Eve’s Monologue undermines women’s movement
Every day we have to read or hear about some rape and also killing after rape occurring in different areas of the country. Rape and killings are direct physically attack on a woman’s body but violence against women is more than that. These other forms of violence caused by social, economic and cultural factorsand various development policies are often ignored not because that they are not directly physical or invisible but they must be made so to justify systemic violence. Injecting Depo-Provera into poor women’s bodies or implanting Norplant under her skin for population control and keeping garment workers under lock and key and burning them to ashes or burying them alive as ‘accidents’ are some of the examples. Dowry is one of the major social violence on women in all of South Asia. Trafficking in women for various purposes is happening at national, regional and international level. Women’s right to livelihood, seed keeping and food production is threatened by various so-called development interventions and introduction of technologies. Violence against women, therefore, is not only or necessarily,limited to women’s body. It is affecting her entire life. Even when her whole body is targeted for systemic violence they are made invisible.
Violence caused by social, economic and cultural factors and various development policies are often ignored, not because that they are not directly physical or invisible but they must be made so to justify systemic violence.
Women’s movement in Bangladesh has been very strong, although in recent years it has slowed down a bit. There are always protests against the incidences of violence at local levels or among the groups closer to the victims, however nothing much happening at the national level women’s movement. This was not the case before. We have seen in the past how rape of 14 year old Yasmeen by Police on August 25, 1995 sparked outrage among general people and women’s organizations all over the country. Seven men were killed by Police in the protest in Dinajpur where the incident occurred. In Dhaka, Sammilita Nari Samaj was formed to work together and termed it as State Violence against women. Begum Sufia Kamal led the movement and brought all the people together. Sammilita Nari Samaj followed the issue for months and years till we got to have the perpetrators brought to justice. Nothing like that is happening now, although much more incidents like gang rape and killing after rape is happening. Yasmeen movement needs to be revisited and revived again.
At the regional and global level, the movementto stop violence against women is taking different shape along with the rise in incidents of rape and killing of women. To stop this, very limited actions are being taken. Recently the gang rape of Jyoti in Delhi has sparked outrage among all the people, including women’s organizations. In Bangladesh incidents of gang rape occurred before and after Delhi incident, but big human chains were organized only after Delhi uprising. In this context, American Playwright, and performer Eve Ensler’s visit to Bangladesh has come to the forefront in the name of global action against violence against women. On the occasion of her visit during January 2013, there were stage performances of ‘Vagina Monologue’ and also performances by Bangladeshi Theatre groups. I found it very untimely celebration of awestern and culturally alien perspective imposed on Bangladesh,as universal women’s issue. I also see in such intervention another form of cultural violence to silence the systemic issues relevant to women’s movements in Bangladesh. Women activists are trying hard to address and sharing with their sisters around the world to make an indent in the global women’s movement in the era of globalization War and multiple form of state violence around the world. Women are main victims of these masculine adventures.
If Eve Ensler’s main contribution is theatre performances to break silence, one must not assume that Bangladesh did not have such practice before. For Bangladesh, it is not new at all. Let me remind all that in the late 1980s, theatre groups in Bangladesh felt the need to enquire into the notions of hegemonic masculinity, gender, and sexuality. In 1989, a Group Theatre ensemble named Theatre produced 'Kokilara', a monodrama in three parts written and directed by a male (Abdullah al Mamun) but performed by one of the most popular and versatile female performers in Bangladesh Ferdousi Majumdar. The play showed how a univocal and domineering ideology of gender, articulated through the institutions of marriage and divorce in the social field of Bangladesh, attempts to control and silence all women irrespective of classes. [http://www.departmag.com/archive/6th_issue/seeking_lines_of_flight_2.html]. Kokilara earned much appreciation from home and abroad. The monodrama had hundreds of shows in different parts of Bangladesh and abroad.The play was over two hours long and divided into three phases. Ferdousi performed 16 different characters in the full-length play. This was an extra-ordinary achievement, as a humble activists I always cherish her contribution not only to the theatres, but addressing the women’s question in Bangladesh within the limits of urban paradigm.
Yet for Bangladesh, such stage performance remained in the Bailey Road theatre halls of Dhaka city and could not reach the women who were suffering from such violences. If ‘Kokilara’[played in bangla] could not reach the general women, how can we think that Eve Ensler’s book Vagina monologue is going to be relevant to women here inour country? Vagina Monologue has now turned into an international movement,featured as a film “Until the Violence Stops”. This is a documentation of how The Vagina Monologues grew into an international ‘grassroots’ movement called V-Day to stop violence against women and girls. In 2002, eight hundred cities around the world participated in V-Day by staging performances of The Vagina Monologues. These are performances and there is no reason for me to undermine the personal achievement of Eve Ensler. But can it be an international movement? That’s too much to claim for a theatrical performance and directly undermines the achievements and the unique contributions of many other performers around the world and Bangladeshi women such as Ferdousi Mojumdar and others.
