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Braving rain and cold in London, dozens of people gathered in Trafalgar Square on Friday to demand gender equality and an end to violence against women in one of thousands of events to be held on Valentine’s Day as part of the One Billion Rising campaign.
The first event was held last year to mark the 15th anniversary of the V-Day movement, an initiative launched in 1998 by activist and writer of The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler. This year’s campaign calls for justice for the one billion women who, according to United Nations figures, will be victims of violence during their lifetime.
“In 2013, one billion rose around the world to end violence against women and girls in the biggest mass action in the history of the world,” Ensler said in a statement. “This year we are escalating and connecting the dots. We are rising for gender, economic, racial, environmental justice.”
In London, people under brightly-coloured umbrellas danced and cheered as a group of dancers performed to the rhythm of “Break the Chain”, the V-Day movement’s anthem. Similar events were to be held in more than 160 countries on Friday.
“I am here as part of the Latin American Women’s Rights Service but also as a woman, as a migrant with the aim of supporting the programme for justice for women to be treated equally to men,” said Carolina Velasquez Correa, who works for a Latin American women’s rights charity and showed up on crutches, wrapped in a Brazilian flag.
“I think dancing is a good way to show the world our bodies belong to us and we are, as the song says, beautiful creatures.”
British politicians and personalities, including the music star Skin, where among the participants, as well as Leyla Hussein, one of Britain’s most vocal campaigners against female genital mutilation (FGM).
“I’ll be here for a couple of minutes, but each minute five girls will undergo female genital mutilation,” Hussein said. “I am a survivor of FGM and also the granddaughter, the daughter, the sister of survivors of female genital mutilation.”
“Eleven years ago, in my family we broke that cycle by making sure my beautiful daughter wouldn’t go through FGM. No one should face what we faced. But that only happened because I had an amazing nurse who challenged my views about FGM, and not just about FGM,” she added.
Some of the demands of campaigners at this year’s London event:
- Making sex and relationship education compulsory in British schools via amendments to the Children and Families Bill.
- The repeal of visa laws that tie domestic workers to their employers and put them at risk of exploitation and abuse.
- Improvements in immigration detention centres to ensure that vulnerable women feel safe; their dignity is respected; and they are not subject to violence.