By Penny Mulvey
I raise my arms to the sky
On my knees I pray
I’m not afraid anymore
I will walk through that door
Walk, dance, rise
Walk, dance, rise
So begins the theme song of One Billion Rising, a global campaign so named because one in three women throughout the world will be raped or beaten in their lifetime – a staggering one billion women. Thousands of women came together in cities and towns across the world on 14 February, dancing to the lyrics of the song, Break the Chain, written by Tena Clark and Tim Heintz.
I can see a world where we all live
Safe and free from all oppression
No more rape or incest, or abuse
Women are not a possession
On the same day, Valentine’s Day (renamed ‘V Day’ by event organisers), came news of the violent death of South African model Reeva Steenkamp, shot at the home of her boyfriend, the world renowned double amputee and athlete, Oscar Pistorius. A day later the brutal gang rape of a six-year-old girl, left abandoned in a gutter on the streets of India, hit the world headlines.
You’ve never owned me, don’t even know me I’m not invisible, I’m simply wonderful I feel my heart for the first time racing I feel alive, I feel so amazing
One Billion Rising was the brainchild of V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. Its founder Eve Ensler believed a global event using the universal language of dance could act as a catalyst to reignite solidarity between women and women’s organisations across the world.
“Dance is dangerous, joyous, sexual, holy, disruptive, contagious, it breaks the rules. It can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone and everyone, and it’s free,” Ms Ensler explained.
“Dancing insists we take up space, we go there together in community. Dance joins us and pushes us to go further and that is why it’s at the centre of One Billion Rising.”
Such events help ensure violence against women can no longer be ignored or marginalised.
Women around the world face an extraordinary litany of horrors on a daily basis:
Rape; violence by intimate partner; honour killing; acid attack; femicide; domestic violence; stalking; HIV/AIDS; female genital mutilation; human trafficking; female infanticide; sexual harassment; discrimination; rape as a weapon of war.
On 8 March we again commemorate International Women’s Day, but it is sometimes difficult to see how far we have progressed in the face of the objectification, violence and discrimination so often directed at women.
This is my body, my body’s holy
No more excuses, no more abuses
We are mothers, we are teachers,
We are beautiful, beautiful creatures
Whilst some cultures are more prone to particularly violent assaults, such as acid attacks, UNiTE, the UN Secretary-General’s campaign to end violence against women, stresses that such violence is not confined to a specific culture, region or country, or to particular groups of women in society. The roots of violence, UniTE says, lie in persistent discrimination against women.
Thousands of women are violated in attacks by relatives, friends and strangers every day. But occasionally the violence is so affronting it garners international attention, providing a vehicle to highlight the horror of the ongoing, unchanging, rampant discrimination confronting women. The Taliban’s blatant shooting of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai while she was travelling by bus to attend school in October last year provided one such moment.
Malala is a particularly extraordinary teenage girl. She somehow cheated death after being shot twice in the head and her simple desire for the right of girls to receive unobstructed access to education remains undiminished. As a result of the world attention, she has launched the Malala Fund in support of the education of children. The Pakistani government has contributed $10 million in start-up funding.
Other pivotal moments in the last 12 months have been the shocking murder of Jill Meagher in Melbourne and the brutal attack and gang rape of the unnamed Indian physiotherapy student, who was thrown naked out of a bus after the attack, only to die a few days later. Sadly a similar attack on 17-year-old Annene Booysene in Cape Town early last month was not expected to trigger nationwide protests as rape has become normalised in South Africa. The Guardian Africa Network, in reporting the attack, quoted the following statistics: ‘…in 2010-11, 56,272 rapes were recorded in South Africa, an average of 154 a day and more than double the rate in India’.
As we celebrate women’s achievements on this International Women’s Day, let us also reflect on the violence one billion women experience, violence which impoverishes not just women, but also their families, communities and nations. What role can we play in breaking the chain?
I dance cause I love
Dance cause I dream
Dance cause I’ve had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
Its time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain