Ulster County Rises on V-Day to End Violence Against Women and Girls
By John Bath
Women and men gathered at thousands of events in more than 200 countries to spend part of their Valentine’s Day joining a global phenomenon known as One Billion Rising to end violence against women.
Coinciding with the 15th anniversary of V-Day, an activist movement to end all forms of violence against women and girls, One Billion Rising is a worldwide day of protest developed by playwright Eve Ensler, known for her work The Vagina Monologues. Initially sparked by the series of controversial remarks about rape and pregnancy made during the 2012 election cycle, the event was created to raise awareness of the startling number of women today who will experience rape and other violent acts against them in their lifetime: one billion. To put this number into perspective, that is just over one seventh of the world’s population, or one in three women worldwide. While the gang rape of an Indian medical student captured the global spotlight two months ago, violence occurs daily, in homes, workplaces, and communities everywhere.
The message was that inaction is unacceptable and there is a solution: education, communication, empowerment. Reflecting the diversity of people and cultures around the world, One Billion Rising events ranged from flash mobs, to rallies, to marches.
Here in Kingston, N.Y., Hale Advisors organized a rally featuring speeches, songs and dances, with appearances by guests such as District Attorney Holley Carnwright, YWCA Executive Director Andrea Park, and singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant, among many others.
The strength of the movement could be felt right from the opening of the doors as live streams from around the world were projected onto a screen above the stage showing how other communities were rising. The Kingston event kicked off with a brief introduction, followed by an emotional short film which helped set the tone of perseverance and hope for the day, as well as highlight the reality of the cause. A personal story of survival was shared by Gwen Wright, the executive director of the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, followed by an informational discussion featuring local government officials, and hauntingly beautiful a cappella performances by Tibetan singerYungchen Lhamo and Native American song carrier Joan Henry.
Intercut with these staged events were more physical dance routines in the dance studio, including Zumba, meditative rhythmic monologues, and other dances.
A display of t-shirts with messages of hope encircled the room. Part of The Clothesline Project, each of the shirts was meant to represent an Ulster County resident affected by abuse. The sheer number of shirts in the room was both heartbreaking and moving, and served as a reminder of the issue our community. The day culminated in a participatory “BREAK the Chain” dance led by local troupe Energy Dance Company, developed to raise awareness of the One Billion Rising cause and the spirits of those who joined in.
Looking to the future, organizers in the U.S. hope that widespread participation will put pressure on congressional leaders to pass the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in the Senate just a day before. Also important is for Congress to recognize and ratify the United Nations’ Convention of Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), first adopted by the U.N. in 1979. CEDAW is an international bill of rights for women which clearly defines all forms of abuse and discrimination against women, and outlines measures that must be taken by a nation against them. The United States is one of just seven countries that have not ratified the treaty, joining the ranks of Iran, Sudan and Turkey. A step in the right direction, the ratification of this treaty would force the issue of rape and abuse to become part of the public discourse, and start the process of ending the rape culture that presents itself in our society today.
To change the culture of rape and abuse, we must involve all people, and require not only educating young women about the issue, but young men as well who can do just as much to prevent abuse. As speaker Gwen Wright puts it, “prevention is just as much about our actions as the actions others take.”
What can corporations do?
- Organize service days to help local women’s programs
- Raise money for local domestic violence agencies
- Host discussion groups to generate more ideas among employees
- Host Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues or another event