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Saturday, March 7, 2009

V-Day Views from The Carter Center

President Joseph Kabila and wife

Children of gang-raped survivors and a tiny rape victim

I attended Eve Ensler's V-Day "Turning Pain to Power" program at The Carter Center in Atlanta, GA, on Monday, February 23, 2009, at 8 PM. It was a must-attend, historic event for me, as I greatly admired Eve's play, The Vagina Monologues, and I yearned to know more about my African sisters. As I write this blog entry, I am gazing at the pink and white VDAY: A Global Movement To End Violence Against Women And Girls brochure from the program. From it, I learn that the V in V-Day represents Victory, Valentine, and Vagina.

The purport of Eve Ensler's five-city speaking tour was to expose the violence against women and girls in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). The tour featured Eve and her quietly eloquent, French-speaking guest speaker, Dr. Denis Mukwege, winner of the 2008 UN Human Rights Prize and Founder of the PANZI Hospital in Bukavu. In the above photo taken by Paula Allen, the photographer on Eve's November and July 2007 trips to the Congo, award-winning playwright Eve Ensler and Dr. Mukwege bask in the glory of the City of Joy celebrations. The result of the combined efforts of V-Day and UNICEF, the City of Joy is a much-needed refuge for Congolese women who survive torture and rape. The project will offer women education and income-generating opportunities, as well as training in activism and leadership.
Dr. Mukwege was an engaging speaker.
His subdued, unassuming demeanor cloaked the spirit of a lion. He spoke from a center seat on the stage, between his African interpreter and Eve Ensler, who directed select questions to him regarding the horrendous web of violence consuming the lives of girls and women in the Congo today. These women and girls have endured the atrocities of gang rape and torture for years now, in the face of the world's back, with the UN, seemingly, the only organization with these violated, black African women on its agenda.

In beautifully modulated French, Dr. Mukwege spoke of his first staff of hospital workers, whom soldiers executed before his eyes. The intent was to terrify him and send the message that what he was doing to physically repair wounded women was unappreciated. But the lion continued to roar. He went on to become the director and founder of another facility, the Panzi Hospital of Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. There, he heals the broken bodies of girls and women torn apart by gang rapes. He does what he can to help them reestablish themselves in income-generating opportunities. I loved the story he told of a Congolese woman who had departed the hospital with $20 and resurfaced again, much later, a woman on the cusp of building a new home with funds from her new income-generating enterprise.

I admired Dr. Mukwege for not allowing the powers-that-be to post a military presence at the hospital, so that the already traumatized women and girls wouldn't be further terrorized by the armed men when they showed up at the hospital seeking surgery and healing. He expressed a tender concern for the women, who had to return to their villages, stigmatized, after having been gang raped publicly. I listened to him, wondering how these women were going to reenter their villages with the taint of rape? These were usually circumcised women, stitched and acquainted with pain from the celebrated butchery of the removal of their clitoris and labia major and minor; women who were less than third-class citizens in a male-dominated society that valued their brutalized virginity. How were they to stand up again as respected wives and mothers and daughters?
The City of Joy and Panzi will need to offer not only income-generating opportunities, but also psychological support for raped women and girls to heal. The photo of the little girl with her back facing Paula Allen's camera was a victim of gang rape. What sort of assistance must she require to stand as a peer to the little boys standing around her? What sort of help would they need to accept her?

The tour was designed to expose the violence in the Congo. It did that successfully, down to informing the audience, who must have gasped collectively, when the doctor alluded to women being shot in the vagina. The image that the words conjured was devastating. How could one human being do that to another human being? Didn't the perpetrators have mothers, grandmothers, possibly sisters, daughters, nieces and perhaps grandchildren? It was unfathomable. And when the audience got the opportunity to question Dr. Mukwege in a brief question-and-answer segment, a Congolese doctor wanted to know how such brutality could go on for years. The audience hushed. Batted its lashes, awaiting a reply. Eve spoke up, to great applause. Because the women and girls are black, she said, and no where could this go on for so long, if that fact were not so. She mentioned public, gang rapes in Bosnia and how fast it took such abuse to stop, when the world caught wind of it. Yet black African women and girls were bearing up under gang rape as though it were a common occurrence because they were dark natives of a dark continent, and who cared?

The speaking tour proposed to explore the causes of the brutality, which I don't think it did. Economic reasons, the doctor noted, although he didn't delve into details. One had the impression he was yet reeling under the causes of the turmoil himself. I can say here, though, Eve shed light on an element, the name of which I don't remember, found in mines, that the world uses in cell phones and video games, is found in mines near areas where women and girls are abused the most. And, finally, the tour was to share the stories of the Congo's growing movement of women leaders. Eve indicated that these women didn't need her to come to the Congo and tell them how to liberate themselves. They needed resources and funds and facilities, and they, fierce, lioness-hearted souls, could light their own paths.
Now, this, I gathered firsthand, was more than likely gospel, if the three bodacious African sisters who brushed me away from Dr. Mukwege to snatch him backward so they could take a snapshot with him was any indication of their temperaments. A vast improvement to the "Turning Pain to Power" speaking tour would have been a woman leader, who rendered a personalized account of their healing work in the DRC.
If you should want to learn more about V-Day and its efforts around the world, visit the official website. There you can add your voice to the "V-Wall For Congo" and sign up to host a Congo Teach-In as well as donate and educate yourself.
Surfing the site, I learned how Eve Ensler exposed the flight of Congolese women and girls in an article for Glamour magazine. I read accounts of how Eve's work was impacting people across the globe. I admired evidence of Eve's victory, valentine and vagina power for women in New Orleans, the Middle East, South Dakota, Haiti, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan. From the brochure I mentioned earlier in this article, I learned of the V-Day victories since 1996, nationally and internationally, and I was astounded. Eve has truly been busy, making it happen in honor of aiding oppressed, victimized women and girls regardless of race, creed, color, or religion.
Then I had the inclination to see the leader of the DRC, President Joseph Kabila Kabange. That is how I can across the Internet photo of Kabila and his wife pictured above. I read articles of what the 30-something leader is doing to work with neighboring leaders to end the abuse on his country's women and children, including child soldiers and gang-raped girls. Consequently, I even discovered Kabila's e-mail,
Peace, healing, love, and blessings to wounded women and children everywhere,

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