As the debate over reproductive rights rages in the House, and Senate Republicans have tried to thwart the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, we speak with Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day, the global movement to end domestic violence, and the playwright behind “The Vagina Monologues.” “The fact is, we have not busted this notion that the father still dominates in his authority over women and children and determines the rights of our lives, determines the rights of our futures and our bodies,” Ensler says. “If we’re going to actually free women, which is freeing men, which is allowing everybody a life of dignity and grace, and not walking in fear and terror, we have to go further and be disruptive and be dangerous.” Ensler has just launched a new global campaign called “One Billion Rising,” which calls on women “and the men who love them” to join together on Feb. 14, 2013, and “dance until the violence stops.” Ensler also discusses the first anniversary of the City of Joy, a groundbreaking new community for women survivors of gender violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: Republicans are not only challenging women’s reproductive rights but also the reauthorization of a formerly uncontroversial bill know as the Violence Against Women Act. The landmark federal law comes up for reauthorization roughly every five years and has enjoyed bipartisan support since President Clinton first signed it in 1994. However, in February, all of the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against the bill when it came up for consideration. Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa led the effort to oppose the bill’s provisions ensuring greater protection for LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants, and Native Americans on tribal land. The measure ultimately passed out of committee on a 10-to-8 party-line vote.
The Violence Against Women Act was designed to offer federal funding for the investigation and prosecution of domestic violence, while bringing public awareness to the issue. This year, reauthorization of the bill would place greater emphasis on reducing domestic homicides and sexual assault, as well as strengthen housing protections for domestic violence survivors. Since the bill was first enacted, reporting of domestic violence increased by more than 50 percent.
AMY GOODMAN: Against this backdrop, the global movement to end violence against women and girls, known as V-Day, has just launched a new global campaign called “One Billion Rising.” The founder of V-Day, the Tony Award-winning playwright and activist Eve Ensler, announced her new campaign on CNN’s Connect the World.
EVE ENSLER: What we’ve decided, moving into our 15th anniversary, is that we are launching a campaign called One Billion Rising. It will be a campaign where next V-Day, February 14th, 2013, we are calling for, inviting, challenging one billion women, and all the people who love them—and we hope many men will join this campaign—to walk off their jobs, walk out of their schools, walk out of their homes, and gather in fields, stadiums, churches, blocks, wherever, beaches, and dance, until the violence stops. We need to do something that’s dramatic and urgent, where women can see their numbers, see the epidemic proportions of violence against women, and understand that it is indeed one of the central issues of our times.
AMY GOODMAN: Eve Ensler of V-Day, announcing her new campaign, One Billion Rising.
In addition to founding V-Day, Eve Ensler is the bestselling author and playwright behind The Vagina Monologues. Her latest book is a collection of fictional monologues and stories inspired by girls; it’s called I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World. Eve Ensler has also been awarded the 2011 Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award for her commitment to humanitarian and charitable efforts around her V-Day organizing around the world. And she’s also the director of City of Joy, a groundbreaking new community for women survivors of gender violence in Congo. Created from their vision, Congolese women run, operate and direct City of Joy themselves.
Eve Ensler, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Not sure which one to begin on, but let’s go there, the last, City of Joy.
EVE ENSLER: I’m actually not the director of City of Joy. Christine Schuler Deschryver is the director. I just want to clarify that. One of the great things, I think, about City of Joy is it’s fully run and directed and owned by the Congolese. I simply find funds in the world to keep their mission and their purpose alive.
And I’m really happy to say I just was there for the month of January in Bukavu, where we had the first graduating class, which was a pilot class of 41 women. All of the women who are at City of Joy have suffered gender violence, and fairly extreme gender violence, and arrived six months earlier very traumatized, coming from villages where often women have seen the worst conflict with very little support, in villages and in the bush, where, you know, they have very little access and very little safety and very little protection and security. And I think we’re seeing some of the worst cases arrive from eastern Congo, women who have suffered gang rapes and attacks on villages, attacks on their bodies, the likes of which I don’t think most of us can even imagine. But the good news is that they arrive traumatized, some with bullet holes literally in their heads, some missing parts of their bodies after being gang-raped, and through the amazing programs at City of Joy, through both therapy, which involves dance and theater and telling their stories and releasing their trauma through education, you know, literacy, learning English, learning self-defense, taking civics courses, taking communication courses, learning agriculture, it’s quite astounding what’s happened with the women. And I was at the graduation in January, where 41 women, who arrived traumatized and really, many of them, unable to sleep, having seriously bad nightmares, some aggressive because of the horrible trauma that was done to them, were some of the most powerful, articulate, passionate leaders I’ve ever seen. And they are now back in their communities, each with $100, a cell phone and a posse, in their communities basically spreading what they’ve learned, teaching women in their communities what their rights are, teaching them what they’re entitled to.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, in 2008, V-Day worked with UNICEF to organize events 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 U.N. 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.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Eve, you’ve had this enormous success at the grassroots level in terms of providing the chance for this kind of organization to go on. What’s been the response of the authorities in the Congo and the government officials to this movement?
