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One Billion Rising: The African Way

Violence against women is an occurrence Thandie Newton, actress and ambassador for One Billion Rising – a global initiative by Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day to raise awareness about gender violence – describes as “pandemic.”  In Africa, individuals and organisations that have long fought for the better protection of African women refuse to be left out of the global fight. From Ghana, Kenya, South Africa (Cape Town and Johannesburg) and Nigeria, coordinators for OBR tell us why they got involved.




Gillian Schutte – Coordinator for One Billion Rising, Johannesburg. (South Africa)

When the idea for One Billion Rising (OBR) came about they contacted feminists around the world to coordinate efforts in their countries.  I’m a feminist, social justice activist, social commentator and filmmaker and this is how I became involved in OBR-SA. For me, it was about placing the issues that affect the women of South Africa at the centre of it.  I lobbied and networked with organisations that already do the work of ending violence against women.  We had over 40 organisations sign on in solidarity.

Though there was some resistance to the idea that it could be another vacuous dance ‘thingy’ started by western women and imposed it on other countries. I think the fact that it was coordinated by activists who could explain the revolutionary aspect of reclaiming our bodies through dance, protest and rage, and demand our right to reclaim our joy got us goodwill and solidarity with OBRSA was huge and instant.

There were at least 50 ‘Risings’ all over South Africa – both large and small.  In once precinct alone in Johannesburg, it’s estimated that perhaps 5000 people were rising.  I’d put it in the region of about 30,000 people rising on the same day – schools, universities, organisations.  This is an achievement when one considers the solidarity this has shown – and we hope it continues in this vein until we muster up the numbers to do mass movement marches that demand change.  We will continue to work in solidarity with organisations doing the work – to lobby for change, begin a program to empower young girls and work with smaller grassroots NGOs in a support capacity.  OBR will also work to keep the global sisterhood alive

Zubeida Shaik, Coordinator, Cape Town. (South Africa)

Violence against women and children has reached pandemic proportions, not only in South Africa, but globally! Due to my interest and active participation on issues of gender based violence, I was invited by Gillian Schutte, coordinator for OBR-SA, to join her in mobilising people, organisations and to organise events that would strengthen the global campaign and culminate in a massive ‘RISING’ as it became known on 14 February 2013.

At first, we were met with scepticism because so many “campaigns” have come and gone and left no lasting impact or sustainable interventions to continue beyond creating awareness of the issue. As more awareness about the nature and scope of the campaign began to spread globally, more individuals and organisations began to demonstrate an interest and offered skills and resources to make the ‘Rising’ in the Western Cape a success.

Throughout the Western Cape, we made our presence known – from Southern Suburbs to the Northern Suburbs, and painted little towns along the Coastline, the Boland region and rural communities in and around the Cape Wine Lands ‘pink’ with posters, banners, T-shirts and all kinds of colourful instruments to show solidarity to the global campaign. All kinds of craziness saw protestors singing, dancing, shouting, and demanding an END to gender-based violence!  Sonke Gender Justice started the day with a ‘Rising’ at Table Mountain, this was followed by several other loud, ‘in your face’ efforts by various groups. The key to making campaigns of this nature a success I believe, lies in the ownership and shared responsibility of individuals and organisations, resulting in collectively taking a stand and SPEAKING OUT against these evil acts performed by ordinary people and that is destroying our society.

Amy Oyekunle – Executive Director, Kudirat Initiative for Democracy and OBR Cordinator, Nigeria

Violence against women in Nigeria is becoming endemic with impunity. According to a recent gender report on Nigeria, “Up to a third of women in Nigeria report that they have been subjected to some form of violence, including battering and verbal abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, marital rape, sexual exploitation, or harassment within the home’. What’s probably most disturbing is that forms of violence are considered acceptable particularly in relation to domestic roles. Rape and other forms of sexual violence go underreported and as such data (if available) are quite unreliable. I got involved with OBR because I believe in V-Day’s and Eve Ensler’s vision in bringing global attention to the issue of violence against women. The Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND) has worked extensively on violence against women and girls.

Many people understand and relate to a seminar or workshop on violence against women. However, one of the challenges of communicating OBR to others is the idea of coming out to ‘dance’. It’s easy to dance in church, mosque and at parties – it’s not so easy to come out and dance to end violence against women. The turnout which was mostly women and a few men was average – probably about 50-to-60 persons. But as the group walked/danced down a busy street on Allen Avenue in Lagos – the commercial capital we drew a lot of attention to the campaign. We distributed flyers, bookmarks and T-shirts to those around and more importantly was able to educate many, particularly men and women in the market areas. For instance, during the precession I met two men who said ‘Women sometimes deserve to be raped because of the way they dress or carry themselves’ (sic). You can imagine someone saying that. Sadly, he was not the only one. Realistically, I think the impact of OBR in Nigeria cannot be ascertained now. What it succeeded in doing was raise awareness of the global war on violence against women.

Abdul Karim Hakib – Coordinator, Ghana

I got involved with OBR because I believe the story must be told, the action must be for all and the solution lies in the hands of everybody and not only women. The atrocities must stop and that is my motivation for getting involved. Violence again women in Ghana is alarming and frightening but the dangerous aspect is that people don’t talk about it. They think it’s a taboo and women are made to think that saying it amounts to a taboo that they might never recover from. Leading up to February 14, we had challenges getting people to understand and value the premise on which we were working. People think it’s a foreign idea and since they consider Eve Ensler, author of Vagina-monologues as vulgar, they are reluctant to support or get involved. Local NGOs like Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit supported us. On the day, the turnout was poor but a lot of people called us to wish us well and gradually, people are warming up to the idea. Our aim is to ensure the fire never dies down and to continue with our work. Our resilience is beginning to pay off and we are going to start a gender based violence campaign in selected villages around Ghana and this is largely because of One Billion Rising.


Read full feature: One Billion Arose and Still Rising




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