If ‘Kokilara’[played in bangla] could not reach the general women, how can we think that Eve Ensler’s book Vagina monologue is going to be relevant to women here inour country? Vagina Monologue has now turned into an international movement,featured as a film “Until the Violence Stops”.
Eve Ensler is now known as the founder of V-Day in 2002, the global activist movement to end violence against women and girls Later the V-Day’s “One Billion Rising campaign” was launched in early 2012 and has been announced to culminate of the one year long action on February 14th 2013 - the Valentine’s Day . It is also the V-Day’s 15th anniversary and therefore activists, writers, thinkers, celebrities and women and men across the world will come together to express their outrage, strike, dance, and RISE in defiance of the injustices women suffer, demanding an end at last to violence against women. Are we celebrating the book or expressing our outrage against violence against women?
Eve Ensler has toured to raise awareness about V-Day’s ONE BILLION RISING campaign since last year in Australia, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Croatia, Serbia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, and the Philippines, Ensler and visited Trivandrum, Mumbai, and Delhi, India, and Dhaka, Bangladesh in January 2013.
It looks like that in Bangladesh this campaign of One Billion Rising will be celebrated with the same slogan of “strike, dance and Rise”. Nevertheless, if some women of Bangladesh think they should be part of it, that’s fine. But when it is set to culminate on Valentine Day – the 14 February, it becomes a cultural and political statement. There are class issues and cultural resistance against Valentine Day in Bangladesh, may be for both bad and good reasons, from women’s perspective. Nevertheless, it is necessary for women’s movements to engage in these debates rather than impose or accept it uncritically. I am not a multiculturalist and do not intent to play on westerns versus Bangladeshi culture, but I engage with women who complain that V-day celebration is an insult to their culture and equally oppressive for women since commodification of the human relations such as love is repugnant and has nothing to contribute to achieve women’s dignity. Such resistance complicates cultural politics in a post-colonial society and state which is also violently going through development interventions and experiments. It is said in various announcements of One Billion Rising that the goal is to have one billion women and men "dancing, striking, rising" across borders to demonstrate their demand to end the global violence against women.The number 1 billion is also arbitrary and based on a computation from the United Nations statisticthat one out of three women on earth will be beaten or raped in their lifetime. Deliberately or not it excludes systemic and developmental violence we spoke earlier as well as war, commercial and technological manipulation and control of women’s reproductive biology and mutilation of bodies. The net political and cultural effect is to make other violence, no matter the degree of their brutality and virulence, invisible and thus provide a justification for the status quo.
It’s utterly wrong to assume that women’s movement of Bangladesh does not address women’s sexuality but has always argued that it should be included within the resistance against systemic violence. We cannot afford to remain silent on the ground realities and ‘dance’ only to single focused issues
In Bangladesh, the Valentine Day is celebrated on February 14 as Bishwa Bhalobasha Dibosh with lovers’ greetings each other with Rose flowers, heart-shaped cards and other gifts. Mostly celebrated in the capital city Dhaka and some urban areas, the majority of people, especially women, have absolutely no idea about this day? Globally Saint Valentine's Day, commonly known as Valentine's Day also called Feast of Saint Valentine, a Christian event is observed on February 14 each year. According to Wikipedia, the day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. By the 15th century, it had evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as "valentines"). Valentine's Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. In Bangladesh, it is essentially commercialization of love. Women become a ‘victim’ of love expressions by men and are commodified in the advertisements and commercials. One has to remember women become the victims of Eve teasing or acid throwing if they reject love-proposals as happened with Eden Girls college student. How Bishwa Bhalobasha dibosh can be safe for women when it allows commodification of love and creates the condition to express love offer and thereby potentially lead to sexual violence to women? It is really an insult to injury to have the One Billion Rising against violence against women on this so-called Bhalobasha dibosh.
Lastly, I would like to mention that I was watching a talk show on a private TV channel with Eve Ensler and few theatre personalities and women’s rights activists in a programme called “Jaitu” conducted by a man asking question to those women from male perspectives curious about women’s sexuality. It appeared in the discussions as if the cause of violence against women in Bangladesh is due to silence over sexuality issues, taboo of not uttering some words etc. This show represented a highly elite perspective. The show was essentially a promotion of Vagina Monologue and Eve Ensler, as if she was going to show us the path with performances how should we act against violence in Bangladesh.
It’s utterly wrong to assume that women’s movement of Bangladesh does not address women’s sexuality but has always argued that it should be included within the resistance against systemic violence. We cannot afford to remain silent on the ground realities and ‘dance’ only to single focused issues.