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City of Joy Brings Hope to the Women of Eastern Congo

15 March 2011 No Comment

Emmicki Roos

Emmicki Roos
Canada

Emmicki Roos is passionate about ending sexual violence in conflict. She writes on her blog, “Together we can raise the awareness of sexual violence in conflict and push our governments to act. We all have a voice; we just have to make ourselves heard.”

Here, Emmicki raises her voice about V-day’s most recent project to support women survivors of sexual violence in the Congo.

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In the midst of systematic sexual violence — which makes the Democratic Republic of Congo a very difficult place to be a woman — a new initiative by V-day and UNICEF, in partnership with Panzi Foundation, is being launched.  The City of Joy is a special facility being built to assist survivors of sexual violence in Bukavu.

Since the Second Congo War began in 1998 it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped. Rebel groups as well as the Congolese army (which is responsible for civilian protection) are using sexual violence systematically as a weapon of war to terrorize the local population. Earlier this year, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström visited the Congo and was told by a Congolese survivor that “a dead rat is worth more than the body of a woman.”

Plans for City of Joy

The need is enormous yet facilities assisting survivors of sexual violence are few and far between in the Congo. The City of Joy has been initiated to support women survivors to heal by providing medical and psychological assistance and innovative opportunities for women to develop their leadership skills. Every year City of Joy will provide up to 180 women with an opportunity to benefit from group therapy, storytelling, theatre, dance, self-defense, comprehensive sexuality education (covering HIV/AIDS and family planning), ecology and horticulture, and economic empowerment.

Christine Schuler Deschryver, the director of City of Joy, has devoted her life to alerting the world about the femicide and systematic sexual violence against women and children in the Congo. Her activism began in 2000, after witnessing the rape and murder of her best friend. In an interview with Democracy Now, Christine stated:

“I don’t know if it was my destiny, but the first—the first raped woman was my best friend. She was like my sister. It was in ’98. She was colored like me, so not black, not white, and no political position, and she was—she was raped in such a—I cannot describe the violence, because after she was raped by more than twenty men and after she was killed, we found more than a hundred holes with knives in her body.”

Eve Ensler and Christine Schuler Deschryver

Despite death threats Christine continues to speak out about the situation for women in the Congo. She is a role model for other Congolese women, inspiring them to speak out and refuse to be ashamed. The City of Joy sends out a strong message of empowerment to women in the Congo, giving them hope of a better future: A future where a woman’s body is worth more than a dead rat; a future where women are not just victims and survivors but also leaders and respected members of their communities.

Women are the future of the Congo!

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Watch this “Building the City of Joy” video:

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