Eve Ensler Rising: One of America's Most Amazing Activists Is About to Pull Off Her Biggest Event Yet
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Thinking of feminist orthodoxies reminds me of “the personal is political.” It could be the most poorly understood slogan in contemporary politics. In Eve’s work, the global and the personal meld, as in her life. In 2009, Eve was diagnosed with uterine cancer—stage IV. I got a call. She told me she’d just made it through nine hours of emergency surgery. By the time we could arrange a visit, she was weak from an infection, half her organs seemed to have been removed, and pipes and tubes were connecting her to not one but two waste-container bags. What she wanted to talk about was Congo.
The closer she got to death, she said, the more determined she was to live to see the opening of the City of Joy. The City of Joy, in Bukavu, is a V-Day-funded recovery-and-revival center for women victims of sexual violence in the fifteen-year militia war raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In her next book, In the Body of the World (coming out in April from Metropolitan), Eve describes daily calls to her partner at the City of Joy throughout her ordeal with cancer. Christine Schuler Deschryver was on the other end of those calls. The Congo director of V-Day, Schuler Deschryver says she met Eve when she herself was at the end of her rope, frustrated and furious after years of people coming to Congo, promising help and disappearing. “Eve came and stayed,” Schuler Deschryver explained in a phone call.
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In March 2011, the City of Joy opened with a not quite bald Eve in a very short, very red dress, standing side by side with Schuler Deschryver, Mitchell, Black and thousands of Congolese women in Bukavu. Today ninety women, age 14 to 30, are living at the City of Joy house, receiving therapy, learning self-defense and computer skills (thanks to a donation by Google), and preparing to return as leaders to their villages. Did Eve survive thanks to the City of Joy? Did the City of Joy come alive thanks to Eve? It’s not an either/or question. As she describes it in In the Body of the World, her personal survival and the collective project were indistinguishable.
I asked Schuler Deschryver what therapy is like in Bukavu. She tells me it’s not the sort we’re used to in the West. It’s not personal, private, one-on-one in a closed room. Every day at the City of Joy starts with dance, then group storytelling. “In Africa, we live in community. The key to our success is we recover together.” That’s no doubt why Eve loves it.
Fifteen years after the founding of V-Day, fifteen years of brutal war in Congo later, the violence hasn’t stopped. In the news today, I read that Dr. Denis Mukwege, the doctor who inspired Eve to come to Congo—one of the country’s few high-profile people and a past Nobel Peace Prize nominee who has dedicated his life to repairing the broken bodies of brutally raped Congolese women—has narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. His bodyguard was shot dead. Schuler Deschryver is his neighbor. Also in the news: a 10-year-old Dalit girl in India has been gang-raped by village men who videotaped the rape on their cellphones. An American college student, raped by a fellow student, reports being told by her “sex assault counselor” that there was nothing the school could do. Republicans are saying more mad things about rape, and Democrats aren’t getting anyone very excited.
It is hard to imagine violence more ubiquitous or complacency more commonplace. The world needs a jolt. On February 14, 2013, Eve Ensler says One Billion will rise. I believe her.