Activism

Global Activists Continue 20-Year Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women and Girls

The V-Day movement for women's rights has come a long ways since its origins with "The Vagina Monologues."

Photo Credit: Screen Capture / Democracy Now!

On the 20th anniversary of V-Day, we host an extended conversation with three leading international campaigners fighting to stop violence against women and girls: Christine Schuler Deschryver of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rada Borić from Croatia and Agnes Pareyio from Kenya. The first V-Day events were held 20 years ago today, on Feb. 14, 1998.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we continue with Part 2 of our conversation looking at the 20th anniversary of V-Day, the women’s movement to end gender violence against women and girls.

This week, the White House is facing an escalating scandal over how it ignored the serious accusations against former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, his verbal and physical violence against both of his two ex-wives. President Trump has repeatedly tried to defend Porter. Trump himself has been accused of sexual harassment or assault or misconduct by at least 16 women.

The domestic violence scandal engulfing the White House comes after, in recent months, thousands upon thousands of women, both in the United States and around the world, have come forward with their stories of sexual harassment, abuse and violence. But this global movement didn’t come out of the blue. It came out of decades of global women’s movements. This day is the 20th anniversary of the V-Day movement, which demands justice for all survivors of gender violence, an end to the impunity that protects perpetrators all over the world.

ROSARIO DAWSON: [reading Eve Ensler’s “My Revolution Lives in This Body”]
My revolution begins in the body
It isn’t waiting anymore
My revolution does not need approval or permission
It happens because it has to happen in each neighborhood, village, city or town
at gatherings of tribes, fellow students, women at the market, on the bus
It may be gradual and soft
It may be spontaneous and loud
It may be happening already
It may be found in your closet, your drawers, your gut, your legs, your multiplying cells
in the naked mouth of taut nipples and overflowing breasts
My revolution is swelling from the insatiable drumming between my legs
My revolution is willing to die for this
My revolution is ready to live big
My revolution is overthrowing the state
Of mind called patriarchy
My revolution will not be choreographed although it begins with a few familiar steps.
My revolution is not violent but it does not shy away from the dangerous edges where fierce displays of resistance tumble into something new

My revolution is in this body
In these hips atrophied by misogyny
In this jaw wired mute by hunger and atrocity
My revolution is
Connection not consumption
Passion not profit
Orgasm not ownership
My revolution is of the earth and will come from her
For her, because of her
It understands that every time we frack or drill
Or burn or violate the layers of her sacredness
we violate the soul of our future
My revolution is not ashamed to press my body down
On her mud floor in front
Banyan, Cypress, Pine, Kalyaan, Oak, Chestnut, Mulberry
Redwood, Sycamore trees
To bow shamelessly to shocking yellow birds and rose blue setting skies, heart exploding purple bouganvillea and aqua sea
My revolution gladly kisses the feet of mothers and nurses and servers and cleaners and nannies
And healers and all who are life and give life
My revolution is on its knees
On my knees to every holy thing
And to those who carry empire-made burdens in and on their heads and backs and
hearts

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, the 20th anniversary of V-Day, inspired by Eve Ensler’s groundbreaking play The Vagina Monologues, through which this movement has come. Our three guests are Christine Schuler Deschryver, director of V-Day Congo in the DRC, co-founder and director of City of Joy, a revolutionary community for women survivors of gender violence in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo; Rada Borić is a V-Day and One Billion Rising global coordinator for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia; and Agnes Pareyio is the Kenya director for V-Day. She’s the founder and director of the V-Day Safe House for Girls.

We welcome you all to the second part of our conversation. Rada, let’s begin with you. The Vagina Monologues, through which V-Day came, were written in Croatia? Eve wrote them in Croatia?

