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Local activists join global call for end to violence against women

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Watch out for 1 billion dancing women — they might just shake the planet.

On Feb. 14 in Santa Fe, New Mexico women and the men who love them will join people in 178 countries for One Billion Rising, a global action calling for an end to violence against women.

The event marks the 15th anniversary of V-Day, the international movement to stop violence against women and girls started by playwright and activist Eve Ensler, who is best known for her play “The Vagina Monologues.”

When Ensler started V-Day in 1998, she had an ambitious goal to end violence against women within five years, says Santa Fe resident Cecile Lipworth, managing director at V-Day. While that didn’t happen, Ensler and others wanted to keep up the fight while celebrating the achievements of women in the past 15 years.

They started One Billion Rising as a call to action based on the United Nations statistic that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. With the world’s population topping 7 billion, that adds up to more than 1 billion women and girls.

“It was about showing the world what a billion really looks like,” Lipworth says.

The numbers are also startling in New Mexico. Here, one in four women will be raped or stalked in their lifetime and one in three will experience domestic violence, Lipworth says.

To support the effort, music producer Tena Clark wrote an anthem, “Break the Chain” and renowned choreographer Debbie Allen created a dance that participants can see and learn at onebillionrising.org.

In Santa Fe, participants will meet at 9 a.m. in the Plaza and walk, dance and drum their way to the Rotunda, where speakers will address the crowd. At 10 a.m., the New Mexico Coalition on Domestic Violence will discuss goals for 2013, including efforts to increase funding for domestic violence, legislation to add strangulation to the aggravated assault statute and improvements to the confidential address program, which allows victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking to receive mail at a confidential address while keeping actual addresses secret, Lipworth says.

Then, participants will hold a flash mob to perform the Break the Chain dance.

Dance is key to the action.

“Dance is dangerous, joyous, sexual, holy, disruptive, contagious, it breaks the rules,” Ensler writes on the One Billion Rising site. “It can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone and everyone, and it’s free. Dancing insists we take up space, we go there together in community.”

In the past year, One Billion Rising organizers have traveled the world to meet with activists working to stop violence, including a summit of people from 17 African countries and women in Guatemala, Mexico and Peru.

The message spread fast. Activists in Afghanistan, Nepal and South Africa, among others, have Facebook pages describing One Billion Rising events. In some places, women are in danger just by speaking out against violence, Lipworth says.

At one meeting, Lipworth and Ensler met a woman who fights sex trafficking in Mexico City. She took them to a street where young girls are prostituted after they are kidnapped. They also met a girl who is in hiding after pressing charges.

“The stories are horrific and they’re frightening but at the same time the people working are so positive and working on such a great cause,” Lipworth says. “At the end of every meeting we all danced and put music on. When we dance we’re in our bodies, we’re ourselves. We can let go and be joyful and not be mired in the victimhood but in survivorship.”

Joining the Santa Fe action is an act of solidarity with women worldwide as well as a call to end violence at home, she says. Violence against women does not happen only in Africa or the Middle East.

“There isn’t a country in the world where it isn’t happening,” Lipworth says.

New Mexico artists are finding ways to raise awareness about violence at home.

Jerry Wellman and Matthew Chase-Daniel will park their van, a mobile art installation called Axle Contemporary Art, outside the Rotunda on Feb. 14. On the outside of the van, they will spell “vagina” with 250,000 dots to represent women impacted by violence in New Mexico.

Inside, an installation by Santa Fe artist Shirley Klinghoffer called “V-Day,” will show white plaster castings of vaginas linked in a steel frame. The piece is intended to represent a sisterhood of women supporting each other, says Klinghoffer.

Wellman decided to use art to raise awareness about One Billion Rising after he heard Lipworth describe how many women are affected by violence in New Mexico.

“Half of us are women,” Wellman says. “I have a daughter. I have a wife. I have a mother, just like we all do. That number was very high and this sort of shocked me.”

Santa Fe Rising co-organizer Audri Marie Roybal, a pre-med student at the University of New Mexico, is also speaking out against violence.

Roybal, 21, joined V-Day after she was chosen to perform in a play adapted from Ensler’s book “I Am An Emotional Creature,” at the Lensic in Santa Fe while she was still in high school.

“From then on, I became hooked,” she says. “It was kind of like fishing. I got hooked on V-Day.”

The performance and a meeting with Ensler sparked an “a-ha” moment as Roybal realized she needed to end a relationship. Violence had already impacted her family — when Roybal was about 10, her great-aunt was murdered.

Roybal decided to help other women leave bad situations. She joined the V-Girls Action Team, a group of 12 young women from all over the world who focus on empowering girls in their home communities. As a V-Girl, Roybal meets with girls to discuss issues such as body image, domestic violence and bullying.

For her, the goal of One Billion Rising is to help people see that violence is a terrible reality for many women but that they can also find strength and independence in solidarity. The dance is about freedom, she says. It is a way of shouting “we’re not going to let this happen anymore.”

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