Personal Reflections on 1 Billion Rising: What will it take to create systemic change?

Posted By: Karen Woodin|Dated: February 14, 2013

I believe in the idea behind 1 Billion Rising, but I can’t help wondering: what change will we have effected tomorrow?

When I first heard about 1 Billion Rising, I was very excited about it. My first exposure to women empowerment and ending violence against women came by watching a performance of the Vagina Monologues in the US (written and directed by Eve Ensler who also founded V-Day). Since that moment 3 years ago, I have performed two monologues from the Vagina Monologues in India for fundraisers for the Mumbai Pride March. However, when asked to write about my perspective on today’s global movement, I was unsure what to write about. It seems trite and bland to say that it’s a “good effort” to mobilize women and men around the world to rise against violence against women. Of course I support female equality and ending violence against women. But what can I really do to promote it? Will dancing in a public space and “rising” with women and men from across the world help this cause?

Since I could not come up with an answer for myself, I called up a close friend of mine, who is Indian (this was especially important to me, since even though I have been living in India for the past 18 months, I felt like I needed the perspective of someone who is from here). My friend is currently acting in a film where she plays the role of a rape victim, and the film is about the different ways in which women are oppressed. She also recently wrote an article [link] for CNN in response to the Delhi gang rape case. Here are the highlights from our conversation:

It’s a good movement, certainly a noble cause, but do women across India connect with it? 

I did a quick unscientific survey on some of my friends’ knowledge about 1 Billion Rising, and the only friends who knew about it fell into 3 categories: they are either highly educated, expatriates, or feminist activists. So, even my group of friends who is more connected to the web (where most of the advertising for 1 Billion Rising has been done) have very little awareness about the cause. Now imagine the rest of India–most of India–who has very little access to the internet. Are they involved in the movement? Do they feel like it resonates with them? I have no definitive answers on this, but my sense is that the majority of people are not yet connected to the movement.

Rallying the masses to join for one cause…is this cause bringing people together?

Last month we saw India stand in outrage against rape and violence towards women triggered by the Delhi rape case. For weeks on end, people manifested themselves in the streets and made their voices heard. Somehow though, although one could potentially have expected V-Day to be used as an avenue to continue these manifestations, the people I have spoken to do not see a connection between the two. (And perhaps that is because there is little awareness about V-Day to begin with; or perhaps it’s because I have a limited sample of people). In any case, the point is that the Delhi gang rape case brought people together to stand against rape and violence towards women, but I am not sure whether V-Day/1 Billion Rising has managed to rally people with the same intensity.

Dancing is universal and a celebration, but is it the best medium to effect change?

My friend put it beautifully when she said that there is something universal about music and dance that brings people together, and in that sense it’s fitting that one of the uniting threads of V-Day is dance. But tomorrow, when it is over, will us dancing on Bandstand have made a difference to ending violence against women? Is it the best medium?

I know that the solutions to end violence against women are manifold and they tackle multiple causes, and therefore there is never going to be one “right” answer. I believe that awareness about the issue is certainly an important component of it, and V-Day and 1 Billion Rising are an excellent effort in that direction. For me, though, reflecting on V-Day makes me wonder about what it is going to take to systematically and profoundly change behaviors, attitudes, and even cultures.

1 Billion Rising is, at the end of the day, a great step in raising awareness about violence being done to women. And, as my friend said, no effort goes by unnoticed, and this is a cause that we should all be concerned with and we should all be promoting. The challenge ahead lies in taking today’s inspiration and translating it into specific actions that will help us build a more equal society. The challenge is in connecting the cause to people of all genders, and across different sections of society. The challenge is in us viewing it as a common problem, not just a women’s problem. The challenge lies in what happens after 1 Billion of us rise today.

About the Author

Born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, Karen moved to Bombay in June 2011 to join Mahindra as a Global Recruit.  As a member of the Corporate Brand Council, she works on internal and external brand engagement campaigns, such as Spark the Rise. She graduated from Columbia University in the City of New York with a B.A. in Political Science.

The views expressed above are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of the views of the Mahindra Group.

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