United we stand, and dance

Valentine’s Day cards and chocolates are out. This year many in Newfoundland are marking the occasion by joining the global V-Day movement ‘One Billion Rising’.

Emma Goldman once said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” This Valentine’s Day, Goldman would be lacing up her dancing shoes for a global revolution. The world is fighting violence against women, and not just standing but dancing for a movement called One Billion Rising.

Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues and The V-Day movement, has asked the world to “walk out, rise up, dance and demand an end to this violence.” Some Newfoundlanders have answered the call, as have others across Canada and the world.

Participants in St. John’s are not only raising awareness but also celebrating the work that has already been done. One of the event’s supporters is Gerry Rogers, MHA for St. John’s Centre. “We are raising awareness of issues and how it affects all of us. To celebrate the work we do,” said Rogers. “It is important to continue to raise the word. This event is like an indoor regatta or bazaar, it’s like a great big community hug.”

The One Billion Rising St. John’s event will take place Feb. 14 at the Knights of Columbus Hall on St. Clare Ave. It gets underway at 4 p.m., is free and open to everyone. There will be food, auctions, raffles and entertainment by local band the Salty Dolls.

A local and global issue

Rogers said violence against women is a worldwide issue and the reason One Billion Rising has to be a global event. “It affects everyone, every economic bracket, every country,” she said. “I believe people want it to stop. Everyone wants violence to end. The more awareness we raise, the more communal initiative there will be.

“It’s a win-win for everyone to make a community safer for women and children. That makes it safer for everyone,” she added.

On Feb. 9 the Multicultural Women’s Organization of Newfoundland and Labrador held a rehearsal downtown St. John’s for The Breaking the Chains dance. The song has been the theme for One Billion Rising, and the performers wanted to film their practice as a contribution to the social media component of the international event.

Some in Corner Brook are also breaking the chain of violence through dance. Paula Sheppard-Thibeau of the Corner Brook Status of Women Council and Jennifer Elms of the Western Regional Coalition to End Violence are supporters of the movement on the island’s west coast, where Zumba dances will be held at Immaculate Heart of Mary School and the YMCA in Corner Brook  to mark the event.

Both women encourage everyone to participate and stand against violence. There will also be a flash mob dance, but no one will say when or where.

“Women everywhere are impacted by this. We need to acknowledge that this is something most of us have experienced at least once in our lifetime,” said Sheppard-Thibeau. “It’s about unity.”

“It’s a positive message. Look (at) who is standing next to you, come together and witness strength. We have to stand together and we won’t stand for this anymore,” said Elms, who recently returned from Sri Lanka, where she worked with victims of gender-based violence. She said everyone should be concerned about violence against women, including men.

Thomas Jordan, who will be performing at the Valentine’s Day event in St. John’s, could not agree more.

“Violence and fear only creates more of the same and so on and so on,” he said. “Men can help our species by taking the time to start granting rights based on individual rights and liberties rather than on gender and or any other label that tries to grant a person their rights based on a certain group they belong to.

“I believe that a campaign against violence committed against women transcends gender, age or race because every son, husband or father has a mother, grandmother, sister, niece, wife or daughter of their own. As a man I see the obvious benefits of both men and women being strong. It starts at home,” he added.

Why has it taken so long?

“The wheels move slowly, but they are moving,” said Sheppard-Thibeau, who explained that media coverage of the gang rape and murder of 23-year-old university student Jyoti Singh Pandey in Delhi, India was a catalyst for the heightened awareness.

Rogers said it is simply time. “It’s calling out for change. Our citizens are ahead of our politicians and they know what needs to happen. It takes a while for legislation to catch up,” she explained, adding it’s a slow process because there is a not reasonable representation of women in the decision-making process. “If we are not at the table, how can we change those decisions?” she asked.

Elms said the issue at hand has been the very reason for silence. “This violence has been our hindrance. It’s why we do not speak out. There has been a lot of shame in talking about it. In some situations there is a dependency on your partner and that has a whole set of issues. In those situations, you think there is nothing you can do,” she explained. “Women need to know it’s never about anything they have done, but what someone else has done to them.

“If I had a nickel for every time I heard a woman say, ‘But he didn’t hit or push me,’ I could retire,” said Sheppard-Thibeau. “Unfortunately other forms of violence are normalized in our society, the kinds that are harder to define.” Elms said she believes emotional abuse is just as serious as physical.

Violence one hurdle to equality

Rogers sees this rising as much more than a fight against violence, but recognition of a need for equality. “How many single moms can’t afford school or child care? And how many stay-at-home moms live in unaffordable situations?” she asked. “It’s about our society acknowledging that we need equality for everyone.”

What happens when billions of people all stand at the same time, with the same thoughts and the same goals? Empowerment, said Elms.

“Recognizing (violence), standing together with the same vision. That feeling alone will give a lot of motivation,” she said proudly. “We are all part of it.”

“It says we will not stand for this behavior anymore because we are working together,” Sheppard-Thibeau added.

“It’s us holding hands and saying, ‘You know, it’s tough but let’s pull together so that no one is left behind because no one has to be left behind,” said Rogers.

Productions of The Vagina Monologues are commonly staged on and around Valentine’s Day each year. The play, which usually helps raise money for women’s organizations, is now performed all over the world. V-Day Memorial University 2013 and The Women’s Resource Centre present The Vagina Monologues February 14 and 15 at 7 p.m. at the D.F Cook Recital Hall.

For more info on the One Billion Rising event in St. John’s, click here. For the Corner Brook events, click here and here.

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