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Commentary by Eve Ensler on World Health Organization (WHO) Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence

Tue, 12/06/2005

I spent my morning reading the World Health Organization (WHO) Multi-Country Study On Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women which interviewed 24,000 women in 10 countries. I was full of gratitude for this documentation – released on Thanksgiving Day, which is essential and long overdue.

The WHO report provides a statistical picture of the violence that is happening to women and its long-term impact on their health and well-being.

Unfortunately, this report mirrors my experience over the last decade. When I first started performing “The Vagina Monologues,” everywhere I went in the world women would line up after the show. At first I was thrilled, thinking I would hear mysterious and delicious stories of their great sex lives. There were some of those, but the majority of the women who lined up were there to tell me about how they’d been raped or slapped or beaten or incested, and how that experience had forever changed them.

Like most of those surveyed in the WHO report, these women had not told anyone their stories before. I had known of course that there was violence against women. I was not naïve. I had survived terrible sexual and physical violence myself at the hands of my own father. What I did not know until that tour was the epidemic proportions of this violence. This realization gave birth to V-Day, a worldwide movement that has spread in 8 years to 81 countries and raised over $30 million dollars for local groups working to stop violence against women. The work has since taken me to over forty countries. Whether I am on a college campus in the US listening to the story of a young girl who has been date raped, or in a shelter in Zagreb for women who were beaten by their husbands after the war, or in Juarez searching for the bones of missing young poor woman, or in Islamabad where I sit with a woman whose melted face is the result of an acid burning by her husband, I am struck by the global and personal devastation of this violence.

What is most troubling about the report is the normalization of this violence. How women and men have come to expect and accept this brutality as a part of daily life. How a slap to a woman’s cheek or a man’s fist in her face, is not considered outrageous or extraordinary. How we do not value women, hold them sacred, understand that to honor their beings and bodies is tantamount to honoring life itself.

What the WHO report reinforces for me is that addressing violence against women is central to everything. Violence is the tyrannical mechanism which undoes women and keeps them powerless and in their place. It is not inevitable. We can stop it. In addressing it, we will have to address gender inequality, poverty, education, human rights, and HIV/AIDS.

I applaud the World Health Organization for this excellent report. Sadly statistics may be what it takes to compel governments and individuals to fight to protect women. It seems to me that one abused woman would be enough to call out the community. If the WHO report is right, and our experience would suggest it is, that one out of two women are beaten in many countries, it seems this might be an indication of an emergency.

Billions of dollars are spent every year on homeland and national security. How ironic that it is in the home where women are most insecure, where they are abused, beaten and murdered, and where there is little to no money spent protecting them. Women are the primary resource of this planet. Their safety, their empowerment, their freedom is a guarantee for all our futures.

-Eve Ensler is a Playwright (“The Vagina Monologues,” “The Good Body”) and the Founder of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls