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V-Day Looks Beyond The Vagina Monologues


Originally published in:
Women's eNews
02/14/2003
NEW YORK (Women's eNews)

Eve Ensler has faked her last orgasm on stage for "The Vagina Monologues," which ended its off-Broadway run on Jan. 29.

By Mona Eltahawy

The play has been a major source of funding for V-Day, the global movement to combat violence against women and girls launched by Ensler five years ago. As the movement marks its birthday today, it is turning more to personal and corporate donations to replace revenue from the play.

It also focuses on two new areas of concern for its campaign against violence--spotlight on Native American and Canadian First Women, and a new initiative to end violence against women and girls in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

"It's been three-and-a-half years, which is a very long time for a show and it's run its course," Ensler said. "For me as an artist I need to move onto the next pieces that I'm working on." These include a "teen-age monologues" based on interviews she's carried out with girls around the world about a range of issues including eating disorders, female genital mutilation, body acceptance and sex.

Next year Ensler wants to launch a one-woman production of another work called "The Good Body," based on interviews she has conducted with women in about 40 countries about their bodies.

Theater Piece Becomes a Movement

Ensler said she hoped both productions will generate income for V-Day.

In its first five years, the V-Day movement has raised $14 million, with half of that raised last year alone. This year, more than 1,000 V-Day benefit events are scheduled worldwide, including productions of "The Vagina Monologues" in more than 370 cities nationally and abroad to raise money for local groups.

In addition, V-Day is holding its own fund-raisers in New York City and Los Angeles and has launched its first public service advertising campaign in magazines and on television. It features celebrities and everyday women speaking to the camera about what their world would look like if there were no violence.

Last year's V-Day launched the "Afghanistan is Everywhere" initiative, which focuses on a group of women who are working to end violence and oppression in their community. V-Day also sponsored the "Spotlight on Afghan Women" to raise funds for Afghan women working for change within their country. The title of the initiative referred to the fact that women and girls throughout the world, not just Afghanistan, are affected by violence.

This year, the spotlight is on Native American and Canadian First Nations women. The U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics indicate that the average annual rate of rape and sexual assault among American Indian women is 3.5 times higher than all other races.

Led by Native American activist Suzanne BlueStar Boy, the V-Day Indian Country Project hopes to raise awareness of the issues facing Native American and Native Alaskan women in the United States and First Nations women in Canada. It also will raise funds to provide resources for these women.

Many Native American women victims of violence are discouraged from pursuing support and justice out of fear of familial reprisal and shame and the overlapping and confusing federal, state and tribal legal jurisdictions that can hinder investigations and prosecutions, V-Day reports.

New International Focus

The other V-Day spotlight this year is on Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Ensler recently returned from a visit to Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine, accompanied by V-Day's special representative to the region, Hibaaq Osman.

Osman works with women's groups in Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Pakistan and Palestine with a particular focus on bride burnings, female genital mutilation, honor killings, sexual assault, rape and other gender-based violence that are pervasive in much of the region.

She said one of her most shocking discoveries in Egypt was that some sons beat their mothers.

"It's a heartbreaking phenomenon. It was the first time I'd heard of this. When a father beats the mother, the son joins in. I've never heard of this in Islamic culture before," said Osman, a Muslim.

V-Day is helping the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women--the nongovernmental organization that hosted Ensler and Osman and others from the movement--in its launching of a shelter for women victims of violence. It would be the first of its kind in an Arab country.

While in Cairo, a group of activists that Ensler was visiting persuaded her to perform "The Vagina Monologues."

One of the men at the performance, described by the Cairo Times as looking a "little shell-shocked" as he walked out, said it helped him "realize how important it is to know about these things and to respect women, their emotions and desires."

"I think we should show this in public places and it should be translated into Arabic," Ahmad Ghoneim, 23, said. "Our traditions deprive us from talking about these important issues."

Mona Eltahawy is a staff writer for Women's Enews. Her opinion pieces and commentaries have appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times.

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