What do the rural grounds of Kajiado, Kenya; the streets of Wentworth, a township in South Africa; and the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. all have in common?
They are all places that I have danced.They have all provided the foundation for moments where I have entered seamlessly into community with others through the power of movement. Where the shared language ran much deeper than any words could express. And they are only a few moments in my life story of dance.
Another part of my life story is a deeply engrained passion and commitment to investing in women and girls, both locally and globally. I have been advocating alongside and for the rights of my fellow sisters for over a decade, through many incredible organizations including the Girls Scouts, the United Nations and now Prosperity Candle.
These two life stories are becoming intimately and publicly intertwined in a magnificent way a week from now – the countdown is on for the One Billion Rising movement on February 14, 2013, spearheaded by the luminary Eve Enslerand V-Day.
ONE BILLION RISING began as a call to action based on the staggering 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.
Putting that into context, that means that if you have 3 sisters, 3 girl friends, 3 daughters . . . at least one of them is likely to be a victim of violence.
That’s unacceptable. It’s truly, deeply, fundamentally unacceptable. And it creates a fury within my heart and soul. This fury can be channeled in many different ways, and on different days, I do channel it differently – I dig into making Prosperity Candle’s business model work for more women entrepreneurs, I let a flurry of punches loose on the punching bag in boxing class, I spend time with close friends who listen and share my rage, I lift up my despair in prayer.
And now I will dance.
Agnes De Mille once said “To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.”
On February 14, I take this power and will channel my fury alongside many of my friends, colleagues, mentors and strangers who share this collective rage, in a massive movement, an uprising, to demand an end to these unacceptable statistics.
This isn’t just a purpose driven act for me personally. It is also something that Prosperity Candle as a company stands firmly behind and uses as a beacon to drive our mission. Our work is built around creating sustainable businesses for women in marginalized communities so that they may have opportunity, agency and dignity – to have control of their own destiny and to no longer be victims of violence due to economic insecurity and dependence.
We have established our work in Iraq and with women refugees in the U.S., and this year, with the help of our new sister non-profit Prosperity Catalyst, we are expanding our work into Haiti, a country where reports say that 90% of women will experience violence in their life time.
While the solution to this exceptionally unacceptable statistic is multi-faceted, the economic piece is fundamental. When one of our community partners, the fiercely brilliant Elvire Eugene, Founder and Executive Director of the Association Femmes Soleil d’Haiti (AFASDA), is asked about the root of violence for the women she works with, she says without hesitation that it is economic dependence. What the women of Haiti need is sustainable and profitable jobs. It is what women all around the world need to break this pernicious and unacceptable cycle of violence.
I could give you a whole host more statistics that will enrage, infuriate and rip at your heart. But instead, I’d rather give you faces and names. The women and girls that I rise on behalf of and dance alongside of.
I dance for Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23 year old victim in the horrific Delhi gang rape case.
I dance for Josaphine, Nasula, Damarask, and Elizabeth, at A.C.K. Oloosuyian Secondary School in Kajiado, who shared with me their dreams of becoming lawyers, presidents, doctors and pilots, instead of being married at 13.
I dance for Moo Kho, our remarkable Production Manager at Prosperity Candle, who spent years in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border before being resettled with her family in the US in 2008.
I dance for Jessica Greer Morris, Dom, Ashley and the fellow fearless young women of Girl Be Heard, who are using the power of performance art to be seen, heard and respected.
I dance for Malala Yousafzai, the intrepid 15 year Pakistani girl recovering from an assassination attempt by the Taliban, who has become a symbol for girl’s education and equality worldwide.
And I dance for Shiloh, my 4 year old housemate and Lael, my 2 year old cousin, because I believe they deserve a much safer and supportive world within which to grow and flourish, and I refuse to just stand by and let them become another statistic.
I invite you to take this power and join me, join Prosperity Candle – Ted, Siiri, Kim, Moo Kho, Landie, Luma, all the women we work with; join the activists, writers, thinkers, celebrities, and women and men across the world as we express our outrage, demand change, strike, dance, and RISE in defiance of the injustices women suffer, demanding an end at last to violence against women.
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In the spirit of Women’s History Month, our thoughts are drawn to the many women who contribute to society in a myriad of ways while expecting nothing in return. They are hidden from view. Yet these women are transforming communities and making a positive difference in the world. They are unsung heroines.
March is about celebrating women… something we’re pretty excited about. There is so much to appreciate, so many barriers yet to topple, and so many amazing women to recognize for their accomplishments.
Ah, Valentine’s Day. Every year we look forward to it, but here’s the thing. Ever since Eve Ensler started One Billion Rising as part of her V-Day movement to end violence against women and girls, we’ve felt conflicted about this holiday.