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City of Joy creates women leaders as part of campaign to end sexual violence in eastern DR Congo

Page history last edited by Rosemary 7 years, 7 months ago

City of Joy is a project that aims to turn women survivors of gender violence in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from victims to leaders by providing them with counseling, job training, and leadership training in a self-contained safe village where they can live with their children. City of Joy, which officially opened in Bukavu in eastern DRC in June 2011, graduated its first class of 42 women early in 2012 and is now working with its second class, this time of 90 women. Run by Congolese women themselves, City of Joy will serve 180 women aged 14 to 35 each year.

“All women whom we talked to during the planning of this place asked for the same,” said Mama Batchu, one of V-Day’s key figures in the country. “They didn’t want money, they didn’t request jobs – they longed for a roof, a home where they would be sheltered from violence until their body and mind were healed.” Conceived and developed by the women in partnership with V-Day and the Panzi Fondation (DRC), construction of the City of Joy began in September 2009. The centre, partly built by the women themselves, cost around $1 million. UNICEF contributed a substantial amount, and the rest was raised from foundations and private donors by V-Day. Google donated a computer centre.

 

 

The locally-designed six-month curriculum included group psychotherapy, self-defense, English, literacy, communications, civic and political education including civil rights, comprehensive sexuality education, massage, physical education, and horticulture. Local staff designed the program to address the unique emotional, physical, and intellectual needs of Congolese women survivors of gender violence, and to enable them to return to and thrive in their communities upon graduation.

 

"Having been with us for over six months, a marked change in the women is already evident," said V-Day Congo Director & Director of City of Joy, Christine Schuler Deschryver. "Upon their arrival the faces of these women showed signs of despair, discouragement, and loneliness. Over time they have, little by little, been helped to use their past difficulties as a source of empowerment. Through the training and programming at City of Joy, these women have moved from pain to power and will return to their homes ready to help revolutionize their communities."

The City of Joy is part of a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the level of gender violence in the DRC and advocate for change throughout the Congo. Visiting eastern DRC in 2006 and 2007, and especially the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu and the Heal Africa hospital in Goma, which both address the physical suffering of women and girls who have been raped, shocked Eve Ensler, author of the award-winning The Vagina Monologues and founder of V-Day. In August 2007, V-Day began an extensive public education and action campaign, Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource: Power to the Women and Girls of the DRC, in partnership with UNICEF and UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict.

 

Neither government nor peacekeepers have been able to stop the use of rape by armed combatants. Survivors face risks of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, as well as unwanted pregnancies, fistula, psychological trauma and rejection by their communities. Fear of reprisals or rejection leads many to suffer in silence. “I would like to recognize and pay tribute to the courage of the survivors who have broken the silence of sexual violence in DRC through their testimonies, starting in Goma, Bukavu and Kinshasa,” UNICEF Representative in DR Congo Philippe Heffinck said at the official opening of City of Joy in February 2011. In 2010, UNICEF provided a holistic package of services to 16,874 survivors of sexual violence in DR Congo, including 8,704 children.

Ensler believed that telling the stories publicly, and empowering women, could begin bringing change. "You build an army of women," she told the New York Times. "And when you have enough women in power, they take over the government and they make different decisions. They'll say, 'uh-uh, we're not taking this any longer', and they'll put an end to this rape problem fast."

 


 

During the official opening in 2011, hundreds of women, dressed in black t-shirts that read "stop the rape of our most precious resource", thumped on drums, sang and even danced with the shovels and cement-encrusted trowels that they used to build the City of Joy. Stephen Lewis, whose foundation is helping City of Joy, suggested that "maybe this is the moment where women on the ground show they can turn this around."

Some women will go back to their villages; others plan to stay in Bukavu. "I don't want to go back to my village and get raped again," said one graduate, who had been gang-raped twice. "I want to learn to read and write so I can stay in Bukavu. "

V-Day (the v stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina) is a global movement to end violence against women and girls that raises funds and awareness through benefit productions of Ensler's play. In 2011, more than 5,800 V-Day benefit events were organized by volunteer activists in the United States and around the world. To date, the V-Day movement has raised over $85 million and educated millions about the issue of violence against women and the efforts to end it; crafted international educational, media and public service announcement campaigns; reopened shelters; and funded over 13,000 community-based anti-violence programs and safe houses in DRC, Haiti, Kenya, Egypt, Iraq, and South Dakota. Over 300 million people have seen a V-Day benefit event in their community.

 

 

This story was prepared from a variety of sources, including the V-Day website, ‘City of Joy' assists and empowers survivors of sexual violence in DR Congo, by Cornelia Walther, City of Joy, a revolutionary center for women survivors of gender violence, celebrates first graduating class on January 28 in Bukavu, DRC, Jan. 27, 2012, and Fighting Congo's ills with education and an army of women, by Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times.

 

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