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Eve Ensler Continues Fight for Women's Issues

In her memoir and new play, Eve Ensler relates her encounters with rape victims in Congo. (Joan Marcus)
In her memoir and new play, Eve Ensler relates her encounters with rape victims in Congo. (Joan Marcus)
Eve Ensler Continues Fight for Women's Issues
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Writer, actor and activist Eve Ensler has spent her adult life working to support women and women’s causes around the world.

For years, Ensler has visited war zones -- areas of extreme violence. In 2007, she was invited to the Democratic Republic of Congo. She developed an especially close connection with victims of rape and torture there.

“I think what really struck me about the Congo was the kind of synergistic cauldron of colonialism, capitalism, racism, insane misogyny. You know all of those violences kind of being enacted on the bodies of women.”

She worked with Congolese activists to create a women’s leadership community for survivors of gender violence. The shelter, called City of Joy, opened in Bukavu in 2011.

Eve Ensler with children from the City of Joy community, February 2013. (Paula Allen)
Eve Ensler with children from the City of Joy community, February 2013. (Paula Allen)

“And it's almost impossible building something in the middle of a war zone. You don't have roads, you don’t have electricity, you don't have...It was madness."

Then, her own life was upset with frightening news. Doctors discovered she had uterine cancer.

“The alchemy of it all was just: you know, change or die.”

Medicine to memoir

Ensler turned months of difficult treatment -- and years of painful memories -- into a book called In the Body of the World: A Memoir of Cancer and Connection.

Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus read the book and wanted to make it a one-woman show.

“I thought it was some of her best writing because it was signature Eve. Philosophy, politics, feminism, all told through humor and her point of view, which she does not shy away from. But it was so deeply personal.”

So,the director met with Ensler and they soon began an intense process to make a play from the book.

In the Body of the World moves between Ensler’s fight with cancer, her painful family history, and her connection to women and nature in the outside world.

Ensler says her own experiences with rape and abuse caused her to mentally disconnect from her body.

“I think my whole life, not only have I been trying to get back into my body, but I've been really working to find ways to support women coming back into their bodies. And cancer did the trick, as well as building City of Joy because those two things together … you know, we were building a place where women could come back into their bodies.”

The show, which recently opened in New York City, has received critical praise. But it is a difficult performance series. Ensler says the play will not travel, unlike her most famous work, The Vagina Monologues.

A play that launched a movement

Ensler wrote The Vagina Monologues in 1994 as a celebration of women. But she says the purpose changed over time, becoming a movement to stop violence against women.

Twenty years ago, on February 14, or Valentine’s Day, the first “V-Day” was held. That day, productions of the play in theaters, colleges, and even living rooms, raised millions of dollars toward women’s causes.

I’m Caty Weaver.

Jeff Lunden reported this story for Caty Weaver adapted his story for Learning English. Her report also has information from the Associated Press. ­George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

capitalism – n. an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

misogyny n. a hatred of women

gender – n. the state of being male or female​

madness n. behavior or thinking that is wild, foolish or dangerous​

alchemy n. a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way​

signature adj. closely associated with someone or something: making a person or thing easy to recognize​