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Festival Seeks End to Violence Against Women

Originally published in:
Metro New York

Amy Zimmer

A two-week, five-borough festival called “Until the Violence Stops: NYC” kicks off tonight. It will bring together celebs and dozens of local organizations that work to stop violence against women. Metro talked to the event’s organizer, Eve Ensler, about how the event was a natural outgrowth of her play “The Vagina Monologues,” and how she hopes V-Day will become as big as the World Cup.

What does the “V” in V-Day stand for?
It’s victory over violence. It’s valentine. Vagina. All good things are “v” words.

How did it come about?
It started when I had been performing “The Vagina Monologues” and so many women would come up to me afterward and say they had been raped or violated or abused or mutilated. These were stories they had never shared before. I couldn’t do the show anymore without doing something else. V-Day has been going on for eight years. We’ve been doing it in 88 countries and have raised $35 million. We’ve opened shelters for women in Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan. Now we have to bring it to the next phase. I had been fantasizing: What if we could take over New York and occupy it to make it the first safe space for women? I started it here because New York is my home. It’s a city that is cutting edge, a place where the world comes together.

How will a two-week festival make New York a safe space for women?
First, it’s hard for women to imagine it will ever be easy to be safe around the world. But if you can’t imagine it, then it won’t happen. So just by putting the idea on posters, on subways, on buses already helps make women feel safer. The numbers are shocking: One out of three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime, according to the U.N. Just look at all the ways in New York that women aren’t safe. Most women are afraid to live anywhere but a doorman building. Most women are afraid to walk in parks at night. Women are afraid to wear certain things. Hopefully, we’ll start a consciousness shift and a policy change.

How long did it take to put this together?
We’ve been working on this for eight months. I thought, “What if we could get great writers around the world to participate?” and then we went to the Dead Poets and to hip-hop people. And then we brought women in from all of the conflict zones — from Burma, Cambodia, Iraq, Croatia, the Sudan, Congo, Rwanda — to talk about their experiences. And then another woman working here is a runner, and she said, “What if we could do a run?” So we’re doing that. And another woman said, “What if we did a film festival?” Now more than 60 groups have signed up to hold events in the five boroughs. I just got a call from a church in the Bronx that signed up. We’re doing “The Vagina Monologues” on Rikers Island. We have Asian groups, Latina groups, Lesbian groups. We have a great workshop looking at ways men can commit to reducing violence.

Lately the media has been focused on the World Cup. Do you think V-Day could ever be that big?
Yes, in four years it will be World Cup and Safe World. I think V-Day will take off like "The Vagina Monologues" did. We hope each city will take V-Day on. I don’t believe in occupation and domination and invasion, but I like turning the idea on its head to get New Yorkers to think about what it means for women to be safer here. If you fix violence against women, you fix poverty and racism because if women are undermined and broken and beaten then everything else is, too — the way we’re bringing up our children, the way we’re envisioning our future.