Women dance, world trembles
MANILA, Philippines - Dance is often seen as an escape, a way for young people to indulge in abandon. But dance is also a universal language that can bring people of different cultures together and move them to confront the issues of our day. And there is no cause more immediate or personal than the plight of women.
More than a billion women in the world are raped or beaten at least once in their lifetime - this according to the United Nations.
Hence One Billion Rising, a global movement founded by Eve Ensler, Tony-Award winning playwright. After successfully confronting women's issues in various countries through the “The Vagina Monologues” that she authored, she instigated this global campaign run by women for women to advocate women’s rights at a time when rape, spousal abuse, repression of reproductive health and gender equality, honor killings, female circumcision, acid attacks, and drive-by shootings of school girls have all made headline news with heart-numbing regularity.
The first One Billion Rising Philippines event was launched in November 2012 and was highlighted by Ensler's visit from December 16 to 23 that year. On February 14, 2013 - V-Day - One Billion Rising culminated in a huge flash mob/dance concert/street party at Tomas Morato, Quezon City, that had people dancing from that whole evening until midnight, joining others in 207 countries around the world to simultaneously celebrate One Billion Rising and live up to its slogan “Strike, Dance, and Rise.”
For 2014, the event is entitled One Billion Rising for Justice. Its slogan is “Rise, Release, and Dance.”
In a statement, Ensler explained:
“Rise: Gather in your communities and learn about its particular violence against women issues, including exploring what its root causes are....Speak your story out loud for the first time and be heard. Prosecute governments responsible for violence against women and demand reparations and apologies.
“Release: Each community will find and determine the various forms of release. It can be creative, political, outrageous, audacious, bold ideas that fuse creative energy with political action. Make public or anonymous testimonies, beat drums, bring perpetrators to justice, create art, songs, poems out of survival stories, create rituals, march, make theater, burn effigies, wail, scream, do silent vigils, fast, celebrate justice that has been served. Honor grassroots women leaders who have devoted their lives to women.
“Dance: When that is done, dance and dance and dance. Dance is both a personal and collective action - the purest and most powerful expression of art and activism.
“On February 14, rise, release, dance for justice.
Ensler said further, “I want to introduce you to Monique Wilson - an extraordinary V-Day activist for 15 years. She literally got all 7,000 islands in the Philippines to rise and dance. She has graciously agreed to be the world coordinator, director, facilitator, activator for One Billion Rising.”
Wilson is the internationally acclaimed actor best known for her lead role in the original London production of “Miss Saigon” and for founding the highly esteemed New Voice Company theater group that brought “The Vagina Monologues” to the Philippines.
“When she asked me, ‘Would you like to be global director?’ I said yes right away,” said Wilson. “I gave up teaching in London. It brought me back here to the Philippines, [and] I’m very happy, since this is where I need to be. This is what I’ve been passionate about for the last 13 years.”
Being a world-renowned theater artist makes Wilson ideally suited for global advocacy that makes use of creativity - especially street dance music, and theater. “Art and activism – [that’s] where I could be useful. What [we’re proud about] V-day is that there’s always a creative way to get the message across.”
Nonetheless, being the world coordinator for a global movement has been a revelation for Wilson. “I get emails from Mogadishu, Haiti, Guatemala - it’s women all over the world, one billion rising - and I’m there to guide them, talk about their events, to give them some ideas, and it’s so amazing the feeling you get knowing you're connected to the whole world and we are in solidarity with each other and it’s such a positive affirmative place to be.”
Indignation balances her enthusiasm. “’I’ve been in partnership with Gabriela [women’s party] and was their spokesperson against sex trafficking since 2000,” Wilson said. “My Gabriela sisters took me around to rural communities and I saw for myself relocation sites that are so remote that people can hardly [cope], and it is always women who are suffering the most. They took me to mining sites that have displaced indigenous people to cities where they are the poorest of the poor. I’ve talked to the families of migrants waiting for the bodies of their loved ones to come back who died in mysterious circumstances and our government is not pressuring their government to investigate.”
“One in three women in the world will either be raped or beaten in their lifetime. That’s too high a statistic. Just one woman getting beaten or raped is already an outrage,” Wilson said.
According to the United Nations Statistics Division’s latest (1995-2006) study on Violence Against Women, the percentage of women who experience violence in their lifetime varies greatly among countries, from a relatively low yet still unacceptable 15% in countries such as the Philippines, to a horrific 59% in nations such as Zambia.
