A Valentine's Campaign To End Violence

Feb 14, 2013

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan.

This morning, hundreds of Somali men and women gathered in a community center in Mogadishu after a flash mob. Campaigners in Parliament Square in London held up one finger while MPs debated violence against women inside Westminster. And hundreds of Egyptian sang and danced after 10 a.m., Cairo time, all that from live coverage provided by The Guardian. Events all marked V-Day and its One Billion Rising campaign, designed to boost awareness of violence against women all over the world.

We want to hear from you. If you've reached out to report a crime, called a hotline, sought shelter from violence or abuse, what's your story? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

V-Day is in its 15th year, spurred on by playwright and author, Eve Ensler, famous for her compilation of women's stories in "The Vagina Monologues" and so now works to provide resources for victims of sexual violence around the world. And she joins us by phone from Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thanks very much for being with us today.

EVE ENSLER: I'm thrilled to be with you.

CONAN: And can you tell us what's happening there where you are right now?

ENSLER: Well, now, it's nighttime. But we began today with (technical difficulty) quite an extraordinary (technical difficulty). We (technical difficulty) quite extraordinary rising this morning in Bukavu. And there were thousands and thousands of Congolese men and women gathered to hear wonderful speakers, wonderful activists, the governor, Dr. Denis Mukwege. Christine Schuler-Deschryver, who's the head of City of Joy and the director of V-Day Congo.

And I have to say I haven't seen this many thousands of people come together with so much determination and so much joy and so much dancing. And wonderful things happen in that the general of the South Kivu police force - and as you know, Congo has been one of the most dangerous places in the world for women because of the war that's been raging here over minerals for the last 13 years. And the general of the South Kivu police force presented a signed contract to V-Day and to the people of South Kivu saying they were committing on a much higher level to end impunity. So there were many, many victories today. V-day (unintelligible)

CONAN: And that, of course, just one of the many places around the world where this event was marked.

ENSLER: Yes. And I'm really pleased to say - I mean, we haven't finished all the events in the world because we're only really up to America now in terms of the time clock. But it's very clear we have reached a billion through the numbers that we're seeing, through not only rising for themselves but through Twitter and Facebooking. And it's unbelievable what's happening. And I've seen stories that ranged from Iranian girls rise in bedrooms, to thousands rising on the streets of Atlanta, to risings all over India, thousands and thousands in the Philippines, in Bangladesh, Afghanistan. I don't even know how to talk about it. It seems this thing never really happened ever in human history, that we've seeing something like this. So I feel it's the beginning of the new world and I - and what I mean by new world is that I do not think violence against women will ever be marginalized again anywhere...

CONAN: And...

ENSLER: ...and we have stepped into a new consciousness.

CONAN: Over the past 15 years, many of us have become familiar with "The Vagina Monologues" and your efforts around V-Day, but One Billion Rising is new. Tell us about it.

ENSLER: Well, we were celebrating our 15th year this year, and we've had an amazing 15 years. But our goal was to go out of business. That was the idea, to end the violence, not to stay here forever. And although, you know, we've been able to, through "The Vagina Monologues" and through amazing (unintelligible) across the planet, you know, the play has been done every year, there's sometimes 5,000 events raising, you know, we've raised, I think, at this point, $100 million that has gone to from local groups around the world to support their efforts.

We have broken taboos, we've, you know, created leaders and we've, you know, changed the dialogue and created legislation. But in fact, we haven't ended violence against women. And I was reviewing the U.N. statistics that say that one out of three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in their lifetime. And I did the math, and that's over a billion women. And I just have been obsessed with this idea that a billion women on the planet have suffered some form of disabling, threatening, undermining violence, which has changed and robbed them of their agency and their life force.

So we decided for our 15th anniversary, what could we do that would escalate our actions, really go further than we've ever gone before, do something daring and daunting and really call out the world to take this issue seriously? And because I've spent a lot of time here in the Congo, I've seen the power of dancing because the women in Congo dance all the time, and it is really how they transform their pain to power. So we just started to think, what if a billion women and all the men who love them dance on the same day and called up and danced up the will of world (technical difficulty).

And I have to say in all the years in my organizing, and there have been many, this was the most amazing action we've ever done in terms the way it caught fire, the way people wanted to do it immediately, the way people understood the power of dance and the intensity of dance, and it has just spread like fire. And here we are, you know, on February 14th with a billion people rising.

CONAN: And that's great. I wonder, though, when you read those statistics, when you know the enormity of the problem in places like Congo and the way that violence against women is used as an instrument of war, when you read of the gang rapes, not just in India but in Ohio as well, do you wonder that this is just screaming into the wind?

ENSLER: No, I don't feel that at all because what I'm seeing with this action is that it's the first time we've really seen a global action of this magnitude. Zaire, for example, I think many cases - and I travel a lot and I spend a lot of time around the world talking about violence in many countries. And usually, people believe that it's either their family's problem or it's a national problem or a tribal problem or a religious problem. And I think what this action has made very clear to everybody is that it's a global phenomenon and it's called patriarchy. And violence is the methodology through which patriarchy keeps it - maintains itself.

And I think not only do I feel like we're not screaming in the wind, but in the organizing for this event this year, I've already seen major changes happen, changes where, for example, in London today, in the British Parliament. A woman who was working on One Billion Rising introduced the call, OBR call into the parliament to demand universal sex education and relationships. And today, because of the power of this movement, they debated it. I've seen legislation getting passed in all kinds of countries. I saw this colonel today, this general today stand up and say he was rising. I've seen so many institutions now understanding that the women of the world will no longer tolerate this level of violence, the degree and the impact of this violence. And I'm more hopeful today than I've ever been in my life.

