During the week of February 10th, US supporters were honored to welcome Zoya, a representative of RAWA, to the V-Day activities in New York City and Washington, D.C. She was invited and hosted by Eve Ensler, the award-winning playwright of The Vagina Monologues and founder of V-day, and annual global movement started in 1997. Ensler started V-day to raise money and awareness to fight violence against women worldwide because while performing her play around the U.S. she heard from so many women who had been victims of violence. V-Day activities, scheduled to coincide with the western holiday of Valentine's Day, took place across the world from Akron, Ohio to Zagreb, Croatia (see www.vday.org). In NYC, V-Day was held at Madison Square Garden on Feb 10th and consisted of a Gathering for activists during the day, and a gala performance of The Vagina Monologues in the evening.
At the V-day Gathering Zoya talked with many supporters and offered RAWA pamphlets, publications and posters to attendees of the day long event. The Gathering brought together 200 activists from 46 countries to share action plans for stopping rape and other forms of violence against women in their home communities. Zoya and a small group of US supporters were able to get the word out to many attendees about the terrible conditions in Afghanistan and about RAWA's many activities to bring about change through humanitarian and political means. In addition to raising awareness among individuals, a number of useful connections were made between RAWA and other like-minded organizations.
Those of us who were present were also very glad for the opportunity to spend a few hours talking with Zoya about RAWA's current activities and concerns, and about our Afghan sisters. She emphasized the grave concerns of recent refugees in Pakistan who are still without proper shelter, food, and blankets and are dying of exposure. Being able to hear first-hand accounts of RAWA's activities and observations from Zoya both saddened and inspired us to redouble our efforts on RAWA's behalf here in the US.
Later that evening, in the huge arena of Madison Square Garden, Zoya further inspired all 18,000 people present when she appeared before the sold out crowd who had assembled to see a celebrity performance of The Vagina Monologues". This arena, usually known as the home of many male sports teams and predominately male fans, was transformed for the evening into a place that honored women's experiences. Zoya approached the stage, covered in a burqa, just as Oprah Winfrey finished reciting a monologue about women in Afghanistan. Eve Ensler wrote this new monologue after her recent trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan, which was facilitated by RAWA. When Zoya reached the stage, a hushed crowd watched as Oprah helped her remove the burqa As Margaret Spillane described in the US news magazine The Nation (3/5/2001):
".... In the evening, the most arresting image was that of an Afghan woman, obliterated by her burqa, moving like a silent, anonymous hill of cloth toward the stage. When the cloth was lifted, a young woman emerged, dressed in the casual jacket-and-pants outfit that would blend in on any university campus in the world, but that her own country's Taliban movement would deem reason enough to beat her to death on the spot...."
Once Zoya was visible, standing in the middle of the stage in front of the huge crowd, she gave a poised and passionate two minute speech on behalf of RAWA and the women of Afghanistan, describing the conditions for women and children, RAWA's strong stand against fundamentalism, and imploring the crowd and the world not to forget their Afghan sisters. Her words were, as Katha Pollitt described in the same edition of The Nation, both "heartbreaking" and "defiant" and they brought the crowd of 18,000 to their feet in a standing ovation. RAWA was one of only two groups given a chance to speak directly about their experience to the crowd that night. It was also announced in the evening's program that the V-Day Fund is awarding RAWA their highest monetary award for 2001, given "in honor of their fierce and uncompromising fight to liberate the women of Afghanistan."
The rest of the performance that night was powerful, but many agreed that Zoya's speech representing Afghan women and RAWA was the most important statement of the evening.
In addition, US supporters passed out 4000 leaflets for the Octaves Beyond Silence fundraising music CD (www.OctavesBeyondSilence.com) to the audience as it gathered before the performance. This led to more than 100 CD's being purchased that evening at the arena and many other later orders through the Octaves website - thereby raising more than $1000 for the benefiting organizations including RAWA.
The following Wednesday (February 14th) Zoya spoke in Washington DC to a large
gathering of US Congress members and aids, media, and NGOs at a House of Representatives press briefing connected to the V-day efforts. This briefing was sponsored by Representative Jan Schakowsky from Illinois. A number of prominent U.S. women spoke to the assembled crowd, including Eve Ensler, Suze Orman, Carole Black, Jane Fonda, and a number of Congresswomen.
At the briefing, as at Madison Square Garden, Zoya only had two minutes to speak and she was very skillful in choosing what she said and also how she said it, succinctly summarizing the awesome breadth of the tragedy of Afghanistan and outlining several points RAWA would like the U.S. government to address. Her short speech was very well received. The official statement that Rep. Schakowsky released for the occasion and several later speakers referred directly to it (See Rep. Schakowsky's statement at www.house.gov/shakowsky/). Zoya was interviewed by several journalists afterwards, and then we had but a few short minutes to say good bye before she left for New York and her plane back to Pakistan.
And this is from V-day web site:
The segment on crimes in Afghanistan is almost too hard to write about. Oprah (actor Oprah, not talk show Oprah) asked the audience to visualize as if it were ourselves what the women in Afghanistan are go through every day. Covered in a rug-like dress almost completely, with a screen over the eyes so that vision is extremely impaired, if part of them sticks out it is cut off. Any man can come up to them and check their socks; wrong color = public whipping. Husbands regularly murdered, and they can't go out in public without a male escort. Laughter is AGAINST THE LAW. Music, against the law. Dancing, against the law. It goes on and on. It is full on, all-out WAR that has been declared on women, and THEY NEED OUR HELP. A woman from RAWA (www.rawa.org), an Afghan group that fights back, came out in the dress described, and I have to say I've never had such an acute sympathetic claustrophobic attack in my life. She is 23-years-old going on 50. "I belong to a graveyard named Afghanistan." She spoke of the terrors women go through in that country, that her family has gone through, and asked that we not forget them. (I can't for the life of me figure out what the hell we were doing in KUWAIT.) Her voice is ringing in my ears, "The only way to freedom is to struggle all the way to victory." At this point, I'm feeling positively trampled by reality.