It's a moment for revolutions. Some are loud and measured in the millions. Some are tearing down dying regimes. Some are quieter, characterized by the slow but steady building of a new paradigm. A Congolese woman in an orange Day-Glo vest perches on a ladder and adds a brick to the growing wall -- that's a picture, one you haven't seen, of a less publicized revolution.
V-Day, playwright Eve Ensler's global movement to end violence against women and girls, has created a new model in development: the City of Joy. Last Friday, the city -- located in Bukavu, a provincial capital in the Democratic Republic of Congo -- officially opened its doors as a place where Congolese survivors of sexual violence can heal from the past and look to the future -- personally and politically. Thanks to V-Day, UNICEF, and their local partners, every year,180 women will have the opportunity to receive therapy and training in technology and media skills, allowing them to come to grips with their stories and then tell them to the world. It is a place where a new kind of humanitarian aid and economic and political development is being invented. The dream is big; the potential impact is vast.
Though it may be the most organized and resourced, the City of Joy is not the first recent example of women triumphing in the darkest of times. Media broadcasts, newspapers, and tweets have focused the world's attention on revolutions like that taking place in Egypt, but less sensational shifts are also occurring all the time. Women are rising from the ashes of their destroyed homelands.
As depicted so artfully in the documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, thousands of Liberian women stood up to warlords and guerilla fighters in 2003 and then ushered in a new era with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in power.
In a Somalia still recovering from civil war that has raged since the 1990s, Dr. Hawa Abdi and her two daughters, Deco and Amina, created their own haven for refugees. They built a hospital on what used to be their 200-acre family farm. They not only treat the 90,000 people who live there but also provide education and economic-empowerment opportunities. Dr. Abdi, 63, even turned a storage shed into a makeshift jail to detain abusive husbands. Abdi was held hostage for a week last May by al-Qaeda-linked militants who were, according to CBS News, "furious that a woman had become a leader to so many." She reportedly told them, "If you want to kill me kill me, no problem; someday I have to die." She was set free.
Across the world, in the devastated country of Haiti, a similar effort is rising through different means. The only women's right group in the city of Jacmel, Haiti -- Fanm Deside (Women Decide) -- has decided to tackle an increase in sexual assaults against girls and women by creating civilian nighttime patrols. Fanm Deside hasn't yet leveraged its violence-prevention work into political clout, per se, but the group is making alliances with domestic and international powers.
The women in all of these countries are demonstrating great political opportunity in profound national instability. If there is anything "positive" about enduring state and interpersonal violence, it is that it often pushes women to finally use their own voices -- loudly, clearly, and in service of pursuing peace.
This isn't just an empowering side effect for women but a protective measure for all citizens. As a recent study in North and South Kivu provinces and the Ituri district in Congo demonstrates, 40 percent of adult women self-report enduring sexual violence, but an astonishing 24 percent of adult men do, too. Everyone is better protected when political power is more equally distributed and violence is halted. A diversity of perspectives and an array of accountability from the grassroots to government levels is an inoculation, of sorts, against corruption and violence.
The City of Joy will become another demonstration -- one with the unparalleled publicity and financial resources of V-Day behind it -- that humanitarian aid should not stop with food and water and a sense of basic safety. People in war-torn countries need more than that. They need loving community, inspiring environments, tools for expressing themselves -- and that is a goal these women are helping to achieve.
Turning our attention to Egypt right now is key. The spirited destruction of old and corrupt institutions is certainly captivating. But the quiet building up of new institutions, brick by brick, can be just as inspiring if we look and listen closely enough.
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