Congo, Democratic Republic of the

US tour to raise awareness of V-Day/UNICEF campaign against rape in DR Congo

© Paula Allen for V-Day/2009
Women at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, one of just two hospitals in DR Congo that provide surgical treatment reconstruction for rape victims.

By Elizabeth Kiem

NEW YORK, USA, 12 February 2009 – On the eve of a five-city US speaking tour designed to raise awareness about the effect of sexual violence on the women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, activist Eve Ensler warned yesterday that western consumption of DR Congo's resources has "consequences ... on the bodies of women."

"We have blood on our hands," she said simply.

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Ensler, celebrated playwright of 'The Vagina Monologues', is also the founder of V-Day, a global campaign to fight sexual violence. For the second year in a row, V-Day is focusing on the crimes committed in DR Congo, where hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped as victims of a now routine weapon of war.

"Rape is not a particular African thing or a Congolese thing – it's a worldwide epidemic," Ensler told journalists at a press conference at the United Nations in New York. "But I will say that what I have seen and heard and experienced in the eastern Congo is, without doubt, the worst situation of violence toward women in the world."

'Turning Pain to Power'

Joining Ensler to launch the V-Day "Turning Pain to Power" tour were UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and Dr. Denis Mukwege of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, eastern DR Congo.

© Paula Allen for V-Day/2009
Dr. Denis Mukwege and Eve Ensler in the surgical recovery room at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DR Congo.

The UNICEF-supported hospital treats rape victims and is one of just two facilities in the country equipped to perform life-saving fistula operations on these women.

Dr. Mukwege's work was awarded the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights in January. He told journalists the prize had received a lot of attention in DR Congo.

"I know this because when I returned, the streets of Bukavu were filled with women. The prize had become theirs," he said. "It helped them understand that their struggle is just."

Shelter for recovering women

Veneman noted that Panzi Hospital was only one theatre of operations for the joint campaign by V-Day and UNICEF to protect the women of DR Congo. Since its launch in November 2007, she said, the 'Stop Raping our Greatest Resource' campaign has succeeded in training about 200 Congolese activists and establishing about 300 women's discussion groups to develop local initiatives for change.

In the two years since V-Day came to DRC, Ensler added, demonstrations have raised women's level of empowerment, and public testimonies have allowed women to share their stories and break the culture of silence around rape.

"I think there's a huge movement in eastern Congo," she said.

Building on the collaborative work of V-Day, UNICEF and Panzi Hospital, the speakers looked forward to the opening of the 'City of Joy' shelter in Bukavu. The shelter will allow about 100 recovering rape victims to stay for up to six months at a time, providing a safe place where they can recuperate and develop leadership skills to bring to their struggle against violence.

Every day is V-Day

Initially celebrated only on Valentine's Day, Ensler's campaign has gone global in the past decade, growing to encompass events over three months. The estimated 4,000 V-day events taking place worldwide this year will contribute a portion of their proceeds to funding efforts such as City of Joy in Bukavu.

On their US tour, Ensler and Dr. Mukwege will be appearing in New York, Washington, DC, Atlanta, San Francisco and Los Angeles. At each event, Ensler will perform and lead a public conversation with Dr. Mukwege, who will describe his experiences treating the women and girls of eastern DR Congo. The conversation will also explore the causes of the brutality.

Veneman will join Ensler and Dr. Mukwege for the events in New York and San Francisco.




11 February 2009: UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on the UNICEF and V-Day campaign to stop rape in DR Congo.
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Playwright and V-Day founder Eve Ensler discusses V-Day and the struggle in DR Congo.
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