffed his sexual advances. Cassandra, a metaphor for our times.
Think of the alarms raised about the impact of violence against women and girls during the past 15 years, since we launched V-Day to raise awareness about the horror.
Recently, 46 activists at the first V-Day Africa Summit in Nairobi found themselves in a room of Cassandras, some recently out of jail for protesting against female genital mutilation, some unable to show their faces for fear of retribution, some with missing body parts following arape, some challenging their governments and religious institutions with radical performances, some running for office.
Think of how, when I have spoken out about the women and girls who have been raped in Congo’s 13-year war for minerals to parliaments around the world, I have often been cautioned that my language is inflammatory or extreme, when in fact I have not come close to finding the words with which to express the horrors I have heard and witnessed.
Think of Dr Denis Mukwege of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Congo, on the front lines of the war calling out to international leaders, only to be told he is exaggerating or inventing stories while everyday he sees bloody, mutilated vaginas and destroyed uteruses as he attempts to repair them. I think of how my own father spent so much of his life tarnishing my character, defining me as a liar, building a shield that would later protect him from my adult accusations. Discount Cassandra, delegitimise Cassandra, and you discount her story. Perhaps Cassandra is the metaphor of denial. Every day, my inbox is crammed with reports of atrocities and grotesque acts committed on women’s bodies. I have learned that I must be judicious and mannered when I tell these stories, meting them out temperately so as not to overwhelm or disturb or frighten the listener, even though the stories I tell have destroyed their victims. I have learned how to pull back and maintain my distance because that is where legitimacy resides. But what of the 10-year-old girl in Texas raped and filmed by 20 men? What of Jeanne, tied to a tree for a month, now incontinent from gang rape? What of the women with missing hands, breasts, vaginas, legs and clitorises, the women with scars and holes inside them? What of elected officials who claim legitimate rape doesn’t make you pregnant or parents who are convicted for so-called “honour” killing their own daughters for marrying the man of her choice? What of the 75,000 raped women every year in France, the two million who suffer female genital mutilation every year, or the 200 million girls missing a year in South Asia or the one in three women raped in the US military?
Right now one out of every three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That is a UN statistic. That is equivalent to one billion women and girls.
There are two possible futures.
One is a future without women, where rape is so prevalent that it kills love and tenderness and intimacy and connection. Right now, for example, in Congo and other war zones, there are thousands of children who are the product of rape, exiled and rejected like a foreign species.
Then there is the other future. It begins on 14 February, 2013. It begins as we prepare for One Billion Rising, a call to the billion women who have been violated and the men who love them, to the women who have been beaten and raped and mutilated and burned and sold and who know the destruction of the female species heralds the end of human kind. A call to walk out of your homes, your jobs, your schools and find your friends, your group, your place and music and dance. A global dance action, our feet on the earth. And in these months leading to One Billion Rising we will link our issues and stories and villages and cities to the dancing.
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How do you break a curse? In organising, we will discover our solidarity and the scope of this issue. We will come to know that ending violence against women is as important as ending poverty, or Aids or global warming. We will come to see that it is not a local issue or particular to any culture or religion or village or age. We will come to see what is possible. Already people from 161 countries and rising have signed up.
Thousands of organisations including Amnesty International USA, International Rescue Committee Global Green, NOW, Planned Parenthood, Women Thrive Worldwide and many others are joining us, including unions that reach a combined total of more than 24.7 million members. In the UK, we’ve already received support from Unite.
Stella Creasy MP is taking the campaign to parliament and members of the European Parliament even performed The Vagina Monologues as a cross-party call to action.
Churches are stepping up. In the US, St John the Divine Cathedral in New York and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco have opened their spaces for dancing. Aboriginal women in Queensland, Australia are taking over a stadium there.
Short films with Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Rosario Dawson, Ruby Wax, Nicola Adams, and chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda, and Jane, a survivor and activist from Congo will help launch the campaign in the Guardian this week and online at onebillionrising.org. Dancing insists we take up space. It breaks the rules. It can happen anywhere at any time with anyone and everyone. It’s free. It’s contagious and it spreads quickly.
Imagine, something we have only seen in our Cassandra dreams: our bodies dancing and moving and shaking the way we were always meant to move and dance and shake. Dancing, drumming feet, stomping hips, moving – more thunderous then Apollo’s intimidation, shaking free his curse.
Then we will finally believe Cassandra, that voice inside us, that voice that knows the truth and the way. One billion Cassandras and more, freed and rising.