There seems to be two types of risings on the planet right now. One is a sexual violence typhoon that is impacting most countries in the world. It’s been happening forever but, like climate change, it’s suddenly impossible to ignore. I first noticed more ominous waves during the US elections, the extreme and ignorant anti-women policies perpetrated by the Republicans. Then, like climate storms, floods and fires, specific extreme manifestations began to gain attention. A group of boys allegedly raping a girl in Steubenville, Ohio; a 14-year-old girl shot in the head for insisting girls have the right to learn in Pakistan; the gang rape and murder of a girl on a bus in Delhi; and in Britain the revelations thatJimmy Savile was able to abuse hundreds of girls over six decades, while British institutions from the BBC to Broadmoor turned a blind eye.
And, like the response to climate change, first there was an attempt at denial, then there is the blaming of the victim: a woman raped in Dubaifined after telling police she had been drinking; a priest in Italy telling women they are beaten because they don’t clean the house well and wear tight clothes; women in the US military raped by their comradeswho then use that as proof that they never belonged there in the first place; raped girls in Rochdale being ignored by police and social workers because they were seen as damaged goods who were “making their own choices”. It goes on and on.
Like climate change, only the patriarchs with power seem to be blind to the magnitude of the horrors. As a matter of fact they are engineering it. There is a rape culture – a mindset that seems to have infected every aspect of our lives: the raping of the Earth through ecological destruction by the corporate powerful, pillaging resources for their own coffers with no concern for the Earth, or the indigenous peoples, or the notion of reciprocity; the rape of the poor through exploitation, land grabs, neglect; the rape of women’s bodies through physical violence and commodification, where a girl can be purchased for less than the cost of a mobile phone. The modelling and licensing of this rape culture is done by those protected by power and privilege – presidents, celebrities, sports stars, police officers, television executives, priests – with impunity.
But there is another rising. In the last year I have travelled the world forOne Billion Rising, the global campaign that is a call for the one billion women who have been beaten or raped and the men who love them to strike, rise and dance on 14 February to end violence against women and girls. This movement is moving through the planet with a force and urgency unlike anything we have experienced – it is what the Indian activist Kamla Bhasin calls a “feminist tsunami”. Across 182 countries entire communities are planning to rise and voice their outrage and dreams. Nurses, teachers, domestic workers, indigenous leaders, fisherwomen, peasants, scholars, union organisers, all have come together.
Coalitions are being forged, with a new openness between issues, classes, tribes, races, artists, activists young and old. From Anna Cruz prosecuting 700 murders of women a year in Guatemala to Fartun, who opened the first shelter for women in Somalia, bravely organising for women to take to the streets of Mogadishu. From farmworker women – calling themselves Vaginas Campesinas – who will be dancing in their fields for less violent conditions, to the brave and outspoken nuns Sister Mary John from Philippines, Joan Chittester from the US, and Tenzin Palmo from Tibet. Entire networks are being activated – Gabriela in the Philippines, Unite in Britain, the AFL-CIO union in the US, and more than 14,000 other groups around the world.
Feminists and activists across the world have been tirelessly working for this moment for decades. If you don’t believe the door is opening look to India, where sexual violence has now become the central issue. Look to the winning of the US elections by women who said no to the anti-women extremists. Look to the UK, where a real debate is beginning about institutional violence against women – Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, spoke for many when he said the Savile report “must be seen as a watershed moment”. Look to loving men such asKaizaad Katwal, Jason Day, Robert Redford, the Dalai Lama and millions of others who are rising with us. Look to City of Joy in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, where women who, in spite of the violent escalations of the M23 militias and the daily threat of annihilation, continue to heal and study and become powerful in order to save their sisters.
So I am opting for Rising #2. We don’t have any idea what’s going to happen when one billion women and men protest on the same day. We do know that the preparation for it over these last months has already announced, united and catalysed a movement that, like the violence, can and will no longer be denied.
Now is the time. One month. 14 February. Rise in the streets, in the schools, on the buses, in your homes, in the dark alleyways, in the offices and factories and fishing boats and fields. Let our rising reveal our understanding that, until women are equal, safe and free, no society can prosper and life is diminished. Let our rising announce our commitment to make ending violence against women and girls the central concern of our times.