On February 4, many Congolese women were given a new ray of hope while commemorating the opening of City of Joy, a center in Bukavu, South Kivu province, where survivors of sexual violence can reignite their spirits and gain skills equipping them to become leaders in their communities. Eastern Congo is currently one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman, due to a violent conflict that has been raging for over a decade. Armed groups, both Congolese and foreign, use rape as a weapon of war to disperse, intimidate, and control mineral rich communities for their own personal gain.
City of Joy, built by Eve Ensler, head of well-known international women’s rights group V-day, in conjunction with UNICEF and the Panzi Foundation, marks a significant investment in Congo’s women as agents of change. Women in Congo continue to bear the disproportionate impact of this brutal conflict, and as this project indicates, Congo’s women will be instrumental in ushering in a new era of peace.
"City of Joy is the culmination of years of blood, sweat, tears, and dreams,” said Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast. “It is a citadel of hope for women and girls throughout eastern Congo, but it is also a wider symbol for a better future for the country and its embattled people. The will and commitment of the Congolese women who have built the City of Joy is awe-inspiring, and Eve Ensler's vision for change and devotion to Congo is unparalleled."
U.S. and international leaders joined Ensler at the opening ceremony, including Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador At Large for Global Women’s issues, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström, and U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). Celebrity supporters including U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Charlize Theron, Rosario Dawson, Dylan McDermott, and Naomi Klein were also present.
Decision makers who commemorated the center opening are called on to remain steadfast in their commitment to deliver durable peace to Congo’s women – a peace that can only be delivered through the unwavering support of efforts on the ground, such as City of Joy, along with policy-based initiatives that tackle the drivers of the conflict, such as conflict minerals regulation and security sector reform. Together they hold the promise of bringing about an environment that returns long-term peace to Congo’s women and girls.