Vaginas and Lives Mutilated in the Congo: Thoughts from the Writer of The Vagina Monologues

18 05 2009

Eve Ensler, who authored the play “The Vagina Monologues,” wrote today about the horrors of what women in the Democratic Republic of Congo are experiencing. I tried to explain  to my  mother about what Eve wrote about and she said her system can only take so much and she couldn’t hear any more. I get that. It’s hard to hear. But we must have courage and acknowledge the horrors. Only by acknowledging and spreading the word to others who will also acknowledge what is happening can the proper light be shed on this tragedy and solutions will follow. Here’s Eve’s article. All that follows was posted on Huffington Post today.

“War on Women in Congo” by Eve Ensler, posted 5/18/09 on Huffington Post

I write today on behalf of countless V-Day activists worldwide, and in solidarity with my many Congolese sisters and brothers who demand justice and an end to rape and war.

It is my hope that these words and those of others will break the silence and break open a sea of action to move Congolese women toward peace, safety and freedom.

My play, The Vagina Monologues, opened my eyes to the world inside this world. Everywhere I traveled with it scores of women lined up to tell me of their rapes, incest, beatings, mutilations. It was because of this that over 11 years ago we launched V-Day, a worldwide movement to end violence against women and girls.

The movement has spread like wildfire to 130 countries, raising $70 million. I have visited and revisited the rape mines of the world, from defined war zones like Bosnia, Afghanistan and Haiti to the domestic battlegrounds in colleges and communities throughout North America, Europe and the world. My in-box — and heart — have been jammed with stories every hour of every day for over a decade.

Nothing I have heard or seen compares with what is going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where corporate greed, fueled by capitalist consumption, and the rape of women have merged into a single nightmare. Femicide, the systematic and planned destruction of the female population, is being used as a tactic of war to clear villages, pillage mines and destroy the fabric of Congolese society.

In 12 years, there have been 6 million dead men and women in Congo and 1.4 million people displaced. Hundreds and thousands of women and girls have been raped and tortured. Babies as young as 6 months, women as old as 80, their insides torn apart. What I witnessed in Congo has shattered and changed me forever. I will never be the same. None of us should ever be the same.

I think of Beatrice, shot in her vagina, who now has tubes instead of organs. Honorata, raped by gangs as she was tied upside down to a wheel. Noella, who is my heart — an 8-year-old girl who was held for 2 weeks as groups of grown men raped her over and over. Now she has a fistula, causing her to urinate and defecate on herself. Now she lives in humiliation.

I was in Bosnia during the war in 1994 when it was discovered there were rape camps where white women were being raped. Within two years there was adequate intervention. Yet, in Congo, femicide has continued for 12 years. Why? Is it that coltan, the mineral that keeps our cell phones and computers in play, is more important than Congolese girls?

Is it flat-out racism, the world’s utter indifference and disregard for black people and black women in particular? Is it simply that the UN and most governments are run by men who have never known what it feels like to be raped?

What is happening in Congo is the most brutal and rampant violence toward women in the world. If it continues to go unchecked, if there continues to be complete impunity, it sets a precedent, it expands the boundaries of what is permissible to do to women’s bodies in the name of exploitation and greed everywhere. It’s cheap warfare.

The women in Congo are some of the most resilient women in the world. They need our protection and support. Western governments, like the United States, should fund a training program for female Congolese police officers.

They should address our role in plundering minerals and demand that companies trace the routes of these minerals. Make sure they are making and selling rape-free-products. Supply funds for women’s medical and psychological care and seed their economic empowerment. Put pressure on Rwanda, Congo, Uganda and other countries in the Great Lakes region to sit down with all the militias involved in this conflict to find a political solution.

Military solutions are no longer an option and will only bring about more rape. Most of all, we must support the women. Because women are at the center of this horror, they must be at the center of the solutions and peace negotiations. Women are the future of Congo. They are its greatest resource.

Sadly, we are not the first to testify about these atrocities in Congo. I stand in a line of many who have described this horror. Still, in Eastern Congo, 1,100 women a month are raped, according to the United Nations’ most recent report. What will the United States government, what will all of you reading this, do to stop it?

Let Congo be the place where we ended femicide, the trend that is madly eviscerating this planet — from the floggings in Pakistan, the new rape laws in Afghanistan, the ongoing rapes in Haiti, Darfur, Zimbabwe, the daily battering, incest, harassing, trafficking, enslaving, genital cutting and honor killing. Let Congo be the place where women were finally cherished and life affirmed, where the humiliation and subjugation ended, where women took their rightful agency over their bodies and land.

