By Anneka Gonzalez
London, Valentine’s Day 2014. Under the torrential rain in Trafalgar Square, members of the midday crowd huddle under their umbrellas, yet one corner of the mass provides a splash of colour against the sheen of the grey paving stones. Ponchos, typical Colombian sombrero vueltiao hats and a whole host of other national flags — Brazilian, Ecuadorian and Costa Rican amongst them — are all on show. On the year’s proclaimed day of love, these individuals are here to represent an even more poignant cause. This group of Latin American women, accompanied by members of the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), are here to celebrate “1 Billion Rising” — an international event aimed at drawing attention to violence against women. Created in 2012 by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, the grassroots campaign intends to spread the message whilst actively involving participants through dance. The flashmob style routine for the “Break the Chain” dance was performed by over 1 billion activists in more than 200 countries on February 14th, 2013.
The significance of Valentine’s Day was chosen to draw attention to global statistics for violence against women — according to a UN figure, 1 in 3 females will be physically assaulted or experience sexual abuse during her lifetime. With a world population of 7 billion, the “1 billion” title represents the number of women affected on a global scale. With representatives from LAWRS, which has supported Latin American women in the capital for over 30 years, this event marked a special day to highlight not only their position as women but also their presence as a rapidly growing community within the UK. The “No Longer Invisible” report by Queen Mary University estimates that there were currently 113,500 Latin Americans resident in London in 2011; quadruple the number in the 2001 census.
Group leader Macarena Gajardo-Sheridan, wearing a colourful chamanto from her home land of Chile, explains what motivated her to lead the group. “I’m participating not just because I myself have experienced discrimination and violence for being female, but also because I know I’m not an exception to the rule. It’s terrible that this is happening across the world, and that many women have resigned themselves to thinking that’s just the way it is.” Although specifically focusing on violence against women, both genders are encouraged to attend, with males also participating on the day. Nicolás Plaza Basualto, also from Chile, reflected on his reason for joining this female-oriented event. “I think we should all recognise that violence against women is still a major issue. It isn’t just a campaign belonging to a group of feminists; we can all play a part”. Carolina Velasquez, Development and Outreach Coordinator at LAWRS, who managed to brave the rain despite dancing on crutches due to a fractured ankle, said that the campaign involves two of her favourite things in life: supporting women’s rights and dancing. Other members of the group also reflected on the creative and unifying aspect of dance as an exciting, energetic, but most of all, peaceful way to focus on women’s rights.
Following the dance routine were appearances from speakers such as MP Yvette Cooper and Nicaraguan human rights activist Bianca Jagger, as well as a performance by the singer Skin (former lead singer of the group Skunk Anansie). Despite the downpour, drenched clothes and crutches, the group agreed on their positive experience, allowing them to combine a love of dance with their experiences as both women and Latin American individuals in the capital. Next year will see them repeat the experience, albeit hopefully in better weather.