EVE ENSLER: Well, you know, it’s interesting coming back to this country after being in Congo. I feel in some ways that the Congolese government, the local governments are actually more responsive to the liberation of women and women coming into their rights than what we’re seeing in our Congress. I’m kind of stunned what’s happening in America right now, that we’re fighting over birth control? I mean, what are we modeling to the rest of the world? It’s appalling.
I’ll tell you a wonderful story. The governor of the Kivus was at our graduation. And, I mean, one of the things that’s happening in City of Joy is that women are turning pain to power and becoming leaders. And he witnessed the whole graduation, where women were giving speeches and demonstrating self-defense moves which they had learned and doing poetry in English from Swahili that they had memorized. And at the end, he gave this incredible speech, where he named each woman, in particular, and talked about who they had become. And the next day, he called us, and he just couldn’t—he couldn’t sleep. He just was blown away. And he actually said to the director, Christine, “You know, I don’t think I realized before this moment what value the Congolese had, what value we had.” These are some of the poorest women in the country, and they’re the greatest leaders now, and they’re standing, and they’re putting—and I think there’s been incredible response on the local level to see the transformation of women, grassroots women, who could in fact lead, possibly, Congo out of the terrible situation it’s in right now.
And I think I’ve been very—I just have been very excited to see all of the response around in Congo. For example, the performances women are doing of The Vagina Monologues, the speaking out about sexual rights, the demanding of healthcare, the demanding of birth control. We have a wonderful doctor, Mukwege, who is actually a pastor, I’d like to point out, who was able to give women birth control when they left City of Joy, so that they would protect themselves and be able to rule their own destinies and bodies when they return to their own villages. And to come home and now see our own Congress dictating what women can and cannot do with their bodies and with birth control and with contraception and with—is rather stunning.
AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a piece called “Over It” that has gone viral, and I was wondering if you would read it for us here.
EVE ENSLER: I would be happy to read it.
“I am over rape.
“I am over rape culture, rape mentality, rape pages on Facebook.
“I am over people demanding their right to rape pages, and calling it freedom of speech or justifying it as a joke.
“I am over people not understanding that rape is not a joke and I am over being told I don’t have a sense of humor, and women don’t have a sense of humor, when most women I know (and I know a lot) are really, really funny. We just don’t think that uninvited penises up our vaginas are a laugh riot.
“I am over the hundreds of thousands of women in Congo still waiting for the rapes to end and the rapists to be held accountable.
“I am over the thousands of women in Bosnia and Burma and Pakistan and South Africa and Guatemala and Sierra Leone and Haiti and Afghanistan and Libya, you name a place, still waiting for justice.
“I am over three women in the U.S military—one out of three women—getting raped by their so-called 'comrades.'
“I am over the forces that deny women who have been raped the right to abortion.
“I am over women rape victims becoming re-raped when they go public.
“I am over women getting raped at Occupy Wall Street and being quiet about it because they were protecting a movement which is fighting to end the pillaging and raping of the economy and the earth, as if the rape of their bodies was something separate.
“I am over women still being silent about rape, because they are made to believe it’s their fault or they did something to make it happen.
“I am over violence against women not being a #1 priority internationally and nationally when one out of three women in the world will be raped or beaten in her lifetime — the destruction and muting and undermining of women is the destruction of life itself.
“No women, no future, duh.
“I am over this rape culture where the privileged with political and physical and economic might, take what they want, who they want, when they want it, as much as they want, any time they want it.