RADA BORIĆ: Partly, she wrote them in Croatia. We’ve met earlier. We met during—unfortunately, during the wars in the Balkans, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, 1994, where I worked—at that time I worked in the Center for Women War Victims. I worked with women refugees, especially with women who were sexually abused during the war. And then the story of rapes really occurred, and it was in the media. And Eve happened to be one who asked us, could she come and support us. And although we have lots of works and lots of journalists and people coming, somehow I decided that she, as a young—at that time, you know, young writer, who also wrote that she was a survivor, I thought it would be good that she came. And she was talking to women refugees and then also talked to a woman who was raped that we worked with. And she wrote this beautiful piece, among other beautiful monologues, “My Vagina Was My Village,” devoted to all of the raped women in Bosnia.

And unfortunately, due to this rape in Bosnia, more and more women came forward, including women in Japan, that, in '99, I was on a women's tribunal in Japan where women, Japanese women, demanded the Japanese state would compensate women, so-called comfort women, who have been raped during the Second World War. So it means that the crimes against women, and especially sexual crimes, are not going to disappear. So the crimes that now all these men that we are hearing recently all over the world and are protected under other powerful men who are denying that sexual abuse has happened to women, I think, you know, luckily, The Hague tribunal for the crimes against community decided that the rape, the rape of women, is also a crime against community—humanity and cannot just simply be neglected anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: How, Christine Schuler Deschryver, did you get involved with the whole V-Day movement in Congo?

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Well, I met Eve in 2007, when she came, after interviewing Dr. Mukwege in the U.N. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mukwebe [sic]—

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Dr. Mukwege.

AMY GOODMAN: Mukwege is an obstetrician gynecologist.

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Yeah, director of Panzi, Panzi Hospital. And then, he introduced her to me. But at the beginning, I didn’t want to meet her, because she was—she’s a celebrity, and I didn’t want to meet celebrities anymore. So she came to Congo, and I think she’s the first person—I’m not saying “woman”—she’s the first person who asked the Congolese women what they wanted. And so they told her that they wanted a roof, they wanted to be empowered. And that was my beginning with V-Day. After that, we performed The Vagina Monologues in many countries, in Congo. And it was—it was quite hard at the beginning, because also in small town. And since then, so—I’m with V-Day since 2007.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain Panzi Hospital and what Dr. Mukwege was doing at the time around rape victims in Congo.

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Dr. Mukwege is—well, the word we are using now is “repairing” women who are completely, you know, destroyed by rape, because rape, like in Bosnia and in other many countries, it’s used as a weapon of—

RADA BORIĆ: War.

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: —a weapon of war. And we are not talking about rape anymore. We are talking about sexual terrorism. And until now, you know, when you go at Panzi Hospital, all the beds are still full of women at the hospital. So it didn’t stop at all.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about City of Joy, what this community is that you have set up. Who are the women who are there?

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: The women are survivors. Well, we say “gender violence survivors,” but at the end they are all survivors of rape. And it’s a center where we train women in leadership. And half of the program is therapy. And I think, at the end, they spend six months at City of Joy, and then they go back into their community. And then they organize themselves, you know, in a network. And they are all partner of V-Day now to also recruit women to come at City of Joy. And they spread the message. Everything they learn at City of Joy, they spread. They spread it in their community.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the overall situation in Congo, what has created this crisis. You have more than a million—1.3 million people fleeing their homes, 800 of them children, leaving the country with the highest number of displaced people in Africa. Among the population of 79 million, four-and-a-half million have been forced from their homes. Talk about where they are going, what’s causing this conflict and why so many women and girls are being raped.

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Well, the problem is really complicated, because it’s an economic war, you know, for coltan. That’s something we have in our cellphones and in our computer. And I think like all the countries, you know, like in all the Western countries, they don’t want this war to end, because they want—they want a mess, so they can continue to plunder, to plunder Congo. And rape was and is still using as a—as terror. If you look at a map and you see where rape are committed, it’s all around mines. And we still have lots of guns everywhere and militias. So, the goal is for people to leave, you know, their villages, so they can—multinationals can continue to plunder Congo. And that’s also one of the reason all the Western countries, they don’t want this war to end. They want it to continue, so they can just continue to plunder the DRC. And that’s why nobody’s talking about this silent war in Congo, and they want it to go on.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you expand more on the conflict? Because when people—I mean, when you hear these numbers, the largest number of refugees in Africa, a war that has gone on for so many years, people in the United States know so little about what’s happening in the DRC.

