Playwright and activist Eve Ensler says a ‘women’s spring’ is in the offing as women all over the world protest against increasing violence against women
Playwright and global campaigner for action to end violence against women, Eve Enlser says that a ‘women’s spring’ on the lines of the Arab spring is around the corner and that India is leading the way. Her optimism, she explains, is based on the spontaneous outrage and expression of anger and protest against the brutal rape and death of a woman commuter, termed by the media as ‘Nirbhaya’ and ‘daughter of India’, ‘Braveheart’ and so on.
“I land in Delhi and I see this movement and I thought here it is – one billion rising is happening here in India. As an activist, the most painful thing is to see the marginalisation of issues concerning violence against women. However, this time, it has touched a nerve. There are men and women on the streets. To see Indians all across the country suddenly getting involved against this horrific incident and expressing their outrage is good. Till now, the youth were not involved in such large numbers. As we know students have an enormous impact on movements and so when they get involved, there is bound to be change,” says the 58-year-old activist who radiates optimism even while talking about her work among women who have been through different kinds of violence.
Terming rape as a “modern weapon of violence”, Eve, herself a victim of sexual abuse, says that rape is the easiest way to subjugate a community and rob it of its dignity and life.
She feels rape is an easy weapon for an insecure group of men who are looking for ways to cow down a community.
She says there is absolute evidence that there has been a rise in violence against women in India.
“I think there has been an escalation in violence against women or an escalation of reporting violence against women. I am not sure which is correct. I think we have, as feminists and activists, made it much easier for women to come forward and talk about violence.”
Dismissing castration and harsh punishments as effective punitive measures to stop rape, she feels that what is the need of the moment is to teach people, especially men, to talk about love, desire and sexuality and to push for changes in attitudes.
“In my travels, I have observed that in many cultures women see themselves as passive receptors in different spheres of life. I see it as a kind of oppression, a kind of rape that is bad for both men and women and it affects men more than women.”
Looking back on her journey as a survivor of sexual abuse and cancer, she says that it is the strength and love of women all over the world that has given her the strength to rejuvenate herself. “When I think about how many years it has taken me to recover from the rape, I realise that it has not been an easy journey. I don't see rape as extinguishing the light within a women but as covering it with darkness and it took me years to remove that darkness from my life.”
Agreeing that it has been an amazing trip following the tremendous success of her landmark play ‘The Vagina Monologues’ (which premiered in 1996), she says that now she has women coming to her and saying ‘I was in your play’ instead of saying ‘I saw your play’. “That is because the play talked about women and sexuality, love, birth, abuse, desire and discovery… It was all about a woman’s body. The play is being performed in over 900 colleges around the world. There are women who turned to women studies after seeing the play. It has been translated into Marathi and maybe soon into Malayalam as well. It is being performed for years in Delhi and Mumbai.”
Pointing out that she does not know enough of Kerala to comment on the cases of violence in Kerala, she says that it could be that “women have not got to that place where patriarchy does not seep in. Moreover, it takes only a few men with negative attitudes to do the damage.” Before signing off, she says she is looking forward to the release of her book In The Body Of The World in April.
The V-Day movement
The ‘Vagina Monologues ‘has been staged by actors such as Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Oprah Winfrey. Enthused by the success of the play and the reaction of women who saw it, she created the V-Day movement that seeks to end the atrocities that women are subjected to every day in different parts of the world. Over the years, Eve has supported women caught in the most intense areas of conflict such as Sudan and Congo. She says she draws optimism from women such as those in Congo, where she opened a centre called City of Joy for rape victims.
Eve is in India to mobilise support for the V-day here. For the 15th anniversary of V-Day on February 14, 2013, she wants one billion women to hit the streets. “United Nations figures estimate that one in three women will be sexually assaulted or molested during their lifetime. That gave me the figure of one billion. I want to dance and own the streets on that day. There are 179 countries that have pledged their support for the movement,” says Eve.
Dressed in a striking red and black dress with matching accessories in bright red, Eve was evidently pleased with the all-women media team that was waiting to interview her at the Taj Vivanta at Thycaud. “Look at that… my sisters,” she exclaimed as she admired their saris, skirts and sartorial sense. Showing off a mehendi butterfly and a lotus she had had painted on her hand and leg, she insisted on being photographed with the work clearly visible. “This butterfly is the symbol of the One Billion Rising,” she says with a smile. And then she told a story of a teenaged girl who had painted the tattoo for her. “The daughter of migrant vendors in Kovalam, she had to drop out of school so that her brothers could study. Then and there, I decided to sponsor her education and I did that. I feel that each of us should do an act of kindness every day. The world would be so much better,”
Eve says she has written a new play for the city that is “all in her mind”. She will perform the play today at the Gandhi Park at 6.30 p.m In addition she hopes to see her play The Vagina Monologues translated into Malayalam by mediaperson R. Parvathy Devi.