Dancing to end violence against women and girls

Jessica Aumann, Communications Officer for the UN Girls Education Initiative, attends a commemoration of International Women’s Day in Bangkok and dances in a flash mob as part of the One Billion Rising movement to end violence against women.

A year ago I swapped British drizzle for a country famous for its mythical beaches, golden temples and delicious street-food – Thailand. With all that in mind I was expecting to have a good time. What I hadn’t expected was how safe I would feel here. A huge reason for this is that it feels so easy to be a woman. At home in London, and when travelling to other parts of the world, I take it for granted that I will need to fend off sexual aggression from men. Here, it just doesn’t seem to happen.

Since coming to Thailand I have worked for the United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) – a network that promotes gender equality in education. This has given me a greater insight into some of the issues people face in this region and challenged my perceptions.

Gender inequalities and gender-based violence persist here, as they do around the world. According to World Bank data, women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. In East and Southeast Asia, UNWomen has found that domestic violence and marital rape, child marriages, and trafficking in women and girls are widespread issues.

On 8 March 2013, I attended the Asia-Pacific Commemoration of International Women’s Day at the UN Conference Centre where I heard powerful stories from survivors of violence. These women got up in front of an imposing audience and spoke about rape, forced sterilisation, and exploitation as domestic workers. As one speaker noted, this is the reality check.

In the evening I danced in a flash mob organised as part of the phenomenal ‘One Billion Rising’ movement to end violence against women. One Billion Rising has been described by founder Eve Ensler as: “a call for the one billion women and all the men who love them to walk out of their jobs, schools, offices, homes…and strike, rise and dance!”

The movement has created a song and easy-to-learn dance, and on V-Day (Valentine’s Day) 2013 it staged dance events around the world drawing huge numbers of people. In Bangkok, the rising was extended to International Women’s Day. Check out this video!

Violence against women and girls happens everywhere. It’s appalling, and opposition to it unites women and men across the world. We saw this in the international outcry following the shooting of Malala Yousafzai for demanding girls’ education in Afghanistan, and again in the mass demonstrations following the brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in Delhi last year. A global movement has been re-ignited. We’ve seen it once again in the success this year of One Billion Rising.

The Twenty-first Century is going to be the Asian century. Maybe it’s also going to be the century for women.

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