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eve enslerMarch 8, 2009

By Rady Ananda

“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.

drmukwegeIn 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.

[eve&denis]

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.

Dr. Denis MukwegePleas 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.”

Bringing Women to the Table

In A Quiet Revolution in the Developing World, Regina Cornwell describes Catherine Bertini, the 2003 World Food Prize laureate with a simple message: “Don’t forget the women.”  She guides the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation with its investment in feeding Africa’s poor. Cornwell writes, “As senior fellow in Agricultural Development, they asked her to create a gender policy that would change the way grants are awarded to ensure that women farmers are given their fair share.”

While the Taliban burns down schools for girls, Saudi Arabia just appointed its first female deputy minister, who will focus on women’s education. Getting women to the table is the driving theme behind The White House Project, where president Marie C. Wilson wrote:

This fundamental imbalance, with men running the world and women mostly spectators (or victims), is not a trivial detail.   It is the problem.”

In National Security: Women Must Define the Priorities Debate, Lorelei Kelly agrees: “Given that we need all the nation’s leadership talent to move on these urgent topics, the most consistent gasp line in my training is when the audience learns that the United States ranks 69th in the world in Congressional female representation. That’s below both Afghanistan and Iraq-countries where the United States exerted influence to make sure that quotas exist for female leadership.

“Number one in the world is Rwanda, where women filled positions after hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens were murdered in 1994.  Preliminary research on Rwanda has demonstrated that this critical mass of women in power promotes fundamental democratic values-like public consultation and participation, and that corruption has diminished.”

The Institute for Inclusive Security’s three-year Rwanda Project “revealed that women leaders drafted a far-reaching law to combat gender-based violence [and] spearheaded efforts to eliminate discrimination and enhance human rights protections,” among other findings.

CongoFriends posted this video of Major General Patrick Cammaert, talking about the Congo. “For a former UN general known for his no-nonsense approach, one would expect that he would support the current calls for a tougher mandate or more UN troops. But on the contrary, the former MONUC Commander stresses that the problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo are of a political nature and so should be any solution to those problems:

‘It is very disappointing to see that the situation has deteriorated as it’s doing now. But it is in fact a combination of factors. [Laurent] Nkunda [CNDP] and the FDLR-Interahamwe – the former genocide Hutus – are political problems. The international community and also President Kabila try to solve these problems in a military way, which I think is not right. The political arguments that Nkunda is using should be dealt with by president Kabila. And you can put on military pressure, and the UN can do that, but first of allit’s a political problem.'”

Pursuing the idea that bringing more women to the table will ensure a less militaristic solution to the various crises facing the world, an international colloquium coinciding with International Women’s Day will:

“[B]ring together 1,000 women participants and their champions: heads of state and government, public and private sectors, and community leaders.  The conference, co-convened by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and President Tarja Halonen of Finland, seeks to create an environment for women from around the world to discuss, learn, demonstrate, and act on the lessons learned from women in leadership, peace, and security.”

Also see Shaking the Tree for International Women’s Day events.

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