|UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman (left) with V-Day founder and Director Eve Ensler at the V-Day 10th anniversary event in New Orleans.|
By Kate Donovan
NEW ORLEANS, USA, 15 April 2008 – UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman joined thousands of supporters and activists to celebrate the 10th anniversary of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. Over the past decade, V-Day has raised over $50 million and educated millions of people about violence against women and how to end it.
Ms. Veneman and V-Day founder and Director Eve Ensler announced to the crowd assembled in the New Orleans Superdome that the V-Day 2009 Spotlight will focus on ending rape in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where hundreds of thousands of girls and women have been sexually assaulted. They were joined on the dais by Dr. Denis Mukwege and Christine Schuler Deschryver, both of whom work with UNICEF in DR Congo to help women and girls heal and recover from rape.
The goal of the V-Day campaign, ‘Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource: Power to the Women and Girls of Democratic Republic of the Congo’, is to “stop the rape, empower women and girls and end impunity for these atrocious crimes,” said Ms. Veneman. (To learn more, visit www.stoprapeindrc.org, a special website launched in conjunction with the New Orleans announcement.)
The campaign is calling for measures that will prevent state armed forces and police from perpetrating sexual violence against women and girls, and will fully enforce national laws that protect and empower women.
Working together is urgent
Standing on the stage in the Superdome, Ms. Veneman told the audience about two people she met who moved her deeply during her trip to DR Congo in 2006. One was a 12-year-old girl who had been gang raped. Another woman Ms. Veneman met told of working in the fields when a group of men came upon her. Her son ran to rescue her, but was killed by the men. Upon hearing of the events, her husband died of a heart attack.
“These women’s stories are the reason why it is urgent that we work together to put a stop to this rape,” said Ms. Veneman.
Working in the UNICEF-supported PANZI Hospital in eastern DR Congo, Dr. Mukwege has treated thousands of women and girls, from infants to the elderly, who have been raped. The hospital’s programme is designed to give these women hope, said Dr. Mukwege, who received a special award from V-Day in recognition of his devotion to the women and children of eastern DR Congo.
“I am doing this campaign because I don’t want to have to cry anymore,” he added. “I don’t want to have to cry when I tell a young woman when she asks me, ‘Can I have a baby?’ ‘No, you can’t anymore.’”
‘An international shame’
Ms. Ensler visited DR Congo in early 2007 and later that year returned to launch the camapign to stop rape in the country.
She began the process of building a centre called ‘The City of Joy’ for survivors of sexual assault. The shelter will give 100 women and their children a safe place to live while providing them with education, leadership training and a chance to earn a living.
“It is an international shame that we have not been able to put an international spotlight on the women of the Congo,” said Ms. Ensler.
V-Day website: Join V-DAY and UNICEF for eastern DR Congo campaign
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