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The Atrocities Committed Against Women and Girls in the Congo Defy Imagination

Six-month-old babies are being raped; men with AIDs are intentionally infecting women. Eve Ensler has a campaign to help end the terror.

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The tour will also raise needed funds for the Panzi Hospital and to build and open the City of Joy, a center where survivors will be provided with support to heal and training to develop their leadership and life skills. Says Ensler, “We are supporting women in the DRC who are creating a minor, soon to be a major, revolution.  My experience is that in places where women have suffered enormous violence or witnessed it, there is always a group of women who rather than getting AK-47s or machetes or escalating the violence or doing themselves in, actually grieve it and feel it and pass through it and as a result, they become the strongest women. They become the people who shift the culture.”

Ensler has borne witness to many horrifying forms of violence against women in over ten years of working with V-Day around the globe, yet nothing compares to what is now taking place in the Congo.  “On the one hand these are the worst atrocities I’ve seen anywhere in the world–the sexual violence, the torture, the number of women being violated, the complete impunity, an indifferent international community, an ineffective UN, a failed Congolese government.”  She then adds, “On the other hand, you have some of the fiercest, most devoted, clever, powerful women I have met anywhere in the world. And wonderful men who are really ready to galvanize and create change. With the support of the world community, particularly women, we will create a movement which will generate the political will and the necessary resources for change.”

Ensler says that while there has been growing media coverage of the war in the Congo, she hopes the tour will put additional focus on the fact that women are being used as weapons of war. “We still live in a world where femicide is taken for granted, where the raping of women, the destruction of women, is a given. Not extraordinary. And part of what we want this tour to be about is to say that this is not ordinary and is unacceptable.” In a recent interview with the National Post, Mukwege observed, "the traditional battlefield has changed. It is no longer war on the ground, but it is war on women's bodies. It is … the psycho-social destruction of a whole community in which the women are humiliated."  Ensler sees wide implications to accepting these tactics.  “When we allow this many women to be raped, when we allow this many women to be destroyed, we are basically giving license to that happening, not just in the Congo, but in Africa and throughout the world. If we can stop the violence towards women in the Congo,” it could be “a template that we apply to other conflict zones.” 

I spoke to Ensler on Martin Luther King Day. She was in Washington for a rally the day before in support of peace in the DRC, as well as to speak at the first ever Inaugural Peace Ball on Inauguration Day, and I asked her what message she would most want to deliver to President Barack Obama. “The thing I would say is that ending violence against women is as essential as ending global warming. You cannot think of over half the world’s population, that one out of three of them are being beaten and raped, and not think that the greatest resource on the planet is being degraded. And my dream is that in ten years this issue will be so front and center that it will be undeniable, and that it will change.”    When I asked her if she feels hopeful that Obama’s election marks a new paradigm shift, she became reflective. “I feel hopeful that the energy that Barack Obama brings to the White House can actually begin to formulate a real left in this country, a real social, progressive movement. A door has been opened, but it is up to us to get our whole body through that door.” She added, “I live constantly in the center of two opposite thoughts: the world is ending, the world is about to be born.  I am fighting for the latter.”