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2009-02-09

Playwright, V-Day Founder Eve Ensler and Congolese Gynecologist Dr. Denis Mukwege Raise Awareness on War on Women in DRC

Guests

Eve Ensler, award-winning playwright and creator of The Vagina Monologues, which has been translated into over forty-five languages and is running in theaters all over the world. She is the creator of V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. She is on a five-city tour this month to raise awareness about rape in the Congo. It’s called "Turning Pain to Power."

Dr. Denis Mukwege, Congolese gynecologist and founder of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. He specializes in the treatment of women who have been gang-raped. He has treated some 21,000 women over the past 12 years, performing up to ten surgeries a day. He was honored by the UN in December 2008 for his humanitarian work and won the "African of the Year Award" last month. He is on a five-city tour of the US this month to raise awareness about rape in the Congo.

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Tens of thousands of women have been brutally raped
in the DRC as part of an ongoing internal conflict. We speak with playwright and V-Day founder Eve Ensler and Congolese gynecologist Dr. Denis Mukwege, founder of one of the only hospitals that treats victims of rape and mutilation. Dr. Mukwege has helped over 21,000 women in the past decade and was named "African of the Year" by a Nigerian newspaper last month. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The top UN official for humanitarian affairs is traveling through the war-ravaged eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo today, where nearly 900 people have been killed and unknown numbers of women raped since the beginning of the year.

After visiting a hospital, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes expressed his shock at the large number of rapes that continue to take place. According to the United Nations, tens of thousands of women in the Congo have been brutally raped as part of the ongoing war.

Dr. Denis Mukwege is a Congolese gynecologist and the founder of one of the only hospitals that treats victims of rape and mutilation. He’s been honored by the United Nations with the 2008 prize for human rights for his tireless work at the Panzi Hospital that receives nearly ten new patients every day. Dr. Mukwege has helped over 21,000 women in the past decade and was named "African of the Year" by a Nigerian newspaper last month.

Dr. Mukwege is in the United States this month to raise awareness about the war on the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He’s beginning a five-city tour with playwright, activist Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologues, founder of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women. They begin that tour today on Democracy Now!

Last fall, Eve Ensler worked with UNICEF to organize events in two cities in the DRC, where survivors of sexual violence publicly spoke out against violence and about their experiences for the first time. Seven women told their stories in front of community members and government and UN officials.

    SURVIVOR 1: [translated] When they took my husband and hit him and tied him and tortured him and took him I don’t know where, they went and killed him wherever they had taken him. And then all seven men raped me. Then the neighbors heard what happened and found me unconscious. They looked at me and saw all my insides outside of my body.

    SURVIVOR 2: [translated] They started taking the clothes off my children, and I told them, “Please, excuse me, you can’t do that. Instead of raping my children while I watch, just kill me first.”

    SURVIVOR 3: [translated] A woman is supposed to be respected. We are not objects. Women get pregnant and breast-feed you. How come you disrespect me today in public?

    SURVIVOR 4: [translated] The authorities of this country, how do you look at this rape issue and remain silent?

    SURVIVOR 1: [translated] We are suffering because of rape. Rape should stop. It must stop.

    SURVIVOR 5: [translated] I am speaking so that women who are hiding and others who have AIDS can come out, so they can be taught how to live.

AMY GOODMAN: Excerpts from the women’s testimonies last fall, courtesy of V-Day. I’m joined now here in the firehouse studio by Dr. Mukwege and Eve Ensler.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Eve, talk about this tour, "Pain to Power."

EVE ENSLER: Well, I had the privilege and honor of meeting Dr. Mukwege about two years ago. I interviewed him at the bequest of OCHA, a UN agency. And I had known before there some of the stories and some of the things that were going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but really it wasn’t until I met him and talked to him and listened and heard the stories that I came to understand the severity of the situation. And since then, I’ve been three times to Panzi Hospital and to the Democratic Republic of Congo and really witnessed firsthand and heard the stories of women and spent a lot of time with Dr. Mukwege.

And I felt if we could bring him here and we could travel America and we could go to universities and we could do small events and large events and all kinds of events, and this country could hear his voice and could hear directly from him the stories that were going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we might be able to shift consciences and really activate a movement here on the ground, which is already beginning to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mukwege, tell us how you got involved with this issue. Dr. Mukwege is being translated.