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Well, I think it’s very complicated to explain. First of all, you have to know that Congo is one of the richest countries in the world. And we have like all the minerals that you need. We have uranium. We have gold. We have coltan. We have tin. We—

AMY GOODMAN: And coltan is what is used in—

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: It’s what you use in our cellphone. And you know now we just have cellphones and computer. And that’s the reason of the war, because if you see—if you look at poor countries, there’s no war in poor countries. And in Congo, you have all the multinationals, from all over the world, who are there just to plunder Congo. Like in South Kivu, where I live, we have a big multinational—I’m not going to name it, but, you know, like they ask the population to leave. And they promised like to build houses, hospitals, and they did nothing. And they poisoned all the river. So now we do have more and more, you know, like baby who are born with no hands, with no—you know, with lots of handicap. And nobody’s talking about it.

And I think it’s not new, because it was always like this. If you look at Congo’s history, you know, with the colonialism, they also—they plundered Congo. When Mobutu was there, Congo was still plundering. And this country never belonged to Congolese people. Today, you are starving, and you are dying, and they bury you in coltan and in gold. And you have nothing—you have nothing to eat. You have no clothes. You can’t go to school. People are, I think, the poorest in the world, living in the richest country. And as long as the international community will keep the silence, things will be like this. And they will keep the silence, because they have lots of interest in Congo.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is the responsibility of the Congolese government and outside governments and the United States?

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: I think the first responsible, of course, they are the Congolese, the Congolese themselves, because we cannot be dictated, you know, I mean, by the multinationals and by the outside. Congo has to belong to the Congolese. And our leaders, they have—well, they have to take the lead and to decide to work for the people, to end the poverty, to end the violence and to end the war.

But I don’t know why—it’s not going on, because sometimes I feel that we are dictated by the outside countries. We are under pressure, because when we don’t do—when the Congo doesn’t do what they want, so they stop all the aid. And that’s also one of the reasons, like all the third countries, now they are taking money from what they call the emerge countries, like China and India, because they don’t talk about human rights. They give the money, you give the mines. “Do whatever you want to your people. We don’t care.” And if you talk to, for example, European countries, they stop the aid. So sometimes it’s better to look at the other countries. And it’s not a good deal. Look what’s going on with China, China in Africa. It’s a disaster. It’s a scandal.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the City of Joy, how many women are there?

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: We do have 180 a year. Until now, we already have 1,028 graduated. And I have to say it’s like we are planting seeds of revolution, because when I see the way they are transforming and the revolution they bring into their community, like to speak out and to take back their power, their voice—

AMY GOODMAN: These are all rape survivors.

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Yes. They’re all rape survivors. And they—really, I can give you almost thousands of examples of how they change their lives and how they really change their communities. And that’s what I say. You know, the change will come from the grassroots. And they are the ones who will bring this change. It will not come from the top, because on the top you just have—you just have the—

AGNES PAREYIO: Corruption.

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: —corruption, you have the interests, and you don’t care about—they don’t care about what’s going on, you know, like in villages.

AMY GOODMAN: Agnes Pareyio, we talked about what’s happening in Kenya right now at the Safe House for Girls, as you try to set up a safe house for girls who are fleeing from female genital mutilation. You, yourself, are Masai. How do you talk to the community about FGM?