CONAN: We want to hear from those of you with direct experience of this in your lives. If you've called a hotline, if you've gone to an abuse center to refuge, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. We'll start with Pina(ph), Pina on the line with us from Phoenix.

PINA: Hi. I love your show. And, Eve, I just want to thank you so much for giving us a doorway that women who were afraid to come out before really have come out, and that really was me. I really haven't shared my story, but when this - when I found out about One Billion Rising from Anne Hathaway's cover on a national magazine, I was immediately sparked and inspired to just identify with the movement.

I was abused in my marriage, and so leaving him at about eight months pregnant, we went to a shelter and, yeah, the domestic violence shelter, it was actually really bad. So we moved to another shelter, which was bad. They had bed bugs. I was up every night, making sure, you know, my child wasn't getting bitten. And so we eventually did move out from there. But this really does give all of us women a great platform to do something.

CONAN: And did you do something today, Pina?

PINA: Actually, yes. I actually did create a song called "One Billion Rising." I sent it to Eve. She posted it on the website, so I know that my song is being played in the UK and is being played somewhere else in the United States. So I'm working right now, so I can't do anything yet. But I really feel like I've made a difference, and I feel - I totally feel a part of something that's bigger than me, and I'm just so passionate about it.

CONAN: Can you sing us just a line or two from the chorus?

ENSLER: That is so wonderful.

PINA: Sure. (Singing) One billion rising, look at her rising.

CONAN: Pina, thank you very much for the call. And good luck and hope you don't get into trouble at work.

(LAUGHTER)

PINA: Thank you.

ENSLER: Thank you so much. And thank you for the song and thank you for telling your story and thank you for rising. And now we've got to go the next distance and really, really make sure we end it. Thank you.

CONAN: Eve Ensler with us from the Congo and she's talking about One Billion Rising on V-Day. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Could you have imagined 15 years ago that this would've taken you from Greenwich Village and the performance of "The Vagina Monologues" to the Congo?

ENSLER: No.

(LAUGHTER)

ENSLER: Definitely not. You know, when I started performing "The Vagina Monologues," it was in a less than 100-seat theater. I was utterly terrified. And I was just hoping someone wasn't going to come and shut me down or shoot me, you know? So I feel like so much about "The Vagina Monologues" and V-Day has been completely organic. And I think, you know, we have learned - we had been taught by people, we've been taught by activism, we, you know, we've made mistakes and then we've learned from those mistakes.

But what I feel most excited about right now is that this movement, which is a movement which is based on theater and based on art, has nearly brought these two forces together in the world. And just looking at the videos today from India and from Nepal and from Buton and from all over America and the world, everybody has kind of joined these forces together of dance and poetry and song and art installations to really come up with a different kind of energy that can break through this kind of denial and patriarchal wall and prison that we all live in all the time.

And it's so beautiful to see everybody doing it in their own way, in their own community, adapting it to their own culture, to their own language, plus join together in the common One Billion Rising.

CONAN: Let's go next to Laurie(ph), and Laurie with us from Tucson.

LAURIE: Hi. Good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

LAURIE: Thank you so much for having me on with one my role models. I coordinated V-Day, "Vagina Monologues" show a couple of years ago here in Tucson, and it was one of the largest we've ever done. And we really focused on recognizing communities in which violence against women and girls does happen, but it's not talked about, which would be the Jewish community and the gay community. That was the focus or our production.

CONAN: And breaking taboos has been, I think, what that show and that movement has been about, at least in part, from the beginning.

LAURIE: Yes. Most absolutely. So we benefitted two organizations that worked in violence against women and girls. One called Project LEAH, Let's End Abusive Households, which is a project of Jewish Family and Children's Service. And when I came to them and I said, yes, I'd like to do a fundraiser for you, and by the way, it's called "The Vagina Monologues," they were kind of surprised to say the least. But it really was an amazing event and raised awareness in a way that I don't think would've been possible without "The Vagina Monologues."

CONAN: Hmm. That's interesting. And what about today, you doing anything?

LAURIE: Well, I'm trying to just make sure that my 15-year-old daughter knows that it's OK to ask for help when you need it and to recognize that women can be strong and can work together. That's my focus for today.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Laurie. Appreciate the phone call.

ENSLER: And (unintelligible) somewhere - oh, sorry.

CONAN: That's OK. I was just going to ask you, Eve Ensler, before we let you go, breaking taboos. Vagina is a word that I'm sure turned some heads there in Congo?

ENSLER: Well, you know, it's very interesting. When I first came here, I was invited by Dr. Denis Mukwege, who is an extraordinary gynecologist and OB/GYN, who is actually doing many operations on women who were raped during the conflict. And I think he invited me here simply because I talked about vaginas and he wanted to break the taboos here. And I'm very proud to say that over the last years that we've worked in the Congo, we opened this amazing place called City of Joy with the Congolese women, they've been performing "The Vagina Monologues" everywhere.

You know, in Kinshasa, in villages, in small towns, in churches there have been enormous discussions, and I think the performances of "The Vagina Monologues" have really broken through a lot of the silence and taboos that were really repressing women. So I've been very impressed with the openness.

CONAN: Well, congratulations and thanks very much for being with us. Where do you go from Congo?

ENSLER: Well, I'm in Congo for a month, and then I'll be back - I have a book coming out in April. So I'll be back in the States then. But I just want to say to all the people who are rising today, thank you so much for being with us in this movement. And if you're not dancing, you still have time. Go and find out where there's a place to dance and rise near you on onebillionrising.org.

CONAN: Eve Ensler...

ENSLER: Join us and thanks for much for having me on.

CONAN: Thank you for being with us. Eve Ensler, joining us from Bukavu in the DRC. That's the Democratic Republic of Congo. She's the creator of "The Vagina Monologues" and the V-Day movement. Tomorrow, it's TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY, focused on the asteroid headed our way. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.