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25 Years of V-Day: Ending Gender Violence, Fighting Tentacles of Patriarchy & New “Reckoning” Memoir

StoryFebruary 13, 2023
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February 14 marks the 25th anniversary of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women, gender-expansive people, girls and the planet. It is also the 10th anniversary of V-Day’s One Billion Rising campaign, a call to action based on the staggering reality that one in three women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. The V-Day movement brings together activism and art to transform systems and change culture and was founded by the activist V, formerly Eve Ensler, author of the “The Vagina Monologues” and her new memoir “Reckoning.” This year the One Billion Rising campaign is focusing on “Freedom from Patriarchy and from all its progeny.” We discuss decades of activism, events planned this year, and what reckoning looks like with activist and V-Day founder V, alongside Monique Wilson, global director of One Billion Rising, and Christine Schuler Deschryver, director of V-Day Congo and co-founder and director of City of Joy, a revolutionary community for women survivors of gender violence in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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StoryFeb 12, 2021V-Day: Poet Aja Monet & V (Eve Ensler) on the Movement to End Violence Against Women & Girls
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

As many mark Valentine’s Day on Tuesday, this year February 14th also marks the 25th anniversary of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women, gender-expansive people, girls and the planet. It’s also the 10th anniversary of V-Day’s One Billion Rising campaign, which is a call to action based on the staggering reality that one in three women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. The movement brings together activism and art to transform systems and change culture. It was founded by the activist V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues. This comes as V’s new book, her second memoir, has just been released. It’s called Reckoning.

This is actress Rosario Dawson speaking — reading an excerpt from the chapter titled “To All Those Who Dare Rob Us of Our Bodily Choice.” She was reading at an event at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

ROSARIO DAWSON: “This is not a law yet and we will never accept this ruling. Perhaps because you have never known what it is like to have your body controlled by the vindictive anonymous state, to be raped and forced to keep your baby at 12 years old, to be so desperate that you destroy your uterus with a hanger or bleed to death in a back alley, you do not understand that once you have tasted the sweetness of freedom, of choice, once you have come to know your body as your own, once you have freed yourself and felt the expanse of your body, the aliveness in every pore that rises from autonomy, there is no way you will ever give that up. Ever. And because you do not know this, you do not know how dangerous we are, how organized we are, how willing we are to go any lengths to preserve our freedom.”

AMY GOODMAN: That’s actor Rosario Dawson reading from Reckoning, the new memoir by V, formerly Eve Ensler, who joins us today to mark V25. That’s right, the 25th anniversary of V-Day. This year the call is for the world to “Rise for Freedom. Freedom from Patriarchy and from all its progeny.” We’re joined now by two more forces behind V-Day and the One Billion Rising campaign, which over the last 25 years has built a global network of solidarity, including opening safe houses and the City of Joy in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Joining us from Manila, the Philippines, Monique Wilson, global director of One Billion Rising, which has 1,000 One Billion Rising events taking place in 88 countries this week. And Christine Schuler Deschryver is director of V-Day Congo, co-founder and director of City of Joy, a revolutionary community for women survivors of gender violence. She’s speaking to us from Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has graduated over 1,900 leaders at City of Joy. And, of course, we’re joined by V, formerly Eve Ensler.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! V, if you can start off — I mean, I was there at this remarkable event at the 92nd Street Y. Hundreds of people packed in to celebrate all of these moments, 25th anniversary of V-Day, 10th anniversary of Billion Rising, and your second memoir, Reckoning. Talk about the significance of this year.

V: [inaudible] Tomorrow is the actual day of our 25th anniversary. But I want to say that it’s a very emotional, political, artistic milestone. And before I begin, I just want to honor the women of Iran and Afghanistan, the women who are suffering in Congo, for being such models to all of us of freedom, and to say, you know, these 25 years are connected to a chain of warriors who came before us, but we still may not have dismantled patriarchy or ended violence against all trans and nonbinary people and women, but we certainly have made a mark. We’ve shifted the dialogue. We’ve disrupted the normal. We’ve brought the issue to the front and center. You know, when we started, you couldn’t say the word “vagina.” We can say it now. And we’ve helped make violence against women a front-page issue.

