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A View from a Vagina Warrior

Thu, 08/04/2005
U.S. Women Without Borders

I am writing from Cairo. Today we were part a truly momentous event, the opening of Bayat Hawa, the first shelter in Egypt for battered women. This event not only opened the first safe place for women here, but it broke open the silence and invisibility of women’s pain. It signaled that change is possible. I spent the afternoon in the new house, listening to a group of women who have suffered and continue to suffer enormous violence. Most of them had been beaten by their husbands, their brothers, their fathers. Traditionally, women do not report this to anyone as “privacy” of the family is valued above all else, and there are no laws that would protect them from such assault. If women complain, they risk their husbands, marrying another wife and taking their children away from them. Saffa, a fifteen-year old girl who was beaten by her father for years, was married at 14 and then seriously beaten by her husband. She has now moved back to her father’s house where the abuse continues. As Saffa told her story the sadness in her eyes was matched by the depth of her desire for a new life, for education, for a way out.

In the last 8 years. I have traveled to over 40 countries. I have been privileged to represent V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women. I have heard Saffa’s story repeated in one form or another every place I have traveled. The world is essentially a battlefield upon which women are being raped, terrorized, tortured, beaten, sold, burned, kidnapped and murdered. The most terrifying part is that in just about every place this war has become normal, ordinary. We have come to expect the drunken violent husband; we assume a certain number of girls will be sold, kidnapped and murdered; we guard ourselves on the street; we watch for drugs in our drinks; we dress to protect ourselves.

Violence against women is central to everything. Women are the primary resource of the planet and there is a war on women. When they are threatened, violated, suppressed, and destroyed, so is life itself. This violence is not accidental. It is the mechanism through which patriarchy sustains itself. Each country, each culture has developed it’s unique form of violence or terror, but the underlying trajectory is the same - the undermining and terrorizing of women so that those in power can maintain power. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Taliban in Afghanistan robbing women of the right to work or be educated; or college girls in America being date raped as a way of eradicating their self-esteem, freedom and sexuality; or young women in Africa having their clitorises cut, removing their desire and independence; or girls in Juarez, Mexico being kidnapped and left for dead in parking lots.

Clearly violence against women is personal, but it is state policies and international policies that are responsible for continuing and spreading this war. Until serious laws protecting women are established, enforced and women in each country have access and knowledge of these laws, there will be no real pressure for violence to stop.

The policies of the United States are in many cases, escalating this war. If we look at Iraq as one example, we see that under the terrible tyranny of Saddam Hussein, women lived difficult lives, but they were actually one of the most liberated and free in the Middle East. Since the U.S. invasion and occupation, the situation has becoming increasingly desperate. Women now face ongoing abductions, honor killings, and fundamentalist oppression. They are being raped and acid burned. They do not feel safe leaving their homes or keeping jobs. Shariah law – which could seriously limit their rights - is likely to become part of the new constitution.

Where people feel threatened and undermined by outside invasion, fundamentalism grows. Fundamentalism survives on the suppression and silencing of women. As the United States sustains policies of empire building and hegemony, in the supposed name of “security”, women throughout the world, become increasingly imperiled and insecure.

As I have traveled these last eight years, I have had the honor to meet women and men across this planet who have witnessed or suffered enormous violence, and rather than getting an AK47 or a machete, they feel this violence, grieve this violence and allow it to transform within their beings. Then they devote their lives to making sure it never happens to another woman or girl. We have come to call these people ‘Vagina Warriors.’ There are thousands, perhaps millions of these warriors in the world. They are fierce, obsessed, can’t be stopped, driven. They are citizens of the world. They cherish humanity over nationhood. They are done being victims. They know no one is coming to rescue them. They are community makers. They bring everyone in.

They are women and men who constantly sacrifice their own personal security and by doing so create real safety and freedom for the rest. They realize that the end goal is becoming vulnerable, realizing the place of our connection to one another rather than becoming secure, in control and alone.

- Eve Ensler