OBR and Global Movements: Did you rise for justice?

I probably should have written that in capital letters. Did you RISE for justice?

I wanted to write this before February 14th, but then I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s moves so I decided to wait the dance out. The One Billion Rising movement has had a lot of support, as well as criticism. It started last year, on February 14th which the movement called “Vday”.

ONE BILLION RISING FOR JUSTICE is a global call to women survivors of violence and those who love them to gather safely in community outside places where they are entitled to justice – courthouses, police stations, government offices, school administration buildings, work places, sites of environmental injustice, military courts, embassies, places of worship, homes, or simply public gathering places where women deserve to feel safe but too often do not.  It is a call to survivors to break the silence and release their stories – politically, spiritually, outrageously – through art, dance, marches, ritual, song, spoken word, testimonies and whatever way feels right.

The campaigns last year were aggressive. They had to be in order to get a “global rising”. And while I love some of these videos, and everybody wants happy dancing women, I think that OBR assumes that our feminism and our issues look (and dance) the same. While campaigns for the first OBR were going on, a room filled with African feminists was caught in a discussion about the word “vagina”. I say “caught in a discussion” because it was more lecture than discussion, in which they were informed that saying the translation for the word “vagina” in their various languages was part of the process of getting back their agency as women. Some of those women were old, mothers and grandmothers. They come from cultures where euphemisms are used in place of sexual organs. It is not a system of genderised oppression because the word “penis” does not get said either. I am not excusing culture for culture’s sake because I think that this shyness of language frustrates sex education, but I just want to show how ineffective making an old woman say “vagina” is. It would leave the grandmother awake for days, instead of liberating her.

When I first heard of OBR and its connection to Vagina Monologues (Eve Ensler is the woman behind both movements), I would have danced- if funds were going to a fistula hospital. Because if we are going to talk about sexual organs in an African community, then we need to make space for the trauma too. It just made better sense to me. Otherwise, like Natalie Gyte has written, dancing for justice just doesn’t make sense. Okay, Gyte doesn’t use those exact words, she does address the issue of neo-colonialism, white savior complex and international influence. You should read the full piece in Huffington Post

Jezebel related OBR to Kony 2012 which was supposed to be an awareness exercise on the war in Northern Uganda and LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony. However, it turned into an over-simplification of an issue that affected people and their security. OBR does simplify gender-based violence in an uncomfortable way. A “Dance your body back from rape” kind of way. If this was a man championing the movement, we would all probably be calling him out on trivialization of assault.

But, the woman’s body has been a site for a lot of trauma. Our experiences vary because every movement is coded from birth by culture so we cannot possibly combat violence by flashmobbing our way through Valentine’s day, or whatever else we would like to call it. I would like to take my body back- I don’t have to say “vagina” for that, hopefully. Dancing would be nice, but maybe some exercises first so I can protect myself.

I do respect other women’s choices though and dancing might be the thing that does it for someone out there. In that case, dance tomorrow and the next day. Just don’t dance for neocolonialism as well, while you’re at it.


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