SOUTH KIVU, Congo – According to the United Nations, Congo is the rape capital of the world. A study published by the American Journal of Public Health concluded that rape occurs at a frequency of 48 times per hour for women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49. Militias that roam Congo often use rape as a weapon to terrify or punish local communities and to force families from mineral-rich territories. Because of the violent nature of most of these rapes, many female victims suffer from traumatic fistula, which occurs when the wall between a woman’s bladder and her vagina and/or rectum tears. Dr. Denis Mukwege–a Congolese gynecologist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee–has performed more than 30,000 surgeries on women afflicted with the condition.
Since 1999, Mukwege has operated the Panzi Hospital in the turbulent South Kivu Province, where he will perform up to 10 surgeries per day. Outspoken and politically active, Mukwege has been critical of the international community, as well as President Kagame of Rwanda and Kabila of Congo, for allowing the war and atrocities in Congo to continue. As a result of his work and activism, Mukwege was the victim of an assassination attempt in October 2012. Gunmen entered his home and held his daughters hostage while waiting for his return. Mukwege’s bodyguard sacrificed his life to save the doctor, his daughters and perhaps thousands of Congolese women. After a brief exile in Europe, Mukwege returned to Congo and received a hero’s welcome.
Mukwege’s mission in Congo is to assist medically female victims of rape and help restore their sense of dignity and well being. There are four pillars to his approach to treating his patients. The first is to provide all necessary medical treatment and procedures. Next, he and his staff–which includes psychologists and social workers–help victims adjust physically and mentally. His team then assists the women with social reintegration, which includes the development of new skills for income generation. Finally, Mukwege works with a team of lawyers to establish a case file for every rape victim that he treats.
In an interview with a reporter from the Huffington Post, Mukwege explained the aim of his mission, “Most of these women, after treatment, they become leaders in their own community. They are the ones who will save Congo. What they have faced is not just rape. It is a problem for all humanity.”
Seeing Mukwege’s name as a Nobel Peace Prize contender means that the world will hear more about the Congolese hero, but more importantly, perhaps, we will hear the story of tens of thousands of women victimized by the violence of rape.
– Daniel Bonasso
Photo: The New York Times