Every Valentine’s Day for me is a reminder of how much more is needed to free women to fulfill their potential and live without fear of violence.
“We’re reclaiming Valentine’s Day!” And with that bold declaration from V (formerly known as Eve Ensler), a global movement to end violence against women and girls, V-Day, was launched on Valentine’s Day 1998.
At that time, V’s groundbreaking play, The Vagina Monologues, had already been performed in London and New York to great acclaim, and she was already well-known and admired for her anti-violence work around the world. I first met her in a refugee camp in Sarajevo, following a conflict that had surfaced the tragic reality of “rape” camps and a war fought on women’s bodies—a situation she was among the first to write about and respond to with articles and a play that documented that war called “Necessary Targets.”
As a writer, V believed in the power of words and of performance to move people to action, and the response to The Vagina Monologues had ignited this plan to create a global movement with a play that she made available, free of rights, to any organization committed to ending violence against all women and girls (cisgender, transgender, and those who hold fluid identities that are subject to gender-based violence) anywhere in the world. This permission to perform “The Vagina Monologues” as part of the newly formed V-Day movement to fundraise for their efforts in their communities has raised over $120 million for grassroots anti-violence groups, rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters and safe houses, shattering taboos and yes, with a popular play, changing the way activists could fundraise and make change in their communities.
This was a unique and powerful way to bring attention to gender-based violence and support the activists already doing the work in their communities, and over the past two decades of V-Day, The Vagina Monologues has been performed thousands of times in more than 150 countries in more than 50 languages. As a V-Day board member from the beginning of the movement, I have witnessed performances from Delhi and Mexico City, to dozens of U.S. cities, including sold out performances in my hometown of Atlanta; and in Bukavu, Congo, where it was performed in French. (I sat next to a Pakistani peacekeeping regiment for whom it was being translated!)
Along with the important funds raised and distributed locally, V-Day created and supports programs with local partnerships, the City of Joy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Tasuru School for Girls in Kenya, safe houses in Afghanistan, and at the same time, building and nurturing a connected global community of women and men who are doing the work on the ground to end the cultural, social, political and physical violence against all women, girls and against Mother Earth—which was also a part of the V-Day mission to end violence.
For many, even the most committed activist, creating one transformative global movement would have been enough. But not for V because the violence hasn’t ended, and in many places, it has increased. So we shouldn’t have been surprised when V announced that she was launching another global movement on another Valentine’s Day: One Billion Rising, a call for one billion people to join a new global movement to end violence.
I remember some of us repeated with disbelief … one billion?
“Yes,” V answered, “because that’s how many women are victims of gender-based violence every year, so we have to launch a movement calling on one billion women and men to rise up against this reality.”
And so they have! With actions that start on Valentine’s Day and continue now through March 8, International Women’s Day, One Billion Rising (OBR), working with the global community of V-Day activists, has created actions in their communities that have brought millions of women, men, and children into the streets, into halls of Parliaments and local City Halls, into town squares and city parks—with Risings that are most often characterized by dancing! Yes dancing—in many places, to the global anthem, “Break the Chain,” (composed by award winning composer, Tena Clark).
These Risings, many captured “live’ each year, have exceeded even V’s expectations: nuns dancing in the Philippines; thousands of teenagers in Sweden; a global dance party in Second Life, community activists in Eswatini, elderly women in Botswana, and youth in the Netherlands, and thousands more.
“Why dancing?” V is often asked, and her answer: “Dancing is an act of freedom—defying the limitations, exhibiting the freedom in our bodies to take up space without fears of judgment or rejection, to be seen and heard and honored.” Whatever form the Risings take, OBR is a global movement that celebrates the resilience and amplifies the resistance. If there isn’t an OBR organizer in your community, become one or join the Risings which can be followed on these links.
The 2022 One Billion Rising season will kick off today, Monday, February 14 at 1pm ET with “Rejoice and Rise 2022, A Body Love Uprising” hosted by V and Middle Church’s Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis. The Zoom event will feature poetry, readings on the body, music and more.
The theme that will unite all the Risings this year was announced last week by Susan Celia Swan, executive director of V-Day, and Monique Wilson, executive director of One Billion Rising, Rise for Women’s Bodies and the Earth and it’s important to note that this visionary global movement has been survivor-led and focused, all the while revealing yet again, the power of art and activism to change culture and systems.
“This past year has seen global lockdowns, government neglect, health crises, proliferation of authoritarian regimes, endemic exploitation of labor, escalating corporate greed, worsening poverty, racism and exclusion, the grave ongoing destruction and pillaging of the environment for capital, as well as the deterioration of the climate,” says Monique Wilson, director of One Billion Rising.
Alongside the campaign launch on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, The Guardian released a special issue on Women’s Bodies and the Body of the Earth, curated by V. The special issue is made up of a series of pieces, poems, essays and monologues by Nazia, Arifa Akbar, Joanne Cacciatore, Judith Clark, Chanel DaSilva, Juno Dawson, Jessica Fostekew, Shabnam Hashmi, Saru Jayaraman, Lebo Mashile, Agnes Pareyio, Laura Pearson, Frances Ryan, Emma Thompson, Terry Tempest Williams, Monique Wilson and V. (Explore this special issue at The Guardian.)
“I think of all the women and girls I’ve met everywhere in this world who saw their body as a site for danger, a carrier of shame, a poisoned and charred landscape. Something to hide, to fix, to flatten, to hurt,” said V. “This year we rise in One Billion Rising for the bodies of all women and the earth that they may move in the motion of light, that they may stand without apology or fear in their power and grace, that they may soar in freedom and release the energy the world so desperately needs.”
Every Valentine’s Day for me is a reminder of how much more is needed to release that energy and free women to fulfill their potential and live without fear of violence, anywhere and everywhere. Along with the love notes I hope you are giving and receiving, I’m writing a valentine to V, to the V-Day team and the One Billion Rising global coordinators.
I hope you’ll join me in rising in your community to show we are committed to creating a new kind of consciousness—one where violence will be resisted until it is unthinkable.
For more information about One Billion Rising and the 2022 campaign and global events, visit OneBillionRising.org.