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Need for cultural change from childhood to end violence against women-Eve Ensler

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 17 Dec 2013 11:42 AM
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People dance in New Delhi during the "One Billion Rising" campaign, a global drive to call for an end to violence against women and girls. Photo February 14 2013, REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal
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NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – India is marking the first anniversary of the high-profile gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a Delhi bus this week with candle-lit vigils, art exhibitions, dance performances and televised discussions on gender violence.

The savagery of the crime - the student was beaten, tortured and raped by six assailants before being dumped on a highway to die – shook the country's consciousness and triggered unprecedented public protests and national debate about violence against women in this deeply patriarchal country.

The Thomson Reuters Foundations asks American playwright and activist Eve Ensler what she thinks has changed as she returns to India one year after the wave of street protests in Indian cities.

Ensler wrote “The Vagina Monologues” - an award-winning play on the female experience – and founded the “One Billion Rising” campaign, which brought together one billion people across the world on February 14 in a stand against violence against women through dance and the Arts, and will do the same in 2014.

What do you think has changed in the last year?                                                                      

I think the Delhi gang rape - and all that surrounded the case such as the activism and protests – was a huge catalyst for the world. It just blew open everything regarding gender abuse. It was the beginning of the public conversation on violence against women not just for India, but for everywhere.

It's been a year of unearthing. A lot of stories have come out. We're hearing the secrets. We're hearing the lies. We still haven't got to a lot of places such as the kind of gender violence by the upper castes which is happening to the Dalit community. We haven't looked at what is happening to adivasi (tribal) girls living in the mining areas of India. We haven't looked at what is happening to women in Kashmir.

But something is being unearthed. Parts of the story are beginning to be unearthed. We have to unearth the whole story and end the violence.

How has the impact been felt on the ground?

What I feel in my heart is that many more women are coming forward to tell their stories (as a result of) the climate the activists created last year when people really came onto the streets to demand an end to violence.

For example, I don't think the case of Tarun Tejpal (an Indian editor who has been accused of raping a colleague) would have got reported a year ago. I think there is a different environment in India today. There are new laws, there are very amazing women like Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising who are moving things forward in a fast way.

We haven't ended the violence, but what we have done is brought it to the centre of consciousness. Now we have to really go the distance and we have to make a full DNA, cellular, cultural change. That's what has to happen.

How does India take this conversation forward?

The next year is about going further and really demanding justice. It's about looking at all the intersectional spaces of injustices. The economic injustices, the racial injustices, the environmental injustices and how all of these contribute towards violence against women.

I think a lot begins with how we bring up our boys and girls. We bring up boys to be dispassionate, to not be tender, to not feel, to not be lost. For girls, they should know their rights, their bodies and understand that they are autonomous beings who can have pleasure and sexuality and that they own it and no one can come and take it away from them.

I do think we need a massive public awareness campaign. Not just in India but everywhere. I think India is a place it could happen as the country is pushing forward in a lot of ways rights now.

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