I’m usually good at handling my emotions, rarely letting off emotive outbursts. But last night, as I watched the City of Joy documentary on Netflix, I felt this heavy pain building up in my chest, creeping up to my throat. I was almost grasping for air. So, I burst out crying. No woman should ever experience the atrocities the women at the City of Joy have gone through.
Thousands of Congolese women have been and continue to be victims of barbaric sexual assaults as rape is used as a weapon of war in Congo. Not all of them pull through after those horrific aggressions. City of Joy tells stories of Congolese women who have survived rape in Eastern Congo. These women could have been my cousins or aunts who still live in Eastern Congo. This documentary gives them a voice to tell their stories to the world. Their account of the nightmares they’ve come through is not for the faint-hearted.
How would you feel if your sister or friend told you that one night, she was taken to a forest with her uncle, where their assailants chopped her uncle’s arms and legs before they tied her to a tree and raped her. I know I would be in tears, I was in fact in tears when Jane, one of the women at the City of Joy told this story. That was only a small fraction of the evil and atrocities Jane endured over many years for being a defenceless woman in Eastern Congo. Other women told their nightmares too, and every single one of their stories seemed like it had come from horror movie scenes, with gruesome details of the evils done by cold-hearted torturers.
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, one of City of Joy’s co-founders. As a mother of a 3-year-old girl, I was and still am enraged. Like Christine, I feel that I could 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?
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 them regularly, they listen to them, and patiently coach them to self-love. Behind the big walls of this safe haven, these women find their place and a caring community, they are no longer society’s rejects.
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 look forward are truly heroic. Their stay at City of Joy helps them find a sense of belonging, joy, and determination to speak up about their rape. They also pledge to make a positive impact in their communities. Like Mama Masika, a victim of rape who went on supporting many other 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.
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.
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 in 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.