You know, this movement has been instrumental in changing laws and traditions, and deepened and expanded the story, understanding that we can’t end violence without looking at all the intersecting violences of racism, capitalism, climate catastrophe, imperialism. And if I think about Christine and I think about Monique and I think about — you know, we’ve opened safe houses in Kenya, the amazing City of Joy in the DRC, the City of Hope in Kabul. We supported all kinds of women telling their stories and coming back into their bodies. We’ve inspired thousands of high school and college students to become activists. And we’ve created this amazing piece with Aja Monet called Voices, written and performed by Black women. It’s a beautiful soundscape that will be released this year. And we’ve lifted women inside and outside of prison.

And we’ve been in solidarity, which is really so critical, with communities struggling for liberation in the aftermath of Black women being murdered by the police in the U.S., with women grappling with war, femicide, workers’ rights, militarization, forced migration, resource depletion in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Congo, Haiti and Juárez, Mexico. And we’ve been in deep solidarity with Indigenous communities, from Brazil to South Dakota, and those seeking asylum and safety at our borders. But, most importantly, I think, if I look back over these 25 years, we have built a global network of gorgeous solidarity in almost every country in the world, where activists give their lives to a world where women, trans and nonbinary people are safe, free and empowered. And I think Monique and Christine typify the leadership and the brilliance and the solidarity of our movement.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go to Monique Wilson in the Philippines. I want to talk about what’s happening there in your country. You’re in Manila. But also, you’re the global director of One Billion Rising. You can talk about what’s happening all over the world. We deliberately did this a day before Valentine’s Day, V-Day, so that we could start this conversation this year around what you want to accomplish and what people are doing.

MONIQUE WILSON: Yes, I think this year is a huge celebration year, of course, because it’s 10 years of One Billion Rising, 25 years of V-Day. But we also know that despite all our victories, despite all the transformations we’ve seen in legislation, in art, culture, education, in ways of consciousness and ways of thinking, as V said, you know, the tentacles of patriarchy are still so deeply embedded in everything. And it’s all the normalization of that and, as you said earlier, the progeny of patriarchy, which is capitalism and division and shame and stigma and exclusion and this tidal wave of hate and discrimination. So I think our call to rise for freedom is really to get people to understand what [inaudible], first of all. Unless we understand that that is a huge form of violence, then we cannot end violence towards women, girls, transgender, nonbinary people, gender-diverse people and the planet, and a lot of [inaudible] around the plundering of the environment, as well.

And so, tomorrow we’re going to see, actually, more than 88 countries now, — as we’re speaking, there’s many [inaudible]. I think we’re [inaudible] more than a thousand events. And it’s very diverse, what the rising for freedom means in many regions. Like, farmworkers are rising for access to land. Students are rising for accessible and good quality education. Migrants are rising for the end of labor exploitation. Indigenous people are rising for the environment and the Earth. And there are so many forms of the risings.

But at the same time, we are all connected in this huge global movement that is connected in terms of that vision that we’re seeing of a violence-free world, because I think what patriarchy also has done, somehow, is it’s trying to remove the imaginative ability of people to see that future we’re rising for. But I think what One Billion Rising and V-Day has done for 25 years — One Billion Rising has done for 10 years — is that it insists on imagining that vision, because we actually can’t rise for it unless we imagine it. That’s why the art, as the biggest part of our activism, is the most potent and most catalytic way of getting people to really shift their consciousness around these concepts.

So, you know, when we began One Billion Rising, it was to end violence. And then we went to rise for justice the second year, and then rise for revolution for two years, and then rise in solidarity against exploitation. And then it went to rising as a campaign to a way of life, and then we went to raising the vibration, how to use art to escalate. And then, you know, the pandemic actually didn’t stop us. We had many more risings in the year of the — the first year of the pandemic, which was rising gardens. And then last year was rising for the bodies of all women and girls and the Earth.

So, this year is rise for freedom. So it’s really bringing in all the intersectional issues and also escalating it on a huge level, where governments all around the world and the media will no longer be able to deny that this is really a pressing issue and this is really like a state of emergency, we would say. And if it’s a state of emergency, why aren’t we acting accordingly?