“I am over the endless resurrection of the careers of rapists and sexual exploiters — film directors, world leaders, corporate executives, movie stars, athletes — while the lives of the women they violated are permanently destroyed, often forcing them to live in social and emotional exile.
“I am over the passivity of good men. Where the hell are you?
“You live with us, make love with us, father us, befriend us, brother us, get nurtured and mothered and eternally supported by us, so why aren’t you standing with us? Why aren’t you driven to the point of madness and action by the rape and humiliation of us?
“I am over years and years of being over rape.
“And thinking about rape every day of my life since I was raped when I was 5 years old.
“And getting sick from rape, and depressed from rape, and enraged by rape.
“And reading my insanely crowded inbox of rape horror stories every hour of every single day.
“I am over being polite about rape. It’s been too long now, we have been too understanding.
“We need to OCCUPYRAPE in every school, park, radio, TV station, household, office, factory, refugee camp, military base, back room, night club, alleyway, courtroom, and UN office. We need people to truly try and imagine — once and for all — what it feels like to have your body invaded, your mind splintered, and your soul shattered. You need to let our rage and our compassion connect us so we can change the paradigm of global rape.
“There are approximately one billion women on the planet, one billion women on the planet, who have been violated.
“ONE BILLION WOMEN.
“The time is now.”
On February 14, 2013, we are calling one billion women, and all the men and people who love them, to walk out of their jobs, to walk out of their homes, to walk out of their schools, to walk out and strike and to find your group, find your posse, find your friends, find your stadium, and dance and dance, until the violence stops. Because we are over it.
AMY GOODMAN: Eve Ensler, “Over It.” So, finally, One Billion Rising, talk about what the plan is.
EVE ENSLER: You know, it’s 14 years since we’ve been doing this work in V-Day, and I really believed we would end violence by now. I really did. I wanted that to be true. I am now seeing around the world the levels of violence, the insipid pushback against women’s rights everywhere. We haven’t ended patriarchy. We are still here. Patriarchy is still—the fact that, you know, we are still fighting in 2012 for birth control just seems—it’s hard to even articulate. The fact is, we have not busted this notion that the father still dominates in his authority over women and children and determines the rights of our lives, determines the rights of our futures and our bodies. We have to go further. We have to escalate. If we’re going to win this battle, if we’re going to actually free women, which is freeing men, which is allowing everybody a life of dignity and grace, and not walking in fear and terror, but—we have to go further and be disruptive and be dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: So it’s one billion dancing?
EVE ENSLER: One billion dancing, wherever you are. I was in Australia when we announced it, and the Aboriginal women have already gotten their stadiums in Queensland. They’ll be dancing to Whitney Houston. All around the world—in Oklahoma, the Native women are going to be dancing to “Footloose.” Everybody’s calling me with these wild and amazing ideas. In hours, 118 countries, thousands of people signed up. And I know we can get a billion people, a billion women, out on the streets, in the parks, in the deserts, in the fields, dancing, to say the time has come where women know that violence is over, and men join us in that struggle.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And those who want to join, where can they—what site could they go to?
EVE ENSLER: Vday.org. Come and sign up to be part of the one billion. You can send in your stories eventually. You can tell us what music you’re dancing to, who you’re dancing with, what you’re wearing when you dance. But the main thing is to know that if there are a billion of us who are all survivors, that’s a lot of people. We have the numbers. We have the majority. And if we are willing to be daring and bold, we can push it to the next level.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Eve Ensler, we want to thank you very much for being with us. I was very amused yesterday when you talked about your experience of being in airports, in wherever, and people coming up to you, and what they’ve said to you has changed.
EVE ENSLER: Yes, it has. The people used to come up to me and say, “Oh, my god! I’ve seen your play, The Vagina Monologues.” Now they come up, and they say, “I’ve been in your play.” I did the plot. It was wonderful. So I really kind of love the idea that eventually we’ll just have a collective performance of The Vagina Monologues up. I hope so.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, maybe that is February 14th, 2013.
EVE ENSLER: Indeed, the rising.
AMY GOODMAN: Eve Ensler, thanks so much for being with us. Eve Ensler, the award-winning playwright, creator of The Vagina Monologues and V-Day, the global movement to stop violence against women and girls. The new campaign is called One Billion Rising. You can go to vday.org.
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