McMaster joins the One Billion Rising

It’s simple math, really.

There are about six billion people on the earth, half of whom are women. And according to a report from the United Nations Development Fund for Women, one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence or harassment in her lifetime.

Activist Eve Ensler did the math. And because one billion women in the world would be affected, she decided it was time to do something about it.

Ensler, who wrote the controversial play The Vagina Monologues, is the founder of V-Day, a global day of activism on Feb. 14 to end violence against women. 2013 marks the fifteenth anniversary of V-Day and will see the launch of her newest project, called One Billion Rising (OBR).

OBR is designed to be an international phenomenon that will involve groups of women occupying public spaces and dancing.

Upon hearing about the movement, McMaster activists wanted to get in on the action.

“Not only is this to raise awareness, but it’s to celebrate women and girls,” explained TJ Jamieson, fourth-year nursing student and project director at Feminist Alliance McMaster (FAM). The McMaster event, which will take place in the MUSC Atrium in the afternoon of Feb. 14, will feature Zumba and belly dancing lessons, a flash mob, and an evening dance party.

“We didn’t want to be doom and gloom,” Jamieson said. “Obviously [sexual assault] is a very stoic subject, but we also wanted to include that women are amazing.”

The event will be hosted in collaboration between FAM and I Am Woman, a newly formed women’s interest group on campus that identifies itself as a “communicative link” between the variety of women’s campaigns. Hamilton’s own YWCA and Sexual Assault Centre for the Hamilton Area (SACHA) are also partners in organizing. While the event is focused on women, people of all gender identities are encouraged to attend.

“We are hoping for a lot of people to show up,” said Faiza Shafaqat, president of I Am Woman. Shafaqat, a third-year biopsych student, joked that “instead of sitting at home and eating chocolate by myself, I’ll be supporting this and raising awareness about violence against women.” She added that the feedback they have gotten so far has been “amazingly positive.”

OBR is not without its critics, however. Feminist activists from outside North America have called the international movement “imperialist” for its alleged theme of the superiority of Western culture.

And even at McMaster itself, there has been some criticism.

“People deeply involved in the feminist movement can be a little bit condescending towards this event because it’s dancing—you know, what can that do against violence against women?” said Amy Hutchison, second-year math and stats student and president of FAM.

“But my response and the response I’ve heard from others is that you also have to have fun.”

The choice of dance as the medium for the event is not only for the fun of it, though; Ensler and the movement’s proponents wanted to highlight the use of dance as a creative form of protest, as well as a means of healing for women affected by sexual violence.

Hutchinson and her co-organizers hope that participants will gain a sense of global connection, as well as a positive relationship with activism.

“No one’s saying that you have to stop violence against women, as if after February 14, when people dance, there will be no violence,” she said.

“Women need a chance to come together and see that one billion of us all supporting each other and dancing [is a good thing], and dance is a really expressive and artistic way to show that.”

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