Eve Ensler Update from Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
V-Day Founder/Artistic Director Eve Ensler is currently on her third visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On September 12th in Goma, V-Day in partnership with UNICEF, organized a day-long event, "Women Breaking the Silence" as part of the joint campaign: "Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource: Power to Women and Girls in Democratic Republic of Congo." The event featured for the first time women survivors telling their stories of rape and sexual violence to a public audience which included Senior Congolese government officials, key Ambassadors to the DRC, senior UN officials, civil society, survivors of sexual violence, and campaign activists.
I am writing at 6AM as we board the five-hour boat ride from Goma to Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The sky is a V-Day pink as the sun rises over Lake Kivu, the sound of tropical birds, the greenest flora, and a morning alive with hundreds of passengers and porters and travelers. I have been here over a week and it has been full of many extremes - enormous despair, potential violence, criminal poverty, regular power failures, tropical storms, streets of dried lava from the last volcano, and encroaching war. Laurent Nkunda's forces were at one point this week within 27 kilometers of Goma. Moments where we were not allowed to travel, moments when the event was almost canceled as the security threat was too great, but we prevailed.
Then, there is our amazing campaign, the activists, the survivors and our brilliant team working on the ground - Pernille Ironside, Francesca Morandini and Esther Ntoto.
The V-Day team here with me, photographer Paula Allen and V-Day Campaigns Manager Purva Panday, will be joined later this morning in Bukavu by Congolese activist and V-Day's newest member of staff Christine Schuler Deschryver. Christine will officially begin working for V-Day in December.
I spent the last week preparing for our very successful event on September12th in Goma. I worked with ten survivors, women who have suffered terrible rapes and losses and shame and still they were willing to stand in front of their communities and break the silence. During the week we did numerous theater exercises, releasing trauma and rage and sorrow and they rehearsed telling their stories. I am including snapshots of their stories below.
I met with Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource activists who have been working with our partner UNICEF over the last months holding 90 forums throughout the eastern and northern provinces. These forums have been extremely successful in changing the thinking in many small communities and in bringing men into the conversation. Activists talked of educating people about sexual violence in the schools, in the Church, in the home, in the market. These activists are so fierce and so empowered and have reported dramatic changes in their communities which are often far out in the bush where women are not able to read, but are so ready to change the state of their existence. Many women have been bringing their husbands to the forums and we are seeing violence lessening in some communities. Through these forums women are finding their voices and changing their relationship to sex. I fell in love with these activists, and I know we will end violence in the Congo because they are so strong and they are growing.
WOMEN BREAKING THE SILENCE
On September 12th the day began with a massive storm that delayed the flight of the Ministers and Ambassadors and UN Officials coming from Kinshasa by two hours. The people were amazingly patient; sadly they have been made to wait for so many things. Despite the delay I am pleased to report that throughout the day there were between 500-600 people who were in attendance including many local officials. There were theater performances and school choirs, and excellent singers. This was a historic event.
Then the women began to tell their stories. Each one took the stage with such grace, such confidence, such heart and such courage. The testimonies went on for several hours. The emotion in the audience was so powerful. Many men were weeping. I sat and held a man who was a pastor who openly wept. Afterwards, there were speeches. But my favorite moment was when the women were honored at the end with pink scarves (made in Paris) with the words in French "I am a Survivor. I can do anything. "
There was food after and great celebration. Every single survivor reported that after the experience she felt "free." So many people came together in the community. Just about every NGO group participated in this event from psycho, social, legal, medical. Women For Women made a wonderful meal and displayed their beautiful crafts. Many reported never knowing these stories and we could see in the reaction of Government officials, (one even wrote a poem) that they were moved - hopefully to action. The activist and survivors community were gratefully empowered. International press, including the BBC, and local African media covered the event, putting these stories out on the wires. Paula is taking great pictures and we have videoed much of the week and it will be part of a film that we are making.
The day after the event, we had a follow up meetings with survivors and activists and planned the next six months. There were about 50 activists total, eight of whom were men. They will create a list of demands to be brought to provincial governments with a six-month timeline. If these demands are not met, there will be a call for national demonstrations and possible occupation of Parliament. If these demands are not met, there will be a call for a national strike by women. I feel change is happening and is going to happen in Congo.
