A rape victim overcomes her suffering to lead a movement to end all forms of violence against women across the globe.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – In a conservative society like the Philippines, victims of violence hide under a cloak of silence, afraid to be stigmatized. But one’s suffering could be transformed to strength, as shown by a rape victim who was able to rise and lead a movement to end all forms of violence against women across the globe.
Eve Ensler, awarded American playwright and women’s rights activist, said her experience determined who she is now.
“When I was raped as a child, when I was beaten as a child, that determined who I was in my existence. It determined my self-esteem; it determined my confidence. It led me to drugs; it led me to terrible situations because I had no sense of myself. It took me years and years and years to recover from that violence,” Ensler said in a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 6.
Ensler wrote “The Vagina Monologues.” Her works mostly tackle violence against women. She arrived in Manila in December last year to launch the One Billion Rising for Revolution happening on Feb. 14.
Leading the movement
Ensler has devoted her life to stopping violence, envisioning a world where women and girls will be free to thrive, rather than merely survive.
Through her award winning play The Vagina Monologues, Ensler created “V-day,” a global activist movement to stop violence against women and girls. The V-day raises funds and awareness through the benefit productions of The Vagina Monologues and other artistic works.
Ensler’s website read: “The V-day movement has raised over $100 million, educated millions about the issue of violence against women and the effort to end it; has crafted international educational, media, PSA (Public Service Announcements) campaigns; reopened shelters; and funded over 13,000 community-based anti-violence programs and safe houses at the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Kenya, Egypt and Iraq.”
At the press conference, Ensler said the One Billion Rising campaign has linked her up to other victims: “Because I grew up in such a violent environment, so much of my life is determined by rights. I think I was a consequence of violence. So I noticed that when I look into my body of work. I seem to be obsessed about women’s body; I seem to be very obsessed about war, about violence. Of course that has impacted my life. And that led me to travel the world, to see how many women across the planet are suffering from this incredible violence.”
Ensler is an honorary member of Gabriela.
VAW has to end
Since The Vagina Monologues, Ensler said, she has seen changes. “We have heard women say the word vagina and know their vagina, protecting vaginas. We saw systems change, laws change, although the implementation has not been as speedy as we like it to be. But we’ve seen women come forward to tell their stories; we’ve seen that the press has been interested in stories about violence against women more than before.”
“But we haven’t seen the end of violence against women,” Ensler added.
It was two years ago when One Billion Rising was started in February 2013.
Obeth Montes, deputy secretary of Gabriela, said the One Billion Rising campaign has helped women find their voice. She said that, on the local level, authorities have started to put up women’s desks. Women also now invoke Republic Act 9262.
“If there is any change that we have noted, it is the breaking of the culture of silence. Many women now are ready to speak about their experience,” Montes said. However, there is also an increase in perpetrators who are identified as men in uniform.
“That is what is more alarming. That is why we continue to participate in this kind of campaign, to call for social change,” said Montes.
Monique Wilson, global director of the One Billion Rising, meanwhile, encouraged other sectors to join the global campaign. Wilson said Filipinos who joined the One Billion Rising since the first year have been overwhelming and Gabriela was able to organize and mobilize them. Wilson called on the middle and upper classes and the business sector to join the campaign to end violence against women.
Wilson, who was also a victim of abuse, has also led the women not only in the Philippines but also across the world together with Ensler. She coordinated One Billion Rising Philippines involving all the major grassroots organizations of women, migrants and workers.
Wilson, the director of the Gabriela Women’s Party’s International Affairs, is also the international spokesperson for the Purple Rose Campaign, a campaign to end sex trafficking of Filipina women and children. She has given theater empowerment workshops to migrant workers in London, Hong Kong, and in the Philippines.
Wilson attributed her activism and political awakening to her “sisters” in Gabriela. “Now because of Gabriela, Eve, V-day and the Vagina Monologues, my own political consciousness has deepened.”
Dancing for revolution
“Dancing allows us to come back into our bodies, as individuals and groups and a world, it connects our feet to the earth and inspires us to move to her rhythm,” the One Billion Rising statement read.
Ensler recalled how the concept for the campaign came to her: “Five years ago I had a very bad cancer. At the end of my cancer I was in the Congo working on this project called City of Joy. When the Congolese women saw me, 30 pounds thinner and no hair, they were terrified and they danced. We started to dance. While they were dancing, I just had this image: what if one billion women on the planet dance and rise on the same day? We would create this energy, synergy; we create this ability for women to reclaim public spaces, to honor their bodies, to release their trauma, to come together in a kind of energetic solidarity that I really believe might spur a lot of different things.”
For 2015, Wilson said, One Billion Rising is more radical. “The word revolution encompasses everything. Justice, social justice, artistic revolution, social change, system change,” said Wilson.
“Paradigm shift, change of mind, change of it all,” Ensler added.
“Dancing is defiance. It is joyous and raging. It is contagious and free and beyond corporate or state control. We have only begun to dance. This year we must go further. We must go all the way and make the change,” she said.