A year after the fatal gang rape of a young medical student in New Delhi, Indians have started addressing sexual violence more openly; others should take a cue from the country, says Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler.
DW: What is the purpose of your visit to India?
Eve Ensler: I am in India with my sisters and coordinators of the One Billion Rising campaign to help fuel the fire. I love this country and I come here often. I feel what happens in India will have an impact on the entire world. And I also feel there is a particular energy here … a mystical and profound one that I am fed by in a very deep way.
The fatal gang rape in New Delhi last year has put the spotlight on the situation of women in the country. What, in your view, has changed since then?
A year ago, people were not talking about the issue of rape and sexual abuse; there were no demonstrations on the streets demanding more security for women. A year ago a billion people did not rise around the planet calling for an end to violence against women and girls.
So that's real change. Although we may not have ended the attacks and discrimination in one year, I believe, with one billion people rising for justice we will see great progress. I live with hope and I do believe the violence will end.
What impact did the incident have, on India as well as globally?
I was in New Delhi in December last year and I felt that something extraordinary was happening … an unearthing of sorts, an explosion of consciousness. It also exploded the world's consciousness and happened simultaneously with One Billion Rising.
What's happened in India is that the storytelling, reporting and discourse on sexual violence over the last year has had an enormous impact. I can feel the difference in the way women are seeing themselves, talking about themselves and the laws that have been passed since then.
But I can also see the impact that it has had around the world. It's like a very powerful energy that has ripped around the planet.
Do you think attitudes are changing towards female sexuality?
I think more women are comfortable with their sexuality and many more women are thinking about their bodies and what they want. All around the world, and particularly in India, it is due to the introduction of sex education programs, where boys and girls are taught what touch is, love, desire, pleasure, so that we get out of the cycle of sexual misery which often escalates violence.
Do you think a shift in mindset is necessary to adapt to these changes? Do you see that happening?
One aspect that changes everything else is culture. Therefore, a shift in mindset that sees women's bodies as objectified commodities and things that can be owned, bought and taken without consent, is absolutely required. An end to patriarchy and to the oppression of women's bodies is the need of the hour.
What inspired you to write The Vagina Monologues?
It was curiosity. I was talking to a woman who was going through menopause, its various aspects and she started talking about her vagina and she said very negative, terrible things about it. And I was surprised because she was a feminist and a forward-thinking woman and it inspired me to begin asking other women what they thought of their vaginas.
They would often tell me to talk to others and before I knew it, I was sucked down a vagina trail listening to stories, which were full of madness and wildness, tragedy, happiness and desire. That was the beginning.
The play has now been translated into some 48 languages and was performed in around 140 countries. What are the reasons behind its success?
I think women need to talk about their vaginas. They should tell stories, share their secrets and their desires. What the theater does is that it allows people to feel what they feel, know what they know and remember what they need to remember. And I think it inspired a lot of memories and a profound need for liberation.
In this world, there is no place that welcomes the vagina. It's more feared than the word plutonium or scud missile. And I don't think women have knowledge of their vaginas, they don't see them; they don't know what pleasures them and what they look like.
Until we know that part of ourselves, we are unknown to ourselves. And if we don't feel our vaginas are attached to us, a part of us, then a lot of terrible things can be done to vaginas in the dark and we have no say or advocacy.
Gender rights activist and playwright Eve Ensler is visiting India for a series of events around the One Billion Rising (OBR) campaign that aims to unite people across the globe in fighting violence against women.
Interview conducted by Murali Krishnan in New Delhi