Congo Update from Eve Ensler
December 10, 2007
My Dear Friends,
I have just returned from Congo. I only wish all of you could have been with me to witness this unfolding, to witness this change, to witness women taking back their lives, their rights. Their future. I am so proud of this movement. I see now what is possible in a whole new way.
Rather than writing a full narrative as things are still gathering in me, I wanted to just send you some basic images, feelings, thoughts...
Reunion with Dr. Mukwege of Panzi hospital...delight and joy beyond what I can articulate. The longer I know him, the more I witness his work, the more moved I am and the more I learn. His heart is intrinsic in the creation of his vision.
The land for City of Joy...the land for our village of healing and empowerment is a walk from the Panzi hospital. It is gorgeous, lush green, in a valley surrounded by hills. There will be ten houses for a hundred women, and a central house for cooking and therapy and classes. There will be a huge garden where women can grow vegetables and fruits they can eat and sell. Standing on that ground I could feel the energy of a village of joy, a village where raped and terrorized women could stand in safety and find themselves and their way.
On the day of the ground breaking of the City of Joy a stage was built in a day, paths were cleared through the muddy ground (as it has been raining), flowers and decorations hung everywhere, hundreds of women from Panzi, several spoke and told their stories. Dr. Mukwege spoke so beautifully. A tree planting by the women to mark the beginning of life there. Stones were laid, the first one by Noella, who I met on my first trip to Congo back in May. Dancing and singing and more dancing and singing. Joy. Joy. There was so much joy.
A four-hour meeting with the Vice Governor, generals, prosecutors, judges, and hundreds of others (essentially the authorities of Bukavu) to discuss sexual violence and to make recommendations for what should and will be done.
The march to launch the campaign. First miracle: it didn't rain. It was an absolutely clear and beautiful day. Women gathered in the streets coming from every direction. Some walked up to three hours to be there. Some rode in mini buses, some on the back of trucks. Every group working on this issue was represented. Our Unicef partners did extraordinary work. They worked brilliantly for months to pull off a huge event with many many complicated pieces. There was a marching band and and singing. People chanting "Stop Viol, Pouvoir aux Femmes", Stop Rape, Power to the Women! Over 5000 women marched in black. The markets were closed. Women took over Bukavu. There was enormous solidarity and energy.
At the last moment due to the magic of our Christina (our friend on the ground who did much amazing work on this launching) the First Lady of the DRC decided to come to the event. Her presence escalated this whole launch and moved the women of South Kivu deeply. She arrived with the President of Parliament, Ambassadors, Ministers who arrived by helicopter. The stadium was full. All our UN partners were present at the event. There were speeches, an extraordinary performance by a theater troop with a magnificent actor, Justine, who created a piece about raped women. At the end of the piece she screamed out that she had been raped by so many men that she did not know that name of her baby. She was carrying a two-year-old baby and she actually tossed the baby on the lap of the first lady and screamed, "You name my baby. You name my baby!" It was shocking and breathtaking and so courageous. It reminded me of the power of theatre. I think it moved the First Lady deeply. She gave a very emotional speech and decided to extend her stay in Bukavu so she could speak with rape survivors. I gave a speech that was translated into Swahili and I felt happy to have a forum to share my feelings.
More images of the day:
Dr Mukwege in a Vagina Warrior T Shirt.
Women dancing in the streets.
Lots of hugging.
Women feeling that people might actually be paying attention to what is happening to them.
Police officers and generals wearing our Stop Rape buttons.
We met with women from Rwanda who want to join our campaign and support women from the DRC. Simultaneously, there are events and marches happening in Brussels, all over the DRC, Austria, France, America.
Our campaign is launched with huge success. Thousands in the streets, massive press, dignitaries and authorities all focusing on sexual violence against women.
The thing that was said to me over and over, by women on the streets, at Panzi, by diplomats, was please, please keep coming back. Please do not forget us and leave before the violence has ended.
We do not know our power until we begin to exercise it. I saw women all over Bukavu stepping into their power. This power is fierce and gorgeous and undeniable. When enough women step into it, everything will change.
I send you my love and gratitude for all your support and for making this happen.
Wishing you a new year full of peace and joy,