14 Feb 2013

One Billion Rising global action to reclaim Valentine’s day

Valentine’s day is about romance and roses for many. But this year also sees global flash mobs and protests to raise awareness of violence against women. Gloria Steinem speaks to Channel 4 News.

One in three women in the world – one billion in total – are victims of violence at some point in their lifetime.

It is a shocking statistic, and one that prompted the One Billion Rising (OBR) campaign. The global movement is spearheaded by the V Day charity, started by playwright and campaigner Eve Ensler of Vagina Monologues fame.

New Zealand will kick-start the campaign, as the first country to awaken on 14 February, followed by mass rallies of an estimated 20 million people in India and Bangladesh (see below for the global timeline of events). Ms Ensler herself will be in the Democratic Republic of Congo with survivors of gendered violence and almost 200 countries are expected to take part.

“I don’t think anyone…can fail to understand that the women’s movement is still necessary, still alive as ever,” feminist writer and activist Gloria Steinem told Channel 4 News.

She denied that men do not identify as feminists and said more needs to be done to explain the difference between pornography and erotica.

When asked about whether Page 3 should still show semi-naked women, Ms Steinem said it was an issue of equality, adding: “If there were a naked man it would at least be equal.

She said: “The problem is that women’s bodies are treated as ornaments, not instruments.”

Sex education

However here in the UK, politicians and activists have decided to focus the campaign on making sex education statutory in schools, so that young people learn about relationship dynamics – what is appropriate, and what is abuse. And while celebrity support, from the likes of Thandie Newton, has driven the campaign, its focus on Thursday will be a vote in the House of Commons on statutory sex education.

A cross-party group including Labour MP Stella Creasy (pictured above) and Conservative MP Amber Rudd is leading the debate and MPs will vote on putting “zero tolerance approach to violence and abuse in relationships” on the curriculum.

Events across the world will be live streamed here.

Education about relationships – for boys as well as girls – became the chosen topic after the issue kept arising in workshops with children and parents, Ms Creasy told Channel 4 News. Crime experts as well as women’s charities are adamant that teaching young people about healthy relationships and nurturing healthy attitudes towards sex is without a doubt the best way to prevent violence against women.

The hope is that better education will help ease the rate of domestic violence in the UK: 109 women died as result of violence from their partner in 2012 and 750,000 children witness acts of domestic violence each year. Conviction rates in the UK are also shocking: just 8 per cent of reported incidents end in prosecution.

But will making a song and a dance about violence against women really gain enough momentum to force parliamentary change? After all, Home Secretary Theresa May has said she won’t even be present at the debate and no male MPs have said they will attend.

The beginning?

Campaign supporters say that the glamour and appeal of One Billion Rising has helped to get this topic onto the political agenda in the UK, which is no mean feat: the review into PSHE education (personal social and health education) where sex education would be taught, has been going on for almost 18 months with no final conclusion in sight.

“This critical debate is happening because of the global focus on these issues brought about by OBR – and because leading women MPs from across the parties want this issue on the wider political agenda,” Sarah Green of the End Violence Against Women Coalition told Channel 4 News.

But she added: “We hope to see some follow through from our political leaders on these issues in the months ahead.”

Campaigners say that the dance extravaganza and exhibitions are the culmination of a year’s worth of workshops and debate – and that arts are being used as a platform for what has emerged. But they hope this is just the beginning.

“It will change the world because the preparation for it and organising for it has already created an energetic wind or wave igniting existing efforts to end violence against women and create new ones,” says Ms Ensler.

Global timeline

Australia & New Zealand: GMT + 10 hours
Over 100 events are planned over the two countries, with Maori women in Auckland Rising and Aboriginal women in Sydney leading a healing ceremony and flash mob in a sports stadium.

Philippines: GMT + 8 hours
Hundreds of events planned in the Philippines and the mayor’s office in Quezon City will close 15 blocks for a 24-hour-long dance concert and rally.

Bangladesh: GMT + 6 hours
Around 25 million are expected to take part and form human dancing chains across the country. The One Billion Rising anthem Break the Chain has been translated into many languages, including Spanish, Farsi and Hindu.

India: GMT + 5 hours
In the country still reeling from the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student, 20,000 women and men in Ahmedabad will hold a public dance and activists all over the country are holding events.

South Africa: GMT + 2 hours
Many of the events will commemorate 17-year-old Anene Booysen, who was brutally gang raped and to left to die in a Western Cape settlement.
Teen girls are touring schools and teaching the flash mob dance and there will be a dawn ceremony on Table Mountain in Capetown.

United Kingdom: GMT
There will be over 200 events including dance parties, rallies, flash mobs and art festivals from Bristol to London to Norwich and more. There will be a dance rally on the steps of Parliament, and an event at City Hall.

Peru: GMT – 5 hours
The Mayor of Lima, Susana Villaran, has officially made 14 February One Billion Rising Day and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Vulnerable Populations is taking part. The district of San Borja will hold a flash mob and female prisoners in Santa Monica, the women’s prison in Lima, are learning the Break the Chains choreography.

New York: GMT – 5 hours
The Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan, where Eve Ensler performed The Vagina Monologues, is hosting a live dance and music performance of Break the Chain

Los Angeles: GMT – 8 hours
Celebrities including Jane Fonda will be hosting a dance fitness party in downtown LA.