V-Day Congo Director and acclaimed women's rights activist Christine Schuler Deschryver met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday, August 11 in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Among those also in the meeting were Dr. Denis Mukwege, Founder of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu and the V-Men's movement, and Chouchou Namegabe of AFEM Women's Media Association. Mrs. Clinton's trip to Congo was reported as extraordinary for a Secretary of State as she brought a sharp focus to the ongoing sexual atrocities against women in the DRC, as well as worldwide attention. We applaud Mrs. Clinton and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer for their commitment to the women and girls of the DRC, and thank them for hearing our call.
Following is Christine's update from the meeting:
Hope among atrocities
On Monday, Dr. Mukwege (Founder of the Panzi hospital), Chouchou Namegabe (AFEM - Women's Media Association) and I took the boat for a 3 hour ride across the lake from Bukavu to Goma to take part in a panel on sexual gender violence in the DRC with U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton....it's now the dry season here but it doesn't change anything on the beauty of our Kivu.
When we arrived in Goma, we didn't have time to check in at the hotel and went straight to Heal Africa hospital to prepare for the visit of Mrs. Clinton and try to put together with all our colleagues from north Kivu the best methodology to convey our messages in a short period of time, lots of discussions but at the end we distributed the role to everyone...after leaving the meeting we were all very down and started to wonder what we were doing there, wondered if she will listen to us, wonder if it will just be another visit like we already had thousands of, with only "beautiful speeches" and promises. After a good family meal at Ester Ntoto's house (one of our amazing V-DAY activists based in Goma), we felt a little better and decided to go and rest.
On Wednesday, we met again (Dr. Mukwege, Chouchou, Ester and I) to prepare our discussion and to finalize the memo with our recommendations. Mrs. Clinton arrived a little later than expected and greeted all of us very warmly before going on a talk with two survivors. She said in an interview how overwhelmed she was about what she saw and heard and couldn't find words to describe the level of suffering and atrocities.
In the panel, there were 7 of us, mostly V-DAY activists, and all over the walls were our big campaign posters - STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE: POWER TO THE WOMEN AND GIRLS OF DRC. Before we started with the discussion, Secretary of State Clinton announced publicly that the U.S. Government will provide a $17 million plan to fight sexual violence in DRC. This money will be used to train doctors, supply rape survivors with mobile phones and cameras to document violence, to train a special police force essentially with female police officers to fight the violence against women, etc.... We were of course very happy.
She then listened attentively to each one of us and many times I saw tears in her eyes, I didn't really feel I had the Secretary of State next to me but we all had the feeling we were just between women, she was so humble, so human, so sensitive, she paid so much attention that I sometimes felt she was swallowing our words, for the first time since a decade hope was permitted among all the atrocities...
In our recommendations, we have asked for the following:
Mrs. Clinton said that she doesn't have a magic wand but in spite of this we absolutely have to work together to ensure the meeting results in real change and that she delivers. Like she said, "I hope that we will see the changes from within and outside that will lead to the end of these problems so that our children will not even know what we were talking about."
- To help DRC to control and regulate trade of natural resources (the main cause of the war)
- To help end the impunity of criminals and prosecute offenders in the Congolese Military
- To call upon neighboring countries to find a political solution with their citizens (militias and other who still live in DRC)
- To help DRC to have a good police force (essentially of women) and army
READ The New York Times coverage of Clinton's visit to Goma - "Clinton Presents Plan to Fight Sexual Violence in Congo"
LISTEN to Christine's Interview with Democracy Now on the meeting with Clinton
READ the transcript of the meeting >
For more information on V-Day's global campaign STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE: Power To The Women and Girls of the Democratic Republic of Congo, please visit vday.org/drc.
New V-Moment: Voices of Grassroots Congolese Women on the Crisis in the DRC - http://www.vday.org/vmoment/congo