From the Huffington Post: No more rape

By:

Eve Ensler

Eve Ensler

Posted: November 23, 2010 05:59 PM

Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo — I have been back in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for two weeks now meeting with leaders, activists, social workers, therapists, recent survivors, business owners, UN officials. There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that the situation on the ground remains the same if not worse. Just a few weeks ago more than 600 women were raped on the Congo-Angola border, and more than 15,000 women have been raped in Eastern Congo this year. The massacres and recruiting of child soldiers continue. The indiscriminate and random killings rage on.
The good news is that there is palpable change in the women. Just last month, the Women’s World March brought out thousands of Congolese women who vocally and proudly stood up for their rights. The women of Congo have broken the silence and are claiming their voices and vision. They are resilient and brilliant. They have huge dreams and ambitions (even if they are often muted by the massive trauma and violence). They are outspoken leaders and visionaries and they could and should lead Congo out of her misery. They are indeed building a movement. There is AFEM, a network of women journalists, run by Congolese women reporting on the war and daily news throughout the region. There are the Green Mamas, a collective of survivors who have planted fields of vegetables, and who are not only surviving off the profits, but bringing more and more women into the process. There are hundreds of local women’s groups creating businesses, building leadership, fighting for judicial reform, developing healthcare and education, and there is V-Day’s City of Joy, a revolutionary community for survivors of gender violence where women will turn their pain to power. It opens Feb. 4, and it is owned and run by the Congolese.
It is very clear now that those of us supporting from the outside need to listen and take direction from women on the ground. We need to be very careful that in our well-intended rush to help end sexual violence we don’t institutionalize victimization or create a self-sustaining and self-perpetuating business of rape. We need to keep the focus razor sharp on the root causes of the war, and not only on the consequences.
There are so many questions.
Why, when so many war criminals have been identified, have the vast majority of them not been arrested or held accountable? Why, after 13 years, are there still weekly massacres and thousands of rapes and former child soldiers being brought back into the militias when the world knows exactly what is going on? Who is invested in keeping it this way? Why is the UN spending $3 million a day on peacekeepers who are there to supposedly protect the women, but whose main contribution seems to be taking photographs of the devastated women after they’ve been raped? Why isn’t $1 million a day of that money going for training, paying, and feeding a Congolese army that in a very short time could be capable of purging the FDLR and protecting the borders of the Congo? Why are the failed (as the ICG recently stated) military strategies Kimia 2 and Amani Leo still being implemented by the Security Counsel and the Congolese government? Where is President Obama, who as a senator shepherded a piece of legislation, SB 2125, the Obama Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006? There, he seemed to understand that “both the real and perceived presence of armed groups hostile to the governments of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi continue to serve as a major source of regional instability and an apparent pretext for continued interference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by its neighbors [Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi].” Why has he suddenly gone silent? Who changed his thinking? Why, when it is known that the war in Congo is an economic war fought over the mines and minerals, isn’t there monitoring in place of the flow of gold, copper and coltain by now? Why continue to do very expensive, elaborate and time-consuming UN reports without any follow up or enforcement of law? Why are we still arguing over the definition of genocide and femicide and spending fortunes counting the numbers of raped women rather than stopping the atrocities?
Here and now we actually need to end the rape. We need to say NO MORE. No more millions spent counting the raped and studying the raped. No more gratuitous rape interviews. (I think the Congolese women should declare a story strike.) No more gawking. No more tragic photographs of nameless black women. No more pity. No more feigning ignorance about the situation. No more minerals stolen out from under the people. No more raped and re-raped and re-re-raped. No more children born of rape. No more fistula. No more stigmatization. No more destroyed vaginas. No more brutalized wombs and bladders and colons. No more dead raped nine-month-old babies or 80-year-old mamas. No more money being spent on or made on rape. NO MORE RAPE.

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Does it get any easier?

They say reality bites.

When my brother and his family left for Oman last August, we knew the separation would be difficult. We had been preparing all summer for the day that they would leave. Many tears were shed and hugs were plentiful, but we all agreed that time would fly by until next summer when we would all be together again. Between Skype calls and Facebook, we’d make it.

While we knew it would be difficult, I don’t think any of us expected it to actually be so hard, if that makes any sense. I surely never expected it to hurt so much.

A simple drive through Eden Prairie a few weeks ago, where they used to live, was when reality jumped up and bit me. Occasional tear-ups ensued over the next day or two which was followed by a complete and total meltdown (something I hate and can count on one hand the actual meltdowns I have had in my adult life. Not a fan of being an emotional wreck.)

Driving home from Target, a favorite haunt of my sister-in-laws and mine,  the waterworks started and didn’t stop. I drove home through blinding tears (in retrospect I should have pulled over) and cried until there were no more tears.

