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Photo by Richard Leitner

Photo by Richard Leitner

Participants dance to Break The Chain at the One Billion Rising rally at Gore Park on Friday to draw attention to the global problem of violence against women.

Bopping and grooving to a different kind of Valentine’s Day beat

One Billion Rising dance shines light on violence against women

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

I raise my arms to the sky
On my knees I pray
I’m not afraid anymore
I will walk through that door
Walk, dance, rise
– Break The Chain by Tena Clark

They cheered, clapped, whooped, whistled, hugged and high-fived, but mostly they danced, bopping and swaying to the infectious, pulsating groove of Break The Chain, the rallying song that temporarily turned the west end of Gore Park into a makeshift dance floor.

Yet the signs they waved in rhythm to the beat – “No More Abuses, No More Excuses,” “Women Are Not A Possession,” “Stop Women and Children’s Suffering” – made it clear their outwardly joyous Valentine’s Day gathering had a serious message.

Part of the One Billion Rising global campaign, the noon-hour action was designed to draw attention to the startling United Nations statistic that one in three women will be beaten or raped in their lifetime.

As the campaign’s title signifies, in a world of seven billion people that translates into one billion victims globally.

Although dancing might not seem like an obvious response, participants praised the local get-together as a fun, empowering way to draw attention to the issue.

Organized by the Immigrant Women’s Centre, the event drew women’s groups from across the city, backed by a handful of men and unions like Steelworkers Local 1005.

“It’s a great show of solidarity, that it’s not women of one singular culture or class, it’s all women,” said Laura, a victim of violence who declined to give her last name.

“There’s men, there’s children, there’s people, people saying this has got to stop, this is unacceptable, and so I’m happy to lend my feet and voice to that.”

According to statistics compiled by the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton, Canada largely mirrors the global picture on violence against women.

One in four Canadian women, for instance, will be sexually assaulted – half of them under 16 years old – and the big majority will know their assailant.

Surveys have found four out of five women university undergraduates have been victims of violence in a dating relationship and that 51 per cent of Canadian women have experienced at least one incidence of physical or sexual violence since age 16.

Erin Crickett, the centre’s public education coordinator, said the One Billion Rising event adds to other local initiatives, like the Don’t Be That Guy campaign that challenged the idea that it’s OK to take advantage of women if they’re drunk.

She said she was “really impressed” by the enthusiastic Gore Park turnout, which built upon last year’s inaugural effort, which was more decentralized, with events across the city at different times during the day.

“We literally all got together from different places to do a big thing right downtown and be seen,” said Crickett.  “Any time we’re out and taking up space in our cities, we’re reminding folks what an important, dire issue this is.”

Dalia Melo, one of nine fitness instructors who led the crowd through dance moves, said she was happy “to support the ones who don’t have voices” and let the world know women are united in trying to stop violence against women and children.

But she said the event “came very close to our hearts” because four in her group have been victims.

“We know that it won’t stop violence,” she said. “But it just goes to show that we all came together today and it’s just a small, little way of us showing the world that you’re not alone and that you can actually walk through that door and move away, step away from whatever situation you’re in.”

Alyssa Lai, communications coordinator for the Immigrant Women’s Centre, said while her organization took the lead in planning this year’s event, violence against women cuts across all cultures and she’s not aware of it being a bigger problem for newcomers.

“Violence touches women in general, in every aspect of their lives,” she said. “Sometimes they may go reported or unreported. We don’t know until we actually publicize how important it is. It shouldn’t be tolerated.”

One Billion Rising is the brainchild of the V-Day organization founded 16 years ago byU.S.playwright Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues.

The group celebrates its anniversary on Valentine’s Day and initiated One Billion Rising partly in response to a Republican senatorial candidate’s claim in 2012 that women rarely get pregnant from a “legitimate rape.”

“It’s a different way of viewing Valentine’s Day,” Lai said. “It’s not just about a male and female relationship; it has a social conscience to it.”

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