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PLOS BLOGS Speaking of Medicine and Health

A City of Joy in the midst of hell

In 2009 we published a harrowing and compelling paper on the work done by the Panzi hospital in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which Margot Wallstrom, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict calls the “rape capital of the world”. The dispassionate nature of the paper didn’t hide the terrible nature of the work they undertake daily, which we commented on in a linked editorial.

The trouble of course with papers such as this is that however much one sympathises with the topic it is all too easy to read it and forget it—journals, like newspapers, move on to the next topic very quickly.

But this story has not gone away. This was shown only too clearly in an article by Katherine Viner in the Guardian this weekend. Though the article had a good news story to tell, that of the women who have risen above the violence to build for themselves a place of sanctuary—the marvellously named “City of Joy”—the underlying story, the reason that such a refuge is needed, remains a horrific one of systematic and sustained violence, almost beyond comprehension.  Robin Hammond, a photojournalist,  has documented this violence in pictures and words.
The article probes some of the potential reasons for the level of violence; the large numbers of brutalised men; many previous child soldiers; the years of brutal colonial rule; the normalisation of violence within Congolese society; the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.
There can’t be any easy solutions for what is now such an endemic problem; one can only hope that these women’s aspirations will be a start and that by repeatedly highlighting this problem the rest of the world will be forced to pay attention.

The article ends by quoting astonishing words from the Congolese ambassador to the US, Faudi Mitfu: “City of Joy shows that even when a woman has been terribly tortured, she can still stand and build…Today we build City of Joy. Tomorrow we build our country.”

  1. Re: Congo potential reasons for violence – the years of brutal colonial rule? Which ended fifty years ago? And the really brutal part of which ended in 1907 when the Congo Free State was transferred to the Belgian State? Quite a reach.

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