August 2009

A popular show on the Edinburgh Fringe programme has been the African musical Mercy Madonna of Malawi which tells the story of The Material Girl’s adoption of Mercy and David, featuring a tall black man in drag with a blond wig and a shopping trolley. Madonna’s behaviour can be seen as a microcosm, reflecting the macrocosm of the West’s general rule-bending arrogance and acquisitiveness in its dealings with Africa. This suspect paternalism  does nothing to address real problems or bring about radical change.

One of the songs in the show explains that the large number of orphans in Malawi is due to “the abuse of young women” – a problem endemic across Africa. Eve Ensler, creator of the Vagina Monologues and the V-Day charity, has used her visit to central Africa  this summer (in contrast to sister American Madonna) to promote awareness in the West about this huge problem of violence against women. 

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ensler recorded testimony from a number of women’s rights activists, among them Jeanine Gabrielle Ngungu  who talks about the “planned vulnerability of women” in Congolese society, a vulnerability which has been exacerbated by the 10-year long conflict. Jeanine also refers to “the ambivalent solidarity of the international community” as regards providing any viable solution to these problems.  For example, rape attack has escalated under a US-backed military operation employing 1000s of poorly trained Congolese soldiers.


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens to a representative of displaced civilians at a UNHCR camp near Goma in eastern Congo.    

With Hillary Clinton also touring the region, Eve Ensler says “for maybe the first time in history a U.S. Secretary of State has made the systematic raping of women the reason to visit a country.” Clinton has also promised  $17 million as a starter to address violence against women in the Congo, to which Ensler responds: 

I would suggest increasing that with $100 million, the equivalent of one months spending for MONUC, the UN Peacekeeping force in the DRC which has failed so miserably to protect women and girls. Give the $100 million dollars directly to grassroots women on the ground… With this kind of support, I bet they would figure out how to end the war in a few months.


In Kenya the V-Day charity has funded safe houses for girls in danger of abuse, protecting them from female genital mutilation or from being forced into early marriage. It also provides the women working in the project with the opportunity to develop management and leadership skills, raising women’s profile nationally. This begins to tackle some of the root causes of gender-based violence. It’s a far cry from Madonna putting money into Malawian orphanages.


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