Amidst a U.S. election campaign that has seen the issue of women’s rights at the forefront, the playwright and activist Eve Ensler is launching a global strike to end violence against women. "One Billion Rising" calls on women "and the men who love them" to join together on Feb. 14, 2013, and "dance until the violence stops." Ensler is the award-winning playwright and creator of "The Vagina Monologues," and her latest play, "Emotional Creature," opens in New York City in November. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to our last segment: One Billion Rising campaign. That is the name of the campaign, violence against women as a global pandemic. And the woman who is leading this team is Eve Ensler.
I want to turn right now, as we talk about this latest election season in the United States, last month Republican Congressmember Todd Akin, running for the Senate in Missouri, sparked national outrage for comments on rape and abortion. Asked by a reporter why he opposes abortion even in cases of rape, Congressman Akin said, in cases of what he called "legitimate rape," women’s bodies shut down, and they don’t get pregnant. He’s running for the seat of the incumbent Missouri senator, Claire McCaskill.
Against this backdrop, we turn now to the worldwide initiative to end violence against women and girls, known as V-Day, and its global campaign called One Billion Rising. The person leading the campaign, Eve Ensler, who wrote an open letter in protest against Congressman Akin’s statement and who is joining us on this program. Thousands of organizations across the world have already joined her One Billion Rising campaign. This is activist and actress Rosario Dawson.
ROSARIO DAWSON: I’m rising because one in three women will be raped, killed or beaten in her lifetime. We compose the majority of the planet. I think it’s scary and insane to imagine that women’s issues and girls’ issues are a side issue. And as long as we continue to not stand up and rise and make it the thing that is at the forefront, we’re going to see every other issue before us continue to fail.
AMY GOODMAN: Rosario Dawson, the actress, activist, supporter of the One Billion Rising initiative. To talk more about the campaign and women’s issues worldwide, we’re joined by Eve Ensler, award-winning playwright, creator of The Vagina Monologues. Her newest play, Emotional Creature, opens in New York in November.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!
EVE ENSLER: Thanks. Happy to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. So, talk about what’s happening on February 14th, 2013.
EVE ENSLER: Well, I’m really—I’m blown away. You know, we started this campaign a few months ago. We began to put it out into the world. And we have a lot of amazing activists, as you know, across the planet who have begun to work on this. And today we’re launching the new website. We have over 5,000 groups across the world signed up. We have 161 countries. We have movement builders. We have movie stars. We have ministers. It’s across the board.
And I think what’s most exciting is to see how quickly this is spreading. I think it has a lot to do with the state of the world right now, the fact that we’re seeing this incredible pushback against women in many places in the world, at the same time as women know that that’s not possible anymore. Like, we’ve come too far for the pushback. So I think there’s this incredible energy, this synergy happening right now.
And I think one of the things we’ve been seeing—we just had a fantastic summit in Nairobi, a V-Africa Summit, the first one we’ve ever had, with 50 activists from 18 countries across the continent. And what was just wonderfully hopeful was to see how many women in Africa, grassroots women on the front lines, are doing the most incredible work.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to one clip, the One Billion Rising campaign gaining many supporters worldwide. This is Isatou Touray from The Gambia.
ISATOU TOURAY: I am rising because I feel it is fundamental that everybody joins this campaign of V-Day to rise against violence against women. It must not be condoned. It must not be recognized and respected, because it affects the very core of the female dignity, integrity and also the rights of the person in all its entirety. So, rising up to it and making it known in the public is another way of stopping violence. We must not condone violence. We must not keep it under the carpet. And we must talk. The culture of silence must end in the fight against violence against women.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response?
EVE ENSLER: Well, Isatou Touray is an unbelievably fierce woman in The Gambia who has been fighting female genital mutilation for many years and has actually ended it in four out of the seven provinces. And they wrote today to say that they would be dancing and rising to make sure it’s ended in all the provinces. She just got out of prison, as a matter of fact, for fighting FGM and for being—
AMY GOODMAN: FGM being female genital mutilation.
EVE ENSLER: Yeah, female genital mutilation. And she has been fighting against early marriage and girls being shut down and obviously their bodies being cut. But we’re seeing all different women. I got a wonderful email two days ago from women in the Philippines. And this is in the tribe called Blaan in a region of indigenous women who are being displaced because of large-scale mining from multinationals. And they will be dancing and rising to take back their lands, because the military has been using sexual abuse to get them off their lands. So, in every place in the world, people are now writing in and sending us their videos, sending us their stories about why they’re rising in their particular community. And what we’re seeing—and if you go on the website today and see—
AMY GOODMAN: Your website is?