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about what’s happening in the Philippines right now, has been in the headlines, because you have the Biden administration reaching an agreement with the Philippines to give the United States access to four more military bases in, well, the former U.S. colony, allowing the U.S. greater access to the South China Sea and Taiwan as it escalates tensions with China. I mean, there have been major protests in the Philippines around this. The connection of militarism and violence against women, Monique?

MONIQUE WILSON: Well, you see, this is, again, a progeny of patriarchy, right? Imperialism is still very much happening. We don’t anymore see colonization as how it was in the imperial years, but, actually, there is a huge colonization of our economy and of our minds, that we think we have to be tied to a superpower. And, of course, the superpower, which is the U.S., of course capitalizes on that, because there’s much to gain from that, we, Philippines, as a geostrategic place here in Asia for them. But at the same time, it’s also our government here — every government we’ve had here — who has been like a puppet government of the U.S. and happily attaches itself to the imperial power that is the U.S. and — because we think we can’t function on our own in terms of our own sovereignty. And, of course, we depend economically, and that’s really what kind of neoliberal capitalism has also done, that the dependency now of more developing countries, like ourselves, we are continually in this cycle of just having to depend on more developed countries.

So, yes, our One Billion Rising totally focuses on this. It totally focuses on militarization as a weapon to continue to colonize a country. At the same time, the way of colonizing a country is to harm its women. And we’ll hear from Mama C about that, because that’s still ongoing in the Congo. And at the same time, it really escalates the violence that are happening all around the communities, as well as to the Indigenous communities and as well as to our environment and to our Earth. And we wonder why, when we have natural disasters, that we can’t ever rise above it, because we’re continually in this cycle of need, of economic need. And I think that’s kind of really what patriarchy and imperialism and capitalism have done, is to keep that hierarchy in place. And, yes, so I think rising — the rising for freedom includes that in a huge way, because we cannot rise for freedom just personally. We have to rise for freedom collectively. We have to rise for freedom as a region, as a country, as nations all around the world, but also as a humanity, as a one humanity, that one cannot lord it over the other, which is really kind of what’s happening now.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Monique Wilson is speaking to us from Manila, the capital of the Philippines. And we’re going to go right now to Mama C, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to speak with Christine Schuler Deschryver of V-Day Congo, co-founder and director of City of Joy. Especially for young people, Christine, if you can talk about how you got involved with this whole movement, what City of Joy is, that you helped to establish with Dr. Mukwege and with V so many years ago?

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Well, good morning, Amy. And thank you for hosting us.

So, City of Joy is a leadership community for women survivors of violence that I co-created with — I co-founded with Mama V and Dr. Mukwege. I met V in 2007. I was introduced to her by Dr. Mukwege. And by the minute I met her, I totally fell in love with her, because I met a different person than all the people we received who came here during the war, but they did nothing. They just left with lots of promises. And for the first time, a woman came and asked us what we wanted. So, and I think, from the time she started to interview the women, with all the respect, you know, to bring their stories outside the country.

And, you know, women were totally destroyed. They were leaking on her. So, I was like, “I need to do something with them.” At that time, I was kind of sick, because — you know when you want to change things, but you can’t as a human being. And I just started, you know, with some kind of mental health. And I really think that also meeting and working with V saved my life and totally changed myself, because she let us do what we wanted, and decided, as a V-Day, with all the respect, just to be the wind behind our back, to let us do whatever we thought would have been good, you know, for our people.

And I don’t regret my choices, because if I look at the impact of our work and how transformative it is with the girls, because it’s a leadership program and the emotional healing. And at the same times, also we put in our program also the protection of Mother Earth. Just a reminder that the Congo is the second lung of humanity. So, we have all this holistic approach for the country, for the women. And it gives me hope, because, otherwise, as you know, the world doesn’t care. They don’t care about this. And I worked for more than a decade for a big institution. But what did we do? By the time they left, you know, all the project collapsed. And working here with V-Day, you know, we talk about sustainability. We have a farm. We have this City of Joy. And I really see — I really see the result.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the Nobel Peace laureate, the Congolese gynecologist, Dr. Denis Mukwege, founder of one of the only hospitals that treats victims of rape and mutilation in the DRC. In 2009, he appeared on Democracy Now! and talked about his work in the hospitals, speaking through an interpreter.

