V-Day: Then and Now

A blog piece by  Louise Robertson, Operations Coordinator, 28 Too Many –a charity working to end female genital mutilation

As we get ready for V-Day 2013 on 14th February and all the many exciting One Billion Rising events taking place across the world I find myself remembering a cold wet, rainy day in 1999 and the very first V-Day event in the UK.

V-Day officially began on Valentine’s Day (February 14th) in 1998 when Eve Ensler organised a star-studded cast to perform her play, the Vagina Monologues, in New York City to raise money for local anti-violence organisations. It was a great success and so in 1999, as well as many events in the USA, Eve also decided to make V-Day international and assembled another starry line-up to perform the Vagina Monologues at the Old Vic Theatre in London, this time raising money for UK charities.

Back in 1999 I was a volunteer at the London Rape Crisis Centre (LRCC) and, as is sadly still the case today for so many women’s projects, we were in desperate need of funds to maintain our services. LRCC was selected to be one of the beneficiary charities for that first V-Day UK event and it was quite literally a life saver, providing vital funds to help us continue our counselling support to rape and sexual abuse survivors during a very challenging time.

On the day of the performance I was a volunteer member of the front of house team, helping to sell programmes and making sure people got to their seats in good time. The instructions beforehand were a bit vague; arrive at the theatre early afternoon and wear something in the V-Day colours of red and purple. Once there we were quickly given security passes, a health and safety briefing and had our various duties explained. Then we had some free time to sit in the theatre and watch the rehearsals. It was at this point, watching Eve help the performers in their final run through, I began to realise that something very special was happening.

Although The Vagina Monologues had received awards and great reviews in the USA, it was little known in the UK. Even in the rehearsals the stories were very powerful and throughout the day there was a growing feeling of excitement. During the performance the purple and red clad cast was incredible and included Kate Winslett, Gillian Anderson, Cate Blanchet, Meera Syal, Natasha McElhone, Thandie Newton, Melanie Griffith, Isabella Rossellini and Sophie Dahl. The audience also played their part. Not only had they bought tickets and made additional donations but many also turned up wearing fantastic purple and red outfits, some looking more glamorous than the cast! At different parts of the show the audience giggled, belly laughed, gasped, cried or sat in shocked silence. The evening ended with music from Des’ree and everyone on their feet for rapturous applause for Eve and all the performers.

That first UK V-Day event was a huge success and an unforgettable night for all of us who were there. It raised a lot of money for worthy causes, was educational, challenging, thought-provoking and also a lot of fun. At its heart was a fierce passion to make a difference and the vision that the world should be a place in which women and girls are free to thrive, rather than merely survive.

Now, 14 years later, V-Day is a major international movement celebrating its fifteenth anniversary. It would be wonderful if this could be a year of celebration but the stark truth is that it is still the case that one in three women will be raped or beaten her lifetime. Therefore in 2013 V-Day is organising its most ambitious campaign yet with One Billion Rising events taking place in over 170 countries. Women and the men who love them are being urged to rise up on February 14th and demand an end to the horrific and widespread violence against women and girls. There will be marching, dancing, Vagina Monologues performances and as ever at V-Day events much laughter.

In the UK One Billion Rising is being led by Stella Creasy MP who has brought together a terrific team of volunteers who have been running workshops in towns and cities across the UK. These workshops bring together campaigners and activists and get their input into 5 key areas to bring about practical and effective actions so that women and girls can live without fear of violence. In addition, many UK based events will be taking place on or around February 14th to raise awareness about violence against women and girls and raise money for local charities.

It is easy to get involved and support the campaign – just visit the One Billion Rising UK website and find an event taking place near you. Maybe you want to have a say in one of the workshops, join the London Rising Dance Celebration on February 4th or take part in a local march/dance on February 14th.

At 28 Too Many, we are joining One Billion Rising to make sure that tackling female genital mutilation is a priority in the UK and globally. We are also pleased to be part of such a great coalition of activists and organisations who all care passionately about every person’s right to a safe life and who are prepared to stand up and make their voices heard to end all forms of violence against women and girls.

I feel honoured to have been part of the V-Day movement for many years and once again I am delighted to be taking part in this year’s activities. Each year it gets bigger and better and I have no doubt that this year will be the biggest we have seen so far. Rise up and be part of it!

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