EVE ENSLER: Onebillionrising.org—and you look at the thousands of grassroots groups in the world, you begin to see what a huge movement we are. But we’ve never been organized or framed as such. And I think this action to rise and dance, to shake the planet back into sense, will be the first really major world action that’s ever happened where women and men have joined together to understand that violence against women is one of the central issues of our time.
AMY GOODMAN: So, here we are back in the United States in election season. You wrote an open letter in response to Congressman Todd Akin. The famous clip that has been shown all over is him being interviewed by a local reporter, and he says that women who are legitimately raped don’t get pregnant. What was the letter you wrote?
EVE ENSLER: Well, I was actually in Bukavu, Congo, at that time, where I was at City of Joy, where we work with raped women and women who have suffered enormous violence from the war, from sexual violence. And I could not believe that I was reading a person in the United States who legislates law, who was talking about the fact there was such a thing as "legitimate rape" and that it wouldn’t—you know, wouldn’t make you pregnant. And it was so shocking to the people in the Congo that something like this was being said in the United States.
So I basically—I think what it really indicated and what my letter was speaking out and saying was that what it said was how little he and so many people of his party and ilk understand about sexual violence and rape. To say—even to make a distinction between illegitimate and legitimate rape would be an indication that you know nothing about rape or what it feels like to have been raped and the consequences of that violence on your body. And I think there is some kind of massive either ignorance or refusal to understand the massive amount of violence against women, but also the profound ongoing fight that women have to have in their lives once they’ve been violated. And the fact that Todd Akin is somebody representing the Republican Party could say—I mean, what is there? Good sperm and—I just had this image of, oh, it’s bad sperm. It just kind of explodes before it makes you pregnant, like as if, you know—and again, it’s on to the woman’s body, right, to know the difference between legitimate and illegitimate sperm, right? And I think that—the kind of idiocy of that and the madness of that reflects the extreme pushback mentality that’s been coming from the Republican Party over the last months.
AMY GOODMAN: You have done a lot of work in Congo, V-Day work with UNICEF, to organize events in two cities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 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 U.N. officials. We want to play a clip.
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: These are women that you’ve been working with, Eve, in the Congo. Fit this into Billions Rising.
EVE ENSLER: Well, there are, at this point on the planet—it’s a U.N. statistic—one out of three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. That’s one billion women, at least, on the planet. One billion women. And when I think about the women in the Congo who I work with a lot—I just was there for the month of August—you know, at City of Joy, who are now transforming the horrible pain they’ve been through because of a war that’s being fought for minerals—
AMY GOODMAN: And the City of Joy that you helped build, explain it.
EVE ENSLER: That V-Day helped build and V-Day is running now with our director, our Congolese director, Christine Schuler Deschryver, and a team of Congolese women. It’s run by the Congolese. It’s owned by the Congolese. And it’s a place where pain is being turned to power and where women are being healed and where they’re becoming leaders of their country.
AMY GOODMAN: These are victims of rape.
EVE ENSLER: All victims of the war and victims of rape, and survivors of both and amazingly fierce women. But what I have seen there and what I’ve seen across the planet for the last 15 years is a pandemic of rape and a pandemic where once a woman is raped, you spend your entire life recovering from that act. So the fact that a Todd Akin, the fact that anyone could begin to parcel out language rather than ending the rape—you know, why don’t we end the rape rather than dispute language around rape?
And I think One Billion Rising is basically saying the time has come for women across the planet, and the men who love them, to do an outrageous, disruptive dance action that makes it so clear how many women have been raped, that it’s not tribal or religious or based on your country or based on your town, it actually is patriarchy, and it’s everywhere, and that if we rise together, we will understand it concerns us all.
AMY GOODMAN: Eve Ensler, I want to thank you for being with us. The website is onebillionrising.org. Award-winning playwright, creator of The Vagina Monologues. And very happy to have you in studio looking as healthy as you are, as you have battled cancer, as well. Amazing that you are organizing this massive global event.
And that does it for our show. We’re still on the 100-city tour. It continues Wednesday in Storrs, Connecticut, University of Connecticut Student Union Theater at 7:30; then Thursday in Arlington, Virginia, at George Mason University’s Founder’s Hall, Room 125; on Friday night in Charlottesville, Virginia, at 7:00 p.m., Nau Auditorium South Lawn Commons, University of Virginia; then 1:00 p.m., Green Fest on Saturday in Washington, D.C.; then the Baltimore Book Fest at 7:00 on Saturday; on Sunday in Richmond, Virginia; 7:00 p.m. in Norfolk, Virginia; and we’re wrapping up our Virginia leg at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Monday night, before leaving to Denver for the first presidential debate.