- People in 202 countries gather for events as part of 1 Billion Rising
- Campaign's name is derived from statistics that 1 in 3 women will be beaten or raped
- Events focus around song and dance to show solidarity
In cities around the world, men and women were dancing Thursday: on street corners, in parks and theaters, in front of libraries, schools and state capitols.
They came together as part of 1 Billion Rising, a global day of action to remind the world that violence toward women persists despite progress in recent decades. Those involved say the events also created a platform to share how violence has touched their lives and show solidarity through dance.
In Israel, 31-year-old Liora Yuklea says she has experienced sexual harassment, along with most women she knows. 1 Billion Rising gave her a safe platform to share her experiences.
Watching women and men (in skirts!) perform a choreographed dance in Tel Aviv's Cinematheque theater reminded her of the scale of 1 Billion Rising and the conversation it has triggered among men and women.
"The movement means to me a battle for women's rights to their body and soul, a battle for the right to live lives that are safe from gender-based violence," she said. "To me it means solidarity, sisterhood and brotherhood."
Tens of thousands of people in 202 countries participated in rallies and flash mobs on Valentine's Day as part of 1 Billion Rising. The campaign, whose name is derived from United Nations statistics that 1 in 3 women worldwide, about one billion, will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. It's an offshoot of V-Day, a grassroots effort started by "Vagina Monologues" playwright Eve Ensler to end violence against women.
"The whole idea is if we get a billion people to dance, we'll begin to open up our imaginations and consciousness, to feel like what it would feel like if women were safe," Ensler told CNN International's Becky Anderson.
People's reasons for participating were as varied as the demonstrations. Some were encouraged by celebrity endorsements from the likes of Rosario Dawson, Kerry Washington and Jane Fonda. Others in the United States used the day to issue a rallying cry around the Violence Against Women Act, whose reauthorization remains in question.
"Roses are red. Violets are blue. The #Senate passed #VAWA. Now it's up to you," Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington said in a tweet directed at House Speaker John Boehner that was shared 155 times as of Thursday afternoon.
Amid the steady stream of tweets using the hashtag #1billionrising, some remembered South African model and activist Reeva Steenkamp, whose boyfriend, Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, is accused of killing her.
For rally participant Kasia Rusiniak and others like her, it was personal.
"I was always peripherally aware that a lot of women get sexually abused in their lifetime, but statistics are a tricky thing; they always seem like just numbers," said the 31-year-old Canadian, who attended a rally Thursday in Toronto.
Her passion for the cause was jump-started by her participation last year in a production of The Vagina Monologues, in which 17 of her 21 colleagues said they have experienced some form of sexual violence.
"The reality of the statistic slapped me in the face," she said in an e-mail. "Four out of 21 women had not experienced sexual violence. I was one of the lucky ones, but I was sickened, and I was enraged. Why is this a regular thing? How is it allowed to continue?
"I am rising with OBR (1 Billion Rising) because enough is enough. Let's make it stop. I am rising with OBR because I have a voice. I am rising with OBR for all the women that can't. I am rising with OBR to make this stop, because statistically, there are more of us!!"
Actor Anika Noni Rose participated in a flash mob in Los Angeles, California. She'd been looking forward to the event for a while but it wasn't until she joined the crowd and started rehearsing the dance that the spirit of the event took hold of her, "surpassing excitement and striking a deep chord within me."
"There was joy on that corner," she said. "This was a call for awareness and change that needs to be heard and answered. It was all women of all colors and ages and tongues, saying Still I Rise. You cannot hold us down."
In a wildly different scene, patrolmen in riot gear flanked a group of women in Afghanistan carrying banners through Kabul, whose reasons for marching carried similar sentiments.
"We have gathered here to condemn the violence against women in Afghanistan," activist Nahita Mahbob told Reuters. "We have been witnessing various types of violence around the country against women. Afghan women are being sold, being raped...we want freedom for women in all walks of life and their rights must be respected."
For others in the free world, the movement's timing on Valentine's Day created an opportunity to do something constructive on a holiday lacking meaning for them.
"Usually, I embrace the bitter, brokenhearted side of this day and use this day to be mad at all the 'happy' people," said Monica Alicia Villarreal, 29, of Lansing, Michigan.
This year, she chose to be part of something bigger and attended a gathering at the Michigan state capitol in Lansing to dance with others in the rotunda.
"I'm inspired by the idea of billions of women coming together to end violence," she said in an e-mail. "I chose to be happy today and to be a part of something amazing. I wanted to be surrounded by women coming together to stand for strength and courage and love."
On a day focused on ending violence toward women, Ivan Enrile joined a sea of activists dressed in pink, red and black in Quezon City, Philippines, to protest what he sees as a problem affecting men, too.
Violence toward women also debases men by reinforcing hyper-masculine gender norms that "prevent men from realizing their true potentials as human beings," the 28-year-old Filipino said.
"Women's issues to me are important since I believe that no society can ever free itself from problems of inequality, poverty, and violence without the full freedom of women."