V-Day has grown from an underground feminist gathering to a global mainstream media event and movement against violence featuring a Stop Rape Contest. The deadline for anti-rape strategies just passed, but college students have until Dec. 15.

Eve Ensler

(WOMENSENEWS)–Ask women around the world how they would make the world safe for women, and the ideas come pouring in.

Some would send a quiet message of protest: a T-shirt that reads: "If RAPE is Sexual then KILLING with a KNIFE is just COOKING."

Some would rely on educating males: a three-part anti-rape program, one for boys in kindergarten through third grade, the second for fourth- to sixth-graders, and the third for seventh- through ninth-graders, which produces a teen certified safe for dating.

Some would focus on prevention: a Stop Rape Shuttle that would safely transport inebriated students home from bars and educate riders about the dangers of date rape.

Some would put their faith in the power of public humiliation: a plan to engrave the names of rapists, along with the measurement of their penis, on toilet seats, pit latrines and public transportation.

Each of those ideas, along with scores of others, was submitted in last year’s International Stop Rape Contest. The contest is an outgrowth of V-Day, the organization founded by Eve Ensler, the monologist who made vagina a household word. Several hundred more ideas came in ahead of the Nov. 30 deadline for this year’s contest, with winners promised up to $25,000 in funding to implement their ideas.

A second contest this year is seeking Stop Rape ideas from men as well as women on college campuses around the world. The winners of the college contest will get up to $5,000 to implement their ideas. The deadline for the college contest ideas is Dec. 15.

Both contests are being conducted in collaboration with Equality Now, a group that fights violence against women.

Contest winners will be announced in conjunction with V-Day 2002, a series of events, fund-raisers and performances of Ensler’s Obie Award-winning "Vagina Monologues" that will take place on or around Valentine’s Day. Already, nearly 200 cities around the world and 600 college campuses have signed on to raise money by performing the play and raise consciousness about violence against women through educational events in connection with the production.

V Stands for Victory Over Violence, Valentine’s Day–and Vagina

This is the fifth year for V-Day–organizers say the V stands for Victory over Violence, Valentine’s Day and, of course, Vagina–and the organization has raised nearly $7 million, Ensler said. "It’s really quite staggering."

Ensler, whose popular "Vagina Monologues" leaves its audiences in tears–sometimes from laughter, sometimes from shock, sometimes from horror–uses a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales to fund V-Day. Ten dollars of every ticket sold to shows in Chicago and New York go to V-Day; along with $5 of every ticket sold in Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as a percentage of the money from the two national touring groups.

"It’s been a vagina miracle," the playwright-activist said in an interview. "When something is necessary, there is a certain kind of energy that isn’t like anything else. This has an urgency and mysterious quality that I find amazing."

The urgency is evident in the overwhelming statistics. Worldwide, one in three women has been raped or sexually abused, according to a United Nations report. In the United States, one in six women has been the victim of a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Put another way, the Justice Department says that a woman is raped every 90 seconds somewhere in the United States. Half of those female victims will be under 18 years old; one in six will be under 12.

The statistics are so overwhelming that "one of the greatest hurdles we have to overcome is that people don’t think it’s possible," Ensler said. "They can’t even imagine a world without rape."

Despite the odds against believing that the world can be made safe for women, V-Day has grown exponentially, from an underground feminist event to a mainstream media one.

"When I started, you couldn’t even say ‘vagina’ on television. Now it’s on billboards all over America," she said.

This year, benefit performances of the "Vagina Monologues" are being scheduled around the world in connection with Valentine’s Day 2002. Already, nearly 200 cities and more than 600 college campuses around the world have signed on to present the show. Ensler offers free use of her play in return for a few rules, chief among them the requirement that all of the money raised is donated for a local violence prevention or anti-rape program chosen by the producers of the events.

V-Day Now Worldwide Effort to Fund and Showcase Ideas for Stopping Rape

But the performance of Ensler’s moving monologues is just one part of V-Day, an organization that officials say has grown into a movement against violence. The worldwide effort to fund and showcase ideas for stopping rape is one of its newest ideas.

Some of the ideas are quite basic.

Renifa Madenga proposed opening a rape crisis center in Zimbabwe. While she noted that her idea "may not be innovative and outrageous," it is necessary in a country that has no rape crisis centers and still treats rape victims like criminals.

Uzma Gulzar Pirzada of Pakistan proposed a chain of women who would line the main streets of the cities and let out a successive shriek. "The first woman will let out a shriek, followed by a shriek of the second woman and so on. This will create a long shriek of pain–weakness when suppressed but empowerment when it comes out."

Gracia Dwinita Asriningsih of Indonesia proposed that women throughout the world join in a Stop Sex Day. "On this day women all over the world, maybe for the first time in their life, will say no to having sex with men (husband, boyfriend, client, etc.)–firstly to show solidarity among women for every woman who is being raped every day by her husband … secondly to strengthen our struggle for equality and the ability to decide about our own sexuality."

Natali Koval of Russia proposed that women worldwide choose one day a week and at an agreed-upon hour "break a plate on the kitchen floor and proudly exclaim: ‘I am not a victim!’"

Ensler is hard-pressed to name a favorite.

"There are so many ideas that I love," she said. "There’s a radio show in Mongolia where people call in and talk about violence. There’s an Australian poster campaign, with posters in (tavern) bathrooms that say: ‘Vodka is not a lubricant.’ There’s an amazing theater piece in India, that is now traveling to different cities and has been unbelievably successful."

But, she admits, she really likes the bread bag idea in Germany.

It was proposed by 28-year-old Silke Pilliger of Germany. Pilliger suggested printing anti-rape slogans on bread wrappers. One of her slogans tells bread buyers, "One German woman in two suffers from headaches, one in three has problems backing into a parking space, and one in five is raped by her partner."

"I love it because it’s so basic," Ensler said. "You get your bread in the morning and it says ‘Have you raped your wife today?’ You get that (rape) is ordinary. We have to make it extraordinary."

Free-lance writer Cindy Richards has been a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and a reporter, columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. She has written about health care, children’s issues, education and women’s issues. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for her coverage of workplace issues.

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