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Who’s afraid of vaginas?

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Gender Equality and Women’s Rights were top of the agenda last week. Aarhus, Denmark was just one of the cities on the map in the #1billionrising campaign. Pandeia curates an article from before the event, by Zoe Robertson, for Jutland Station.

On February 14th, the Women’s Museum in Aarhus, Kvindemuseet, will host its first V-Day event, part of a global initiative to end violence against women and girls. The event, coordinated by an international group of journalism students from Aarhus University, is one of many taking place internationally in an effort to fundraise and increase awareness for women’s rights and gender equality.

V-Day, a worldwide activist movement that aims to end violence against women and girls, was created by Eve Ensler, who was inspired by the reaction to her 1994 play The Vagina Monologues. The organization has steadily amassed a global following and now holds upward of 5000 events across the world annually, most organized by local grassroots leaders and college students in conjunction with their campuses. Last year, V-Day launched the One Billion Rising for Justice campaign, a call for communities to gather on Valentine’s Day to participate in events that raise awareness and challenge violence against women.

Friday’s V-Day event program features an interactive afternoon followed up by evening performances. Hosted in the Women’s Museum café area, the day will open with photography exhibits, and interactive and multimedia displays including, for the daring, a photo booth specially designed for participants to privately photograph (and instantly print) their body parts for display in the museum. The evening program will feature a documentary screening and discussion, followed by poetry and book-excerpt readings, drama, and a musical performance. All program events are centered on raising awareness and increasing dialogue about womens’ and girls’ rights.

“People kind of assume that everyone’s on the same page in terms of what we think about gender equality and violence against women, but…there’s a lot of differences in how people feel.”

Ellie Sellwood, a student from the U.K., is coordinating performances for V-Day in Aarhus. It’s all centered around the idea of home and being comfortable and how violence is like a violation of your home. It doesn’t matter what sort of violence it is, it damages your property and how you feel.” Pascale Müller, another of the event organizers, from Germany, describes how, in many of the performances, “people are talking about their personal experience. We want people to engage with the topics.”

The event, backed by the V-Day organization but arranged individually by local communities, is intrinsically collaborative by nature. While most V-Day events will traditionally see at least some performance, either of The Vagina Monologues or other scripts that focus on women, community organizers are encouraged to create inclusive, interactive programs that incorporate additional forms of activism.

This collaborative spirit translates to nearly all facets of the event’s organization and production. Lotte Kamphuis, from the Netherlands, and Sofia Lotto Persio, from Italy, are also part of the team of coordinators of Friday’s event. “Everybody is doing so much,” says Kamphuis. “There’s this feeling of community, of people having the same goals and wishes,” agrees Lotto Persio.

Sellwood stresses the advantage of a multinational organizational and performance team, and the benefit it has for the event. “Actually performing this event in a different country has been really interesting, gathering perspectives from Danes and fellow international students who all have a different take on it.” Kamphuis agrees, noting the diversity of material that results from a global group. “It’s really nice that it’s such an international group. It’s content from all over the world.”

Perhaps the most fitting collaboration taking place during V-Day is that of the organization and the venue. The Women’s Museum in Aarhus, touted as one of the only of its kind, will host V-Day for the first time. Julie Rokkjær Birch, who is responsible for audience engagement at the museum, considered it an appropriate partnership. “It was very easy to say yes,” she said of being approached to host the event at the museum. “I think it’s important that this museum is always up-to-date about what is happening when you discuss gender and women.”

It is likewise appealing for the event organizers. “For me it was rather exciting to host V-Day in one of the few women’s Museums in the world,” says Müller. “I think they should step out a little bit more and be a little bit vocal about what they want to do, also towards the audience here in Aarhus, and I think V-Day is a great event to do so.” In addition to the ideological linkage, she explains that the venue is physically accommodating too. “It’s a very unique place, not only the Women’s Museum as an institution but also the place itself. It has a really intimate atmosphere, so I think it will transport the performance very well.”

The movement behind V-Day also speaks to the initiatives of the Women’s Museum. As Rokkjær Birch put it “We’re not just a museum. We are also taking responsibility for women in need. We have a guidance centre here, where women who have been abused can go talk to a counsellor. We have a bigger perspective than just being a museum.”

Promoting V-Day has already involved breaking taboos. Kamphuis and Lotto Persio, who worked together to create a video for display at the event, recorded men answering two simple questions: What do you think of when you hear the word Vagina? and What does the word vagina mean to you? While the teaser for their video is, at face value, humorous (many of their subjects cringe and shift awkwardly when put on-the-spot), there is an underlying intent, and Kamphuis emphasizes, that the video “is not there to make fun of them. It’s funny, because it’s a word that they don’t use that much, and they have to think about it there and it’s very spontaneous.” Lotto Persio describes their intention of using humour as a way to navigate or break taboos surrounding female sexuality. “I think this helps going a little bit underneath the surface of the usual sexual jokes you would have. This is much more straight-on, you’re not using euphemism, you’re not using different words, you’re going straight to the point, and I think that’s a good way.”

Ultimately, the organisers hope to create an accessible and inviting environment for participants to engage in community activism and develop awareness of the cause. “For me, it’s about raising awareness and switching something in people’s heads,” says Lotto Persio. And even for first-time participants, the event is easily appealing. Says Müller, “I feel V-Day has an easy entrance into the topic of feminism. You can do a lot of dance or poetry, things that are really accessible to the audience. So I think this is why there is a great diversity in the people who come and attend it because they feel they can do something and relate to it.”

Sellwood agrees that “it’s a great conversation starter, and it’s opening up the conversation about equality. A lot of people kind of assume that everyone’s on the same page in terms of what we think about gender equality and violence against women, but I think actually there’s a lot of differences in how people feel.”

And, for those who plan to spend the day with a significant other, the organizers encourage a visit to the Women’s Museum. “I think it might be a very unique opportunity for a nice Valentine’s Day,” says Kamphuis. But, adds Lotto Persio, “It would be really nice if you just looked at this day, not really as Valentine’s Day, but just as another Friday and a Friday on which you can learn something more about female rights and gender rights and equality.” The event is designed, above all, to be fun, concludes Lotto Persio. “You can have fun with vaginas, but that, I think is something that everyone knows.”

Entry is a 20 DKK donation to Kvindemuseet. The event begins at 1pm, with the evening program and performances starting at 5pm. Visit https://www.facebook.com/events/286670538152322/ or kvindemuseet.dk for more information.

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