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V-Day to Earth Day: How Women in 70+ Countries Are Rising to End Violence Against Women & Our Planet

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Image Credit: One Billion Rising

Valentine’s Day kicks off a campaign by feminist leaders in 70 countries across the world to celebrate One Billion Rising, an initiative by V-Day to end violence against women — cisgender, transgender and gender nonconforming — girls and the planet. ”COVID has ushered in a very strange and perplexing time for women. We are on the frontlines everywhere,” says V-Day founder V (formerly Eve Ensler). The campaign seeks to resist “the broken systems of capitalism and neoliberalism,” as well as the fascist governments upholding these broken systems, says Monique Wilson, global director of One Billion Rising who is based in the Philippines. The campaign repositions “women from being victims to being active agents in protection of their rights,” says Africa director Colani Hlatjwako, who is helping organize community-based protection sites for women and girls in their home country of Eswatini.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “Wings,” produced by Siân Pottok in solidarity with One Billion Rising, in collaboration with more than 30 vocalists, musicians and dancers from around the world over the span of 18 months with the desire to create and deliver a song of freedom, a song of love and support to women and girls. The music video was released on Friday. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Today is February 14th, celebrated as Valentine’s Day by some, and by many others as V-Day, a global movement to end violence against all women — cisgender, transgender, gender nonconforming — girls, women and the planet. In a minute, we’ll be joined by V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, who’s the founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising, along with two other leading activists from some of the more than 70 countries who are planning to rise in 2022. First, this is a video about this year’s theme of revealing the power of art and activism to change culture and systems.

V: What space is your body allowed to occupy?

EMMA THOMPSON: Instead of grieving my mother’s aging, instead of envying my daughter’s youth, I find I am buoyed up and calmed down by turn.

CHANEL DASILVA: I let my body get lost in this foot chant that it’s building, enjoying the ride of the beat.

KAITLIN CURTICE: It is from her that we learn what it means to be human, to be dependent on the things of the Earth.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: Our power and the power of Earth are intrinsically bound in generosity and regeneration, not scarcity and sacrifice.

DAMARIS B. HILL: Blood enough to make friends with the witches among ordinary women.

DOMINIQUE JACKSON: I will not allow myself to suffer, to feel shame for my truth.

REV. AMANDA HAMBRICK ASHCRAFT: Hear me say that an abortion is an act of love.

MADGE DIETRICH: [singing] And I could cry power!

JUDITH CLARK: I want to talk about how sex and sexuality and touch are human needs and human rights, that are arbitrarily denied and distorted, criminalized and repressed when we enter prison.

MADINA WARDAK: Women are paying the price for having dreams because of their bodies, bodies many believe are only made for fulfilling men’s lust.

SARU JAYARAMAN: Many male customers made it clear they believe they have the right to control female servers’ bodies.

AGNES PAREYIO: I went back to my family and explained I will not be mutilated.

MARTHA REDBONE: [singing] Which side are you on, boy? Which side are you on?

V: Bodies are now remembering, reattaching, returning, becoming bodies for maybe the first time.

REV. DR. JACQUI LEWIS: On Valentine’s Day, join us for a Body Love Uprising.

KALISWA BREWSTER: Just the right healing for just the right moment.

REV. DR. JACQUI LEWIS: We will be heard.

TAÍNA ASILI: [singing] To those who expose the truth and break the silence.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, today marks V-Day and the start of the ninth year of One Billion Rising, with events continuing through April. The Guardian newspaper has published a special issue on “Living in a woman’s body” that features essays and poems from a number of the voices featured in the video, including actor Emma Thompson, dancer Chanel DaSilva and author Terry Tempest Williams. Some are reading from their essays today at 1 p.m. Eastern during a global rising event.

The issue is curated by V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, the playwright, activist, founder of One Billion Rising, who’s joining us now. Also with us, Colani Hlatjwako, women’s rights activist and Africa director of One Billion Rising campaign. She’s based in Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland. And in Manila, Philippines, Monique Wilson is with us, the global director of One Billion Rising.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! V, we’re used to having you in studio, but this is during the pandemic. This is COVID times. Can you talk about the One Billion Rising campaign and the shape it’s taking this year?

V: Yes. Thank you, Amy. I’m so happy to be with you. Happy V-Day! Happy rising!

