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One Billion Rising: 'It's Like a Feminist Tsunami'

Flashmobs in Mogadishu, marches in the Isle of Bute and mass rallies in India.
 
 
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Since Eve Ensler launched the One Billion Rising campaign to end violence against women she has been repeatedly asked: is it a dance movement or overtly political? A protest or a giant global celebration? Just a few weeks before 14 February, the date that Ensler, activist and author of The Vagina Monologues, designated the "day to rise", she says: "I've never seen anything like it in my lifetime."

One in three women around the world are subject to violence at some point in their life, a statistic that prompted Ensler, who wrote the Monologues in 1996, to set up One Billion Rising. With such violence encompassing domestic abuse, gang rape, female genital mutilation and war, it is perhaps unsurprising that the campaign has taken on a different hue in each of the 190 countries where events to mark 14 February are  planned.

"It is something that has gone across class, social group and religion. It's like a huge feminist tsunami," she said on a stopover in Paris.

Local protests range from the first ever flashmob in Mogadishu, Somalia, to the town square in Rothesay on the  Isle of Bute and encompass Maori women in New Zealand and an estimated 25m protesters in Bangladesh. Ensler's idea for One Billion Rising came from her work in the Congo, where she set up the  City of Joy to help female victims of violence and where she plans to be on 14 February itself, a day chosen partly to take back the idea of love from the soppy commercialism of Valentine's Day. Her last stop before Congo will be London, with a sold-out event at the  Café de Paris including Thandie Newton and other campaigners.

Ensler says a combination of social media and the world's grassroots feminist movements have driven the way the campaign has taken off globally. In south Asia for three weeks over Christmas, she was struck by how much the horror over the gang rape of the 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh in Delhi had given impetus to the campaign. "In  India, One Billion Rising is at the centre of the biggest breakthrough in sexual violence ever seen," she says.

Kamla Bhasin, a feminist campaigner in the continent for more than 30 years, says each country is taking a different approach – from the astonishing mass movement in Bangladesh, organised by  Brac, one of the world's largest NGOs, to Afghanistan, where "there will be no dancing and no singing but people still want to say, 'Enough is enough'".

The idea of dancing to stop violence has understandably attracted naysayers, even among committed supporters, but two videos, among hundreds, sum up how Ensler's idea inspires campaigners. The first is the one that launched the new anthem written and produced by Grammy-award-winning  Tena Clark, Break the Chain , with a video choreographed by Debbie Allen, who went on to make her own accompanying  "how to" dance video. The second is one produced by campaigners in  Norwich. Without the involvement of the sort of Hollywood A-listers – Robert Redford, Jane Fonda – usually associated with Ensler, it's still hugely effective. Local organisers were keen to show that the campaign is supported by men and boys as well as women.

 
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