You’ve probably heard of the 1994 genocide that took 800,000 lives and witnessed up to 500,000 rapes in only 100 days. You may be less familiar with neighboring DR Congo, where the same roots of conflict have fostered a war more deadly than any since WWII, where hundreds of thousands of women are estimated to have been raped and where the violence wages on today. Yet despite this brutal history of conflict, poverty and loss, it is on the border of these two countries — Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo — where less than one month from now thousands of survivors of war, genocide, torture and rape, will gather — not in mourning, but in unity, determination and celebration.
100 years after the declaration of an international day for women on March 8th, women worldwide have yet to reach full equality in all aspects of life. In times of war, they are still the targets of massive rape, torture, displacement and pillaging. The difference this time is that women are speaking out and stand united as they break their silence, demand an immediate end to war and the building of sustainable peace that can allow them to plant, harvest, go to work, send their children to schools, and dance, live and eat without any fear.
It is a day on which they will hang their hopes for peace and prosperity even as, in a vibrant display of unity, they tie together banners of fabric on which they’ve painted their visions for this peaceful future. Initially, you may only see them for their poverty, but when you get to know them, as I and my colleagues have in the process of working with women survivors of wars in the past 17 years, you will know that they are strong women, resilient woman, women who refused to give up, women who refused to be silent, women who kept life going for their families in spite of their circumstances. In respect and honor of their voices and the voices of every woman who has faced injustice and decided to break her silence, in honor of every woman who decided to stand up with her sisters and echo their voices in one united voice, we join with these women to let the world hear our roar and listen for once to what women have to say. And so, on this March 8th, 2010 the centennial anniversary of International Women’s Day, I am proud to announce that thousands of women in New York, Sarajevo, London and many other cities are standing together to honor the resilience of millions of women survivors of war around the world as part of Women for Women International’s global campaign, . Because the women of Rwanda and Congo are not alone.
In the 21st century, you would think the data about women’s circumstances worldwide have improved. But alas, not by much. Women are still 70% of the world’s poor, they are still 75% of the civilians killed in war (along with their children), and still receive only 10% of global income for 66% of the world’s work (UN). Yet, as our Congolese, Rwandese, American, European, Mexican, French, Bosnian, sisters show us, they are survivors whose strength and ability to persevere is immense.
So Join Me, join us, join thousands of women on bridges across divided communities worldwide. Join Honorata who survived a year and a half as a sexual slave in Congo to build three businesses and who now dedicates her life to promoting women’s independence in her home country. Join Violette, a Rwandese woman who lost everything in the genocide and was only able to keep her children alive by smearing blood on their faces and asking them to pretend they were dead. 16 years later, Violette owns her land, sends her kids to school and runs her business out of the home she was able to rebuild. Join Senada who spoke up in Bosnia about the rape she endured. Join Mersada in Kosovo who spoke up about the domestic violence she faced. Join Abby, and Liz, and Beatrice, and Hamide, and Suada and so many women from so many parts of the world as we all meet, tie our fabrics together, dare to imagine peace together, and dare to be loud and clear, showing our determination for the end of war and the establishment of a lasting peace in our lives and the lives of our children.
If these women can stand up to make a difference, so can the rest of us. We can demand attention to this issue, we can demand governments no longer ignore the suffering of women nor their voices and their crucial role in repairing their countries after war. We can unite to help other wives, mothers and sisters all over the globe whose daily existence is a challenge. After all, if we don’t speak up, who will?
Ours is an unprecedented call to action: let all who support peace and development for women, their families and communities Join Us on the Bridge. You can join a global movement of women uniting for peace and prosperity. All around the U.S. and all around the world women are organizing events to honor and echo the voices of women survivors of war on International Women’s Day. You can , , or that you believe women are the key to global peace and development.