In the war torn area of the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo armed rebels rape and pillage women on a regular basis. Since 1996 sexual violence has been used to torture and humiliate women and girls. For them rape is an everyday reality. In fact, hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped in the DRC in that time and the numbers continue to grow. In this hopeless and desperate place, one very brave woman saw hope and joy.
Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls and the award-winning playwright and author of The Vagina Monologues is that woman. In Bukavu, Ensler saw a unique opportunity to empower women and girls to change their story by creating the City of Joy, a transformational community for survivors of sexual violence. The City of Joy was created and developed by the women of Eastern Congo to help those suffering from sexual violence to heal and rebuild their lives.
Women who visit the City of Joy can take part in a gender violence survivors program that involves activities such as group therapy, dance classes, theater, self-defense, and sex education. The program also provides women and girls with leadership development, and educational and income-generating opportunities.
Last month, the City of Joy celebrated its first graduating class. Ensler’s words on the celebration and progress made by the women and girls who participated in the program are awe-inspiring.
In a letter to activists about the celebration she writes about some of the inspirational things she saw during the celebration:
Women who could not lift their heads six months ago, strutting across a stage.
Women who despised their bodies, radiating beauty.
Women who had lost their voices, giving speeches that lived not on paper or memory, but in their thoughts.
Women who had stopped sleeping for years exploding with huge dreams.
Women who had become mute from horror, speaking poetry in just learned English.
Women who had stopped moving, knocking down attackers with powerful body shot.
Women who had stopped believing, planning their new jobs, careers, enterprises.
Forty-eight women per hour are raped in the Congo according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health. That’s 1,152 women every day. So many women and girls suffering from sexual violence need a place to go where they can heal and find joy again. Thanks to the City of Joy they now have a place to go.
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Photo credit: Photo by Steve Evans used under a Creative Commons license.