I think the campaign this year really grew out of — we make all our decisions as a council, a world council. And I think what we know is that women and girls everywhere in this world, unfortunately, see their body as a site for danger, a carrier of shame, a poison in charred landscape, something to hide, to flatten, to hurt, something exploited, something sacrificed or sold. So, this year in One Billion Rising, we are rising for all women’s bodies in the Earth, so that they may move in the motion of light, that they may stand without apology or fear in their power and grace, and that they may soar in freedom and release the energy that the world so desperately needs. And it’s been amazing, to be honest with you, to see how this theme has caught fire around the world.

I think what we know is that COVID has ushered in a very strange and perplexing time for women. We are on the frontlines everywhere, whether it’s nursing or teaching or having to mother our children at home. We are the people who are caretakers. We are the farmers. We are the restaurant workers. We are the people working in plants and factories. And yet, as this has been going on, our rights have been radically being eroded, whether it’s reproductive rights, whether it’s restaurant workers who still can’t get on fair wage and their customers are demanding they take down their masks so they can see their face in order to decide whether they’re pretty enough to get a tip, whether it’s nurses who are on the frontlines and taking care of people who refuse to wear masks or be vaccinated, whether it’s farmers, women farmers, who are still being exploited in the fields. We are just seeing an — or whether it’s women and girls who have been locked up in really tight spaces, where we’re seeing the levels of violence against women escalating. So, I think women everywhere know that this is the moment for them to rise, to speak out, to take this energy of this global solidarity and move it into their own communities.

AMY GOODMAN: And, V, we’re talking at a time of — well, the U.S. keeps talking about an imminent war in Ukraine. Even Ukraine — the Ukrainian officials are saying, “Stop saying that. This does not have to be inevitable.” But this whole feeling of war, working toward war — you, for so long, have talked about rape as a weapon of war.

V: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: Your concern for the atmosphere now in this country as the drums of war are beating?

V: I’m terrified, and I just can’t even believe that we have learned nothing from our past. Nothing from our past. I mean, we just have had the most horrific withdrawal from Afghanistan, where we — as you said in your news report, where we have left people in the worst humanitarian crisis ever. We have seen the desecration in Iraq. We have seen years and years of our interventions, our illegal interventions, and here we are again, cranking up the machines for war.

And I think what we’re seeing across the world is this anti-democratic, fascist buildup of wars that are leaving women always, and children, on the frontlines, which I think Colani will address, because we’re certainly seeing that throughout Africa. We’re seeing that in India. We’re seeing that everywhere in the world, where there is fascism, where there is this buildup towards this patriarchal, militaristic domination, which we know puts women on the frontlines and destroys their bodies through rape and all kinds of terrible things that begin to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: I do want to bring Colani Hlatjwako into the conversation, from Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland. You are the Africa director of One Billioni Rising. If you can talk about the organizing that’s going on on the continent, in Africa? I mean, in the last year or so, we have seen one coup after another, particularly in the Sahel, unfortunately, with U.S.-trained soldiers involved.

COLANI HLATJWAKO: Thank you so much for having me on your show.

The campaign in Africa, I’ll say the campaign is amplifying the voice of women in Africa in calling for bodily autonomy, justice and a restoration and strengthening of democratic values and practices where women’s rights will be protected and their fulfillment enhanced. I can also say One Billion Rising Africa believes in promoting a feminist perspective in social and governance system structures so as to break down patriarchal norms that continue to suppress women. Our risings use creativity to take our power back, and currently we have 21 countries who are part of the campaign in Africa.

Talking on the issue of democracy, I would like to reflect on that. Democracy in Africa seems to be regressing as conflict ravages different parts of the continent and causes the collapse of democratic institutions, economic and social infrastructure, and creates a fertile environment for the violation of human rights with impunity. For instance, the sexual and gender-based abuse related to conflict has seen women’s bodies being violated through the use of weapons of war in countries such as Congo or Mozambique, where rape and femicide has been used as tools used by warring parties in Cameroon. There is the new inter-community conflict that has erupted in the far north of Cameroon, and the displacement has affected livelihoods and women’s ability to provide for their families and their children. And here in Eswatini, we have experienced and we are currently experiencing a political unrest which has seen women injured, arrested and even killed, while women also bear the additional burden of injured families and deaths that were involved in the conflict. So, in rising for women’s bodies in the context of such conflicts, the One Billion Rising campaign in Africa, I’d say, it brings hope by seeking to reposition women from being victims to being active agents in protection of their rights.