I missed them all so much but I was missing my sister-in-law Michelle the most.

Somewhere over the years we had transitioned from in-laws to friends, from friends to one of my very best friends. From one of my best friends to someone I relied on for laughs, advice, and comfort. She had become one of the rocks in my inner circle.

Sometimes we would talk daily, other times not for a week or so. Sometimes we might go a month or more without seeing each other but I always took comfort in the fact that she was just a phone call away. At any time I could hop in my car and be there for one of her amazingly warm, heartfelt hugs. Hugs like no other.

Now, that was gone. Who knew several thousand miles and a 10 hour time difference could throw a such a wrench into a person’s life? Yeah, reality really does bite.

Since the meltdown, on any given day I find myself missing each and every one of them more and more.

I miss my nephew Joey’s smile, a rare smile that literally lights up a room. He makes everyone else around him smile. His love for family is unparalleled.

I miss my nephew Jake’s sense of humor and his passion for whatever he’s into at the moment (currently skateboarding.) With both of us being the oldest in the family, we kind of “get” each other.

I miss how my niece was just beginning to really be one of us “girls.” She loves to wear dresses, shop, and eat chocolate yet at the same time will chase down a snake or an insect of any kind. We aren’t sure where she gets that.

I miss my youngest nephew’s nonstop chatter and story telling. He can make us laugh till we cry and has on several occasions. He stated a few weeks ago that he is ready to go back to Minnesota. My heart melted.

My brother? I just plain miss him.

With the holiday season fast approaching, the entire extended family is feeling the pain of the distance between us, yet we are comforted in the fact that we will be them in six more months. However painful at the moment, we know the separation isn’t permanent.

As for their experiences so far in Oman?

Their jobs are good and the kids have adjusted well to school.

They have a beautiful apartment with a view of the mountains. Their surroundings are breathtaking.

They have swam in the ocean, explored caves, camped in the mountains, and recently spent three days camping on the beach.

We take comfort in the fact that their family is making memories and gaining experiences that will last a lifetime.

We’ll keep the Kleenex box close throughout the season and we’ll probably have a couple of family Skype dates, which will no doubt ease the pain some. Maybe after the holidays it will be easier?

My heart goes out to everyone that will be separated from loved ones this holiday season. Whether temporary or permanent take some comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone.

I wish you safe travels and good times with friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

"It" always happens this time of year…

This time it started a little over a week ago. I think it was a simple conversation with Pastor Joyce in the News office or maybe it had already started and that’s what sparked the conversation.
The mention in last week’s column made it worse.

It always comes this time of year-my incessant craving for lefse that mysteriously strikes when November comes along.

I don’t know when it started.

I grew up eating lefse. My mom always broke it out around the holidays, something I continued in my own family. It was only in the last few years that I noticed my cravings for lefse intensify each year.

Mind you, I didn’t know that people actually made lefse until I was an adult. We bowed to Mrs. Olson whose lefse always hit the shelves around the holidays. Die hard Scandinavians and lefse-ites will tell you that there is no comparing homemade lefse to store bought. Some of us don’t care.

It was “store bought” that got me the other day. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I caved to Mrs. Olson. Maybe if I downed a package of the white stuff, it would go away? Definitely worth a shot I thought to myself.

On the way home, I think I drooled at the thought of tearing into the package, loading each amazing slice with butter and sugar, and enjoying a little slice of heaven for a while.

The first bite of the season was magnificent. Amazingly, I only had a couple of pieces that night. I was pretty proud of myself for not downing the whole package.

I was out of town for a couple of days and on the way home late on Saturday I remembered the stash of lefse still in the fridge.

I made it until Sunday morning when I discovered that lefse and coffee make an amazing breakfast combo. I had never paired the two and was impressed with how the two complimented each other.
Sunday night came and the rest of the package had to go. I even offered some to my oldest. He thankfully declined so I was able to chow the last piece.

The package was gone. The craving was gone! Yes, I thought to myself. One pack this year did the trick. I was free from it.

That was until this morning however. Usually on Tuesday mornings there is absolutely no room in my brain for anything other than “getting the paper out.”

Somehow, it crept back in. I have the feeling it won’t go away anytime soon.

Maybe, one more package will do the trick. It’s worth a shot, don’t you think?

What is American Heritage?

From my editorial column in the 11/10/10 edition of the RP News: 

When reading the MACCRAY School Board report today the last few paragraphs struck me with concern and wonder. If you haven’t gotten to the story yet (it’s on the next page), a district resident questioned the board on why they would “allow” a Hispanic Heritage Day to be celebrated at the MACCRAY Schools. “Why not an American Heritage Day?” the resident asked.

My first reaction was, of course, a huge concern over the underlying prejudice and the racial tones of the question posed to the board. Honestly, I have no idea if prejudice and racial issues were the cause of the citizen’s “concern” over Hispanic Heritage Day.