DR. DENIS MUKWEGE: [translated] It’s a particularly difficult situation. For the past ten years, at the hospital we have women that are not only raped, but have been tortured also, and their genitals have been literally been destroyed. And they’re often young. They’re at the beginning of their youth. And they arrive in such a condition where urine and fecals are coming out, and it’s very hard to take them, to take care of those women. But we are here because we have hope, and we have hope that the world can listen. It is unacceptable. It is unbearable that women are treated this way.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is committing these crimes?

DR. DENIS MUKWEGE: [translated] These crimes are committed by armed groups. For the past ten years, the Congo has been occupied by seven armies. And each army, each armed group, including the Congolese armed forces, each group commits its own atrocities. And I think it’s a very big deal, because women have no hope. Even those who are supposed to protect her abuse her and torture her.

AMY GOODMAN: Eve, you recently came back from Congo. Tell us about the Panzi Hospital.

EVE ENSLER: Well, I also — I want to say, too, that it’s really important to remember that violence against women is not a particular African thing or a Congolese thing; we know it’s happening in every country in the world. One out of three women are violated. I think what’s going on in the Congo, with a history rich in colonialism and genocide and rich in plunder, we know that the West is — this is essentially an economic war that is being fought on the bodies of women, that what we’re seeing at Panzi Hospital, to me, is a kind of end-of-the-world scenario.

We’re seeing hundreds and hundreds of women who are there who have been raped, whose bodies have been ripped apart, who are incontinent, who can’t hold their pee or pooh because of the terrible things that have been done to them, the guns, the knives, the many penises, the many rapes that have been done to them. And we’re seeing really, essentially, a country where this has been going on for ten to twelve years with complete or close to complete indifference in the world. There have been some groups, obviously, that have —- like Human Rights Watch, that have kept their eye on this, but for all intents and purposes, the world has been fairly indifferent.

And I think, for me, having spent a lot of time in the rape mines of the world, when I went to the DRC and I heard these stories, I saw what could happen everywhere in the world if we don’t pay great attention to women’s bodies, because it is really so extreme there, and there’s been almost complete impunity there, that if we, as a world, do not develop a conscience and support the women there and have their backs and provide resources, but just really pay attention and start working through political channels to put pressures on the appropriate people, we will see the spread of this everywhere. We’re already beginning to see the spread of it in places like Zimbabwe.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about the deal that has just been reached on the Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, it being reported that Rwandan officials promised this weekend to return him to his home country more than two weeks after the Rwandan military arrested him near the border. Let’s start with you, Eve.

EVE ENSLER: Well, I think “arrest” is a hopeful phrase. I think he’s been taken out of the country. We don’t know where he is. It could be a vacation for Nkunda in Rwanda at this point. What I’m very concerned about is the fact that Bosco is still there, and he needs to be arrested, as well. And -—

AMY GOODMAN: Who is Bosco?

EVE ENSLER: Under Nkunda. And what I’m more concerned about is that 6,000 troops have just been sent in, Rwanda’s troops, who have been kind of unleashed on the country without any protection of the women. And I think Dr. Mukwege can to speak to that, but it’s incredibly dangerous.

AMY GOODMAN: Doesn’t the US support Kagame, the head of Rwanda, the president?

EVE ENSLER: Yes. Do you want to address —-

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mukwege?

DR. DENIS MUKWEGE: [translated] We are very worried. We know what armed groups do, what military does to women. Your question is about the protection for women, what measures have been taken to protect women. There is no answer. There’s thousands of militaries. There is no witness. There is nobody. I think all the women who have been raped and we have fixed them, we’re going to find them again in the same situation in a few months. There are UN forces there. Why cannot they be associated to the situation for more transparency? I am very worried, because there are no witnesses to what is going on now.

AMY GOODMAN: So what exactly has to happen, Dr. Mukwege?

DR. DENIS MUKWEGE: [translated] There has to be a will, a decision. It’s very good that we arrested Nkunda, but it’s just one action. It’s one act, isolated, and if it stays isolated, there would be another Nkunda. The political actors have to take responsibility. There has been over five million dead people. We cannot treat the situation lightly. It’s a very big deal, and there has to be responsibilities taken. It’s not just one arrest and have one event, but this situation is going to remain the same. There has to be a political will to stop these atrocities, stop the rapes, stop the war, and stop killing civilians. We need political choice.

