After #MeToo, Feminist Author Eve Ensler Sets A Blue Print For Men

(Trigger Warning: Rape, Assault)

When my father was dying, he called my mother to his bedside and told her ‘Whatever Eve tells you about me, just know that she’s liar.’

A collective gasp rose from the auditorium as Eve Ensler told us about the years of sexual and physical abuse her father had put her through during her childhood. The award-winning author of “The Vagina Monologues” and creator of One Billion Rising—a global movement to end violence against women and girls—was in New Delhi speaking about her newest book, “The Apology”.

It was incidents like these that Ensler had hoped her father would apologise for, and never did, right up until he died 31 years ago. Incidents that she hadn’t understood were rape, assault, and emotional abuse until she was much older. Incidents that a 2018 National Family Health Survey found happen to 1 in 3 women in India. The incidents that our families, peers and courts bury day in and day out. And that’s why Ensler decided to give herself what was owed to her.

This Is Our Reality

“The Apology” is a book written entirely from her father’s point of view, recounting every horrific thing he had done to her. And it’s a long time coming. She said, “In 16,000 years of patriarchy, not a single record of a man’s apology for sexual violence!” She continued, saying, “To be an apologist is to be a traitor to men.” There’s no better example of this than the aftermath of #MeToo—men was gripped with the fear of being called out, rather than examining their role in systemic violence against women and girls. And the more graphic the accounts, the harder the pushback.

But it’s the searing detail that we really need right now. According to Ensler, experiences of violence are reduced to a one-line news report that doesn’t convey a fraction of the vileness of these acts. “The Apology” is deliberately and devastating detailed in its record of sexual violence.

‘It Changes Your Sexual Chemistry’

Ensler’s commented on what sexual violence does to a person’s sexuality. In her own case, she talked about how wrongness and danger became fused with sexuality, and how often survivors can and do love the person abusing them. “It changes your sexual chemistry. Rape becomes what turns you on.

A hard pill to swallow, but necessary to our understanding of just how much damage violence against women and girls causes. Post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harm, eating disorders, suicide attemps, and substance abuse are just some of the effects of sexual violence, as listed by RAINN. A study by University College London says “Four out of five teenage girls who have been sexually assaulted are suffering from crippling mental health problems months after their attack.

Can there ever be any healing from something like this?

Anuja Gupta, founder of RAHI, a collective working to end incest and child sexual abuse, in conversation with Eve Ensler, founder of One Billion Rising, at the Satya Sai Auditorium in New Delhi. Photo by Shambhavi Saxena.

The Alchemy Of An Apology

The imaginative process that went into the book, Ensler told the audience, was as a release. It was an opportunity to explore what she calls the “Alchemy of an Apology”. There are four tenets to it, in a tight sequence.

  • The first is a process of deep self-interrogation, by asking “What made me do the things I did?”
  • The second is a detailed account of what you, as an abuser, did.
  • The third asks the abuser to ask “What did my actions make the survivor feel?
  • And the fourth and final is to make amends and become capable of never committing those acts again.

You might write this off as an impossible task. And with all the impunity that society bestows on men, I wouldn’t blame you. But here’s the thing. Through “The Apology”, Ensler provides a “blueprint for men”. An advocate for restorative justice, she shifts the onus away from survivors, and shows perpetrators (specifically males) how to take responsibility for their actions. Because that’s how we can move move forward.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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