V-Day and the Fondation Panzi (DRC), with support from UNICEF, announce today the opening of City of Joy, a revolutionary new community for women survivors of gender violence in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). City of Joy will provide up to 180 Congolese women a year with an opportunity to benefit from group therapy; self-defense training; comprehensive sexuality education (covering HIV/AIDS, family planning); economic empowerment; storytelling; dance; theater; ecology and horticulture. Created from their vision, Congolese women will run, operate and direct City of Joy themselves.
City of Joy marks the next chapter in V-Day's ongoing campaign, STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE: Power to the Women and Girls of the DRC. It will provide a powerful new platform for Congolese women to turn their pain to power, restore their sense of agency over their lives, and become leaders who will steer Eastern Congo's destiny towards peace. The community will invest in the healing and empowerment of survivors of gender violence -- who offer the best hope for a far-reaching and positive impact on the future of Congolese society.
"The opening of the City of Joy is the moment where women of the Congo turn their pain to power; where they who have suffered so deeply, so invisibly will claim their rights, their bodies and their future. It will be a huge privilege and honor to be present at this momentous occasion," stated Eve Ensler, playwright and V-Day Founder.
"It has been centuries that Congo has not belonged to the Congolese. The country was always plundered and occupied by outside forces. City of Joy will be a place owned by the Congolese where women will be propelled to take their destinies in hand," said Christine Schuler Deschryver, V-Day Congo and City of Joy Director.
The Campaign: STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE
Initiated in 2007, STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE: Power to the Women and Girls of the DRC is raising worldwide awareness about the level of gender violence in the DRC and advocating for change throughout the Congo. Over the past three years the campaign has been a great success, mobilizing activists, organizing demonstrations and workshops, and enabling survivors to speak out against violence.
In 2010, over 425 activists were trained in the fight against gender violence and 488 administrative, political, religious, and traditional leaders came on board. Yet, despite these strides, the conflict in the East continues to affect countless women and girls, and the need for the STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE campaign remains tremendous. City of Joy will serve as the campaign's headquarters and will be a place from which the movement will continue to expand and gain momentum.
Conceived and developed by the women on the ground in partnership with V-Day and the Panzi Foundation (DRC), the construction of the City of Joy started in September 2009. UNICEF, with funds from UNICEF National Committees, supervised and implemented the construction. V-Day has generated significant funding from private foundations and individual donors as well as its vast global network of activists. V-Day's Congo Director, Bukavu-based Christine Schuler Deschryver, will oversee the City of Joy as its Chief Director.
A Global Gathering - In attendance
This global event seeks to bring together grassroots activists, political leaders, and stakeholders with residents and staff of City of Joy to create a sustainable path towards the health and empowerment of Congolese women. Congolese and regional dignitaries, activists, and media will attend.
The following people traveled to the DRC for the opening:
- V-Day Founder Eve Ensler
- UN Messenger of Peace and V-Day supporter Charlize Theron
- US Ambassador on Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer
- Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky
- Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström
- UNICEF DRC Representative a.i. Philippe Heffinck
- V-Day Board Members Rosario Dawson, Carole Black, Pat Mitchell, Emily Scott Pottruck, Amy Rao, Susan Celia Swan (V-Day's Managing Director)
- V-Day Supporters Dylan McDermott, Naomi Klein, Thandie Newton
- Congolese Ambassador to the US Faida Mitifu
- AIDS Free World Co-Founder Stephen Lewis
About DRC Conflict
The DRC's current 13-year conflict, fueled by a struggle to control the Congo's vast resources, and closely linked to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, has created a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Since 1998, gender violence against women and girls in Eastern DRC has been used as a weapon of war to torture, humiliate, and destroy not only women and girls, but also entire families and communities. Women and girls have endured rape, sexual slavery, kidnapping, unlawful detention, recruitment into armed forces (of girls), and forced prostitution. Those who survive the brutality are often ostracized, due to the stigma attached to rape, leaving them with little to no economic opportunities to care for themselves and their children. As before the war, discrimination against women and girls underlies the violence perpetrated against them. The current climate of impunity allows gender violence to flourish.