AMY GOODMAN: Eve Ensler?

EVE ENSLER: I also think if Nkunda’s been arrested, he needs to be extradited in the Congo and tried there, so the people know there is justice. I think that the Congolese people must have control over the resources of their country, that so much of what’s going on there has to do with the plundering and the taking of the mines, particularly for our cell phones and PlayStations with coltan. And if -—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that for a second, what the resources are.

EVE ENSLER: Well, many of the mines are coltan mines, and that coltan goes into making cell phones and PlayStations and computers. And actually, much of the war has been escalated through that mining. And we in the West benefit, as we know, greatly from cell phones. So that — all those mines are controlled by rebel groups and militias, who then get that to the Western and to Russia and to China and to all kinds of countries. If those resources were controlled by the Congolese people and put back into their power, things would shift in a very big way. If we were holding accountable leaders of the FDLR, for example, who are in France and who are outside of the country, and they were held as war criminals so they couldn’t control things in —-

AMY GOODMAN: FDLR, standing for...?

EVE ENSLER: The Interahamwe or the former génocidaires who came from Rwanda.

AMY GOODMAN: Rwanda.

EVE ENSLER: If we were actually protecting women inside the country by putting more peacekeepers on the ground or by developing even a women’s police force that could protect women inside the bush, I think it would be much better for women. There’s no protection for women in the bush. When rebel soldiers go in, there’s no cameras there, there are no eyes on those women. Rebel soldiers go in, and they rape and they plunder. That’s what soldiers do now. Why will they stop doing that? Why will 6,000 Rwandese troops do any differently than anyone did before? These are the good soldiers? I mean, they’re soldiers. That’s what happens, particularly in a country where rape has essentially become a country sport, not because all the men are rapists. A very small percentage of the men are rapists, but enough men are raping that they’re actually impacting many, many women.

AMY GOODMAN: Eve Ensler and Dr. Denis Mukwege are our guests. Dr. Denis Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital, one of the only hospitals in Congo -— it’s in the eastern Congo — that’s dealing with this mass rape of women and girls. Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day, wrote The Vagina Monologues, is the leader of this international movement, this global movement against violence against women and girls. We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN:

For our radio listeners, we are playing images during our break and during this broadcast of major protests that took place. Our guests are Eve Ensler, award-winning playwright, creator of The Vagina Monologues and V-Day. They are launching today on Democracy Now! this five-city “Pain to Power” tour to raise awareness about rape in the Congo. We’re also joined by Dr. Denis Mukwege, who is the founder of the Panzi Hospital to help thousands of girls and women who are the victims of rape in eastern Congo and this resource war, with the invading forces being Uganda and Rwanda.

Eve Ensler, the protest that took place in Congo?

EVE ENSLER:

Well, two years ago, with local groups on the ground and with wonderful women activists there and with the help of UNICEF, we — V-Day, we all came together, and we created this campaign called "Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource: Power to the Women and the Girls of the DRC." And that campaign has proved to be quite powerful, and I really feel there is a revolution brewing with women on the ground.

And in the last two years, we’ve seen major demonstrations in the street. Last November, that occurred — November before this November, that occurred in Goma and Bunia and Bukavu, and we saw 8,000-10,000 women in each city. And then, this year, we did public testimonies, where brave, brave women came forward in Goma and Bukavu, and they shared — the first time they broke the silence and shared the horrible stories of what had been done to them in front of hundreds of officials. It was extraordinary. And what was really extraordinary was to see how many men came and how moved men were and how communities wept together and really heard the stories be told publicly, which really broke some essential denial and taboo. And now we’re seeing activists educating all through the bush, talking about the issues, mobilizing. They’re going to do a “Breaking the Silence” event in Kinshasa now.

And I think in the next two to five years, if the campaign continues, which it will with resources and support, we will see major change and major revolution happening, because the women are fierce. And we’re opening a place called the City of Joy, which will be a project of Panzi, which will be a facility center, which will really turn pain to power and support women who have been horribly tortured and abused to become the next leaders of the DRC.