And in terms of addressing the issues of underrepresentation of women in decision-making position, which is also a serious issue, as women, we want to ensure that we do not allow people to make laws on our bodies. And what we have seen, ever since the campaign started, we have seen women, women who have been part of the movement, emerging to contest for parliamentary positions, women like Agnes from Kenya, who is an advocate against female genital mutilation, who is running for a Parliament position in Kenya.

And I would love to also highlight on that, the campaign’s work also includes promoting women’s rights at the community and national level, which calls for calling for accountability for duty barriers and also basic — giving basic support to survivors of violence. We have seen what is happening in South Africa. There will be a faith safe house for the LGBTI, which is an amazing thing to have. In Eswatini, we have established community-based protection strategies, wherein community members develop strategies that will be used to combat GBV. But more importantly —

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about — mentioning Eswatini, your own country, where you’re speaking to us from, in Manzini — the Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Act of 2018 and the role of One Billion Rising in getting this act passed.

COLANI HLATJWAKO: Thank you. One Billion Rising, with other same-minded organizations on the ground, has been — spearheaded the passing of this law, the passing of this law in 2018. What I want to highlight is that this law was a bill for more than a decade. And what delayed it to be passed into law, it was misunderstood as a law that will limit the power to propose love relationships to women and challenge certain cultural practices or traditions. As you know, Eswatini’s government or Parliament is dominated by men. So it was easily seen as a threat to their power they have on women’s bodies. So, hence, through the solidarity, working together, building agency and working together with different organizations through the campaign, it was managed to be passed into law in 2018.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Colani, how have the LGBTQ+ communities participated in One Billion Rising across Africa this year?

COLANI HLATJWAKO: I would say we have seen a huge transformation in terms of the growth of the campaign, actually not on the LGBTI community only, but we have seen countries like South Africa and Namibia who are leading, where we see the LGBTI community leading, and even in different countries, because, as a campaign, we don’t discriminate. We work with everyone. So we see all of them coming in the forefront. And also what I’d love to highlight is how the youth has been put in the forefront in the different countries towards the rising, and seeing the increase in grassroots rising, where rural women are leading the risings in different countries.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Monique Wilson into this conversation, the global director of One Billion Rising, joining us from Manila, in the Philippines, the capital of the Philippines. Monique, you have a powerful piece in the series that was done in The Guardian, about living through COVID as an immunocompromised person. Talk about that.

MONIQUE WILSON: I think it’s been very difficult to be dealing with COVID in this time, when I am immunocompromised. I have blood cancer. But I think it really also reflects the really bad governance of our governments, because I think if governments really started to take ownership of health and just give women and people immunocompromised, but also the population at large, rights and security, then we wouldn’t have to be locked up. I mean, we have seen, this year, lockdowns, wave after wave after wave of COVID. And I think a lot of our risings this year are also an insistence and a demand that people want to get back to normal. But, you know, we’re largely left to our own devices, as always.

So, we really — it’s a call towards our governments to prop up the healthcare systems, educate the people on healthcare and really give services to the people, because I think what One Billion Rising has been pushing for forever, and what COVID has shown us, is that we have been severely neglected by all our governments for a long, long time. And I think COVID has really raised that. So, a lot of our risings now are really a demand for that, a demand for our rights to be reinstated, as well as our security and the safety, because people will not be able to live with thriving life and with aspirations if we continue to stay locked down, no matter if you’re immunocompromised or if you’re impoverished or if you’re just not in a country or a city where you have a healthcare system solid enough to really protect you and back you up.

AMY GOODMAN: And how has vaccine inequity affected women and girls?

MONIQUE WILSON: In the Philippines? Well, we saw a very delayed response with giving us our vaccines. I think this — you know, I was just sharing with people that I’ve just come, actually, from our three-hour One Billion Rising event here in Manila, which was amazing. It was a huge creative resistance event. And it was really the first year, after two years, where we were able to dance with each other, 2,000 people, were able to hug each other. Of course, here, we have to all wear masks, we have to follow all the protocols, because we’re not yet — we’ve not yet reached the vaccination level that we want to. It’s being rolled out now, but it’s still a bit slow. There’s still, of course, some vaccine hesitancy. But I think it’s also part of government neglect that they have not really pushed also education around it.

