One billion girls and women – one in three on this globe, will face violence to their personal bodies. This violence is a global travesty. It exists everywhere that we can see.
It is time to put this sexual violence in a globally articulated collective view so that we all can fully see each other.
It is time to recognise that violence against women and girls is and remains a major political challenge of the 21st century, alongside racial, economic and gender tyranny.
Sexploitation, exploitation, disrespect, disregard start in the intimate realm of private embodied life and extends to the public realms of the economy and the state through the violence of war. Because the problem is structural and systemic, a multi-pronged coalitional global movement is therefore needed. In this instance, One Billion Rising (OBR) stands against imperial structural domination in all its forms.
The many faces of violence
Violence has its many faces. Many of them are protected through silence and shaming. Other kinds, like warfare, are normalised as inevitable. Militarism is also a form of sexual violence that de-humanises us all.
The women of the Philippines resist this militarism. And, after the devastating and violent cyclone that left millions homeless and thousands dead, have said that, “They will be bigger and stronger than the storm.” With entire towns wiped away and many of their Islands missing, they stand against the violence of “man-made” weather.
Still, the UN and other international groups say that thousands of women and girls in the Philippines remain at high risk for rape and sexual assault as the islands attempt to recover and rebuild. Environmental disasters – floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes – open the doors to further violence especially against women and girls in places like Haiti, when lives become unmoored.
Women rising everywhere
Women and girls in Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador and throughout America Latina are finding reconciliation after decades of sexual violence in their civil war(s). Marsha Lopez Calderon says that women, and men who support them, are finding through education and legal realm greater rights for women to their bodies. They stand against the shame and fear and call for public reckoning. This begins to create a “justice” that matters.
Kushi Kabir who has worked for land rights, and women’s rights with indigenous people in Bangladesh’s rural villages for decades, embraces One Billion Rising as a global action to mobilise these struggles for justice further. The established commitment to autonomous movements throughout 1,300 villages empowers OBR activism. The activism here is directed towards an accounting of the 200,000 women raped in the 1971 war; and a demand for justice for Kalpana Chokma, an abducted anti-militarist indigenous young woman who remains missing since 1996. The most marginalised of the marginal are put in full view in these struggles.
OBR, as a global action for justice, is dedicated to full inclusion and the overlapping needs of humanity. It stands against the violence towards women and girls by simultaneously standing forth for the protection and preservation of the earth’s soil, water, air, mountains, and so forth. Different women’s actions across the globe today demand AIDS treatment and prevention; a change in legal rights and rape law in India; rights to education in Afghanistan; finding the disappeared in Argentina and Chili; rights to abortion almost everywhere.
Other mobilisations recognise the rights of hundreds of thousands of indigenous women in Peru who were illegally sterilised during the Fujimori regime. There are OBR actions against sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape by US farmworkers and members of the US military. There are demonstrations across the globe against the sex trafficking of women and girls in Mexico, the Balkans, and South-East Asia.
Fartuun Adan, director of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center, lives in Mogadishu, Somalia, and mobilises people in rape crisis and women’s safe houses to let women who have been victimised articulate their voice. They advocate for human rights and gender justice against violators and abusers throughout South Central Somalia.
It is no small point that too many of the women and girls in the Congo and Rwanda who have been brutally raped and murdered were out gathering firewood.
Women in the Congo suffer the violence of war rape, and yet their pain is silenced in and by the notion of “ethnic” warfare and corporate interest for coltan, the prized resource in producing cell phones and the like. Rape and its terrorisation of women and girls have little “political” salience, even with its extraordinary presence.
The fight to end sexual violence can spearhead a global movement against misogyny, racism and capitalism.
Bodily harm and its environs
The varied commitments to justice are often unified through the visor of sexual violence. Although multiple and differing venues result from individual and cultural agendas, they coalesce and solidify around the intersecting human needs for bodily integrity – be it a human body, or a body of land, or body of water.
It is this struggle for justice that condemns the physical assault against female bodies and extends to the assault against the human family and the earth it inhabits. Movements to end poverty, corruption, starvation, environmental plunder, imperialism, forced migrations, exploited labor, global patriarchy, political repression, racisms, endless refugees of religious wars instigate an inclusive humanity. It is a justice that is simultaneously intimate and public.
When OBR activists dance in the streets, they expose this intimate politics of complexity and inclusivity as it releases people from their silence and loneliness. When one uses one’s body to speak through dance on February 14, one frees oneself of fear, and that begins to unleash the possibility for revolutionary action.
Challenge of our times
There are autonomous and indigenous movements that have long fought for women’s rights to their bodies in their home countries: India, Canada, Haiti, Congo, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Bangladesh to name a few. Hopefully we can all stand together, not ignoring heart-rending histories of unfairness and exploitation, but building careful coalitions through and past them.
For those who despise all forms of violence we must connect our strategies and our energies so that we interconnect with each other along the many individual fault lines of both personal and public life. Commitments must be melded to each other where they overlap, and not splinter where they differ. These coalitions of the 99 percent dedicated to peace and justice can be an irrepressible force.
Ending this violence is the huge political challenge of our day. Girls and women come in all types, and abilities, and races, and genders, and economic classes, so this is not a singular problem to begin with. We are of every colour, and size, and ability, of every religion, of every culture; we are mothers, daughters, sisters, citizens, migrants, and workers of every sort. Because each woman also has these many other identities we embody humanity when we embrace her and the violence done to her body. As such, ending violence against women encourages and imagines a plural and inclusive agenda towards justice.
It is time to make a global revolution that is personally political and politically personal. And given that revolutions are a collective process and not a singular act, help start the next one on February 14th with a massive expression of liberation.
Zillah Eisenstein has written feminist theory in North America for the past thirty years. She is an internationally renowned writer and activist and Distinguished Scholar of Anti-Racist Feminist Political Theory at Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York.