This all said, the situation in the Congo remains catastrophic. Rape continues at an unprecedented and alarming rate. The night of our event, one the survivors returned to her village, only to discover a young girl had just been raped. The women of Congo need every one of us to pressure governments who benefit from their resources and governments who don't, to get involved in protecting women. There is still impunity and the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers need to be pressured to do their job and protect the women. Mainly we need to keep providing resources so the women can empower themselves. There are leaders emerging and I suspect the movement will be huge within the next five years.
After the activist meeting we went to see the women who are making our bags at The Healing Arts which is part of an organization called Heal Africa. The bags are fabulous and it was thrilling to see so many women survivors employed and making such beautiful products. In Bukavu where we have just arrived, we will have many meetings for The City of Joy, working at the final steps before the building begins, developing leadership, creating criteria, reworking budgets, creating job descriptions, etc.
I take all of you with me and all the support you have given this campaign and hope you will multiply your efforts and support for these activists and survivors. These women and men are giving everything, in spite of days of hunger and often having to walk for miles, in order to end the violence in their country.
I will write an update from Bukavu. Much love,
SNAPSHOT STORIES OF SOME OF THE SURVIVORS WHO BROKE THE SILENCE
54 years old.5 militias Tutsi's and Mai Mai. I was naked in front of my kids. Her husband and children were killed in front of her. They beat her legs. She will never forget the feeling of the rifle inside her vagina. She has no kids to take care of her when she is old.
On main road. Industrial school. Selling something, Carrying a bag of soybeans. With my best friend. I live near airport. It was 7pm. Two men jumped me. I was with a friend. She could run faster cause she wasn't carrying anything. They started screaming at me. Stopped me and told me to take off my clothes or we will kill you. They raped me. I got pregnant. Don't know which one of their babies it is. My wedding was supposed to happen in October. When my dad heard I was raped, he said instead of giving back the dowry, they should kill me. I ran away. I thought of getting an abortion. I kept the baby. Named her Joyeuese.
I don't want to give my name. My community doesn't know what happened to me. I won't give the name of my rapist if I do, they will bring him to the police, He will get out and rape me again. I was 10 and a half when I was raped. It was an old man. He took me and tied with ropes. He put a stick in my mouth. I stopped coming to school. I am an orphan. I was raped in a house a second time. Rape was something I did not expect,. It comes in my dreams.
The soldiers came and told 5 women to come with them. Two of them had babies. 2 mothers asked questions and were killed on the way. One bullet went through a mother and her baby. By the time they got to forest there were only 2 women, Lumo and her friend. Brought them in the forest. Men from the country. Interahamwe. They caught her looking at them and they started to beat her. They were afraid of being identified. 50 of them raped her and her friend. She lost her mind. Began at 2:30 and went on till 7pm. They shoved grass in my mouth and tied me with my clothes. After I couldn't walk. They used my clothes and dragged me on the ground. The next day a hunter found me. I was hospitalized for three years. I have fistula from the rapes. I still after 9 operations have fistula. I was going to be married. My husband left me after the rapes. He got his dowry back. My friend ended up dying.
Men threw her to ground, She banged her head. She fought one off. The other soldier accused the soldier of being a girl. He raped her and picked up her baby. She was sure he was going to throw the baby against a wall. He threw baby on bed. Then they set the house on fire. Locked her in the house while it was burning Her brother let her out. She went back for the baby and was burned from head to toe. She ran and jumped in the lake which was a very bad idea. The baby died three days later.
I had no value until I came here. People were afraid of me. They thought I was a monster. Then they changed when they heard my story,
Seven months pregnant when she was raped .He was hitting my hips telling me to move the way I move when I make love to my husband. I felt something coming out.
Husband left me after even though he watched her being raped. They had a gun to his head and he was on his knees. The next day he accused me of liking it.
Left me with five kids, kicked us out of the house. My family left me.
When I hear a boom, I am terrified. The pain they felt when they took my leg over my head as they raped me. They leg was lose and they were pulling it. I was screaming the pain was so great. I had 2 surgeries-nothing they could do. Head of the thigh bone was gone,. I will be on crutches for the rest of my life.
"I've always been courageous. Always will be courageous. If the military want to kill me for telling my story, I am ready to die."
For more information on the Stop Raping Our Greatest Recourse: Power To The Women and Girls of the DRC Campaign please visit www.vday.org/drcongo