“There are millions of people rising up today to speak out and raise awareness around violence against women. We think this happens in other countries and other places and it doesn’t affect us but that’s not true,” Suzanne Gay said as she addressed a crowd of supporters in front of VIU Nanaimo campus library.
On Feb. 14, women and men in 203 countries rose up like Gay to express their outrage with the continuation of violent acts against women and danced in solidarity to put an end to rape culture. This day of mass action dubbed “V-Day” was spurred by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues “One Billion Rising” campaign, founded in 2012. Ensler created the campaign to address the grim statistic that one in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.
“Feb. 14, 2013 will change the world, not because it is a day of magic, although there are indeed mystical elements surrounding this campaign. It will change the world because the preparation for it and organizing for it has already created an energetic wind or wave igniting existing efforts to end violence against women and create new ones,” Ensler stated in a press release.
Gay, a third-year music student, was inspired to hold VIU Rising after hearing news of the movement in her Anthropology class. The event began with a well orchestrated walkout and concluded with an evening event sponsored by the VIU Faculty Association’s Human Rights and International Solidarity Committee and VIUFA Status of Women Committee, and the Nanaimo Women’s Resources Society. The Nanaimo Haven Society also held an OBR walkout at Diana Krall Plaza downtown.
She says that the opportunity to create a “celebratory space” for this social justice action was too important to pass up. “I started looking at my own life and realized that I’ve had violence in my own relationships. When I looked at my friends and my family I noticed that there isn’t a single woman that I know that hasn’t been impacted by violence,” Gay says. “The fact that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her life is an atrocity that needs to end immediately.”
“Rape culture is all about reducing value and taking away control from women over their own bodies. It’s about exploitation and objectification,” Kaitlyn Till, co-organizer of the event, says. “We dance for our own enjoyment, and we exercise control over our bodies. We take up space and it asserts that we are present. To do this in solidarity says that we’re not okay with exploitation and limitation of our power and control over ourselves, and that we support each other in this belief.”
Katya McDonald, VIUSU Director of External Relations, agrees. “It’s an important part of the Women’s Movement. A lot of people think that the Women’s Movement is dead and that we no longer have a battle to fight, but that is entirely not the reality and we’ve seen a huge rise in violence against women,” McDonald, a former Women Students’ Representative, says. “This is an important issue for us as students to get out and show that we’re here and we want our voices heard—to fight for equality and safety for all women.”
However, not everyone agrees with the premise of OBR. “In asking women to dance in order to overcome violence and rape, focus is displaced and root causes are overlooked,” Natalie Gyte, Head of Communications at Women’s Resource Centre, writes for the Huffington Post. “It completely diverts the world’s attention away from the real issue of gender-based violence and rape with a pleasing-to-the-eye coordinated dance. It’s like saying to survivors ‘Ok, you’ve been raped, but you can overcome it if you come together and dance for 20 minutes on Valentine’s Day.’”
Gyte focusses her criticism towards Ensler’s “jet setting” campaign tour of areas such as The Dominican Republic of Congo, where a report found that 48 women are raped every hour. She claims to have spoken with a Congolese who was disgusted with OBR and described it as “insulting” and “neo-colonial.” Such criticisms echo the infamously misguided awareness campaign of Kony 2012.
“Above all else, it awakens our own dormant audacity,” Courtney E. Martin author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists writes for Aljazeera. “If Eve Ensler and V-Day can get one billion people to dance together, what else might be possible?”