V-Tour 2005 Recap From Executive Director Jerri Lynn Fields (Leg Three, Brussels)
I am delighted to send you this final update from the 2005 V-Tour outlining a series of spectacular events in Brussels in April.
We arrived in Brussels on April 18 and were greeted by the leaders of V-Day Europe: Nicoletta Billi (Italy), Rada Boric (Croatia), Karin Heisecke (Germany), Mariana Katzarova (Bulgaria), Tamsin Larby (United Kingdom) and Marie Cecile Renauld (France). These extraordinary women met at the first Vagina Warrior Summit in Rome in 2002 where the idea of a large-scale V-Day Europe event was born. Under the leadership of Marie Cecile, Tamsin and Karin (and the stellar support of Emilie Danel, Eva Hornung, Marie Astrid Périmony and Irene Zeilinger), three years later their dream became a reality and a huge success.
On Monday a two-day workshop began for V-Day college and worldwide campaign organizers throughout Europe and Scandinavia. An astounding 55 women (and one man) representing 18 countries, such as Turkey, Slovenia, Iceland, Bulgaria, United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and France, to name a few, attended this first ever European V-Day workshop. Eve kicked things off with a large group introduction, a discussion of the evolution of V-Day over the last seven years and a fun group exercise requiring movement, sound and great creativity. She facilitated a lively discussion on men and women working together to end violence against women, she raised the idea of “non-resolution” as a solution which initiated an animated dialogue about the possibility of there not just being one way to do things but rather working together for the greater good and she ended the morning session with the entire group sharing their vision of what a world free of violence against women and girls would look like.
After lunch the workshop continued with the topic “How can V-Day work in your country” which launched a series of V-Day success stories and discussion. Some of the success stories discussed include:
- Germany’s successful “Bread Bag” Campaign (a Stop Rape Contest winner at Madison Square Garden in 2001): for the past four years local bread shops wrap fresh bread in bags that give statistics on violence against women in Germany and emergency contact numbers for women—what started as one campaign of 30,000 bread bags in a small town is now a one million bag campaign in Frankfurt and has escalated to numerous towns throughout Germany, using bags and stickers as an effective way to promote local issues.
- The V-Day Iceland team shared their four year success story (mentioned in my last update: http://www.vday.org/contents/vday/press/release/0504121 )
- A college campaign in the Netherlands collaborated with a local shelter and a training program for social workers to develop an awareness campaign with posters that included slogans and their own “vagina” stories.
- By using the V-Spot—the resource and communication website for official V-Day organizers —an organizer in the United Kingdom was emailed by a young woman in Lincoln, Nebraska and they became email buddies and supported one another as they planned their V-Day events.
During the next discussion, “What is the V-Day Europe Network” organizers used their time to brainstorm strategies on facing obstacles within their communities and ways to develop support among one another. We also heard from Diana and Esther from Mama Cash who helped financially support the V-Day Europe events in Brussels. The day ended with a dialogue between Bjorn, our one male attendee from Iceland, and the rest of the group about men becoming involved in local V-Day initiatives and Bjorn’s honest and meaningful ideas were extremely helpful for the group. Later that night the organizers, as well the general public in Brussels, saw the European premiere of V-Day’s documentary UNTIL THE VIOLENCE STOPS at the Flagey and Eve led a Q&A (in French) after the film.
The second day of the workshop began with a dynamic panel discussion on advocacy, facilitated by Karin, and included the following speakers
- Colette de Troy, European Women’s Lobby
- Francoise Guilitte, Amnesty International Belgium
- Tamsin Larby, Until the Violence Stops (V-Day UK)
- Ingrid Bellander Todiono, European Commission—Daphne Programme
The organizers raised some interesting points for discussion by asking the panel thought provoking questions like how to bridge the gap between the public and politicians so that their work as grassroots activists has some cohesion with the political agendas in their countries.
The next discussion, Women in War, was introduced by Eve and featured our own Vagina Warrior Yanar Mohammad of Iraq, whose group the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) is one of this year’s V-Day Spotlight Campaign beneficiaries. Yanar spoke of the realities in Iraq for women at this time – while the horrific stories of kidnapping, sexual assault, violence, lack of freedom, fear of leaving the house moved the group, there was an audible gasp when Yanar told the story about the woman government official who said on international TV (Al Jazeera) that “education is the key, we must teach women how not to make their men angry at them so that they will not beat them!” It was a true wake-up call and many of the workshop participants were visibly shaken by Yanar’s stories from the ground. Eliza Moussavea, a Chechen Human Rights Activist, relayed some of the unspoken atrocities occurring in Chechnya at this time. This was an incredibly powerful session and it inspired all of us to discuss how V-Day can continue to bring forward the issue of women in war and ending ALL forms of violence.