Nonetheless, it angered me. After finally simmering down a bit, I began thinking about the statement and to really wonder, what is American Heritage? Do you know?

My ethnic background is Swedish and German. Ron “the print guy” is also of Swedish and German descent. My news-mate Char is a bit different. She is of a Norwegian and German background. My husband is German, Polish, a smidge Native American, and I believe a couple of other things tossed in. Our kids are then an even bigger mix. Where does it end? When do we quit identifying our heritage with the countries our ancestors came from? When do we start being Americans? Nothing else, just American?

Imagine for second that our little corner of the world quit identifying with their Dutch background? What if Madison ceased to be the “Lutefisk Capital” because it no longer celebrated the town’s Norwegian heritage? No more lutefisk and lefse? Or take the city of New Ulm and its longstanding German heritage? How many communities in Minnesota would change tremendously if they stopped identifying with their “heritage?” I can’t imagine how different our state would be. Can you?

Personally, even though it’s my “ethnicity,” I really can’t identify with being Swedish or German. I learned a couple of Swedish phrases from my grandpa, who had immigrated from Sweden, and growing up I was forced to eat lutefisk (I thought lutefisk was Norwegian?) with my mom and my grandpa when they would cook up a batch (love you mom!).

Growing up I loved to listen to my grandpa talk with his thick Swedish accent and he loved to laugh at a good “yoke.” If my grandpa hadn’t been an immigrant, I highly doubt I would know much about Sweden at all. As for my German heritage, no one that I knew in my close family had ever lived there.

The United States is called the “melting pot” of the world for a very good reason. We are! We are a nation of every single race and ethnicity mixed together in one big place.

What would we celebrate if we were to have an “American Heritage Day?” Would we dress up as cowboys? Would we eat burgers, fries, and apple pie all day? Are burgers, fries and apple pies even “American?” Would we play baseball and eat hot dogs?

American Heritage is all of the above. We are lutefisk, lefse, apple pie, burgers and fries. We are a little bit of every corner of the world. We are truly a melting pot. How can we celebrate one ethnicity and not all?

It is only when the day comes, if ever, that we stop celebrating and acknowledging all of our ethic backgrounds, that we can stop celebrating “Hispanic Heritage Week.” In this great melting pot of a nation, I don’t foresee that happening for generations to come.

That is our American Heritage.

To the "gutsy" facebook posters…

“Shame on you America: the only country where we have homeless without shelter, children going to bed without eating, elderly going without needed meds, and mentally ill without treatment – yet we have a benefit for the people of Haiti on 12 TV stations. 99% of people won’t have the guts to copy and repost this. I DID……………………….”

For those of you with Facebook accounts, you have no doubt seen this message or some version of this posted on a friend’s wall. Maybe you have even been one of the “gutsy” ones, as the status proclaims, to post this.

I have seen this status in various versions several times and every time I see it, I get just a little more annoyed. I get little more annoyed at the ignorance and prejudice that accompany a statement like this.

No one in this country can really deny the truths to this statement. We do have millions of homeless persons, hungry children, elderly without meds, and mentally ill without treatment. It’s true, that’s not the annoying part of the statement to me. What irks me is the fact that the poster can’t see the big picture. Unlike Haiti, we don’t have two million homeless people living in tiny plastic tents, surrounded by hunger, disease, and raw sewage in America. That is why we give to Haiti and other impoverished countries around the world.

Although disaster relief and living conditions in New Orleans and the south were less than stellar after Hurricane Katrina struck our own shores, I can’t imagine that the living conditions (although atrocious in some places) came close to rivaling what is currently happening in Haiti.

Or take the Democratic Republic of Congo where war has been raging since the 1990’s. Millions have died due to starvation and disease, besides the casualties of the armies perpetuating the fighting. Children as young as seven are plucked from their homes and schools and forced to fight in rebel armies. Those that are too small to hold a gun are given whistles and sent to the front lines to make noise in attempts to scare the opposing army. Then they take the first round of fire. I can honestly tell you that I have never once worried that something this horrible would ever happen to one of my kids living in the United States. I can’t imagine you have either. I can’t begin to comprehend the fear and horror that families of the Congo live in every day.

Or what about the rest of the billions around the world that are starving or dying due to infectious diseases caused by a lack of clean water? Most of us in the United States can say we have clean water and access to food. Yes, poverty and starvation happen in America. Yes, this is intolerable but in America there is almost always hope and help. I am guessing people in third world countries don’t have much of that.

So to all the “gutsy” Facebook posters bashing those in America that see beyond our shores to the plights of people less fortunate than us, that is why we Americans give to people in Haiti and around the world. That is why we aren’t “gutsy” enough to copy and repost.