Acclaimed playwright Eve Ensler on the women of the Philippines

December 30, 2012

Eve Ensler, writer of Vagina Monologues: “What I’ve really been struck with is the incredible power of the women of the Philippines, the brilliance of their organizing, the incredible collaboration and solidarities across sectors, which I think should be a model to the world.” (Macky Macaspac)

Eve Ensler, acclaimed playwright and activist, recently visited the country to promote One Billion Rising, a global campaign to end violence against women. Ensler is best known for her play The Vagina Monologues, which has been translated to 48 languages and performed in 140 countries, including the Philippines. She joined theater artist Monique Wilson and progressive women’s group Gabriela in visiting urban poor communities in Metro Manila and the provinces.

During the media launch of One Billion Rising at the Music Museum this December, Pinoy Weekly caught up with Ensler, who expressed her utmost admiration for the women of the Philippines who have enthusiastically joined the campaign which utilizes dance as a form of protest. One Billion Rising will culminate globally on February 14, 2013, when a billion women and men are expected to rise up and dance to pressure governments and institutions to act to end violence against women.

PW: As you went around the country for the past week, what were the things that struck you the most concerning Filipino women?

The thing that stood out for me was the Payatas dumpsite where the women and people were living in a mountain of garbage, where girls were selling their bodies at eight years old for the right to scavenge privatized garbage that is not even owned by the people. I think that’s very disturbing…Also, hearing the stories of how the US military is occupying all ports, all kinds of sections in the Philippines in order to serve the mining companies was absolutely devastating to hear. To hear how mining and the destruction of the land has contributed to the typhoons, I found this devastating.

I think that the work of Gabriela, the way they’re organizing around the typhoon, the way they’re organizing communities, is outstanding work…What I’ve really been struck with is the incredible power of the women of the Philippines, the brilliance of their organizing, the incredible collaboration and solidarities across sectors, which I think should be a model to the world.

PW: Are you thinking of doing a theatrical piece on the Philippines?

I definitely going to do something. I’m really, really moved by what’s happening here.

PW: Earlier you said something about how sexism and capitalism are working together, can you elaborate a bit on this?

I think we’re living in a period…and I see this particularly in a place like the Congo where it’s kind of the ultimate fulfillment of what colonialism, capitalism, and sexism looks like when it fully realizes itself in one place. Where you see that 8 million people have died in the last 13 years and millions of women have been raped and tortured. Where indigenous mines that belong to the Congolese are being pillaged and raped by the entire world for their benefit, and militias are being used to do that work and be their proxies.

And we’re seeing the same thing all around the world. We have the US military serving mining companies here and not being indigenous to this country, not allowing the resources to be for the Filipinos. I think that theme is around the world. The wealthy and the 1% is pillaging and stealing to amplify their own resources, which are already plenty. And where there is enormous poverty we see a rise in violence against women. Where we see militarization, we see prostitution and sexual violence. Where we see the destruction of lands and global warming, we see of course the rise of violence against women. Where we see typhoons and the breakdown of societies and civilizations where people are relocated, we see violence against women. That is violence against women.

We can’t remove economic violence as one of the violences that women are suffering because we know that women are the primary workforce of the world that is the most underpaid, underrealized, and underseen. So I think what’s very exciting about One Billion Rising, particularly outside of the US, but it’s even beginning to happen in the US, we’re seeing the merging of these issues where we understand that violence against women is a seriously political issue. It isn’t marginalized, it isn’t over there, it is the center of everything, it is the mother issue. And when women are free, when women are paid well, when women are equal, everything will have shifted. We will be living in a different world.