Seventeen years ago, Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues, premiered at the Off Broadway Westside Theatre in New York City. The play brought Ensler fame, money and power, and with that she has done a number of extraordinary things.
In 1998, inspired by the numerous performances of her play, Ensler launched V-Day, a global activist campaign to end violence against women and girls. Worldwide, women put on events to fundraise for the cause, and to date have raised over $90 million for the charity. The money is dispensed internationally to grassroots organisations and initiatives to stop violence against women. One example of an area where this money has greatly benefited is the City of Joy, a resource and education centre for Congolese women affected by violence and rape. The centre, situated in Bukavu in the DRC, provides therapy and training, with the goal of rebuilding the lives and spirits of women who have suffered unimaginable horrors.
Early last year, Ensler launched her most ambitious project to date. According to the UN, one in three women will be sexually assaulted and/or beaten in her lifetime. That’s one billion women globally. This shocking number motivated Ensler to create the One Billion Rising Campaign, which she described as “a call for the one billion women who have been beaten or raped and the men who love them to strike, rise and dance on 14 February to end violence against women and girls.” [The Guardian, Friday 11 January 2013]
The campaign has been gathering momentum around the world. To date 182 countries are staging “a rising” of some kind. The idea is for women and men who care about the issue to leave their work places, schools and homes, gather in a public location and dance to raise awareness. People will cause a stir by walking off their jobs, and this is what Ensler feels is necessary to draw attention to the problem. “…we have to go further and be disruptive and be dangerous,” she said in an interview with Democracy Now. [See the interview here.]
In the same interview, Eve stated that she made the announcement about the campaign whilst in Australia, and already an aboriginal women’s group in Queensland had secured a stadium for their performance. Major events have been planned in India, Africa and the United States, and the movement has attracted a number of supporters, V-Women and V-Men who have leant their celebrity name to the cause, such as Thandie Newton and Robert Redford.
How many informal dance gatherings there will be in Sydney this February remains to be seen, but there are organised flashmobs happening in and around the city on the day. At 1pm, outside St Mary’s Cathedral, women on social networking groups have teamed up with Girl Power Goddess and White Ribbon to stage a giant rising, the profits of which will go to a women’s refuge. In the evening, Sydney Feminists is hosting a charity dance party in support of V-day and to raise money for a domestic violence fund. There are also events happening in other places as well. The One Billion Rising website allows people to search for a rising in their area, or stage their own.
Ensler has said that she feels as if a “woman spring” is happening around the world. Although she is furious at the levels of gender-based violence we are seeing today, she remains hopeful for the future. Given that she herself has survived sexual abuse, as well as a recent, near-fatal battle with cancer, her optimism is all the more impressive. Her goal is ambitious; she doesn’t say that the campaign aims to help stop violence against women, she simply says it aims to end it.
“How do you break a curse? In organising, we will discover our solidarity and the scope of this issue.”[Guardian; 24 September 2012]
Let’s see what Sydney is capable of this February 14th.