Outrage! & One Billion Rising, Whats the Point? Lessons from GBV movement building in Haiti

From Thought Leader – Talia Meer asks what is the point of  ”1 billion Rising” and from Women and Beyond the Global – Wondering about Outrage! beyond personal gratification? Particularly when it is selective, ie where was the outrage when Rape Crisis centers were closed, or are are in the process of being closed?  Where was the outrage when our lesbian sisters and brothers were tortured, raped and murdered? .  The starting point is that for everyone who is outraged there is probably at least one person in their family or circle of friends who is a rapist, woman beater, or engages in  everyday sexual assault.  As Talia Meer states, rape and sexual violence takes place in the home, in the community, in the office, in the school, on the campus.  Sexual assault, misogyny and a great deal of rape take place in these public spaces not in secret.

Taking an hour off to dance is great, it brings the issue to the forefront and we will talk – a kind of banality in itself – then there will be silence until the next rape for which we will have no words other than expressing our outrage.  Stopping rape and ending misogyny can only happen if we are prepared to do the ground work in communities and schools with families and neighbours where these violent acts take place rather than engage in superficial pointless actions that may make us feel good but do little to end sexual violence.   Yes we need to shout about it but thats not where change will occur  unless the accompanying  outrage is channeled in meaningful ways and IS consistent.

Lessons can be learned from  the GBV / sexual violence movement in Haiti which has used a  multifaceted / multiagency approach  over the past two years in order to respond to the increase in rape and gender based violence in the post earthquake period.  Developing movement building with various sexual violence and GBV groups Haitian women were able to apply a range of strategies to address sexual and domestic violence:  outreach in the IDP camps, neighbourhoods and rural areas;  working with members and camp committees including providing “dignity kits” and counseling; forming and working with survivor led groups; advocacy campaigns; working with legal and rights groups; running workshops for police and MINUSTAH personnel; working with the various medical NGOs; assessing the impact of the disaster and crisis on women and girls.

Of course Haiti has it’s own contexts, historical, as well as the crisis of the post-earthquake period and ongoing cholera epidemic nonetheless there is much to be learned from these strategies. For more on this see “Beyond Shock: Charting the Landscape of Sexual Violence in post-quake Haiti” 2012 and “Rape in the Camps” by Amnesty International

From Slut Walk to One Billion Rising: Losing the protest plot

Following her wildly popular Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler, the American feminist playwright and activist, has a new campaign, a new activism, a new brand. One Billion Rising.

The concept is simple. Motivated by the popular consensus, that one woman in three worldwide – that is one billion – experiences some form of violence in her lifetime, Ensler hopes to reclaim February 14, as V-Day, vagina day. A day where women of every stripe and colour, hopefully one billion of them, take to the streets and … dance.

As Ensler puts it, she is encouraging women and men to “walk off their jobs, walk out of their schools, walk out of their homes and gather in fields, stadiums, churches, blocks, beaches and dance until the violence stops”.

Does this seem a little odd to you?

Let me be clear, gender-based violence (GBV) is the scourge of our society. We should do everything within our power to stop it. Also, I like dancing as much as anyone and I have great respect for the time-honoured tradition of street activism. From the civil-rights movement to the South African anti-apartheid movement, women and men have used protests, marches, toyi-toying to make their grievances known, to make demands, to make a point. And this is where things get a little confusing for me.

What is the point? What are the demands that we are making? Misogyny in our society is so pervasive, so deeply entrenched in the fabric of society, ingrained in our religious texts (or at least most interpretations of them), in literature, and popular culture, in our very record of history. Can we just dance it all away? Or dance it away just a little? We certainly cannot “dance until the violence stops”!

And given the absence of a clear, context- specific list of demands, what can the movement achieve? Who is its audience? It may raise the profile of GBV, however briefly, but what then? In South Africa for instance we already have very progressive GBV legislation in the form of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Acts. So are we dancing for better law enforcement? Or are we dancing for better sex, gender and GBV education for our children? Are we just dancing because — like many others the world over — we want to be part of a flash-mob, a spectacle, a global trend? Or are we dancing because it’s a convenient, contained, dare I say ”fun” response to an issue few of us really want to confront?

Like the contentious Slut Walk, One Billion Rising runs the risk of sensationalising gender-based violence activism. It abstracts the on-going struggle of GBV organisations, individuals and survivors, to a brief, quirky and enjoyable moment. A walk in your knickers or a dance.

What happens afterward? By focusing on public spaces One Billion Rising obscures the fact that GBV happens in private spaces, in our homes, and our beds, and its sensational appeal suggests that its effects will be relatively short-lived. All of the walkers, or dancers, some women, some men, some survivors, will go home. Most will feel relieved that they had a moment, of catharsis, a moment, to feel supported, unconstrained and safe. Some will feel pious that they have done their bit. Most will continue with their daily routine, most will not talk to their sons and daughters about how masculinity, in fact the very idea of a man, is a social construct, a made up thing, one that they can remake, better. Most will not confront the impact of patriarchy, misogyny, able-ism or racism on their lives, how they intersect, and how the process of breaking them down is an on-going, difficult and terrifying battle….Continue on Thought Leader

Haunts: On outrage

I cannot write about Anene BooysenMany others are, and are doing so eloquently. But I do wonder about outrage. The national response to the horrible violence against Anene Booysen has been described as outrage. When does outrage occur?

How many women and girls must suffer violence and abuse to cross the threshold of outrage? How many men must engage in violence and abuse before the horizon of outrage is breached?

I ask this because I don’t recall outrage being expressed when both the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children faced imminent closure last year. Yes, there were individuals and groups who jumped and organized, but there was no great surge of outrage at what would surely follow the simultaneous closure of the two most successful and most important resources in the Western Cape for those seeking help, support, community in the midst of suffering violence.

Remember, Rape Crisis is the oldest center of its kind in South Africa. In a recent two-year period, it served over 5000 rape survivors. And when it served the survivors, it served their loved and loving ones, their friends, their communities, and their neighborhoods. It served the whole of South Africa, one healing empowering person at a time…..Continue on Women in and Beyond the Global