For more than 20 years, V-Day has been a global movement to end violence against women and girls. Communities in more than 200 countries have been activated through V-Day and their One Billion Rising actions every year.
Productions of “The Vagina Monologues” have been a hallmark of communities touched by the V-Day movement, empowering women and girls to live in their bodies, reclaim their stories, and take a stand to end violence wherever it exists. The stories told in the production have taught the world about the various ways women and girls experience violence and discrimination as well as the power of reclaiming our bodies from a world that can inflict so much harm.
Until I became involved with V-Day, I had no idea how many women and girls routinely experienced violence and harassment in their everyday lives. (For disclosure, I was previously employed by V-Day to help grow One Billion Rising actions in Southern California, and I continue to be involved in its grassroots work as a volunteer.) While I had learned at a young age that there were many ways in which girls and boys were treated differently, I was privileged to grow up in an environment where I was sheltered from the devastating realities that many women and girls face around the world. I didn’t know about female genital mutilation (FGM) or sexual slavery or human trafficking for example. That might not sound shocking, but in more than 30 countries around the world today, girls from infancy to age 15 are most at risk of having their external female genitalia removed against their will as a “cultural practice,” despite being recognized as a human rights violation. In the US, the average age of a teenager in the sex trade is 12 to 14 years old, and many of these teens are runaway girls who were sexually abused at even younger ages.
Gender-based violence is a pervasive plague throughout the world. According to UN statistics, 35% (about 1 in 3 women) of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives. That means over 1 billion women on the planet experience violence in their lifetimes. This number has remained consistent, despite meaningful investment in the elimination of violence against women and girls.
No community is immune to violence against women. Here in West Hollywood there were 11 reported rapes from January to June of 2019 and 17 reported rapes or sex-related felonies in 2019. While it is good news that the number of rapes is down 45% from the previous year, and that sex-related felonies and domestic violence reports are down as well, there was a 14% increase in misdemeanor sex offenses and ANY incident of violence is one too many. There have also been reports of women being drugged, assaulted, or worse at some of our city’s most beloved nightlife destinations. And while statistics show that women are most often the victims of violence perpetrated by men, we know that men and gender non-conforming people can also be victims of violence perpetrated by someone of any gender.
To combat this reality, the city has adopted a multi-faceted approach that includes public safety, social services, and community advocacy and education. In 2016, the city launched a campaign – “Only Yes Means Yes” – that promotes a message of informed and affirmative consent. The Women’s Advisory Board, the Public Safety Commission, and interested community members routinely distribute education materials, stage public actions, and host events to address the issues around sexual assault and domestic violence in our community. Many of these efforts have focused on popular nightlife areas, as the risk of assault increases when alcohol, drugs, or both are involved. But we must do more.
This weekend, the city is co-sponsoring a production of “The Vagina Monologues” that will benefit Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and the Hollywood Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).(Tickets can be purchased online). The show has been produced for more than 20 years, but given the realities of our world today, it remains relevant and a poignant way to reconnect with our community’s commitment to ending violence and empowering women. This year’s production will highlight the importance of using your vote – both to honor the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution and to have a voice in the upcoming primary and general elections. Please make time to see this year’s production, to get engaged with the organizations that are supporting the event, and to USE YOUR VOTE!