Sunday, February 8, 2009

Eve Ensler and Dr. Denis Mukwege on speaking tour of USA

Dear Friends,

I am inviting you to attend an evening of discussion with Eve Ensler, V-Day Founder and author of the Vagina Monologues, and Dr. Denis Mukwege, Director and Founder of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC. They are on a 5-city speaking tour of the US to raise global awareness of the atrocities against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Dr. Mukwege is a surgeon who has been treating women victims of sexual violence in DRC since 1996, founding Panzi Hospital for that reason. In 2008 he received both the “African of the Year” award and the prestigious UN “Humanitarian Award in the Field of Human Rights” for his work with rape victims and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Newly constucted women's wing at Panzi Hospital

In partnership with Panzi Hospital and UNICEF, V-Day Founder Eve Ensler is planning to build the City of Joy in Bukavu, which will be a refuge for women survivors and provide them with education, income-generating opportunities, activism and leadership training.

I will be attending their discussion at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco at 8:00pm on February 19th. Come join me and other friends of Congo in San Francisco for dinner before the event. It will be wonderful for everyone to meet each other!

The tour visits New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and Washington, DC.

For reservations, see Itinerary below:

Wednesday, February 11, 8PM – New York, NY"Turning Pain To Power in the Congo - Dr. Denis Mukwege In Conversation with Eve Ensler"
Location: 92nd Street Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall – Lexington at 92nd Street, NYC
Tickets: $27, on sale now
For tickets and more info, visit

Saturday, February 14, 8PM – Los Angeles, CA
V-Day USC Performance of "The Vagina Monologues" with special guest speakers Eve Ensler and Dr. Denis Mukwege
Location: USC Campus, Bovard Auditorium, University of Southern California, 3601 Trousdale Parkway
Tickets: $18 general admission, $12 students – on sale now

Wednesday, February 18, 6PM – Redwood City, CA
The World Affairs Council and Global Philanthropy Forum host Dr. Denis Mukwege interviewed by Eve Ensler
Location: Hotel Sofitel, Redwood City, CA
Tickets: $25 Members and Non-Members, $15 Students – on sale now

Thursday, February 19, 8PM – San Francisco, CA
City Arts & Lectures "Art & Politics" features Dr. Denis Mukwege interviewed by Eve Ensler,
Location: Herbst Theater, San Francisco
Tickets: $20, on sale now
For tickets and more info, visit

Monday, February 23, 8PM – Atlanta, GA
Dr. Denis Mukwege In Conversation with Eve Ensler, introduced by Pat Mitchell, V-Day Board Member and President and CEO, the Paley Center for Media,

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Widows of Walungu Territory

There are many widows in Walungu territory south of Bukavu.

Some of their husbands were killed during war, and others died trying to protect them from sexual violence. Some of these women were disowned by their husbands after being systematically raped and tortured while the community was forced to watch. Although not technically ‘widows’, they call themselves that because their husbands are dead to them.

The majority of widows are subsistence farmers, scratching out a living on rented land, struggling to feed their children and grandchildren. They eat the same food every day: fou-fou (tapioca flour and corn meal made into a gooey ball), boiled cassava leaves, beans, bananas, eggs, and occasionally a chicken. Their larger stock-- goats, cattle, pigs-- are long gone, stolen years ago by scavenging armies.

With or without a husband, a woman is at great risk in DRC. Working in the fields here, she is vulnerable to attack by Hutu rebels living in the mountains.

Following the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the Interahamwe, or Hutu death squads, and their families were give asylum by President Mobutu, in what was then called Zaire. Over 1,000,000 Hutus fled to Congo and relocated in IDP camps. The Honorable David Mubalama, Senator to Province of South Kivu, estimates that only 20% of those refugees returned to Rwanda, many now living in the hills of Walungu territory.

(When I visited Bukavu last December, two Hutu women came down out of the hills because their children were sick. They were known to be Hutu, because they did not speak French, Swahili or Mashi, the language of South Kivu.)

It was after the Interahamwe relocated in Congo, around 1996, that the atrocities and brutal sexual violence against women and children began.

Working in the fields, the widows of Walungu are also vulnerable to the Congolese National Army, whose soldiers believe it is their patriotic right to rape any woman and steal whatever they can find. Most of these soldiers are simple, country people, kidnapped while young, child soldiers who are starving because the government never pays them; or if there are wages, it is taken by those out-ranking them. Basically, the national army is given guns and let loose on the Congolese countryside to rape and pillage.

It is well-known that officers in the national army condone sexual violence against women and children, even promote it by telling young recruits that raping a virgin will make them impervious in battle. Encouraging their men to rape and pillage, as well as to commit unspeakable atrocities, are the macabre means that military officers use to keep soldiers from defecting.

It is also a well-known, unofficial fact that when military commanders stand against raping women and children, their soldiers stop doing it. International pressure needs to be brought against President Kabila and his government to take to responsibility for the actions of his National Army and stop the atrocities against innocent men, women and children, or they may one day be brought up on charges by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

With love and gratitude,