On a hot Saturday afternoon, downtown Suva was caught in a hive of activity and anticipation. It was the 14th of February, the universal day to mark Valentine’s Day. But the crowd was gathered there for another purpose.
For the past three years Fijians have been part of the global movement to end violence against women through the One Billion Rising (OBR) campaign. Launched in 2012, OBR began as a call to action based on the shocking statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than one billion women and girls.
According to OBR: On 14 February 2013, people across the world came together to express their outrage, strike, dance, and rise in defiance of the injustices women suffer, demanding an end at last to violence against women. Last year, on 14 February 2014, One Billion Rising for Justice focused on the issue of justice for all survivors of gender violence, and highlighted the impunity that lives at the intersection of poverty, racism, war, the plunder of the environment, capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy. Events took place in 200 countries, where women, men, and youth came together to Rise, Release, and Dance outside of court houses, police stations, government offices, school administration buildings, work places, sites of environmental injustice, military courts, embassies, places of worship, homes, or simply public gathering places where women deserve to feel safe but too often do not.
This year the theme was Revolution.
Since its inception, Fijians have danced to the global OBR anthem Break the Chain in flashmob style around the country.
Pacific Women spoke to OBR Fiji Coordinator Roshika Deo, who initiated the campaign in Fiji in 2012.
Tell us about Saturday – was there a large turnout?
We danced thrice in a row. I can safely say we had over 65 people dancing. It was a Saturday afternoon and the town was busy especially with it being Valentines. People from the roads, supermarket and the other two levels [of the MHCC Shopping Complex where the flashmob was held] joined in to watch. Combined we were performing amidst a crowd of 300.
[See video of the flashmob in Suva courtesy of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement. Approx. length: 00:04:26].
What was the response like from Fijians during the campaign and in the in the lead up to the 14th? Were there any particular group that responded more positively?
The feedback that I have been getting has been very heartening, especially from women and more so the younger women. The fact that they could be in a room full of positive energy, empowering vibe and good fun was something that they liked. During the rehearsals and since the flashmob on Saturday I have been receiving many messages from young women about how empowering they found the whole experience, about making concerted effort to get them involved even though they were shy at first and finally a lot of them have been sharing their experiences of violence and discrimination. A group of young men also showed immense support and diligently attended the rehearsals and the flashmob. Some of them brought their babies, partners – it was a diverse and interesting mix. There were people with disability and transwomen involved also. Since the flashmob, I am being asked daily now by various people when are the next events. One of the things quite distinct about the group that participated was that they were no older men involved.
Have you seen much of a difference in attitudes towards violence against women and girls in the last three years since the One Billion Rising campaign was launched?
Very much so. Especially among the younger crowd. A lot of younger women are starting to change their mindsets when they realize there is solidarity and support. They are now openly sharing their own experiences. When younger men get involved they listen to women who speak about their experiences. I have also noticed some women now asking questions about patriarchy and feminism. One of the most important changes to my knowledge is the shattering of the culture of silence and stigma around violence against girls and women. Survivors are now realizing that there are other ways in which they can share their experiences and they can even be angry and outraged about it. Having an avenue to just share has been quite revolutionizing for many people.
Pacific Women understands there are other activities planned post-Feb 14th. Could you share the details with us?
On 27th February we are having the My Revolution Monologue where women and girls [will] share what change looks like to them from the violence or discrimination they experience or suffered. We are also having a group of men ‘rise’ by saying what they will do to end violence against girls and women. We have talked about looking within – changing their own behaviour and attitudes.
On 6th March we are having Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologue production in Nadi.
All of these are in partnership with the Fiji National University. This was done intentionally so we are able to expand our network and attract a different and more diverse group.
Vanuatu hosted their One Billion Rising event a day early with a flash mob in the market, followed by a drumming and dance performance at Alliance Francaise. Over 90 women, men and children joined in the dancing in the main market place of Port Vila. Take a look at some of the amazing images captured during the performance on the One Billion Rising website.