“My first patient in 1999 had been raped, then they stuck a gun into her genitals and fired. Her whole pelvis was destroyed. I thought it was the work of a madman, but the same year I treated 45 similar cases.” – Denis Mukwege
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has had a history of war and conflict that has claimed up to 6 million lives and that continues to plague the country today. The eastern region of the DRC has become known as the “rape capital of the world” and one of the most unsafe places in the world for women due to the high amounts of sexual violence in the midst of conflict, as well as post-conflict. Rape is used as a weapon of war to instill fear and control women. According to a CNN article, approximately 1 woman was raped every minute during the worst periods of conflict in the DRC. While the M23 rebels, who were primarily responsible for the high amounts of rape in the eastern region, finally surrendered last November, sexual violence still has not decreased. According to the Washington Post, the Congolese army, the forces sent to protect the Congolese people from the M23 rebels, have continued the “tradition” of sexual violence by raping numerous women as they please. As a result, while the M23 conflict may officially be over, sexual violence still haunts and affects Congolese women today.
Denis Mukwege is a Congolese gynecologist, also known as “Doctor Miracle”, who has treated over 30,000 victims of sexual violence in the DRC. According to a Huffington Post article, Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital in Bukavu and “has been known to work 18-hour days, performing up to 10 surgeries every day on women’s shattered internal organs after their ordeals.” Two years ago, his home was attacked, his daughters were held hostage by a gang of men, and his guard was killed. Thankfully, the assassination attempt failed and him and his family managed to escape to Sweden. However, the courageous and dedicated doctor came back just 3 months after the incident to continue his work in the DRC.
This past Tuesday, this hero received the prestigious Sakharov Human Rights Prize from the European Union for his brave efforts in the DRC. Previously, he has won many highly-reputable awards, such as UN Human Rights Prize and Clinton Global Citizen Award. However, he has yet to win the Nobel Peace Prize despite being a nominee in 2009. Why has he been overlooked all these years? I look forward to the day that this hero becomes a Nobel Peace Prize winner and is known in every household for his amazing work in the fight against sexual violence in the DRC.
What Can Be Done?
The UN is currently working on providing medical and psycho-social support, specialized police protection, and legal services. Also, the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict has created a multimedia exhibition with the help of award-winning photographer, Pete Muller, and other filmmakers to capture the work of activists in the DRC responding to sexual violence in this conflict area. Local organizations, like SAMWAKI (meaning “A Voice to Rural Women” in Swahili), have been working with a group of victims of sexual violence. They have been providing access to information and training on this issue for rural women through community radio. This means of communication has provided a safe space for victims of sexual violence to share their stories.
Another local organization called SOFEPADI has initiated sewing workshops for the survivors of sexual violence in order to provide a safe space for women to work together and focus on learning a new trade. These groups are doing great work in helping victims of sexual violence move forward with their lives and providing them with a safe, comfortable environment to heal. But, what about preventative measures? What is being done to prevent sexual violence from even occurring? Why are perpetuators not being held accountable for their horrific actions? Why are they not being punished accordingly? And what about education? Education on sex, human rights, and legal rights to Congolese men and women, as well as the army and police forces, could mitigate the risk of sexual violence. After all, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “education is the most powerful tool you can use to change the world.”
1. Democratic Republic of Congo Profile. (2014, September 16). BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13283212
2. DRC: Sexual Violence Victims Another Casulty of War. (2013, January 25). [Video/DVD] Al Qarra English. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nYjK4ZatK4
3. Elgot, J. (2014, October 10). Congo’s Dr. Denis Mukwege Treated 30,000 Victims of War Rape… He’s Still Waiting for a Nobel Prize. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/10/10/congo-war-rape-nobel-priz_n_5964482.html
4. Human Rights Watch. (2014). World report 2014: Democratic Republic of Congo. Retrieved from http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/democratic-republic-congo?page=1
5. Jourdier, M. (2014, October 21). Brave Healer of DR Congo’s Most Horrific Wounds. Yahoo News. Retrieved from https://uk.news.yahoo.com/brave-healer-dr-congos-most-horrific-wounds-202235721.html#6ON7Azv
6. Panzi hospital. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.panzihospital.org/about/dr-denis_mukwege
7. Raghavan, S. (2014, September 27). In Congo, Trapped in Violence and Forgotten. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/world/2014/09/27/in-congo-trapped-in-violence-and-forgotten/
8. Smith-Spark, L. (2014, October 22). Congolese Doctor Who Helps Rape Victims Wins Top EU Human Rights Prize. CNN News. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/22/world/europe/eu-sakharov-prize-mukwege/
9. Taking action against sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – in pictures. (2014, June 13). The Guardian. Retrieved November 26, 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/jun/13/-sp-action-against-sexual-violence-democratic-republic-congo-in-pictures
10. UN Peacekeeping. (August 2014). UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Retrieved from http://www.betterworldcampaign.org/un-peacekeeping/missions/democratic-republic-of-congo.html
11. Wikipedia. Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_violence_in_the_Democratic_Republic_of_the_Congo