One Billion Rising - The Experience That Changed My Life
by Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende
The phenomenon that is One Billion Rising will be forever etched in my memory and my consciousness as the movement through which my feminism found true expression. When I first heard about the campaign through my friend Gillian Schutte, she was looking for a couple of people to organize and manage the campaign in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately I am Zimbabwean but live in the United States and after she identified two young women who I worked with and recommended, they went to the Kenya summit in August 2012. Things started to fall apart when there was no work in organizing on the ground in Zimbabwe and one of the young women informed me of the issues. I then jumped in to help out and for a while it appeared as though nothing would happen. There were only two of us working through Skype and emails and just keeping the faith that someone would volunteer to do the running on the ground. Then an energetic young woman appeared on our OBR Face book page and she took up the mantle and ran with it. Zimbabwe had a Rising. I am in Ann Arbor and two weeks prior to February 14, I was looking for an event to attend with my daughters when I was alerted to the fact that an event had been planned but the person doing it was no longer able to carry it through. I spontaneously agreed to organize it and I was fortunate enough to meet Lori Lichtman who had as much passion for the campaign as I did. In two weeks we had everything in place and Ann Arbor had a Rising.
I am still digesting the immensity of this campaign, however what stands out in my mind is the actual process of getting us to the climax, which was February 14. The hard work, learning to deal with different personalities, discovering that people you thought you could rely on were not who you thought they were, dealing with ideological and existential issues, dealing with criticism about the central modus operandus of OBR -DANCE. How could we dance about rape and violence and draw attention to it in this celebratory fashion? During this time I blogged in order to explain what dance in the context of OBR was about. What was challenging to me however, was immersing myself daily in the issues of domestic violence and rape. I had to do this in order to remain connected with the reason why this Rising had to happen. For 6months my Facebook page, the OBR Zimbabwe and OBR Ann Arbor pages were sites for stories of women being beaten, butchered raped and the immensity of this issue as a global one hit me in the gut and because I had become so sensitized to VAW, I saw and heard of it everywhere. I took it all in like a sponge, stored up the anger but knowing that I was no longer helpless: the world would come together on the 14th in a mass action never as yet been seen and we would all primal scream NO. OBR was a rite of passage for me. I was forced to accept the fact that there is a war on the feminine and that calling myself a feminist and doing nothing except commiserate with the plight of some distant women in the Congo or in Zimbabwe was no longer enough. I had to become those women, to look at the violence in the face. I watched women beaten and did not look away, I looked at mangled bodies of women gang raped and did not look away. It was traumatic it was nightmarish, but it was reality. What I feared would happen, that I would go crazy and start mumbling to myself did not happen. Instead I grew. I was not diminished, nor did I lose my love of life and love. In fact it expanded as something I yearned for all my sisters. I had a strong sense of our collective beauty and of how we were endangered. I felt galvanized to act. I became a woman who was now on a mission that she knew something about. This made all the difference because had I not been fully convicted in the necessity of OBR, I would have bailed out because believe me there were plenty of times I was tempted.
Therefore as OBR has come to an end....for me it marked the beginning. It symbolized the beginning of no longer having to feel angry and helpless on the issue of VAW. There have been thousands of conversations and ideas about what happens after the 14th. These are questions that I personally had even as I started doing the work. However to be in conversation with like minded men and women has been encouraging and it has helped me forge partnerships that will hopefully translate into practical solutions to end VAW albeit slowly. Hearing men talk about progressive masculinities and creating groups to talk to boys about respect for women, to hear men talk about men evolving non violently , to hear women talk about shifting the paradigm in terms of how boys and girls are socialized to listen to women discuss how they will form networks through which they will "have each other's back" when out in public and to look at my own daughters, ages 12, 10 and 7(twins), ignites a fire in my belly which propels me to do more. I am a writer and I will write more about VAW. I am a public health professional and I will focus my work on women's health (West African Immigrant women in the U.S) many of whom have undergone female genital mutilation and suffer violence but do not report for fear of deportation. Most importantly, I will raise my daughters in awareness of how special they are and the kind of behavior they should never put up with. This is what OBR has done for me.
One VICTORY: Meeting men who finally understand the tremendous harm that violence against the feminine does to society and to the world at large. Men who understand how patriarchy enslaves those who enforce it as well as those oppressed by it. Men who through conversations realized the interconnectedness of violence against animals women, wars, rape of the planet and its resources and how all this can end through having a profound respect for all life.
OBR Zim/Ann Arbor