So, today was really very powerful in a way, because, you know, we’ve risen every year, thousands and thousands of people, and now we are really kind of wanting to not do it online anymore. We want to be with each other. And we will do it as much as we can protect each other. The protection is really at the forefront of everything. And we will do it with all the protocols. But we will insist now on gathering and dancing together, because the energy of that is just different. It’s just — it’s the energy of One Billion Rising that gives hope, as Colani said. It allows for transformation. It’s colorful. It’s vibrant. It’s really what creative resistance looks like.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you —

MONIQUE WILSON: So, I think — 

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about —

MONIQUE WILSON: — COVID or no COVID, people are out.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how climate is being more and more included on the issues being addressed by One Billion Rising, you in the Philippines, of course, the Philippines hard hit by the climate emergency?

MONIQUE WILSON: Yeah. You know, one of the most interesting things about our risings, every year, but this year in particular, is that we have a lot of Indigenous community-led risings, certainly here in Asia, but everywhere around the world. Here in the Philippines, I was with Indigenous leaders today. In Thailand, Indigenous communities are leading the risings, also in Bangladesh, also in India.

And it’s really because we have to rise against the destruction of the Earth, the pillaging, the mining, the fracking. It’s really a resistance against the broken systems of capitalism and neoliberalism that, of course, are putting profit over people. So, Indigenous people, of course, are leading the way. They’ve always led the way with these protests, but they’re leading the One Billion Rising activities and protests around the issue of the Earth, because they’re the ones who can very easily put together what this means. You know, when you destroy the Earth, you destroy the women and the girls.

And here, for example, in the Philippines, we have highly militarized mining sites, 200 of them, right? And so, we have also to rise against militarization, because it’s the military that are protecting the mining sites from the people, because they are only serving the interests of the capitalists, that are of course supported by our government. So, tied to that is we have to rise to protect the Earth, rise against all extractive industries, that are pillaging the Earth and also destroying, of course, the Indigenous communities. These are, of course, led by rural women, Indigenous communities.

But we also have to rise against, as V also said, our fascist governments, because it’s our fascist governments who are the ones putting these systems eternally in place. And so, we, for example, in the Philippines, our big rising today is really because we have our national elections coming up in May. And we have to ensure that our One Billion Rising is focused on making sure that we have a much better government, not an authoritarian government, not a pro-business or pro-capitalist government and not a government that is run by fascists, misogynists, patriarchs, who are just hell-bent on destroying, as opposed to allowing things to continue to live.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, in the Philippines, the presidential elections that will be taking place in May, you’ve got Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the late Philippine dictator of the same name, and the daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte widening their lead in the latest opinion polls for president and vice president. Your response?

MONIQUE WILSON: Well, that’s why our Gabriela Women’s Party, that has been sitting in Congress for many, many years now, and they’ve also been leading the One Billion Rising events, we’re working very, very hard, because we have to really raise the consciousness of people that we cannot fall back into tyrants, you know, a tyrannical rule. We cannot allow children of fascists and tyrants to continue governing this country.

So, we have to do everything we can to rise. We have to also revisit all the revisionism that has happened about our martial law years, you know, when the late Marcos really killed so many people. So many people were placed in prison. So many people were killed. We had a tyrant in place. So we have to make sure that we have to make the people rise, to really ensure that we have a much, much better government. So we have to rise fiercely. We have to rise with honesty, rise with truth, rise with courage, because here, as in many, many other countries, we also get very, very badly vilified by the sitting government, because they’re very authoritarian. We see political prisoners everywhere. We have many, many risings also that are rising for political prisoners, like what’s happening in Belarus now, what’s happening in Myanmar, what’s happening here in the Philippines.

So, the One Billion Rising really can center our focus and our energy into not allowing social media, for example, and revisionism to allow untruths and fake news to promote people who are not really able to govern, but also give people an alternative of what a future can look like. And I think that’s what One Billion Rising has always done. It’s allowed us to see the future, because we are an art and activism movement. We are a creative resistance movement. And we are allowing the imagination to be at play, that, you know, we don’t have to get stuck in these kind of oppressions and this kind of tyranny. We can rise for more, rise for better. But we need collective unity. We need collective power, collective energy to do that. And we need art to do it, too.

AMY GOODMAN: And on that note, we have to wrap. And I want to thank you so much for being with us. We’ve been speaking with three women who are part of the global One Billion Rising: Monique Wilson, speaking to us from Manila, in the Philippines; before that, speaking with Colani Hlatjwako, Africa director of One Billion Rising; and, finally, V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, the founder of One Billion Rising in 2013. We will link to all of the risings, including today’s event at 1 p.m. Eastern, at democracynow.org.

Coming up, “Climate and Punishment.” We’ll look at how the climate emergency is putting incarcerated people across the United States at risk of extreme heat, flooding and wildfires. Stay with us.

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