AGNES PAREYIO: One good thing is that I’m a Masai myself, and they know me. And I’m a survivor of female genital mutilation. So I talk about a subject I understand and a subject I know. So, what I do is I educate them on the effects of female genital mutilation. And most of our communities have not gone to school. And I use an anatomical model that shows the effects of female genital mutilation, because, for somebody who have not gone to school, when she sees something, she cannot forget. So, in the model, it shows all the types of female genital mutilation and the effects of female genital mutilation. We organize meetings with them in the villages. We have groups that we work with at the village level. We also do school visits. We talk to the girls at the school. We talk to everybody in the family, because female genital mutilation is a culture. Everybody is involved. It has to come from all of them to agree to stop female genital mutilation. That’s how I get them.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your own life story and how you came to speak out?

AGNES PAREYIO: Yes. Female genital mutilation happened to me when I was 14 years old. I went home, and there are so many people in our village feasting and dancing and celebrating. Then I asked my mom what was—”What is happening that there are so many people there?” She said, “Well, I’ll tell you later. Just rest. I’ll tell you.”

And then I insisted, because at school I used to have a friend who comes from a community that never practiced female genital mutilation. So she kept asking me, “Agnes, what happens to these girls? They come back to school in December, and their head, they have no hair. They have been shaved.” Because after female genital mutilation—because the understanding of the community is that after female genital mutilation, you are now a grown-up. You are ready to be married. Despite your years, you are ready to be married. So, when I went, I had that girl, who was my friend, who kept telling me, “Agnes, do not agree to be cut. I also come from a community that don’t cut.” So, I wanted to keep that promise, though I didn’t know the effects of female genital mutilation by then. But as a young, small girl, I wanted to keep the promise of my friend.

So I told my mom, “Me, I’m not going to be cut.” She said, “Huh?” I said, “Yes, I will not be cut.” “And whom are you going to be? What are we going to call you?” I said, “Me, I’ll not be cut.” She said, “I’ll go and tell your father.” I said, “Go ahead. Tell him,” because I want to keep that promise of my friend. So, when my dad was told, he said, “If that is what they are taught in school, then let us leave her alone.” And then my mom, my grandmother were all screaming. They didn’t know what to call me. So my mom was saying, “I’ll be sitting with you in the house, and you are not cut. Who are you going to be?”

Then, slowly, the story changed. Everybody in the community started calling me a coward. They said, “You know, she’s a coward. That’s why she doesn’t want to be cut.” Because they could not understand why I didn’t want to be cut, because I could not explain more. I just had that promise that I had to keep for my friend. So, when they started calling me a coward, that was a lot of pressure on me, because I don’t want the whole community to say that I’m a coward. So I reluctantly agreed to be cut.

Then the story, again, here is that when you are being cut, you’re not supposed to cry. And because they had already called me a coward, I had to make sure that I will not cry and I’ll not make any movement. So you can imagine you are being cut, no anesthesia done on you. This woman is an old elderly woman. She’s using a razor blade. She cuts to an extent she wants, because you are not moving and you are crying. I just pray that I didn’t—I cried, because they would not have done the way they did it. Of course they overdid it, and I bleeded. It took some time before I healed.

So I grew up hating it because of the experience that I went through. So, when I see young girls being cut, they don’t go to school. They are married. My interest was to see that there are girls in my community continuing their education, because boys had an opportunity to go to school, and then the girls were seen like they are just people to be married. They have—as they grow, everybody talks about “When are you going to marry? When are you going to be married?” So, we didn’t have anybody else come into the community to work in the community.

AMY GOODMAN: For people who don’t understand what female genital mutilation is—and there are different levels of it—can you explain what you mean when you say “cut”?

AGNES PAREYIO: Female genital mutilation is a traditional practice that they cut the clitoris. We have three types of female genital mutilation that are commonly practiced. We have type one, that is the cutting of the tip part of the clitoris. We have type two, that is excision, the cutting of the clitoris and the labia majora, leaving a scar. And that is the type that we practice—that is type two—in my community. And then we have type three, and this one involves the cutting of the clitoris and the labia majora and then followed by the stitches, leaving a small hole for the menses and the urine. And this is practiced, again, by the Somali. And we have a type four that is practiced by the Pokots. This one, they do the excision, that is the removal of the clitoris, the labia majora and the labia minora, and then you are forced to put your leg on top of the other one so the lips overlap, so the wound heals as the lips overlap, so it will still leave the small hole.