AMY GOODMAN:

Talk more about the City of Joy, Dr. Mukwege.

DR. DENIS MUKWEGE:

[translated] When we take care of women at the hospital, these women are wounded physically but are also traumatized profoundly. And it’s not possible, just like that, to cure them; it takes time, sometimes a lot of time. We cannot kick them out of the hospital, so we needed a place where women can stay to be taken care of and to train them to reinsert socially and to give them the possibility and the ability to take care of themselves and to be able to fight in life, because they do have the capability to do this.

I have seen amazing transformations. There is an enormous potential in women that I did not imagine. They arrive completely destroyed, and they fight, and they fight between life and death. But afterwards, they have an incredible strength. The City of Joy will give them this possibility to say what happened to them, to tell that people have tried to destroy them, but we can tell them that they are strong and can fight.

AMY GOODMAN:

I want to find out about the support you’re getting in this country. The American medical establishment, medical groups here, are they helping you, Dr. Mukwege?

DR. DENIS MUKWEGE:

[translated] For the moment, we have some support. For example, the USAID supported us for a while this year. We hope that they will support particularly the taking charge of the fistular. We have a pool of doctors who regularly come. They come from Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and they are gynecologists and urogynecologists, and we do exchanges with them.

AMY GOODMAN:

I don’t want to get too graphic, but the horror is that this is what happens. Eve, just explain what fistula is so people understand.

EVE ENSLER:

I actually sat in on a fistula operation, just because I wanted to see it. But essentially it is a hole inside a woman between her bladder and vagina, or vagina and her rectum, that is caused — it was earlier caused by birth or having to hold her baby for too long, and she would open it up. And now, a lot of it’s being caused by things being shoved inside her — guns.

AMY GOODMAN:

And so, this hole has to be sealed.

EVE ENSLER:

A hole about the size of a quarter. And as a result off it, it’s kind of — it looks like a hole — it’s almost like a hole in the ozone — that’s what it feels like — where infection and all kinds of things can get in and where things can — she can’t hold her things, her pee or her feces, sometimes.

And what’s terrible about it is that when a woman has this, obviously —- when you’re a little girl and you’re eight years old, and you’re constantly peeing on yourself, you smell bad. And so, you’re alienated and you’re humiliated and you’re shamed all the time by your community. So, there are so many long-term consequences. And I know Dr. Mukwege knows far more about fistula than I do, but I’ve tried to study at the -—

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, tell us about the tour, as we wrap up right now, this five-city tour that you’re going on.

EVE ENSLER:

Well, I also want to say there’s plenty of people in this country who are supporting V-Day. Open Square, for example, is supporting this tour, a wonderful foundation. And we’re going to five cities with the hope of reaching all kinds of various groups in this country. We’re going to, beginning on the 11th in the 92nd Street Y.

AMY GOODMAN:

Here in New York.

EVE ENSLER:

Here in New York. Then we’re going to LA, and we’ll be at USC on February 14.

AMY GOODMAN:

Now, that’s significant. It’s Valentine’s Day.

EVE ENSLER:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

It’s how all of your work began to change, what it is to —

EVE ENSLER:

That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN:

— show the heart.

EVE ENSLER:

That’s right, the vagina heart. And we’re going to be there, because they’re doing a huge V-Day, and they’ve invited us to be there at the end of the show to do an interview together. And then we’ll be at the City Arts on February 18th in San Francisco. And we’ll be in Atlanta at the Carter Center on the 23rd.

And then, February 25th we’ll be in D.C. at the Howard University, and we’re going to hopefully be meeting with a lot of political people and senators, and we hopefully will see Secretary Clinton and Susan Rice. I think it’s really important Dr. Mukwege and — they meet Dr. Mukwege, because I think if there were a man in the world who is creating a new idea of what men can be and bringing a new sense of how we cherish women and honor women, this would be the man.

AMY GOODMAN:

I want to thank you both for being with us, Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day, award-winning playwright, founder of V-Day, the global movement to raise awareness about and fight violence against girls and women; and Dr. Denis Mukwege, who is founder of the Panzi Hospital in eastern Congo. We will link to your website at ours —

EVE ENSLER:

Vday.org.

AMY GOODMAN:

— at democracynow.org. Vday.org.

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