Inaugurating a City of Joy, turning pain into power
Under a blue sky the air is filled with the laughter and songs of countless women. It is the perfect setting for the opening of a City of Joy. THE City of Joy is a joint project of UNICEF and the NGO V-Day aiming to provide survivors of sexual violence with a safe haven until they have regained their strength.
Under the motto ‘From pain to power’ 180 women between 14 and 35 years will be accommodated every year. Besides psychotherapy a vast training programme is planned, including literacy, economics and comprehensive sexuality education. The driving force behind the City of Joy are Congolese women; their needs and wishes form the fundament of this project whose aim is to turn the tide in DRC, from women as victims to women as leaders. Created from their vision, Congolese women will run, operate and direct the City of Joy themselves.
“All women whom we talked to during the planning of this place asked for the same. 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 was healed;” explains Mama Batchu, one of the key figures of V-Day in DRC. b
The City of Joy is marking the next chapter in the ongoing campaign, ‘Stop Raping our Greatest Resource: Power to the Women and Girls of DRC’, a campaign that had been kicked off in 2007 by V-Day and UNICEF. It will provide a powerful new platform for Congolese women, investing in the empowerment of every single survivors of gender violence and herewith 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 is a huge privilege and honour to be present at this momentous occasion," stated Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues and V-Day Founder.
Among the 400 attendees of the inauguration ceremony 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.
Sexual violence is a pervasive human rights and public health problem across DRC. In the conflict zone of eastern DRC, sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war, destroying the social fabric of the community. Yet, sexual violence is not limited to armed conflict. It takes place in schools, homes, and work-places across the country with horrendous physical, psycho-social, and economic consequences. Survivors face risks of sexually transmittable diseases (STI) including HIV, unwanted pregnancies, fistula, psychological effects and rejection. Fear of reprisals or rejection leads many survivors 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. 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.” stressed UNICEF DRC Representative ad interim Philippe Heffinck. “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 SGBV survivors including 8,704 children. The construction of the City of Joy started in September 2009. It is a partnership of the NGO V-Day and the Panzi Foundation which is also managing the close-by located gynaecological hospital and UNICEF. (By Cornelia Walther, Unicef)
V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls that raises funds and awareness through benefit productions of Playwright/Founder Eve Ensler’s award winning play The Vagina Monologues and other artistic works. In 2010, over 5,400 V-Day benefit events took place produced by volunteer activists in the U.S. and around the world, educating millions of people about the reality of violence against women and girls.