The final presentation on Women and Prostitution was led by Claude Boucher, Director of the Women’s Bus (Bus des Femmes)France, who also attended the Vagina Warrior Summit in 2002, and Sophie Hoffenberg, who works with Claude in the Platform against trafficking in human beings, a platform of organizations providing social, judiciary, administrative and medical help for victims of trafficking. They shared the overwhelming situation on trafficking of human beings in France and more widely in Western European countries. In France for instance, trafficking of human beings represents 70 to 80% of all prostitution and victims are mostly women coming from Eastern European countries and African countries. They also presented their new poster campaign, a national campaign against modern slavery, to be publicized in several cities in France and hopefully in other European countries.
The two-day workshop wrapped up with intimate discussions and networking among the organizers over an afternoon. The workshops with our organizers have a profound effect both on them and on the V-Day staff. Each organizer is moved in a different way and all have said how inspiring and motivating it is to share their experiences with one another and with us. As Anna, from Finland wrote: “The atmosphere of our V-Day Europe was something so beautiful that I almost start crying writing this now: beautiful people saying beautiful things; warmth, love, support. Like in a home that everybody should have. I'm buzzing with ideas.”
While the organizers got further acquainted over an afternoon lunch, Eve and the V-Team were invited to enjoy lunch with all the actresses who had come from Germany, France, Holland, Denmark, Croatia, Finland and Belgium and would be participating in the Jour-V performance later that night. Hosted by one of the actresses and owner of the beautiful Atelier IdeB, Ingrid de Borchgrave, the luncheon was a relaxed way for everyone to meet one another and enjoy being together.
The culminating event of V-Day Europe was “Jour-V” - a star-studded, multi-country, multi-language production of “The Vagina Monologues” at the beautiful Flagey theatre, which raised $40,000 (EUR) for the beneficiaries. Performers included Annie Lennox (UK, singer and songwriter), Anita Roddick (UK, founder Body Shop) , Rebecca Gomperts (The Netherlands, founder of Women of Waves), Mianne Bagger (Denmark, professional golf player and transgender activist attempting to get transgender women accepted to the women’s golf tour), Katja Riemann (Germany, actress). The beneficiaries of this glittering event included Rape Crisis Network Europe, Garance asbl, Solidarité Femmes et Refuge pour Femmes Battues asbl and Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq. The event was sponsored by the European Commission, Mama Cash, Amnesty International and the European Women’s Lobby. And with the additional support of these partners - Commune d’Ixelles, Asticus Europe, Fnac, Just Campagne, Pierre Marcolini, Lefranc-Ferrant, Toni&Guy, ELLE Belgique, Le Soir, La Première, Ruinart, Mouchart, Dior, Théâtre de la Toison d’Or and IdeB the event was an exceptional and poignant end to the 2005 V-tour.
Media coverage of the event included all of the regional daily papers including the cover of Belgium’s Le Soir daily newspaper the day after the show, The Associated Press, as well as numerous magazines throughout France and Belgium. Advertising included bus posters throughout Brussels. In fact, we saw them at our every turn in the city!
The organizers, the actresses and the V-Team networked, socialized and said their goodbyes after the show at two packed receptions and everyone went away feeling connected by the experience over the two days and inspired to continue their work in their own communities all over Europe and the world.
And as one V-Day event ends a new idea is sparked an in full motion. Prior to the JourV event, Eve and Annie Lennox had met and discussed working together. After a few days together in Brussels an idea was born. Annie, having recently become involved with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Foundation in South Africa, and Eve have proposed a township tour of “The Vagina Monologues” for September 2006, where a series of performances will raise funds and awareness for the issue of HIV/AIDS and violence against women and girls.
We are also thrilled that after many years of trying, V-Day Europe enabled Eve and Dame Anita Roddick to finally meet one another and as a result Anita has joined our esteemed V-Counsel, the advisory board of V-Day.
Another V-Season has come to an end. Nearly 2,300 events in over 1,100 communities, raising millions of dollars to end violence against women and girls in local communities around the world, and this was possible because of so many of you, or loyal supporters and friends. I hope you celebrate these great successes!
Jerri Lynn Fields
PS - If you haven’t heard, we have another young Vagina Warrior in the world to celebrate, Carrie Rethlefsen! Carrie is a high school senior who attended a college benefit of “The Vagina Monologues” where she purchased an ‘I © my vagina’ button.* Carrie wore the button to her high school to raise awareness of violence against women which resulted in her suspension with school administrators calling the button offensive and inappropriate. A senior close to graduation, she was threatened with expulsion if she continued to wear the button. Clearly a case of free speech, Eve spoke with her during the height of the controversy to express support. Thrilled by the call from her ‘hero,’ Carrie told Eve she had no intention of backing down. Having garnered the support of the ACLU of Minnesota, the case generated national media attention. On May 3rd, Carrie with the support of over 40 students held a protest at the school planned in conjunction with the school administration. She [heart]‘s her vagina** and the rights of women everywhere! Read the full story here: http://www.vday.org/contents/vday/press/media/0505051
*I [heart] my vagina
** She [hearts] her vagina