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 of doing 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: So, that is Dr. Denis. That’s right, the Congolese gynecologist Dr. Denis Mukwege, founder of the Panzi Hospital, where they do operations, healing women who have been raped. You, Christine, have been working so closely with him and with V. That was an interview from 2009, almost 15 years ago. Yet you say the crisis and magnitude of rape in Congo today is unbelievable. Talk about who are the forces responsible for this.

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: First of all, I want to correct that we are not the only hospital now, because we also have a HEAL Africa in Goma. And also, Panzi Hospital, they trained lots of doctors, that they can make the same surgery all in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Yeah, unfortunately, you know, the rape continues. And whenever I go to the hospital, you know, like, the beds are full. We do have raped children. We do have old women. So, it feels like never, never, never-ending. And I have to say we are all so frustrated, because sometimes I think — Dr. Mukwege said now he’s treating, you know, the third generation. Like, he treated the mother, the daughters, and now even the children. And it doesn’t end.

As you probably heard — I’m not sure, because I know that the world don’t talk about what’s going on here — but there is a terrible war, like in all eastern part of DRC, especially North Kivu, with the M23. So, as you can imagine, the first thing people do, they rape people. And we do have so many militias and the different armed groups, totally out of control. So, I’m very optimistic, but sometimes I’m just wondering, when I feel really, really down, how will we get out of this without a revolution.

And, you know, there are so many Western countries who are involved in the plundering of Congo, but they absolutely don’t want this war to end, because as long as it can be like this, you know, any people can just come and plunder whatever they want, because the country is so big and totally out of control. Before we had he coltan, we had uranium, and now we have the cobalt for electric cars. So, sometimes it’s like a nightmare, you know, living and having such a rich country where people literally starve.

AMY GOODMAN: The role of the surrounding African countries, who you hold responsible, and what you think needs to be done, Christine Schuler Deschryver?

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: You know, it’s very, very, very difficult for me to say, because even during like the worst time of this war, we had nine African countries who were involved. So it was like a world war, you know, African world war. And now we also have so many countries who are involved, and each one are accusing the other ones. So I think it’s such a mess. I don’t know how we’ll get out of this.

And also, what they call the peacekeepers — I’m sorry, I hate the word, because I don’t know what are they keeping, really. Peace. They are in DRC since more than 20 years. It cost billions and billions and billions of dollars, but we are at the same point. You can take back all the speeches of Mukwege he made 15 years ago; it’s still the same. Nothing really changed, except the perpetrators. You know, just the names changed. And so, that’s the situation, you know, we live in, with uncertain tomorrows.

But I really think if the international community, if they wanted to end this war, look at Ukraine. Of course, Ukraine is in the middle of Europe. It’s such a tragedy, because, myself, every day when I watch the news, I cry. It’s so tragic. But just compare to us, because in Ukraine, it’s in the middle of Europe. You have blond people, you have white people, so people are more moved than when you see Black people dying, trying, you know, to escape and cross the Mediterranean Sea and die there, but no one cares. And then, if you’re lucky to reach, like, the Italian or the Greek coast, then they don’t let us go there. But we are just fleeing, you know, what the West have created here, the chaos. So, can you imagine having peace here? Who wants to leave such a beautiful country? Like, even the Great — let’s just talk about the Great Lakes region. So, they created this mess, like they created it in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya, etc., and then, you know, you have to pay the consequences. So, I don’t know — I’m just fed up of all this hypocrisy. And I think all lives matter.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to V, as we listen to Christine talking about the DRC, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the second-largest country in Africa, the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa, the lack of media attention on the absolute crisis that’s happening today. V, your book, your second memoir, is called Reckoning. Talk about what you’re reckoning with, from the personal to the global.

