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One Billion Rising: Globalizing the Battle for Women's Rights

There’s talk about union, and then there’s acting in unison. As the President was talking about the State of the Union this week, the organizers of V-day were working with activists all around the world to pull off what will doubtless be the most public breaking-of the silence around gender violence that the world has seen.

One Billion Rising is the brainchild of Eve Ensler and the women and men of V-day. For fifteen years,the anti-violence mobilization V-day has used Valentines Day productions of Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues, to draw attention to violence against women and girls.  As Ensler says, V-day’s goal was to stop the violence that according to the UN, affects one in three women in the world.  Fifteen years on, she decided it was time to escalate – and she put out a global call for one billion people to Strike Dance or Rise today – February 14, 2013.

The call went out a year ago today. At last count, people in more countries than there are countries had announced they would be Striking or Dancing or Rising today. That’s 202 countries and territories. Go to the website OneBillionRising.org. Type in your zip code and you’ll find a Google Map that is a mad mass of risings. You can watch the action in South Africa, India, Congo and many other places via live videostream from home.

The action began at dawn with indigenous women in Papua New Guinea. It is sweeping through Australia, Asia, Africa and Europe to the Americas. The Prime Minister of Australia and the President of Croatia are rising. Migrant workers, domestic workers, nurses, doctors, even the Dalai Lama.  Solidarity pledges have come in from movie stars and Dalit women and the president of the United Steelworkers.

By this time tomorrow what will OBR have achieved?  It’s not like some Mayan Calendar prediction of world transformation overnight. Some organizers have taken advantage of the rising to give momentum to legislation. In the US, in Washington, the One Billion Rising Rising will be calling for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. In London, Stella Creasy MP, has introduced a bill to demand more comprehensive sex education – and she’s calling it the One Billion Rising  Act.

But OBR’s greatest impact may have to do with borders. Not only has the mobilization brought women from all over the world together into an organizing effort that puts a whole new spin on internationalism, but it has also shone a spotlight on the intersections between so called “social” issues and “economic.”

Women and the men now working in jobs typically held by women, have been the shock absorbers of our economy, said labor leaders on a panel sponsored by One Billion Rising held at Cooper Union last fall. There, National Nurses United co-president Karen Higgins made the point that “The issues women face as workers as well as healthcare providers are very personal to us.”

NNU is one of a slew of labor groups supporting OBR in this country and abroad, including the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers, The United Steelworkers, the American Federation of Teachers and Working America. The largest unions in the Philippines and UK, Kilusang Mayo Uno and UNITE, are also participating. Said Higgins this November:  

“We're seeing more and more the fall out from this economy. Violence against us is rising, not just against nurses, but all healthcare workers and we’re having to fight with employers who don't' want word to get out that we're facing that much violence. That silence hurts us too...Among our patients, heart disease in women is becoming more of a killer than cancer. And we're watching women, responsible for welfare of family, choosing between their own welfare and those of kids.”

Today women in the Philippines will be rising to end violence against women and simultaneously to raise wages. They are integrated movements.  After breaking the silence around violence against women, will the global anti-violence movement take on breaking the silence about the violence of today’s economy?