Awash in purple light and its floor covered in rose petals, the stage of Music Museum in Greenhills was filled with women—kids, teens, mothers, artists, celebrities, even seniors who survived the war—all enthusiastically dancing to an upbeat tune.
At the very front were two of the group’s most passionate dancers: Renowned actress Monique Wilson and Tony award-winning playwright Eve Ensler, author of “The Vagina Monologues.”
Imagine that scene, but on a much larger scale: One billion women out on the streets in different parts of the world, all dancing to the same beat. The dance, however, isn’t just for show; it’s a protest, a movement, a collective cry—for people to put a stop to rape and all other forms of abuse against women.
The movement is called One Billion Rising, the brainchild of Ensler, an activist who has made it her life’s mission to fight violence against women. As part of her One Billion Rising World Tour, Ensler visited the country last Dec. 16-22 to help spread word about the campaign. Her other stops are Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, Los Angeles, India, Egypt, Paris, Belgium, London and the Congo.
One Billion Rising’s main event, Strike, Dance, Rise!, will take place on Feb. 14, 2013, in more than 170 countries. It coincides with the 15th anniversary of V-Day, Ensler’s earlier worldwide campaign against women abuse.
“It’s a global call-to-action day. It’s a collective effort of individuals and groups to do a collective strike and demand an end to violence against women and girls,” said Wilson at a recent press conference.
Added Ensler: “[Violence against women] is so entrenched; it has become so acceptable everywhere that we just assume women will be raped, beaten; will live in squalor, won’t have healthcare… So, how do we make the seemingly ordinary become unacceptable? [The idea of] one billion women dancing was so audacious that people just said, ‘let’s do it.’”
While violence against women does not just concern physical abuse, rape is one of the central issues of the campaign. Wilson said that they chose dance and not the usual rally as the form of protest because, “when a woman is raped, her body becomes her prison. Dance can help her break free from that pain, to reclaim her body.”
“Also, everyone can dance—young, old, from all walks of life. It’s an energy that can really shake and move things,” she added.
More than the physical act of rape, it’s the rape mentality that One Billion Rising seeks to end. Ensler best talks about it in her piece, “Over It,” which was performed at the press conference by V-Day actresses Juno Henares, Mae Paner, Lynn Sherman, Frances Makil-Ignacio, Madeleine Nicolas, Amparo Sietereales, Jenny Jamora, Ces Drilon, Angela Padilla, Pinky Amador.
An excerpt: “I am over women still being silent about rape, because they are made to believe it’s their fault or they did something to make it happen.
“I am over violence against women not being No. 1 international priority, when one out of three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime—the destruction and muting and undermining of women is the destruction of life itself.
“No women, no future, duh.”
The One Billion Rising-Philippines video was also launched. It tells the story of four women: Lola Narcisa of Lila Filipina, an organization of comfort women seeking justice for the rape and abuse they experienced from Japanese soldiers during the war; Angie Ipong, a human rights activist who was arrested under false accusations, tortured and abused by men who claimed to be members of the Philippine National Police; Eden Abarientos, an OFW who jumped off the second-floor apartment window of her employer in Taiwan who attempted to rape and murder her; and “Elaine,” a 13-year-old girl raped and impregnated by her uncle who is a member of Cafgu (Citizens’ Armed Force Geographical Unit), a paramilitary unit under the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Also in the video are shots of women all over the country dancing to the campaign’s theme song, “Isang Bilyong Babaeng Babangon,” by Lisa del Valle, Merlee Jayme, Marcus Davis and Top Suzara. Choreography is by Nancy Crewe.
Ensler said she was inspired by the women in Congo when she came up with One Billion Rising. “I spent a lot of time in Congo, where the women are the most amazing dancers. And they’ve been through the worst pain. But when they dance, it’s like they transform their pain,” she said.
“I thought, what if we took all the one billion women who survived all the violence and just danced on the same day? Now, it’s happening!”
Here in the Philippines, Wilson is leading the movement, together with other organizers New Voice Company, Gabriela and Gabriela Women’s Party. They have been going around the country teaching the theme song and dance steps to women who plan to participate.
“The feedback [on One Billion Rising] has been overwhelming,” said Wilson. “It’s really all over the country now—Negros, Dumaguete, Bicol, Baguio, Cordillera, Davao, Iloilo, Cebu.”
“I think the women here [in the Philippines] are unbelievably strong,” said Ensler. “Not in an aggressive way; just in a solid, spiritual, intellectual way. They’re just indomitable.”
Everyone is invited to join and dance; not just women. You don’t have to be an exceptional dancer, either, since the steps are easy enough to follow even if it’s your first time to dance them. In Metro Manila, the main venue will be Tomas Morato Avenue, Quezon City, which will be closed to traffic for a whole-day street party.
But what happens after we dance? “I think it’s for everyone to figure out what their next step will be,” said Ensler. “This is about you. There’s no authority, nobody is giving directions. One Billion Rising is about you.”
“The day after Feb. 14, I’m going to be doing what I always do—fighting for women to always be safe and free.”