Congo, Democratic Republic of the

'City of Joy' assists and empowers survivors of sexual violence in DR Congo

By Cornelia Walther

BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 9 February 2011 – Under a blue sky, the air is filled with women’s laughter and songs. It is the perfect setting for the opening of ‘City of Joy,’ a joint project of UNICEF and the non-governmental organization V-Day, providing a safe haven for survivors of sexual violence.

4 February 2011: UNICEF's Ndiaga Seck reports on 'City of Joy,' a joint project of V-Day and UNICEF to aid and empower survivors of sexual violence in eastern DR Congo.  Watch in RealPlayer

 

City of Joy will serve 180 women between the ages of 14 and 35 every year with psychotherapy an extensive training programme comprising literacy, economics and sexuality education. The project is also supported by the Panzi Foundation, which manages a nearby gynaecological hospital.

Congolese women are the driving force behind City of Joy. Their needs and wishes form the basis of this project, which aims to turn the tide in DR Congo – from women as victims to women as leaders. Created from their vision, City of Joy will be operated by women themselves.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF DR Congo/2011/Walther
Over 100 women have been involved in the construction of City of Joy in Bukavu, eastern DR Congo; here they celebrate its inauguration as an illustration of their strength.

“All women whom we talked to during the planning of this place asked for the same,” said Mama Batchu, one 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.”

From pain to power

City of Joy marks the latest chapter in the ongoing campaign, ‘Stop Raping our Greatest Resource: Power to the Women and Girls of DRC,’ which V-Day and UNICEF launched in 2007. The new project will provide a powerful new platform for women’s empowerment.

“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,” said author and V-Day founder Eve Ensler. “It is a huge privilege and honour to be present at this momentous occasion.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF DR Congo/2011/Walther
City of Joy is a programme supported by V-Day and UNICEF that assists and empowers survivors of sexual violence in eastern DR Congo.

Ms. Ensler was among the 400 attendees at the recent City of Joy inauguration. Also on hand were Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström, Congolese Ambassador to the US Faida Mitifu, AIDS Free World Co-Founder Stephen Lewis, US Ambassador on Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer and UN Messenger of Peace Charlize Theron.

Horrendous consequences

Gender-based violence is a pervasive across DR Congo. In the eastern conflict zone, sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war, destroying the social fabric of communities.

Yet such violence is not limited to armed conflict. It takes place in schools, homes and workplaces across the country, with horrendous physical, psycho-social and economic consequences.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF DR Congo/2011/Walther
Sexual violence is pervasive in eastern DR Congo, and many victims do not speak up because their fear reprisal or rejection by their communities.

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.

‘A victory for justice’

“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,” said UNICEF Representative in DR Congo Philippe Heffinck. “I would also like to pay tribute to Ms. Ann Veneman, former Executive Director of UNICEF, who lent her immediate and unqualified support to the City of Joy.”

Mr. Heffinck added: “Rape is a crime and should be treated as such each time it happens. Turning back the tide of impunity is a long fight, and each arrest, each sentence, when done properly, is a victory for justice.”

In 2010, UNICEF provided a holistic package of services to 16,874 survivors of sexual violence in DR Congo, including 8,704 children.


 

 

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