And why they do it is because they want the girl to live a virgin, so that is going to be the husband on that day of the wedding that will penetrate and make way. They don’t care about what happens to these girls. During their menstruation, you know, there are times when you get your menses in forms of cloud, and the small hole is not enough to free the menstrual period. So—

AMY GOODMAN: So it leads to infection.

AGNES PAREYIO: Yeah, it leads to infection.

AMY GOODMAN: Not to mention loss of feeling.

AGNES PAREYIO: Yes. Female genital mutilation, its effects on a girl, we have short term and the long term. In the short term is bleeding, shock, because they are cutting you, and there’s severe pain, and nobody prepares you for the pain. Because it’s like a taboo, nobody talks about it. You have to go through it, so that to know what it is. So there’s infections. Sometimes the hands are dirty. Sometimes the object they are using is not clean. You bleed. There is shock. And then there’s pain, extreme pain. There are those people who are sensitive to pain. And there are those that bleed, bleed and die. I have seen a girl who was cut. By the time they were calling me to go and save her, she was already dead.

AMY GOODMAN: And how many women, how many girls die of female genital mutilation?

AGNES PAREYIO: Many. The problem is, it is a cultural practice that nobody associates the cutting with the death. So, they will hang around some other things, like a curse, like an omen, a bad omen, people quarreled. So they don’t really relate the cutting with this death. So, when we go to them, teaching them, you talk about pain. You talk about the formation of keloids. Some people are sensitive to cutting. Once cut, they will start—there are things that start protruding. So, these are called keloids. And then we have the long term.

AMY GOODMAN: Keloids.

AGNES PAREYIO: Yeah, keloids, yeah. Then we have the long term. Don’t forget that where they cut is the way where we have sex. A child comes from it. Urine, we pass urine and menstruation. So, when you look at who started this culture, you just can’t understand why he had to interfere with our organ. And all organs in our body has their own function. And the clitoris they cut has its own function in the body. Still can’t understand why they thought of cutting the clitoris. So—

AMY GOODMAN: How successful has the movement to stop female genital mutilation been in Kenya?

AGNES PAREYIO: We have really succeeded, because we talk about facts that they go through. So you see it’s like they have just been waiting for someone who can talk about it. And now that they have gone through the pain, when you say “pain,” they know it. When they say “prolonged labor pains”—because when a woman is giving birth, the opening cannot open up the way it’s supposed to, because our body is elastic form. So, after the cut, you see, it’s so dry. You touch where you have a scar, it cannot expand the way it’s supposed to. So, we go through pain when giving birth, because we have the pelvic pain. And then the opening refuses to open. And when a child overstays between the pelvic and the opening, we have so many children that are born with their brains damaged. But nobody still understands what happens.

AMY GOODMAN: From lack of oxygen. From lack of oxygen because they weren’t able to go through.

AGNES PAREYIO: Yeah, because this child lacks oxygen.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what difference has V-Day made, this movement in Kenya?

AGNES PAREYIO: V-Day have really changed the lives of these girls, because girls now are growing—we now—we have a safe house. We have a school all ready. So, after we have rescued these girls, we take them to school, because we believe in education, because education is power. After you have given one education, one can make her own informed decision on what she wants to happen to her. And she can know how to take herself to court. And she can know where to go if anything happens to her. So, V-Day have really done a lot to improve the lives of these girls, including myself, because they have given me empowerment, a lot of empowerment, to be able to speak in front of my community on what female genital mutilation is and the need to stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: In Croatia, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, violence against women, the issue now that you’re focusing on?

