Eve Ensler, probably most well known for her creation of Vagina Monologues, was interviewed on the D stage last week. She’s not a geek, VC or a start-up or Fortune 500 CEO, so it was an interesting and curious add to the schedule.
When she came onto the stage, 20% of men walked out of the room. A couple of days later during a reading of her new play OPC in Los Angeles that I attended, she said, “I think they see themselves as business men.”
Meaning perhaps that business men who have their own issues, don’t need to know about or be aware of the issues in the Congo, what companies could do to create rape-free products, or how it may in fact impact their own businesses tens of thousands of miles away.
Years away from her original work on female sexual violence, she’s speaking up around the world and putting new movements and voices into action. At D, she talked about what was happening in the mines in the Congo, how hundreds of thousands of women are getting raped and die, and how most of them go undiscovered.
If the women don’t die immediately from the rape, they die years later from AIDs. The mines are largely controlled by Rwandan and Uganda troops. Control means something entirely different in central Africa where dictators get away with things that are too painful for people in the west to talk about.
Troops come into a town and rape women in front of their husbands, force sons to rape their mothers, encourage gang rapes and then take over the mines. They use sexual violence as a tactic to enforce slave labor for no or minimum wage. They control the mines by raping a husband’s wife in front of him. They demoralize men and their self esteem. After taking control, they export the minerals from the mines and profit.
As for what can be done to stop these atrocities, Eve says boycotts are not a good idea. “A boycott would increase the violence,” she says. “Boycotts will hurt the Congolese people.
They are already too poor. They’re only making $4 a day in these mines or $300-500 a year. It needs to be done in a way that serves the people of the Congo. Companies should hire those third parties to survey these mines. Those who are currently working the mines would turn them into the militia if we created boycotts.”
It’s not enough to simply have a signed piece of paper that says a product comes from a conflict free area. She talks about how things are all interconnected, a way to demonstrate to those still in the room and sadly to those who walked out, that because everything is connected, awareness in the west matters, particularly among men who have power and money.
“Is it an accidental thing that I’m a playwright who gets moved into a world of sexual exploitation and violence who has then moved into a world of larger human rights violations and issues?”
She adds, “we can’t really look at sexual exploitation anymore without looking at economic exploitation. $7-11 billion is being made a year from sex trafficking and sexual violence tactics are being used more and more because its cheap warfare.”
“What would you do in the Congo?” asks Kara Swisher who is one-on-one with her on-stage. Eve answers quickly – “have companies document and trace the roots of the mines, have surveyors witness the atrocities and track them and to ensure that this sexual violence doesn’t happen. Learn how to create rape-free products.”
“All of these issues are very much intermingled. Documenting and putting surveyors there who can oversee things and witness what’s going on. Ensure that human rights violations are not occurring. People need to learn what is happening to get these products.”
About her work with V-Day, they’re apparently now in 130 different countries. She encourages companies to think of their involvement in creating rape-free products as a ‘selling and marketing proposition.’ It’s something that can move the economy forward.
She says, “we have to think about how to create products that are not connected to violation of human rights. We have to see this as a much more holistic integrated process – this is crucial.”
Some companies have made pledges to clean up their products, but companies can do much more than a pledge to ensure people don’t suffer in the process of creating their products. It’s about the bigger picture: specific work that changes the situation on-the-ground and human consciousness in the rest of the world.
Hear hear Eve. I was most definitely one of the 80% who didn’t leave the room and was eagerly listening in the front row. What happens in the Congo should matter to us in the west. By turning our backs on something that doesn’t impact us directly, we turn our back on humanity. Why else are we here?
Go Eve. And go to whoever Eve touches who can make a difference, whether that be their time or their wallets.