Black History is still in the making. Just three years ago, Dr. Denis Mukwege and human rights activist Nadia Murad were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”
Dr. Mukwege is an Ob/Gyn from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), an area long torn by war and conflict. His first hospital was attacked and ransacked, leaving it destroyed. After this, Dr. Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. There, he saw first-hand how vying armed groups used genital mutilation as a weapon of war and devoted himself to reconstructive surgery to help victims of sexual violence. His victims ranged in age from the elderly to infant children.
Repairing Bodies. Restoring Dignity.
Since its foundation in 1999, Panzi Hospital has treated more than 82,000 patients. Its focus is complex gynecological damage and trauma. Most patients come from conflict zones, sometimes naked and often in horrendous condition.
Dr. Mukwege has treated thousands of women since the Second Congo War, some of them more than once. At that time, he would perform up to ten operations each day on his 17-hour shifts. The Globe and Mail declared him “likely the world’s leading expert on repairing injuries of rape.”
The effects of his work are keenly felt by his patients and the patents of other doctors inspired by his work. “Being with all the other survivors made me feel respected, loved and free, this is what I am striving for. With them, I realized that I am not alone, that survivors are strong, and that together we can bring positive change.” A woman wrote on the social media, “Women who are subjected to physical or sexual violence in their lifetime would live in safety, with respect and dignity. Thank you, Dr. Denis Mukwege.” Yet another survivor in Guatemala recorded a video with the message, “Thank you for joining us and being together in this fight.”
Dr. Mukwege works to bring international attention to the widespread use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in the DRC. Not only this, but he demands that the criminals be brought to justice. His work and outspokenness made Dr. Mukwege a well-known activist for human rights and gender equality both within the DRC and internationally. But it also made him a target. In 2012, he survived an assassination attempt that claimed the life of his bodyguard. Soon after, he fled to Europe to protect his family. But less than three months later, Dr. Wekwege was back at Panzi Hospital.
Medical and Social Hero
Dr. Mukwege has received dozens of awards in addition to the Nobel Peace Prize including the UN Human Rights Prize and the Women for Women International Champion for Peace Award. He also has no fewer than nine honorary degrees from institutions such as Harvard University, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Angers.
In 2013, he received the Right Livelihood Award for “his courageous work healing women survivors of war-time sexual violence and speaking up about its root causes.”
Today, the Dr. Dennis Mukwege Foundation “supports victims and survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to unite and stand up for their rights. Not only do survivors of sexual violence face a cascade of long-term physical, psychological, social and economic consequences, they live with the burden of being shunned or silenced by their communities…. Coming forward, breaking the silence and claiming their rights is often an insurmountable task that cannot be achieved alone.”
No one should face the trauma of sexual assault alone. Thanks to the work of Dr. Mukwege and others like him, more women are able to share the burden, heal with others, and gain the resources to rebuild lives of dignity.