Earlier this year, Sally wrote a piece for SHE – the Canadian Women’s Foundation Magazine, about what happens when women come together to speak their minds and collectively raise awareness about an issue.
What if one billion women around the world stood up on the same day, sang the same song and danced the same dance? What if together they claimed their own space, raised their own voices, took back the night? Would that send the message that 50% of the population has had it with violence against women?
On February 14, 2013, one billion women from 207 countries danced, sang and reclaimed their own bodies. Little kids and grannies, business women and teenagers flooded into town squares across Canada. They danced, raised their arms skyward and sang a victory chant in glorious solidarity that was heard all over the world, proving there is strength in numbers.
They were taking part in One Billion Rising, the largest global action in history to end violence against women. Like a rising tide, the decision to stop the oppression, the abuse, the second class citizenship of women had been surging around the world. Then Eve Ensler, the award winning playwright and author of the Vagina Monologues and founder of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls, made a startling announcement: “One in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. One billion women violated is an atrocity. One billion women dancing is a revolution.”
On a grey misty day on Salt Spring Island, I joined about 350 others to “Break the Chain.” In Toronto, crowds of women, including supporters of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, wrapped up against the winter cold to sing for change. Women from Calgary to Ottawa to Halifax came together to dance. As Eve Ensler says, “Dancing is a genius form of protest. You can do it together or alone, it gives you energy, makes you feel you own the street. Corporations can’t control it.”
A barrage of recent events at home and away had been stirring the gender pot: the missing Aboriginal women on the highway of tears, the so-called “honour” killings of the Shafia daughters, the suicide of 15-year-old Amanda Todd from Port Coquitlam, BC after online sexual harassment, the gang raping of Jyoti Singh Pandey in India.
But it was the story of Malala, the 15-year-old girl in the Swat Valley in Pakistan who was shot by the cowardly Taliban that was perhaps the biggest turning point. Just a few years ago, Malala’s story would not have been heard. In the Swat Valley it would have been seen as the unfortunate consequence of being a girl. In the rest of the world, the shooting would have been criticized but the conclusion would have been similar—“It’s the way they treat their girls; there’s nothing we can do.”
Not anymore. Malala’s story made every newspaper around the world. It was as though she became the world’s daughter; as though the curtain had lifted and the world saw the treatment of girls in a new light.
So in the winter of 2013, women in Canada and around the world danced because they’d had enough. They raised their voices and claimed their space with a vigour that is propelling dynamic, daring and welcome change.
The time for women is now.
On October 23, 2013, journalist and human rights activist Sally Armstrong stood in front of a crowd of over 650 women and men in Toronto at the Canadian Women’s Foundation breakfast. The event raised over $466,000 to help low-income on their journey out of poverty.