In the Philippines, the National Demographic and Health Survey conducted by the National Statistics Office in 2008 found that:
- 20% of women age 15-49 experience physical violence
- 14.4% of married women have experienced spousal physical abuse
- 37% of separated women or widows experience physical violence
- 5% of women age 15-49 experience forced first sexual intercourse
- 10% of women age 15-49 experience sexual violence
The Philippine National Police reported 15,969 cases of Violence against Women filed in 2012 - a 23.3% increase from the previous year. Since the enactment of Republic Act 9262 or the Anti-Violence against Women Law in 2004, wife battering, once classified simply as physical injuries, has added to the number of reported cases of Violence against Women.
Confronted by the alarming statistics on Violence against Women, One Billion Rising for Justice takes on a broad range of issues, from wage increases to migrant workers, from displaced informal settlers to foreign military presence.
“It’s all connected,” said Wilson. “We say end violence against women, but how? That’s what we mean by justice. Justice is economic, environmental, social, judicial and it’s also how we perceive things. The issues are broad, but we have looking at it with a gender lens, a gender perspective. Sometime we forget that there is a particular effect on women.
“When we don’t see things through a gender lens, these things tend to disappear. We are so outraged about the pork barrel [scandal] and rightly so. But why are we not outraged when we hear about a 6-year-old girl [at an] evacuation center [in Zamboanga who] recently got raped. Why are we not on the streets about that? It's not balanced. We need to personalize it. What if that 6-year-old was your daughter or your sister?”
According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the girl was allegedly raped by her uncle on September 19 at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex where they had been relocated, amid the conflict in Zamboanga City.
Wilson cited other pressing issues.
“Our workers are still asking for a P125 wage hike that they still [have not] been given and 80 percent of those [minimum-wage] workers are women. That is a form of economic violence against them. When you subject women to abject poverty, they are forced to work abroad, [deal with a] different force of exploitation because of that.”
According to the Department of Labor and Employment 2012 Gender Statistics on Labor and Employment, the average daily basic pay of wage and salary workers for women in 2011 was P323.53, higher than for men, which was P313.42. But women who worked as domestics - the least earning sector - were paid only P127.48 as compared with P202.41 for the men in the same sector. Furthermore, domestics – mostly women – are not covered by the Minimum Wage Law. Even in developed countries, women disproportionately make up the majority of the lowest earning laborers; 64 percent of minimum wage earners in the United States are women, according to its Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“You hear stories of our migrants abroad where the last people to help them are our embassies,” Wilson noted.
In June, 2013, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment investigated the embassies in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria whose staff allegedly demanded sex from female overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) fleeing from their abusive employers in exchange for immediate repatriation. The repatriation of Filipinos in distress is not supposed to cost them anything.
“One thing I’ve learned from One Billion Rising is that [much of the] violence [against women] is state-instigated,” Wilson said. “For example, our Visiting Forces Agreement will affect our women. We will have more brothels, prostitution, and sex trafficking.”
Before its closure in 1992, the Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base in the Philippines were the largest American military bases outside of the US. Subic alone generated an estimated $500 million for the sex-trafficking industry that illicitly serviced US military personnel. According to the International Women's Alliance, an estimated 55,000 women were prostituted from 1981 to 1985.
On November 1, 2005, Filipino Suzette Nicolas alleged that she was raped by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, of the US Marine Corps., who was in the Philippines under the Visiting Forces Agreement. The Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 139 convicted Smith on December 4 the next year. But the Court of Appeals, led by 3 female judges, reversed the ruling and acquitted Smith on April 23, 2009, after Nicolas recanted her testimony.
"What I'm urging people is to educate yourself with our issues in the Philippines," Wilson said. "There's a lot we don't see. We have a term now - it's called femicide. Women are dying from the violence done against them.”
Taking on such an expansive scope may seem a daunting task, but Wilson offers a different perspective: "My artist friends tell me it's so overwhelming. 'We don't want to do anything because of that,' they say. And that's not really the right reaction. Let's do what we can. You need artists, you need creativity.”
“Gabriela, the Kilusang Mayo Uno, Migrante, the teachers' unions, ARCEA [Association for the Rights of the Child in Southeast Asia], and other grassroots groups are joining us,” Wilson said.
“What was really one the highlights of our campaign last year was that it was really the grassroots organizations that were leading it. It was really their issues that were pushing the campaign to the forefront. I think that's extremely important.
“Last year's event was huge. A lot of grassroots communities were there. But a lot of the upper class communities were not there. So we are encouraging now other sectors who think the issues don't involve them to come and join us. These are your issues too. We need to all work together.”
With an esteemed thespian and activist like Monique Wilson at the helm, One Billion Rising for Justice is set to make women's issues everyone's business. Dance they will. - Rappler.com