A woman's place is in the struggle: Valentine, Victory and Vagina

Issue 

BY KERRYN WILLIAMS

The vision of V-Day is a world where women are free from violence: a "V-World" where women and girls will be "allowed to be born in China, India and Korea", "safe at parties on college campuses", "keeping their clitorises in Africa and Asia" and "enjoying sex".

Spearheaded in 1998 by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, V-Day has become an international movement in opposition to violence against women, centring around performances of Ensler's plays.

Each year on or near Valentine's Day, volunteers around the world organise benefit performances of The Vagina Monologues, now translated into 22 languages, which confronts issues of sexuality, body image, and the abuse of women. All funds raised are donated to anti-violence groups. In 2002 this amounted to some $7 million.

The movement has expanded to take up violence against women and girls on a global scale and one of the latest campaign initiatives focuses on Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Representatives of V-Day are working with women's organisations in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Pakistan, India, Kenya and Afghanistan.

V-Day describes itself as a "social-change movement" and as "non-political". Most of V-Day's work centres on drawing attention to violence against women and raising funds for organisations that assist victims, rather than addressing the root causes of violence. In confronting the varying manifestations of violence globally, however, V-Day cannot ignore political questions. The occupation of Palestine is one such example.

In late December, representatives of V-Day travelled to Israel and Palestine to assess the situation facing women in that region. Ensler reported from the visit: "What we heard most everywhere we went — from political leaders, from women in refugee camps, from the wounded, from artists and academics on both sides — was that the occupation is destroying both Israelis and Palestinians and that any efforts to end violence against women and girls in Israel and Palestine will ultimately work toward ending the occupation and seeking a just peace in the Middle East."

V-Day also sponsored a series of roundtable talks in 2002 of numerous women's organisations and representatives from Afghanistan to empower, and help facilitate greater communication among, Afghan women. In 2003, V-Day is planning a special focus on issues faced by Native American women.

V-Day proclaims itself not to be anti-men. The web-site states that, "We are pro-human rights, pro-compassion, and pro-human beings. We are a movement of inclusion not exclusion. The people who we dislike are the abusers around the world who violate women's and girls' basic human rights."

While V-Day to date has acted largely as an aid-style organisation, helping to fund women's shelters and existing anti-violence groups as well as seeking to establish such centres in a range of countries, it also encourages women to get involved and take their own initiatives as part of the movement.

Women on colleges and universities across the United States in particular have been drawn into V-Day in large numbers, with women students on 65 campuses involved in organising performances of The Vagina Monologues around Valentine's Day last year. The movement has also captured the attention and support of many actors, musicians and celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, Melissa Etheridge, Kate Winslett and Jane Fonda, and has a rapidly growing profile.

It remains to be seen in which direction this new movement will develop, but it clearly has real pulling power in inspiring women to stand up against violence. One powerful step forward would be for V-Day to join forces with other women's networks and organisations such as Code Pink, to build opposition to the US-led war drive, one of the greatest threats to women's safety today.

For V-Day 2003, a new documentary about the V-Day campaign, Until the Violence Stops, will be launched. Check out the web-sites at <http://www.vday.org> and < http:A HREF="//www.vaginamonologues.com"><//www.vaginamonologues.com>.

From Green Left Weekly, February 5, 2003.
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