This past Valentine’s Day, members of the Davidson College community performed a rendition of The Vagina Monologues, a play written in 1996 by Eve Ensler. The monologues within the play reflect issues affecting women around the world such as rape, sex, birth, pleasure, genital cutting, and love. The production is part of a larger campaign called V-Day, both of which contribute to international women’s networks and anti-violence programs. Valentine’s Day not only marked the 15th anniversary of V-Day but it was also the beginning of a new campaign known as ‘One Billion Rising.’ The name corresponds to the fact that if 1 in 3 women will experience violence at some point in her life, then over 1 billion women will be impacted altogether. This campaign is rooted in the belief of collective power–women standing up to fight violence together and creating “solidarity across borders.”
In the same way The Vagina Monologues is a subset of the larger V-Day campaign, human rights activist groups target and utilize larger organizations in order to create change. This pattern is universal; it is blind to the scale or size of the issue. Therefore, the fight against FGM calls upon larger structures like the United Nations which has demonstrated significant success as a result of its international influence and fundamental pillars. The UN tackles a variety of issues such as human rights, food production expansion, counter terrorism, and sustainable development. It can function both within a state and between states in order to create friendly relations and improve the overall quality of life for all. In order to thoroughly and effectively address multiple issues at once, the UN is divided into specific branches. For instance, within the ‘Peace and Security’ subgroup there exists several other organizations such as the Peacebuilding Commission or the Disarmament Commission.
According to Berkovitch, the birth of the United Nations in 1942 (formally known as the League of Nations) changed the face of “international cooperative bodies” and served as a “central world focal point” for women’s organizations in particular (295). Women found a platform on which to voice their concerns and reach towards tangible solutions and changes. Within this broader framework, Berkovitch points out that “what started in earlier periods as moral crusades led by women’s groups eventually culminated in highly legitimized and rationalized actions enacted by official world bodies on behalf of women” (298). Yet, this concept can also be applied to the specific circumstances surrounding FGM. The movement to eradicate FGM began with a combination of localized groups and international attention, but efforts lacked cohesion both in their goals and proposed methods of attack. In addition, the protection of state sovereignty initially blocked external aid which isolated local groups even more. However, the UN provided a number of resources for the anti-FGM campaign including advocacy, protection, and political lobbying efforts. Organizations like the UN offer legitimacy and therefore help to “institutionalize their [activist groups] centrality” (295). Indeed, the multi-faceted approach to empowering and improving smaller activist groups continues to successfully propel the FGM movement towards its goals. In 2008, the UN released a preliminary document concerning FGM and how it severely infringes upon women’s rights. Shortly after, in 2012, the UN officially banned FGM and calls upon countries to continue to protect females from the harmful practices and offer aid to those already affected. Although policy-making is not the only avenue for stopping FGM, it does have a significant impact on actions taken to ensure women’s safety and well-being, and works in conjunction with other organizations and movements which promote awareness. For example, in 2009, director and scriptwriter Sherry Hormann released the film Desert Flower. The movie is based on a true story about a Somalian girl who is circumcised at the age of five. She manages to flee to London, becomes a world-renowned model, and eventually is able to tell the story of her past in order to stop the deadly cycle.
Within both the V-Day and FGM scenarios, it is clear that the image of women–not a single woman, but a group of organized women–has served as a vehicle to improve equality and human rights. More importantly, these movements of women (regardless of the issue) cross boundaries and borders in order to create unity and empowerment. It is through the collaborate effort between policy, advocacy and education that people rally together to facilitate change.