Eve Ensler was hoping she’d be out of work by now. When she began V-Day in 1998, Ensler hoped to end violence against women in five years. So as the organization approached its 15th anniversary, she began to reconsider her strategy.
Escalating V-Day’s efficiency consumed Ensler’s mind as she flew to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011 for one of her regular trips to the City of Joy, a “Revolutionary Center” for survivors of rape and sexual violence. She had also just recovered from stage 3 cancer.
“Nobody knew what to say to me because I was 30 pounds skinnier and had no hair, so everyone just started dancing,” said Ensler. “At the time, I was obsessed with this statistic that one in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime — which is 1 billion women — and I thought, What if 1 billion women danced?”
From this emerged One Billion Rising, a campaign launched last year to encourage 1 billion people around the world to stand up against gendered violence.
Activists in 100 countries have signed up to participate on the 2014 event, which has the theme “standing up for justice.”
Asking 1 billion people to rise for justice is an attempt to frame women’s rights as an issue that affects everybody, Ensler said.
“You cannot really look at any violence against women without looking at economic issues or environmental issues,” said Ensler. “This year people can choose what they want to rise for. We’re so used to siloing our issues in a way that keeps them nonthreatening. Now we’re trying to say, ‘We’re all part of the same story.’”
The shift to justice is also meant to deepen the goals of One Billion Rising to draw attention to all forms of inequity.
“We need to look at the roots of violence — what is masculinity, how are we raising our boys? What are we doing to people in prisons? How is that reinforcing violence and oppression and classism?” asked Ensler.
Last year, women and men rose in 207 countries, including Libya, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. “It was a huge, crazy, mad success,” said Ensler.
Ensler said the new campaign is already bringing groups together: In India, anti-nuclear groups are coming together with anti-violence groups, and in the U.S., groups looking at incarceration justice are joining anti-violence groups and racial-justice groups.
Videos of women discussing what justice means to them, and why they will rise for the second annual campaign will be posted on the website between now and the day of the rising.
“I had a Skype call today with women activists in Syria who are planning to do One Billion Rising for justice in Syria,” said Ensler. “And men in South Africa are planning an event to help raise attention for women’s rights. It’s very, very exciting.”
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