By Lauren Wilks (Contributor)
As part of this year's One Billion Rising (OBR) – a global dance demonstration aimed at eradicating violence against women – women's rights activists and community members across Kolkata came together to rise up in solidarity and resistance. At Jatin Das Park on 14th February demonstrators participated in a variety of dance and theatre performances before taking to the streets to spread the message about this year's theme: revolution.
Asked why they were rising, demonstrators responded with messages of anger, defiance and hope. Some spoke about justice for survivors of sexual violence, citing the staggering statistic that one billion women around the world will be beaten or raped during their lifetime. Others expressed hope for a future where women and girls would be free from poverty, hunger and want, and where women could enjoy sexual and creative freedom without fear of discrimination and violence.
I attended the rally with the NGO I have been collaborating with for my research, which works to promote the rights and safety of women domestic workers. Watching placards bobbing out of the pink and purple blur, I thought about the women I’d come to know who experience daily forms of harassment and discrimination while going out to work. I also thought about survivors of rape and domestic violence – women who are all too often asked ‘what were you wearing that night?’ and ‘why didn’t you just leave him?’ I thought about the friend who confided in me at university that she had been sexually assaulted but was worried that people would say it was her fault; and the mother who told me she had had no choice but to have her thirteen-year-old daughter married because she was scared she would otherwise be raped.
Launched on Valentine’s Day 2012, OBR is a global call to action against violence against women that has grown in size and influence each year since its inception. Last year, demonstrators from 200 countries gathered outside courts, police stations, government offices, schools, work places, and places of worship to demand justice for survivors of gender violence.
Cynics have asked, 'how can public dancing end violence against women?' But the power of OBR lies in the opportunities it creates for people – especially women – to come together, reclaim public space, and envisage a world in which gender equality is not just an abstract concept but an everyday reality. Like all forms of peaceful public protest, there is a certain power and energy that comes with taking to the streets, shouting your lungs out and making people listen. As we danced and marched through Kolkata’s streets, chanting in unison ‘jabo, nacho, jago!’ (go, dance, rise up), I knew that this was not something to be underestimated.
Lauren Wilks is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. Her research explores the everyday lives and experiences of commuting women domestic workers in West Bengal, India, and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Follow her on Twitter @LaurenWilks01