Note: Eve Ensler is the playwright of “The Vagina Monologues” and the founder of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. V-Day has funded over 10,000 community-based anti-violence programs and launched safe houses in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Kenya, South Dakota, Egypt and Iraq. V-Day has launched a joint global campaign with UNICEF – STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE: Power to the Women and Girls of the DRC. (http://www.vday.org) This commentary was originally adapted for CNN.com from remarks Ensler made Wednesday to the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs and the Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women’s Issues.





Run for Congo Women – Women for Women

11 04 2009

run-for-congo-women2A story on Oprah about the plight of Congo women and what Women for Women International is doing to help them spurred Lisa Shannon of Portland, Oregon to take action. She organized Run for Congo Women to raise money to help the women there and today bloggers are uniting to bring attention to this cause.

I wrote about the incredible HBO documentary The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo in a November post. Women and children continue to suffer greatly there. The 3/27/09 United Nations Security Council report of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) reports the following:

  • As of January, there were an estimated 1.4 million displaced people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with 707,000 of those being in the northern area of the province of Kivu.
  • Attacks on humanitarian workers, human rights, and the socio-economic and financial situation there have worsened “significantly” even since the start of 2009.
  • Members of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), the Congolese National Police, and other armed groups have committed egregious human rights abuses such as arbitrary executions, torture, extortion, abduction and disappearance of citizens, and rapes.
  • Sexual and gender-based violence continues with 11,00 rapes being reported each month. Varying from area to area, 35% to 50% of the victims are between 10  and 17 years old and 10% were younger than 10 years old.

Lisa Shannon is one person who decided to do something to make a difference. Below is a 2008 video of her speaking about Run for Congo Women. Another video from Women for Women follows that talks about how we can change the lives of women there by sponsoring a Congolese woman or donating to the organization. Go to http://www.womenforwomen.org to find out more or make a donation.





Women Suffer Atrocities Silently in the Congo

23 11 2008

You see it in their eyes. Blank stares. Emotional and physical pain. Hopelessness. Witness to unbelievable violence and cruelty. Abandonment. Silent suffering. Tens of thousands of women of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are being kidnapped, raped, mutilated, and tortured.

Emmy-winning filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson, herself a victim of gang rape, traveled to the Congo and interviewed women there who have experienced these horrors. She also spoke to armed itinerant gangs who are the rapists, doctors who help the women, and those advocating for the women and trying to help them. The result is a moving and unforgettable HBO documentary The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo. I watched this documentary for the second time today. It is beyond comprehension what these women experience. Here are a few of the women featured in the film and the descriptions given about them on HBO’s website about the film:

congo-woman-marie-jeanne-mbweshe1

Marie Jeanne M’Bweshe, 42 years old, mother of 8
Raped and viciously beaten by the Interahamwe after witnessing the murder and dismemberment of her husband.

congo-woman-safi1

Safi, from Bunyakiri, 12 years old
Raped at age 11 as her home was being looted by soldiers.

[The film showed her with a baby, which was the result of the rape.]

congo-woman-alexandrine

Alexandrine M’Kajibwami, mother of 9
Raped by Rwandan soldiers, her husband was murdered trying to protect her.

A brutal war has raged in the Congo for ten years and over four million people have been killed as a result. Tens of thousands of women have been raped and brutalized. They are usually cast out by their husbands, families, and villages after being raped. They are often left with lifelong injuries that leave them incontinent and worse. They are also often infected with AIDS and/or become pregnant as a result of the rapes. Some women have been forced into sexual slavery.

The rebel forces – and often the Congolese Army soldiers who are supposed to protect people – justify the rapes by saying they have needs and if a woman won’t submit, they must take her with force. There is no consideration or thought about how their selfish acts ruin women’s lives.

You can watch the HBO trailer for the film The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo here:

congo-displaced-people-camp-nov-12-081Refugees have been forced from their homes and live in squalor in camps such as these due to the decade-old war. This photo and 38 others are shown on the Boston Globe’s website in an article about this on 11/21/08.

The Doctors without Borders organization has created their own initiative called Condition Critical to “bring global attention to the humanitarian consequences of the intensifying war in eastern DR Congo.” The Boston Globe reports that the UN Peacekeepers are unable to do much to help. This is the shortened form of the video put out by the Doctors without Borders organization. Go to their website to see the whole video.

There are many organizations trying to provide relief and help in the Congo. A partial list of them is located on the HBO documentary’s website. These women and children who suffer are continents away from us, but they are still our sisters. Their suffering is our suffering. Our hope for a better tomorrow can be their hope.

UPDATE: Associated Press tells more stories of these women in this March 16, 2009 article. The stories are heartbreaking, but also show tremendous courage on the part of the damaged women.








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