Breaking the Silence in Bukavu
Posted September 21st, 2008 by administrator
I write to you from Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I write living in the midst of the greatest violence and despair and the greatest possibility. I think if we learn anything in the work we do it is that being able to stand in the center of opposites is what eventually makes us free and compassionate. The DRC reminds me of this everyday.
On September 12th and 19th, we had the V-Day/ UNICEF “BREAKNG THE SILENCE” events in Goma and Bukavu in alliance with local groups and activists. We had a great victory. Throughout the two days there were probably between 800-1000 people who attended the event including Senior Congolese government officials, key Ambassadors to the DRC, senior UN officials, civil society, survivors of sexual violence, and campaign activists. There were theater performances and school choirs, and excellent singers. This was an historic event. Women survivors publicly told their stories of sexual violence. 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. Activists offered boxes of Kleenex. Many men were crying. In Goma I sat and held a man who was a pastor who openly wept. Afterwards, there were some speeches. But my favorite moment was a when the women were honored at the end with pink scarves (made in Paris) with the words "I am a Survivor. I can do anything” written in French. As they were given their scarves, I saw a sea of pink liberation. Every single survivor reported that after the experience she felt free. So many people came together in the communities. Just about every grassroots NGO group participated in this events (psychosocial, legal, medical). Women For Women made a wonderful meal and displayed their beautiful crafts. Many reported never knowing about the horrific 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 survivor community were empowered. There were all kinds of international press, the BBC and local African media. Stories are out on the wires.
And, holding the opposite, our hospital, the Panzi Hospital, was attacked by a mob, shattering windows, cars and spirits. It goes like that here, but we move forward. We move back, we move forward. But what’s important is that we are in this together for the long haul, for the people, for the women of the DRC and for all women across this planet who are being undermined and violated in the global epidemic of femicide. After the attack, as I marched in protest with V-Day staff members and the members of Panzi Hospital, I felt their anger at the insecurity of the hospital but what I also felt was the depth of their dedication to the women, to protecting them and healing them and transforming them and their country. As I marched, I also felt all of you with me. The V-Day movement is alive here, in the DRC.
Our campaign, STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE: POWER TO THE WOMEN AND GIRLS OF THE DRC has already had serious impact throughout the country. 90 forums, run by our partner UNICEF in cooperation with local grassroots groups, have energized people across the countryside in North Kivu, educating many activists who are now bringing the message of ending sexual violence to schools, churches, tribal leaders and religious leaders. In some places, they are even beginning to see a lessening of violence. At the same time the catastrophic war in DRC continues—over 3500 women were raped between January and June of this year in North Kivu alone.
As I write to you, I quote one survivor, Janet, who was raped so violently that the rapist pulled the leg out of her socket (she will be permanently handicapped), who, when I asked her if she was afraid to tell her story, said “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.” These words have moved me to be braver, to be more outspoken, to be more strategic, to include more people in making the DRC safe and free for women. For making the world safe and free for women in every corner of this planet.
I urge you to read everything you can about the DRC (please see our resources page). I urge you to fight with all your heart and to find your connection to the women of the DRC as you have found your connection to the women of New Orleans and Iraq and Juarez and Afghanistan, and the other places V-Day brings us. It is in our connection and solidarity that we will find our freedom and power. The Congo is the heart of Africa and Africa is, in many ways, the heart of the world. What happens to the women here affects the flow of life throughout the planet. When we find the way (and we will) to end the violence here we will have created a template and a vision that can be transferred and used everywhere.
I encourage you to break the silence as the women in Goma and Bukavu have done. Remember that the shame of being raped is not ours, but that of the perpetrators. Remember that when we speak the truth, we free everyone to do the same.
You are always with me.
Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo