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'Vagina Monologues' Author Fights Atrocities in Congo


Originally published in:
Associated Press
08/22/2007

VERENA DOBNIK
NEW YORK - Eve Ensler has just returned from hell.

That's how the author of "The Vagina Monologues" describes her trip to Congo, where tens of thousands of women have been sexually attacked and mutilated in the African nation's civil war.

The 54-year-old playwright has joined with the United Nations in a campaign against what a U.N. expert called the worst violence against women in the world.

"In Congo, you're talking about a situation where Africans are hurting Africans, black people are hurting black people," Ensler told The Associated Press in an interview from Italy. "And it's harder to make people care. People say, 'Oh, it's just Africa.' And nobody is held accountable."

She spent weeks at the Panzi Hospital in the city of Bukavu, in eastern Congo, where Dr. Denis Mukwege is helping to repair the broken bodies of some war victims. The hospital sees about 3,500 women a year suffering fistula and other severe genital injuries.

A U.N. human rights expert said last month that the sexual atrocities in Congo's volatile province of South Kivu extend "far beyond rape" and include sexual slavery, forced incest and cannibalism.

From Geneva, Yakin Erturk called the situation the worst she had ever seen as the global body's special investigator for violence against women. She blamed Uganda-backed militias that occupy Congo's Ituri region, as well as the nation's armed forces and national police.

Erturk will report her findings in September to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

"How do I tell you of girls as young as 9 raped by gangs of soldiers, of women whose insides were blown apart by rifle blasts and whose bodies now leak uncontrollable streams of urine and feces?" Ensler asks in an article in the September issue of Glamour magazine.

The International Criminal Court in the Hague is now considering indictments in connection with the atrocities. The court's probe started in 2004, instigated by Congo's president, Joseph Kabila.

Ensler is asking people to write letters to Kabila, demanding that he take stronger action to stop the attacks. Hundreds of letters already have arrived at the United Nations, which is forwarding them to the African leader, Ensler said.

She is working to raise both awareness and funds for the women through the United Nations Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict and through V-Day, a global movement she founded to stop violence against women and girls.

V-Day was inspired by the overwhelming audience response to "The Vagina Monologues," an award-winning play in which actors share anecdotes about their bodies that reveal heartbreaking and hilarious glimpses of their souls.

The V-Day movement has raised over $40 million in the past decade, funding thousands of community-based anti-violence programs and safe houses in Kenya, Egypt and Iraq, as well as the United States.

Funds Ensler helps raise for Congo will go to the hospital, as well as to establish a safe haven called "City of Joy."

Her journey to Congo in May was inspired by a conversation she had with Mukwege last December in New York, where he spoke about his work_ "sewing up women's vaginas as fast as the mad militiamen are ripping them apart," as Ensler describes it.

Their friendship "began with my rusty French and his limited English," she wrote. "It began with the quiet anguish in his bloodshot eyes, eyes that seemed to me to be bleeding from the horrors he'd witnessed."

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Letters for Congo president: U.N. Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, P.O. Box 3862, New York, N.Y. 10163