Conflict & Justice

One Billion Rising participants take opportunity to be heard, start dialogue about violence against women

This story is a part of

Human Needs

This story is a part of

Human Needs

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San Francisco Sheriff's Capt. Kevin Paulson, center, and Eliana Lopez, wife of San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, right, cheer with a group of inmates after a One Billion Rising event at the San Bruno jail. (Photo by Reuters.)

It is a 15-year-old tradition on Valentine's Day for women's right activists to commemorate love by denouncing violence against women.

Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologues and creator of the V-Day activist movement, told Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation that this year's activism was their biggest achievement in the fight for women's safety.

"In all the years in my organizing, and there have been many, this was the most amazing action we've ever done in terms the way it caught fire," Ensler said.

In 2003, the United Nations estimated that one in three women would be victims of violence in their lifetimes. This year's One Billion Rising campaign paid homage to these staggering numbers by calling on people to declare their opposition to violence against women.

Recent events have bolstered the campaign. A 23-year-old student in Delhi was raped and murder in December, sparking protests that called for action to end violence against women in India. Those protests have been echoing in high-profile cases in much of the world, in cases of sexual assault from the Steubenville, Ohio to the Western Cape of South Africa and Tahrir Square in Egypt.

In social media, the #1billionrising Twitter hashtag helped document Thursday's protests. Politicians and celebrities -- from British Prime Minister David Cameron to Questlove of the band The Roots -- added their thoughts, as did social service providers, health care workers and activists who focus on specific places or populations.

Lauren Chief Elk, who organizes for Native American and First Nation women, Nasreen Amina, a gender journalist in Chile, Mike Layton, a city councillor in Toronto, and Shireen Ahmed, a soccer player and social services worker in a Toronto suburb were among the participants. They spoke to PRI about why they wrote tweets about One Billion Rising and what they see for the future of this movement.

In your view, what is One Billion Rising?

Lauren Chief Elk
San Francisco, California
Activist, political organizer, and co-founder of Save Wiyabi Project, an advocacy group for Native American and First Nation women

One Billion Rising in a global movement to end violence against women. One in three women will be raped, beaten or murdered in their lifetime. Those stats are identical to what's happening in Indian Country. One in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes. Our murder rate is ten times the national average and our third leading cause of death. Our statistics of sexualized violence rival anything happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo (which has been labeled the "Rape Capital of the World"). One Billion Rising means we are no longer silent.

Why are you participating?

Nasreen Amina
Concepción, Chile
Gender Journalist, lecturer on women's rights and activism against gender violence and religious fundamentalism

I am tweeting about One Billion Rising because I was invited to add my voice to the coordinator campaign for Spain and Latin America. I am honored to participate in this global initiative in which women -- beyond our ethnicity, religion, economic and social reality -- will rise against gender violence, a crime that kills women every day and damages our dignity, self-esteem and integrity.

Mike Layton
Toronto, Canada
City Councillor, Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina

I participated in One Billion Rising because we all need to speak out against violence in order to stop it. As a man, I need to do my part to speak to my family, friends and colleagues about violence, sexism and inequality. I have been working on the issue of men's violence with the White Ribbon Campaign since I was 15 years old.

Shireen Ahmed
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Footballer, frontline worker in social services

This isn't just one day of celebrating. It is a commitment to join with the world and think about misogyny, sexism, and class difference. It is to remember that we are still (even in North America) in a place that allows victim blaming and shaming. #1billionrising will draw attention to that. Hopefully this campaign will also steer clear of white-euro-privileged feminism. That's also why I participate, so that my strong voice can be heard and help lead my community and work with everyone else. I am an observant Muslim woman and am completely, unabashedly unapologetic for standing up and standing in solidarity with victims.

Do you think this project will have impact beyond today?

Lauren Chief Elk: I think for Indian Country it will. Indigenous women's voices in Canada and in the U.S. are finally being heard and I think this movement will only inspire us to take more action in our own communities. Things like Operation Thunderbird [#OpThunderbird campaign for safety of indigenous women] and the fight for the Violence Against Women Act have highlighted what Indigenous women face, and we're going to keep moving forward with both of those.

Mike Layton: One Billion Rising is only the beginning. This is an opportunity to start this important dialogue between women and men, parents and children, and between friends to start the healing, end the stigma and stop the violence.

Nasreen Amina: Absolutely! In these times of violence on the bodies and minds, the most courageous act is to speak for ourselves. We are rising today to make a stand on behalf of peace and integrity on our bodies and lives, equal education and full participation in our societies. We're rising today to make noise with our voices and dances and take the chance to be the "hero" and not the victim of our own story. We're here to transform our experience in awareness, our awareness in freedom and our freedom in fulfillment. And the best part is we are doing this all together.

Find more perspectives from One Billion Rising participants in PRI's special coverage of the movement to end violence against women.