"V-Day is a demand: Rape, incest, battery, genital mutilation and sexual slavery must end now." With a beaming smile and the energy of a 20-year-old, Vagina Monologues author and activist Eve Ensler took the stage at Atlanta's Carter Center chapel last month, as part of V-Day's Turning Pain to Power tour. After opening remarks, she recited a new monologue -- from the view of a Congolese teen who was kidnapped, raped and held in slavery for two years until her escape.
Through Ensler's skilled inflections, we recognize our own universal resilient spirit. Nearly the entire audience comprised activist leaders, including Congolese women and men who identified with 'Marta':
The Pain to Power tour includes ob-gyn Dr. Denis Mukwege, who has worked in the Congo for the past several years, sewing up the insides of women who have been raped, shot, stabbed and shunned by their communities. He watched his clinic be destroyed and all his staff murdered. He's watched their vehicles blown up. He's watched young girls that he treated come back after being re-raped, and he's watch them grow up unable to bear children. He stands as a beacon of hope and light for women and girls in the Congo.
Dr. Denis Mukwege (V-Day photo)
In the past ten years, V-Day has raised $60 million toward re-opening shelters, publicizing the issue, and funding the soon-to-be opened City of Joy. A 73-minute documentary, Until the Violence Stops, provides historical context and the non-profit's vision. See 5-min trailer or buy the DVD.
Ensler and Mukwege break ground at the City of Joy, DRCongo (V-Day photo)
Guarding the City of Joy will be women, Dr. Mukwege told us. He doesn't want to re-traumatize patients and denizens by letting in uniformed men with guns. The direct effect of protecting themselves and rejecting military and police intervention will be to overturn the paradigm that women are less than men – no small feat in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where most subscribe to the Catholic patriarchy. To prepare themselves to stop certain attacks on the city, women are being trained.
The audience audibly gasped at that revelation. Congolese women are asserting their natural right to life, right to live free of harm and violence, right to choose with whom, when and what kind of sex to have, if ever. Any oppressed group must assert these rights because self-power cannot ever be granted. Self-empowerment is the first step toward societal equality. So while their self-protective behavior has immediate benefit to the City of Joy, the enormous paradigm shift will have long-lasting psychological value to them and the community at large.Femicide
It may be a Darwinian survival trait to fear otherness, but in extreme it leads to inevitable extinction. Homo sapiens fear, or repulsion, of otherness extends from hatred to genocide to femicide. Violence against women is endemic in a patriarchal culture, warned Ensler. Not a single nation today can boast its women are not battered, raped, murdered or held back and down economically, politically and socially on a systemic level.
The connection between homophobia and femicide is readily apparent: heterosexism is a form of sexism – it's based in a misogynistic world view that favors/prefers all things male. Because any patriarchy favors maleness, when a male acts like a female (by mating with a male), the heterosexist reaction is to brutally, legally, religiously, and socially punish the behavior. Nigeria is about to criminalize homosexuality and recently, Peter Tatchell gives an in-depth background on Iraq's Underground Railroad that is saving lives in the LGBT community.
The same is done to women, whom all patriarchies view as 'less than' males.
The imbalance of one gender holding superior authority and wealth over all others generates a feedback loop where violence must escalate to maintain that imbalance. The ultimate weapon of war is to destroy a nation's women – a weapon of mass destruction that threatens to infect every culture. It has reached epidemic proportions in Central Africa. Ensler fears if we do not halt sexual terrorism, now, in the Congo, femicide will become the most widely used weapon of war in the future.
Pleas to address this humanitarian crisis to the United Nations, the Congolese government, regional leaders and the United States go unanswered, while resource wars and oil and mineral extraction go unabated. Even the Vatican is silent, though most Congolese are Catholic.
"I know what racism is – I grew up in America," says Ensler. "But I didn't really know racism until I tried to get the international community to address what is happening to African women on a daily basis."