Dr. Denis Mukwege´s voice has a calm and nice cadence – he chooses his words very carefully when he talks and never shows any sign of anxiety or nervousness. His face does not reveal what he has had to confront in his brilliant career as a gynaecologist and obstetrician who, for more than 15 years, has helped rape victims to recover their dignity by performing reparative surgeries.
His story began a few decades ago when, still a young doctor, Denis Mukwege started working as an obstetrician and was quickly engaged in the fight against maternal mortality. After having his hospital attacked during the Congo civil war, he became a human rights activist. “I never understood why patients had to suffer for a war they didn’t start and I thought something had to be done,” he says.
By 1999, he started to receive women who had faced rape by militias and provided treatment and reparative surgeries for the serious cases. The appalling situation of those women made Dr. Mukwege start a hospital for rape victims, which has capacity for 3600 patients per year. Since then, despite facing death threats and adversities, Dr. Mukwege has never given up. He fought for more and started a worldwide campaign against sexual violence, and is now one of the global symbols of the campaign against rape, winning the Prize Sakharov in 2014 and the Alternative Nobel Prize in 2013 for his work.
Besides working as a surgeon and helping women recover from this violence, he also developed a 4-pillar model to be implemented in different hospitals and countries. He believes the victims should have medical, psychological, socioeconomic and juridical assistance to be empowered and to be able to regain their lives. The 4-pillar model is already in place in Congo – medical students are being trained in Dr. Mukwege’s hospital on surgical techniques and complementary treatments, while he has established partnerships with local governments on music therapy and social assistance projects. “We also try to make sure women are given opportunities to study or to find an economic activity to earn a living after the trauma,” says Dr. Mukwege.
He believes women empowerment won’t come without fight and culture change and this is the reason he engaged in the United Nations’ #HeforShe campaign. “We are equals and need to be together. Women have been struggling alone for many decades and it is now time for men to take the responsibility on it as well.” He warns that sexual violation is a global problem, which is not concentrated in developing countries or war zones. “We need the conscience that we can do more as individuals and as a civil society. The cure for this barbarity will not come only from a surgery but from government recognition of such violations and of a change of mentality.”
Dr. Mukwege’s work is portrayed in the documentary L’homme qui répare les femmes, screened during FIFDH – the Human Rights Film and International Forum, which is currently taking place in Geneva from March 4th to 13th. Horyou believes Personalities like Dr. Mukwege should be even more vocal and an even bigger visibility. Humanitarians like him are Horyou’s inspiration in creating a social network for social good, as we work together to spread the word on positive and meaningful actions worldwide.
Written by Vivian Soares