No woman should ever experience the atrocities women at the City of Joy have gone through. As I watched the City of God documentary –the sufferings these women endured, the evils men inflicted upon their bodies and minds, and the unimaginable impunity around sexual assaults– I got upset and felt powerless. These women could have been anyone’s sisters, cousins or aunties.
Rape in Congo is truly a monster that must be destroyed. For years now, thousands of Congolese women are victims of systematic rape. This has, in fact, become a weapon of war in Congo, leaving behind traumatised women who struggle to pull through. City of Joy gives a voice to some of these women, and their stories are not for the faint-hearted.
Jane’s story, rape in Congo must end
Jane lives in the City of Joy. She recalls the atrocities and struggles she’s now learnt to live with. One night, rebels took her and her uncle to a forest, where they chopped her uncle’s arms and legs before they tied her to a tree and raped her. I was in tears when she told this horrific story.
That was only a small fraction of the evils and atrocities Jane endured over many years. Her only crime is to be a woman in Eastern Congo. Other women told their nightmares too, and every single one of their stories seemed like it had come from a horror movie scenes, with gruesome details of the evils done by cold-hearted torturers.
Even our children… War really destroys people’s humanity
In the inhumane war that has ravaged the DRC for over 20 years, children are not spared. A six months old baby was raped and died in the arms of Christine, a City of Joy’s co-founder. As a mother of a little girl, I was and still am enraged. Like Christine, if I could, I would make those monsters pay for the evil they’ve done. How could these men be so barbaric, so cruel… How do they live with so much evil in their minds?
Reviving hope amongst victims of rape in Congo
City of Joy is also a story of hope and resilience. It is first and foremost a safe rehabilitation space for victims of rape who had been treated at Dr Mukwege’s Panzi Hospital. The women live there for six months before returning to their communities, empowered. Dr Mukwege, Christine and the support staff at the City of Joy check on these women regularly. They listen to them, and patiently coach them to self-love. Behind the big walls of this safe haven, many women find their place. They are no longer society’s rejects in this caring community.
When they smiled, danced with joy, and laughed during their self-defence or leadership classes, my heart lightened up a bit. They were healing from very traumatic past experiences, and their resilience and courage to move on are truly heroic. Their stay at the City of Joy helps them find a sense of belonging, joy, and determination to their stories and speak up against rape. They also pledge to make a positive impact in their communities. Like Mama Masika, a victim of rape in Congo who supported women and children in her community until her death in 2016, there’s hope that these women too will become beacons of light in their homes.
Let’s break the silence, for these women and many more across war-torn Congo…
As these women share their stories with me, you and the rest of the world, they are making a difference: they are breaking the silence on the atrocities that they and other Congolese women and girls have been going through for more than two decades. Their stories hurt me to my core as a woman and a mother. We must all do more to break the silence about what is happening in Eastern Congo. Rape in Congo, as a weapon of war, must end!
The dedication and work Dr Mukwege, Christine and the whole City of Joy’s team put in these women’s transformation is remarkable, inspiring, and deserving of our support. Every year 180 women graduate from City of Joy, with skills and some means to re-integrate their communities. Like Dr Mukwege and the team at the City of Joy, you too can give these women hope for a better future. Please click here to find out how you will help one or more women in the City of Joy or here on how you can donate to Dr Mukwege’s Panzi Hospital.