V: Well, thank you, Amy. And I think this is deeply related to everything that Christine is talking about in terms of the Congo and the fact that things keep repeating and repeating and repeating because nothing is ever reckoned with. There is never any justice. There is complete impunity of all that’s gone on in the last 14 years during this war.

And I think what I’m trying to address in this book, I think, over the period of COVID, for those of us who were privileged enough not to have to be on the frontlines in hospitals and serving people, we were kind of locked in with our thoughts and our memories and our tough — in my case, some toxic nostalgia, where I had to really go in and address my life and reflect and reckon with my own personal history, at the same time as the world was at our fingertips, and in this country we were going through several reckonings. First, there was the horrible, diabolical nine minutes of George Floyd with a knee on his neck, and all that that excavated in terms of a history that’s never been reckoned with here, a history of white supremacy and people being enslaved, a history of Jim Crow and mass incarceration. And then we had the infrastructure, the fact that we had no healthcare infrastructure or infrastructure that cares about people. And so we saw so many people dying, particularly Black and Brown people at much higher rates, because there was no preparation or healthcare. And we saw our healthcare workers being sent in without — you know, wearing garbage bags and doubling up in wearing masks day after day. And then there was climate catastrophe, where the West was burning, and birds were literally falling out of the sky.

So, we are in this both collective and personal reckoning. And I think they’re always — they’re always one and the same, and they’re not separate for me. And I think part of what we’re seeing now in this country is that reckoning began. There was a beginning of this massive uprising around white supremacy and the history and on many issues. And what’s happened since then is this fringe minority has pushed back against remembering, pushed back against our history. Look what’s happening in the AP African American studies, where schools are being taught that they can’t teach certain great thinkers like bell hooks and Kimberlé Crenshaw and Keeanga Taylor and Angela Davis, you know, where we’re saying we can’t learn our history because people will be too disturbed by it.

And I say in the book I think that reckoning is the antidote to fascism, that when we remember things, when we look at our past, when we walk through the wound, which becomes a portal to another way of living and being, we actually can begin to transform that past. But if we’re not about reckoning, which this country has never been about, we keep repeating it and repeating it and repeating it. And I think — I look at the work in Congo we’ve been doing now for many years, and I look at Christine, who has been doing this work long before me, and Dr. Mukwege. How many times have they circled the globe to talk about the war, to talk about the economic exploitation and pillaging and extracting of minerals from Congo on the bodies of women? How many times have they told this story? And still the world remains completely inured and completely unable to hear the cries of the Congolese. And I don’t think this is accidental. I think this is programmed, as Christine said, because there is money to be made and resources to be stolen. And I think we’re seeing that same trend across the world, and that same trend of a refusal to reckon with our history, to look at where we come from, that we sit on a country that was stolen from the Indigenous people who lived here, and there was genocide and the destruction of their tradition and ways. And that is what this country is founded on. And until we make peace with that by reckoning with it and remembering it and making reparations for it, we will continue — continue — to create that violence in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you change your name to V?

V: Well, it’s an interesting story. You know, I wrote The Apology in 2019, which was a letter that I wrote to my father, because I had waited most of my life, waiting for my father to apologize to me for the sexual and physical violence he had enacted on my body and being, and that never happened. And I finally decided, after watching a lot of the people who had been called out in #MeToo, a lot of them men — I didn’t hear one public apology. I didn’t hear one man taking responsibility or doing deep reflection, that we could see, about what he had done. I realized I had to write my father’s apology for him. So I wrote the book The Apology, which was excruciating, but it was also very liberatory because I finally began to understand — not justify — what my father — who my father was. And I came to see that it had very little to do with me. And at the end of that —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 15 seconds, V.

V: At the end of that book, he was gone, and I realized I didn’t want that name anymore. I had no more rancor towards my father, but I wanted my own name that was clear of that patriarchal history, which had never involved my best interests.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all so much for being with us, V, formerly Eve Ensler, playwright, founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising, 25th anniversary and 10th anniversary, her new memoir, Reckoning, and Monique Wilson, as well as Christine Schuler Deschryver. Thank you.

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V-Day: Poet Aja Monet & V (Eve Ensler) on the Movement to End Violence Against Women & Girls

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