To date, 1028 women have graduated from the CITY OF JOY. 1028 women who have healed, nurtured, studied, empowered & joined into a network of love and revolution. 1028 women who have released massive trauma and horrific memories. 1028 women who have danced, sung, learned their rights, performed plays, developed agricultural skills, come to love their bodies. 1028 women who have become leaders in their communities, and are no longer stigmatized for being raped. They are forces forces of energy and determination, entrepreneurs of small business, initiators of collectives, restaurants owners, farmers with new land, educators and advocates on sexual violence, volunteers in a self-created recruiting network for new women at COJ, journalists, immigration workers, tailors, students, herbalists. 42 graduates are employed at V-World Farm.

City of Joy serves 90 survivors of gender violence aged 18 to 30 at a time. As we end 2017, the City of Joy has graduated OVER 1000 WOMEN LEADERS.

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CITY OF JOY in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo

City of Joy is a transformational leadership community for women survivors of violence, located in Bukavu, in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a region plagued by an ongoing proxy war for the area’s vast mineral resources. As the regional conflict has played out since 1996, widespread political upheaval, displacement, disease and unimaginable sexual violence have ripped apart communities. While the devastation is deep, Congolese communities are moving forward with an eye on building a peaceful and equitable future.

City of Joy was conceived, is owned, and is run by Congolese, the center has flourished since it first opened its doors in 2011, healing women from their past trauma through therapy and life skills programming, while providing them with the essential ingredients needed to move forward in life – love and community. It is supported by V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls founded by playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler) in 1998.

Women leaving the City of Joy have had the opportunity to heal from their emotional wounds, live in community, recognize their leadership potential and gain valuable skills they can apply to their lives, future ventures and engagement in civic life. The transformation is breathtaking. In a society that has for the most part rejected women survivors of violence it is extraordinary to see a group of women so empowered and determined.

Through an intensive program, women are successfully learning invaluable skills that they can apply to their lives as leaders in Congolese community. Graduates have integrated back into their communities as true leaders, sharing the skills and information they learned at the City of Joy with their peers and families, starting non profits including orphanages and homes for the elderly, launching small businesses, leading at the community level, working as journalists, as farmers, and returning to school to further their education. In so many ways, the center is a success.

The City of Joy is different than other traditional NGO direct-service programs. It does not use a sponsorship model, and it does not view the women it serves as individuals that need to be saved; rather, the City of Joy aims to provide women with the opportunity to heal and redirect themselves in a community, on their own terms. Its philosophy is grounded in the beliefs that:

  • Each woman is unique, valuable to her society, and has a right to be treated with dignity, respect, love, and compassion
  • Women are not broken “victims”; rather they are survivors who have been through unjust gender traumas
  • Each woman is capable of activating her own ability to recover, heal, and be an empowered and transformational leader
  • Rebirth is possible

Time magazine recently wrote about City of Joy in its March international cover story on rape entitled, “The Secret War Crime”.  In the article survivor and now staff member at City of Joy, Jane Mukunilwa was interviewed about the program: “The therapy, says Mukunilw, lets women understand that the rape was not their fault. The life skills and leadership training gain them confidence, and the nurturing atmosphere enables them to build support networks that last long after the program finishes. Graduates are expected to establish women’s support groups when they go home and become leaders in their community. “People think that, after being raped, you are just a victim,” says Mukunilwa. “What City of Joy taught me is that life goes on after rape. Rape is not the end. It is not a fixed identity.””



The City of Joy’s revolutionary Vagina Warrior Program aims to provide a safe and empowering community for survivors of gender violence who have demonstrated leadership qualities. The focus is on healing trauma, building self-esteem and skills, and training women leaders.  The range of activities women experience over the course of their stay is breathtaking. From leadership training on rights awareness, judiciary, community activism, media and communications to specialized psychosocial care, massage, self-defense and comprehensive sexuality education, the center prepares women to not only integrate back into their communities with confidence, but to lead. Women graduate having conquered literacy and English, and are exposed to everything from physical education, culinary arts, theater and dance to craft-making and on-site farming and agro-pastoral training at V-World Farm, the center’s sister program. At the tech center, women learn basic computer literacy, helping to better prepare them for the current global workplace.

Graduates leave City of Joy as fierce, capable women committed to their communities and the future of Congo. City of Joy staff keep in close touch as they transition back into life outside of the City of Joy, via text, phone, and in person visits. Many return as alumna to celebrate new graduating classes.



The idea for the City of Joy was homegrown. When Dr. Denis Mukwege of Panzi Hospital invited V to travel Bukavu in 2007 to meet with and learn from women survivors of violence, she was most interested in knowing what solutions they felt would work in the face of such horrible violence. It was these women who birthed the idea of the City of Joy, saying what they most wanted was a place to live in community so that they could heal – in essence, they wanted a place to turn their pain to power. And so the City of Joy was born. Under the leadership of Belgian – Congolese activist Christine Schuler Deschryver and in partnership with women survivors, construction for the City of Joy began in August 2009, down the road from Panzi Hospital. V-Day opened the City of Joy in February 2011 and the first class of women began in June 2011.

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City of Joy, the film, tells the story of the first class of women at City of Joy, and chronicles the process by which such a revolutionary place came to be, from its origins with the women survivors themselves, to the opening of the center’s doors. Directed by first-time director Madeleine Gavin, produced by Allyson Luchak, executive produced by Dan Cogan, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Regina K. Scully, Amy Rao, and Wendy Schmidt, co-produced by Jenny Raskin, and shot by cinematographer Taylor Krauss, the film provides an unprecedented window into the lives of the women the center serves. It also gives the audience a glimpse into the unlikely friendship that develops when a devout Congolese doctor, Dr. Denis Mukwege, (2016 Nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize), radical playwright and activist, V, (Tony Award winning playwright of The Vagina Monologues and founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising) and a charismatic Belgian – Congolese human rights activist, Christine Schuler Deschryver, (Director of the City of Joy) join forces to create this safe haven in the middle of violence-torn Eastern Congo.

Through the course of the film, we meet the women of the first class to go through the program and learn about their pasts, fears and hopes. One of them is Jane, age 36, who survived unthinkable violence and healed herself during her time at City of Joy. Her story guides us through the film.



Inspired to do something?

Support the work of City of Joy: The City of Joy and V-Day’s Congo related work would not be possible without the generosity of countless individuals. Your generous donation is the wind at their backs, helping young Congolese women transform their pain into power.

DONATE today – visit drc.vday.org/donate

READ more about City of Joy – visit drc.vday.org

SCREEN THE FILM: Host a screening of City of Joy, the film, in your community. For more information, email us at cityofjoy (at) vday.org

STAY CONNECTED: To receive updates about the center and the film – future screenings, and more, visit drc.vday.org/subscribe