Dr. Denis Mukwege is a world-renowned gynecological surgeon who is the founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A gynecologist wanting to help the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo, his homeland.
Dr. Denis Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital in 1999 as a clinic for gynecological and obstetric care, and expected to be working on issues of maternal health. Since 1999, however, he and his staff have helped to care for more than 30,000 survivors of sexual violence. During his 18-hour days, Dr. Mukwege performs up to 10 surgeries per day, working to repair the internal physical damage that girls and women suffer. The hospital not only treats survivors with physical wounds, but also provides legal, and psycho-social services to its patients. Even patients who cannot afford post-rape medical care are treated without charge at Panzi Hospital.
That is the number of rape survivors treated by Dr. Denis Mukwege and his associates at Panzi Hospital between 1999 and 2015. Some 35,000 of those survivors, who range in age from toddlers to seniors, suffered complex gynecological injuries, inflicted by members of rebel groups and the Congolese military.
When he opened Panzi Hospital in 1999, he envisioned it as means to improve the maternal mortality rates in Bukavu, the capital of Eastern Congo, where about 1 in 100 women died during childbirth. "But our first patient did not come to deliver a baby," the 61-year-old gynecologist explained in a speech he gave on Thursday accepting the Seoul Peace Prize in Korea. "She had been raped with extreme violence."
That rape patient set in motion a new course for the doctor's life. The hospital has grown into an international foundation that helps rape victims work through the physical, emotional and spiritual trauma through a tailored healing process.
This healing process goes behind surgery and therapy. The Panzi healing model is a five-pillar process.
"What I'm doing really is not only to treat women — their body," says Mukwege, "[but] also to fight for their own right, to bring them to be autonomous, and, of course, to support them psychologically. And all of this is a process of healing so women can regain their dignity."
Part of this approach comes from Mukwege's realizations about the nature of the trauma of rape. "When it happens in the life of a woman to be raped, sometime you have an impression that it was 'just a rape,' as some people who don't understand the meaning of rape [say]," explains Mukwege. "But we understand that it's a very deep trauma and women need to regain confidence in themselves."
The five pillars of the Panzi model are medical treatment, psychosocial therapy, socioeconomic support and training, community reintegration and legal assistance. "Once you get through your psychosocial and medical healing," explains Elizabeth Blackney, Panzi Foundation's media and communications director, "you move on and work with our socioeconomic pillar [to] learn literacy and numeracy and education. [The women] have a safe space to learn vocational skills. And then we of course provide legal aid and assistance to help people get justice."
Dr. Mukwege has been fearless in his efforts to increase protections for women and to advocate that those responsible for sexual violence be brought to justice, including the Congolese government and militia groups laying siege to eastern DRC.
In October 2012, Dr. Mukwege was violently attacked and his family was held at gunpoint at his home in an assassination attempt. Joseph Bizimana, his trusted friend and security guard, was killed. The attack came several weeks after Dr. Mukwege denounced the country’s 16-year-long conflict and called for those responsible to be brought to justice during a speech at the United Nations. After this attack, Dr. Mukwege and his family fled the country for his safety, but his many Congolese patients and colleagues urged him to resume his life-saving work at Panzi Hospital. He returned to the hospital in January 2013 and was celebrated by crowds of people ecstatic to have him home. During this difficult period, PHR worked in close coordination with Dr. Mukwege and colleagues at risk in DRC to mobilize a global campaign to advocate for and protect individuals working on the front lines helping survivors of mass atrocities and prosecuting perpetrators of these mass crimes.
What Dr. Mukwege and his team at Panzi Hospital do is extraordinary. Theirs is a reality where 48 women in the DRC are raped every hour, according to a 2011 report. Tbout his ongoing fight for gender equality in the country Dr. Mukwege is both a healer and a symbol of hope.
It is this dearth of medical infrastructure and collective social responsibility for the safety of women that compelled Mukwege to fight for change. Movements geared towards educating men about sexual violence have emerged in recent years in Congo. Along with psycho-social support for victims of rape, Mukwege advocates help for those men who have left the armed forces, helping to reintegrate them into their communities. Demobilisation is a psychological process that requires long-term counselling, he says.
It is obvious that when a young boy is recruited and learns to rape, kill and destroy women, we need to integrate him. Shedding the uniform does not mean that this ingrained mentality has changed, says Mukwege.
Peace in Congo, Mukwege contends, will require rehabilitating the men and reinforcing the voices of women. He has organised groups where men and boys discuss the violence that has pervaded their societies, while women gather to demand justice and reparations.
If you destroy wombs, there will be no children and no future,” he says.
For Mukwege, it is simply a matter of “saving the common humanity” of Congo.
For most Congolese women, reporting rape is unthinkable. Aside from social stigmatisation of victims, going to a police station could put them at greater danger. Perpetual violence against women has eroded whole communities, with no effective social or legal remedies.
Mukwege insists that the domestic laws are present, they are simply not used. Many of the perpetrators occupy high-ranking positions in the government and armed forces. Not bringing them to justice has institutionalised rape.
He believes that ignorance and desensitisation have created a deep divide between the genders.
“The concept of equality begins in children’s minds with the very first contact. We usually tell girls to dress a certain way and instill fear in them that if they don’t, they might be attacked. But we don’t tell boys about how to behave and consequences of bad behavior,” he says.
Last modified onFriday, 09 June 2017 21:17
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