Illustration by Shenuka Corea
According to the World Health Organization, one of every three women worldwide has personally experienced either physical sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime — that is over one billion females.
Sexual violence against women is so deeply rooted in our society — from hit pop songs to sexist dress codes that reinforce rape culture — that it exists even in the most progressive parts of the world. We still idolize and award celebrities and athletes who are accused of sexual assault; and even worse, have a global leader who boasts about grabbing women by the pussy.
In a global society that teaches girls to be silent and has almost normalized sexual violence celebrating the 20th anniversary of Vagina Day, also known as V-Day, is a significant step towards fighting this oppression and speaking against the explotation.
V-Day is a global movement to end violence against women and girls that started on Feb. 14, 1998. It is a non-profit corporation that encourages the use of art and creativity to support and raise awareness for the victims of rape, incest, battery, female genital mutilation and sex slavery.
Started by playwright and activist Eve Ensler, the movement works towards promoting women’s sexuality and fighting the social stigma that surrounds rape victims, through performances of Ensler’s revolutionary play The Vagina Monologues. Ensler was initially inspired by her friends experiences on sexuality and violence and then she extended these conversations to other women in order to be able to write a series of monologues for her play. Claimed as, "probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade," by Charles Isherwood of The New York Times, Ensler’s play tackles various consensual and non-consensual issues that women all over the world have to struggle with.
Every year on Valentine’s Day, volunteers and college students organize productions of The Vagina Monologues to raise awareness and funds within their own communities all over the world. Thousands of V-Day events including movie screenings, awareness campaigns and gatherings, shed light on the reality about sexual violence against women and educate millions of people about the gravity of the situation.
By collaborating with artists and local grassroot activists, the V-Day team tries to bring the attention of mainstream media to the atrocious situations of women in less-known areas. They have now successfully hosted events in over 140 countries. One of their main aims is to provide relief to victims by not just providing financial resources and opportunities but also through dialogue and to break through the taboo that surrounds sexuality of women.
In more than 90 countries, females are deprived of equal rights to land and the power to pass on a citizenship to their offspring. In a society where women are still treated like second-class citizens, V-Day’s One Billion Rising movement urges women to fight for equality. In just five years, the campaign has become the biggest mass movement to end violence against women in human history. Their theme for 2018 is Solidarity. This year they have declared war not just against violence against women but also against imperialism, fascism, racism, capitalism and neoliberalism.
The City of Joy located in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is a great example of one of the most influential communities that the V-day team helped to build in collaboration with Panzi Foundation (DRC). The Panzi Foundation consists of a medical team that treats women who are survivors of sexual assault or women who have severe gynecological injuries. In six years, this transformational leadership community has provided 759 women victims of violence with an essential combination of life programming skills, therapy and love in order to help them move forward in life.
Although women have come a long way in the past century, there are still a lot of harmful practices that need to be eradicated. According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, over 60 million girls are married before the age of 18 and approximately 130 million have fallen victim to female genital mutilation. The prevalence of dehumanization and commodification of women for profit is clearly evident even today; women and girls make up 96% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. With such alarming statistics, V-day’s initiative to create a world where women live safely and freely should not just be appreciated but also openly endorsed.
Aasna Sijapati is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]