RADA BORIĆ: It’s all over, I would say, for my Eastern Bloc, that suddenly what you had from the '90s, it's this transition of capital from so-called socialist countries who became neoliberal ones, where, for the first thing, I think the status of women worsened on the market. And the economy went so poorly for women, who used to work before. So what you had, at first, so-called women’s industry, like textile industry, has been totally dismantled, and women in their forties and fifties stay jobless. And when you think that you are jobless, that means that, from one side, you have economic violence, but then you have violence, gendered violence, at home.

And what we spoke and what we’re speaking today, I think it’s worse and worse in Europe nowadays, the so-called institutional violence, because, you know, institutions are not reacting. You would have prime ministers or presidents, we would know all, thanks to media, which is sensitized also due to women’s movement on violence against women. The governments wouldn’t do what they’re supposed to do, wouldn’t enable women in better position. It’s worse, I would say, in Europe also. At the beginning of 2000, in the former Yugoslavia, there were almost 25 percent of women in the Parliament. But now it’s less and less women.

And it’s all due to right-wing—right-wing groups and, I would say, all-important, unfortunately, again, from U.S. And they are very much connected to the Catholic Church. And they are using all this fake news inherited from the repertoire of Clinton—of Clinton—of all of the presidents that we had before, and especially now, of Trump’s administration, that what we have, it’s eventually worsening the women’s sexual and reproductive rights all over Europe. We see it in Poland. We see it in Croatia. It is that women are really fighting for the rights they had, like the right to free and legal and accessible abortion. This is now hanging every second day, there is someone to demand the ban on abortion. And so, it is more, I would say, extreme forms of violence. It’s not only battering women. It’s more and more femicides of women, like women are killed.

AMY GOODMAN: Femicides, killing of women.

RADA BORIĆ: Femicides, yes, because women are killed out of like “You don’t want to date me?” and the guy would kill a woman. And it’s more eligible to kill than before, like we talked—

AMY GOODMAN: So what gives you hope?

RADA BORIĆ: Gives me hope that women organized. Gives me hope that young women are much more aware of their rights. If you think that in—that V-Day, over 20 years, women in all colleges every year, over the thousand colleges in U.S., and all over Europe, that young women perform The Vagina Monologues, that young women felt better in their bodies, and that young women do know to demand their rights. So this makes me hope. Young women and also, I would say, the synergy in the movement of all different movements, all women, from all spheres of life, this gives me hope.

AMY GOODMAN: And this—I know you all have to go, because this is a very busy Valentine’s Day for you, this 20th anniversary of V-Day. Christine, we’ll end with you on what your hopes are for the future for this movement.

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Well, my hope for the movement, I think we are already in more than 200 countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Already there have been thousands of events around the world today.

RADA BORIĆ: Yes.

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Absolutely. And also, in Democratic Republic of Congo, we started with a new movement called V-Youth Rising. And I have to say—

AMY GOODMAN: It’s called?

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: V-Youth—

RADA BORIĆ: Youth.

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: —movement, with the young people. And—

RADA BORIĆ: And we have V-Men Rising.

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: We have V-Men. And we also train some new V-Girls. So it’s like we are planting seeds of change all over, all over, not only in DRC, but all over DRC, all over the world. And we are—since years now with One Billion Rising, we are talking about solidarity. And I think now I know the meaning of solidarity. Also, being here with all my sisters and all the activists of V-Day, it’s something I never experienced, never experienced before, like all the volunteers. And you can see also countries rising, where you have to look at a map to see where is this country, because people—

RADA BORIĆ: Bhutan and Mongolia.

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Oui, Bhutan—because people took back—you know, take back the movement. And that’s something amazing. And the change will come from there.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. Christine Schuler Deschryver, Rada Borić and Agnes Pareyio, from Kenya, from Croatia, from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is Democracy Now! This is V-Day, Valentine’s Day. I’m Amy Goodman.

To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. Thanks so much for joining us.

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times best-seller.