25 February 2014

Rising for Justice

Guest blog by 28 Too Many volunteer Hilary Campbell.

On Valentine’s Day, while people across the world take a moment to celebrate love, sending cards and organising celebrations, one billion women were rising.

We rise because 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped in their lifetime.

We rise for justice.

The One Billion Rising campaign began in 2013, aiming to bring one billion women and men together on 14th February to dance, sing, march and break the silence around gender violence. The choice of day was significant; in 1998 the V-Day movement was launched by activist and Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler to fight violence against women on Valentine’s Day. However a new push was needed, a new angle, and One Billion Rising was created.

In its first year, One Billion Rising became an internationally recognised phenomenon, with events taking place in 207 countries. With over 10,000 events taking place on the ground, it became the biggest mass action in human history. One year on, the 2014 campaign had lost none of its momentum: similar celebratory events were planned across the world, many of which are available to watch online (1). 28 Too Many representatives joined hundreds of others on a miserably wet and windy London day to add their voices to the UK campaign.

We joined the London campaigners at midday on the 14th February. Considering the weather the turnout was high and the atmosphere buzzing  (having conquered the elements we were ready to conquer gender based violence). The event began with the ‘Break the Chain’ dance, choreographed especially for the One Billion Rising campaign and recognised around the world. The dance is an integral part of the movement; representing a break free from suppression and silence women have endured for centuries. Eve Ensler describes how it fits in with the campaign, saying ‘Dancing insists we take up space, we go there together in the community. Dance joins us and pushes us to go further and that is why it’s at the centre of One Billion Rising’ (2). 

The Break the Chain dance links events across the world, but many events are also firmly grounded by specific national calls to action. Following on from our dance participation, the mood at the UK event quickly changed to reflect three demands of the UK Government:

  • Making sex and relationship education compulsory in UK schools via amendments to the Child and Families Bill.
  • The repeal of visa laws that tie domestic workers to their employers and put them at serious risk of exploitation and abuse.
  • Sweeping improvements in immigration detention centres to ensure that vulnerable women feel safe; their dignity is respected; and they are not subject to violence.

These asks were at the centre of the One Billion Rising UK event, and were highlighted by many of the speakers who followed the dancing, including Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper MP and Shadow Home Minister for Business Stella Creasy.

For the 28 Too Many representatives, a highlight was the first speaker, Leyla Hussein, introduced as ‘THE anti FGM activist’. Co-founder of Daughters of Eve and a prominent FGM campaigner especially amongst youth groups, Leyla has acted as an advisor of the end FGM European campaign and has spoken at the houses of Parliament numerous times. To have chosen Leyla to open the speeches reflects the growing awareness of the problem of FGM within the UK community: over the past months, we have seen an encouraging shift in the news, with reports on FGM gaining more and more airtime and increased recognition within the public. However, as Leyla explained in her short talk, we have a long way to go. 

She spoke openly about her own FGM experience: ‘No-on told me about violence against women… I was told this is part of culture, this is part of me. But actually what I went through is violence and abuse.’ Linking back to the three demands, she then criticised the current educational system which does not require schools to teach students about sex and relationships, ‘If my school taught me about my body and how to protect myself, we’d be hearing a different story today.’

Sex and relationships education breaks the silence around what are currently seen as ‘private issues’. It encourages discussion of your body, what it means to have ownership, and your rights. Until this sort of objective education is compulsory, girls will learn from their surroundings; from the media and their relatives and friends, without being taught to challenge norms and stand up for their human rights. 

For Leyla, the moment she learnt more about gender violence and discovered she could challenge her cultural norms, she was able to break the chain within her own family and ensure her own daughter did not suffer FGM. Education and support are key in bringing up a new generation of women and men who are also not only willing but determined to do the same. 

The One Billion Rising events are a chance for women and men across the world to act with one voice. Our country specific demands are part of a much bigger ask: end violence against women, in all forms, in all countries. For more information and to find out how to take part next year, visit their website at www.onebillionrising.org 

28 Too Many researches FGM and campaigns to end the practice in the 28 African countries where it is practised and across the global diaspora. You can support our work by donating to fund our research and keep up to date with our progress by liking our page on Facebook and following us on Twitter.



(1) http://www.onebillionrising.org/

(2) http://www.2013.onebillionrising.org/blog/we-have-an-anthem