Update from Eve in Kenya, on Hillary Clinton's Visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo
I have just returned from Nairobi with members of our V-team (Cecile Lipworth, Managing Director - Campaigns & Development; Purva Panday, Director - Programs and Development; and Rada Boric, Croatia Director), V-Board (Carole Black, Katherine McFate, and Pat Mitchell), photographer Paula Allen, and supporter Beth Karpfinger.
I want you to know that this has been a week of miracles. Our time in Kenya revealed that our work is bearing fruit, huge delicious successful fruit. Agnes Pareyio (Founder of the V-Day Safe House) has become a major leader and we are pleased to announce that she has just been appointed V-Day's Kenya Director. She has helped to reduce FGM and child marriage in communities in Massailand significantly, and we can now see a future where it will end. Under her care, the V-Day Safe Houses have become places for girls who run for often long distances in order not to be cut, refuse child marriage (which is tantamount to slavery), go to school. At the new Safe House (which is utterly beautiful, several buildings on gorgeous property) there is a well for water with a windmill. It now provides water for the surrounding community and in a time of drought you can imagine how much this has made the community appreciate Agnes and embrace her ending FGM.
So many other women want Agnes to bring her work to their districts and want to end the practice, that we are now entering the next stage where the work spreads and multiplies. We witnessed classes at the Safe House school, a reconciliation ritual where a girl who ran away to the safe house for over a year to prevent FGM and being sold into early marriage was successfully reunited with her once very angry father and was accepted back into the family without the cut or marriage. We were all present when she came back into her house and it was so emotional. She will now go to school along with her younger sisters who will also be spared FGM. We witnessed the alternative rite of passage ceremony where so many girls graduated, came of age without the cut with their parents present and many male officials in the community who now support Agnes' work and consider themselves V-Men. We watched girls sing, recite poetry, perform theater - all about their rights, all demanding respect, all refusing FGM. We were welcomed and fed and dressed in Masai jewelry and clothes.
In Nairobi, we watched Winnie Anyango and Duncan Bomba Omwani Papa Omundu Umundu train hundreds of school girls in self-defense at Dolphin Anti-Rape and listened to 15 year old Dorkas tell the tale of fighting off two of her potential rapists, both huge, grown men. They kidnapped her in a car and with the skills she was taught she escaped. We saw how many thousands Winnie and Duncan have trained and we saw the impact it has had and is having on girls' self esteem and power.
We visited Kibera and Eastland and met new activists who suffered so terribly during the Kenyan post election violence. We had a meeting in Nairobi where many grassroots women came to talk about the terrible rapes, the poverty, the HIV and the lack of prosecutions and justice. We are envisioning a huge V-Day event in Nairobi - a march, rally, Breaking The Silence, in a stadium, a performance of The Vagina Monologues, produced by long time V-Day activist Mumbi Kaigwa to call for justice and rally the women of Kenya. Date soon to be announced.
We witnessed Agnes who is now a great leader, Winnie and Duncan deeply empowered and strong and Mumbi, fierce and kind and inspirational. (Editor's note: A full photo gallery from the trip will be posted later this month).
While all this was happening Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to Eastern Congo, propelled there by our campaign and the many groups and individuals joined in this effort. She met with our activists: Christine Schuler-Deschryver, Director of V-Day Congo, Esther Noto, V-Day Activist from Goma, Dr. Mukwege, Founder of Panzi Hospital and Godfather of the V-Men's movement and Chou Chou Namegabe Nabintu, President of the South Kivu's Association of Women Journalists (AFEM), her radio media group that V-Day is funding, who brilliantly and passionately put forward strategies and plans of actions that we have worked on for years. For maybe the first time in history a U.S. Secretary of State made the systematic raping of women the reason to visit a country. Clinton's trip to Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) signaled to the world that what happens to women actually matters. She listened to rape survivors, on the ground activists, and will hopefully be moved to action.
For many years activists inside and outside of the Congo have worked tirelessly and invisibly to end the war and stop the insane violence being perpetrated against women and girls. They have built local organizations on shoe string budgets, given shelter and food and counseling to the violated, provided medical treatment for raped women in the middle of war zones, done everything in their power to wake up the world to the war in the Congo, talking, writing, blogging about the facts - the over 5 million dead; the hundreds and thousands of raped and tortured women and girls; the exploitation of minerals which fuels the war; the role of Rwanda and Uganda in fighting their lethal wars inside the Congo; the legacy of colonialism and murder that laid the path to all that is happening now. The visit of Secretary Clinton is a marker of this struggle. And, much work needs to be done. Pressure needs to be sustained.
We need to insist on diplomatic solutions to the war and say no to military solutions. We must make sure that the training of a Congolese women's police force actually happens, hold U.S. corporations accountable for their dealings in the DRC, end impunity by arresting and charging sexual terrorists and making them accountable for their acts, find support for a new Congolese Army, and support local women's groups on the ground.
The $17 million promised by Secretary Clinton is a fine appetizer, a beginning. I would suggest increasing that with $100 million, the equivalent of one months spending for MONUC, the UN Peacekeeping force in the DRC which has failed so miserably to protect women and girls. Give the $100 million dollars directly to grassroots women on the ground. The women of Congo carry up to 200 pounds on their back a day, not to mention the whole country. With this kind of support, I bet they would figure out how to end the war in a few months.
To cap this past week off, construction has begun on City of Joy! I am so proud to say that Congolese women are equally employed on the building crew. (See pictures)
My dear sisters and brothers, V-Day has entered our second wave! We have gotten the door open. Now we need to get our whole body through so it never closes again. We need to go further, to raise the funds needed for this work, to spread the word, to feel the success so it fuels us towards our goal of ending the violence so women can be free and safe.
My love to all of you,