When asked where she is from, Eve Ensler says, she belongs to the world. In 1996, Ensler’s play ‘Vagina Monologues’ first was staged. The play has since traveled to 120 countries and performed in more than 48 languages. In 2002, HBO made the film version of the play. Her book titled ‘I am an emotional creature: The secret lives of girls around the world’ made it to the New York Times best sellers list . She created V- day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. In 2011, The Guardian named Ensler as one of the 100 most influential women in the world. On her visit to India, the American performer, play- right and activist talks to Firstpost about the challenges faced by women across the world, the privileged class of men and why the US needs anti- rape protests like the one witnessed in Delhi, last month.
How do you react to the anti- rape protests in Delhi?
This is mind blowing. There is an incredible spirit at work right now. To see men and women coming to the streets to demonstrate against rape is a breakthrough in terms of human consciousness. I cannot think of a country in my lifetime where this has ever happened including the Unites States (US). We are in the middle of something extraordinary. From here on, it should be about how we channelise this energy. How can we harness this fire and direct it so that it can actually end violence against women. There is this terrible gang rape that took place in Ohio, US. A group of men drugged a girl, raped her in three different apartments. They threw her in the lawn and urinated on her. And they video- taped the act. It is horrendous. I tweeted this morning that we have a rape problem in the US. Why are we not doing what the people in Delhi have done?
But the other side of the protests is that in the world’s largest democracy, people have to protest to demand something as basic as safety of women?
I am not happy about the situation. I am devastated by the number of gang rapes, by the number of rising incidents violence against women in India and elsewhere. We know that the governments have failed. We know that the conviction rate in such cases is low. But people remained lethargic and inactive all this while. So, to see them finally come forward is a very good sign. It means there will be pressure points, discourse. This is already happening. There are discussions on fast track cases, severity of punishment, mindset of the society and relevance of sex education. The people’s response has made an impact.
Regarding crimes against women, do you see some distinctive factors at play, specifically in India?
That will be a wrong approach. I think there is patriarchy, and there is humanity, and there is pressure. Rape, harassment, incest, dowry, and even bringing up girls as less as significant to men, are all things not particular to India. The issue at hand may manifest itself a little different culturally here and there. But there is a global patriarchy that is controlled by the methodology of violence. Which is essentially this mindset that women are less, women are not equal, they are to be controlled, their sexuality is to be contained, their life forces are to be dampened, they are to be kept down so that men can have power. I see this mindset in every country I go to.
The larger debate on crimes against women in India has touched upon the accountability of parliamentarians and legislators facing charges of crimes against women. Lot of people in the civil society and outside believe that somebody accused of such acts should not continue in these high offices…
We are seeing this across the world. There is this protected, privileged class of men. They do terrible things to women with complete impunity. There is the popular case of former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss Kahn who was charged with sexual assault. Former Israel president (Moshe Katsav) was convicted of rape. Jacob Zuma faced rape charges before he was elected president of South Africa. The same is happening with priests and sports figures who are completely let off the hook. We see celebrities who are idolised for their bad behaviour. I think men in privileged, powerful positions must be held accountable in the strictest or the most equal ways. People imitate their terrible acts. I think men holding such offices should resign immediately if there are such a case against them
There is a section of people in India which blames Western culture for rise in violence on women. Recently, the RSS chief said rapes in India and not Bharat?
I wish that was true. I have been to developing, non- developing and over developed countries. Across the board I think there is something to be said for the free market capitalism which is expanding resources for people at the very top and leaving a huge chunk of people at the bottom. This is impacting violence against women because the poorer people become, there are chances of them becoming more shame based and frustrated. They have less and women are often the targets of that. Yes, capitalism has reached everywhere. But there are many factors that go into violence against women. I don’t think in the end, you can say that the culture of America or the culture of India is the breeding ground for that. I think there is a mindset where boys are brought up in certain ways. For instance, during his upbringing, a boy is not made to understand anything about sexuality or how to touch a woman or pleasure a woman or anything about woman at all. So, suddenly he is with a woman for the first time and he throws himself on her. That does not work. Thus, begins the cycle of non-connectivity and non-reciprocity. I think that’s true everywhere in the world.
Increased awareness about gender sensitivity in India in the last decade should have somewhat reduced crimes against women. But actually, the opposite has been happening. Your views?
I didn’t think that’s true. What is happening is that the more we are talking about these issues, increasing number of women are feeling more comfortable to come forward, many more women are reporting crimes than they reported ever before, because they never felt safe to do that before. Because we are talking about gender equality, what happened in Delhi could happen. Women felt they were right to come forward and demand their rights. And men were in solidarity with them. If we were not having these discussions, violence would have remained in darkness and no woman would ever come forward.
What do incidents like Delhi gang rape say about the success of campaigns working to curb crimes against women and girls?
What happened in Delhi is part of the rising. We are seeing the people, youth, men, activists rise up in the streets and say we demand an end to this violence, we demand culpability, accountability. For me it is very exciting to have the campaigns going on now which is going to utilise this fire for the greater cause of women.