Ban Ki-Moon is credited with the statement that “investing in women is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.”
The UN secretary general continues: “In women, the world has at its disposal the most significant and yet largely untapped potential for development and peace. Gender equality is not only a goal in itself, but a prerequisite for reaching all the other international development goals.”
Whether the Korean diplomat made such pronouncements in relation to the “world’s rape capital” that is eastern Congo or whether he was simply bolstering the revolutionary project The City of Joy in that African country is not as important as the need to turn women’s pain to empowerment.
Hollywood actress Charlize Theron, as part of her duties as UN Messenger of Peace, focuses on the need to end violence against women. She was with the V-Day delegation organized by feminist and award-winning playwright Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues) who visited the Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a strife-torn country ruled by Belgium for nearly a century.
V-Day is a movement to end violence against women and girls. Through global campaigns, the movement informs people about the issue, opens shelters and funds thousands of community-based anti-violence programs and safe-houses worldwide.
Bukavu became notorious for decades as the “worst place on earth to be a woman.” According to the United Nations, half a million women were raped since 1988, in bizarre and brutal ways. Injuries to women consisted of their reproductive organs being disfigured all the way to the rectum through unspeakable gang rape coupled with attacks with sticks, guns, bottles.
Ensler called the phenomenon “femicide” and vowed to raise the alarm. This call brought to reality a project called the City of Joy, now an all-female haven where survivors of Congolese gender violence would reside for at least half a year as they are treated psychologically and physically. There, the former victims are educated and eventually empowered.
The playwright wondered why it took so long for the world to act. She concluded that racism had something to do with the delayed action. “When we see conflicts that involve white people, the world responds faster. Bosnia is a perfect example.”
Theron explained: “The knowledge the Congolese women gain at the City of Joy will allow them to return to their homes with tools to help rebuild their lives. The concept seemed innovative and I was particularly drawn to the fact that it was thought up completely by the Congolese women themselves.”
“These women are capable of so much,” the actress added. “A small example is in the construction of the village. V-Day chose a mostly female construction team, likely a first in the country’s history. Many doubted their capabilities, but the women rose to the challenge. The construction is outstanding and these women, now beginning to understand their own potential, decided to open their own construction business. V-Day gave them a grant to get them started.”
By MAG CRUZ HATOL