“World leaders must act. The world must draw a red line on anything that is unacceptable. And one of those is the way women are abused during conflict,”
In 2016, as one of the keynote speakers at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway, Dr Mukwege sat down with the New African Woman’s Benedicte Kalombo. We revisit some of the issues the tireless women’s rights campaigner and anti-war hero shared with us then, regarding why he set up Panzi Hospital and what the world can do to end the impunity of rape as a weapon of war – which is still rampant in his country. Here are extracts:
On women of Congo.
Rape in Congo is still a weapon of war, and these rapes have long-lasting effects. Children are born into war, bruised mothers, that’s the negative aftermath that we are heading towards. Right now should be the point where the world draws a line and says no to violence against women.
There is also a need for individuals of the world to understand what is happening in Congo, to contribute to a resolution for ending rape in eastern DRC. First, it’s about awareness. The people of Congo have been suffering for over one hundred years. At one time Congo was a property of just one man. Unfortunately, we are still in the same situation. Every now and then, the country is under the control of a minority group, who are mistreating the nation and mismanaging its resources.
Secondly, we need to understand Congo’s contribution to the world. If people understood what Congo has done for their convenient lives, they will be more empathetic towards the events in DRC.
Congo contributed and still contributes to almost every industry in the world. When the car industry emerged, Congo was the vast producers of rubber. During both World Wars, minerals from Congo were used to create bombs and weapons. The leading examples would be the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It was Congo’s uranium which was used in those bombs.
Then there is the mobile phone industry. Without the Congo Coltan and other minerals, this industry would not be as advanced as it is today. But, what is the average Congolese benefiting from all this? Nothing. Therefore, nothing today differs from the pain and suffering, Congolese people went through during Belgium King Leopold II days. That is why it’s crucial for everyone in the world to educate themselves about the true nature of problems in the Congo. Having Congo’s history in mind will enable them to understand the current situation, and further allow them to be part of the solution.
Panzi Hospital and Foundation
The Physical treatment for our women [affected by atrocities in the Congo] is not the only solution. Being able to rehabilitate them into the society and providing them with resources to earn a living and integrate back into a safe society is key. With many of our projects, [at Panzi] women can access services that will help them with their social, physical and emotional needs. The women don’t need to be handed much, they already have the capacity to work, not only for themselves, but for their whole families and community. Even when given the smallest amount of equipment, these women know how to make good use of it and end up making a big difference in their communities.
International Summits against violence
World leaders must act. Our society needs to draw a red line on anything that is unacceptable. And one of those is the way women are abused during conflicts. Just look at the Yezidi women, they are used as prizes. To think that today, in the 21st century, women are still treated as meaningless objects, this brings us to understand that even after all the progress humanity claims, women are still at the bottom. Many things that are currently happening to women and girls is unacceptable. From what I can see, the world is silent when it comes to issues of women.
It’s also our world leaders. They need to change their approach to ‘women issues’. Problems affecting women should not be seen just as ‘women issues’, they should be regarded as a humanity issues. Because when a woman’s livelihood is destroyed, it affects communities and nations.
The world doesn’t need to wait for anything else before acting. The worst is already happening, girls are being abducted on a mass scale in Nigeria, women are being systematically raped during conflicts, and women are used as prizes by terrorist groups. Now tell me, what do world leaders need to wait for? We need action now.
Youth Activism in Africa
The young Congolese and African generation of today do not understand that we come from over 100 years of exploitation, and nothing has changed. Congo belongs to the Congolese, to the Africans. We need to grasp this opportunity, the opportunity to give young Congolese and fellow Africans knowledge of their own history. Accomplishing this, is the first step to finding some solutions.
The second step is taking action. What is happening in Congo is everybody’s responsibility. We are all capable of acting against what is happening in this country. We should all be pushing for change within our fields – journalists, medical professionals, lawyers and every other job under the sun. We can all act within our capacity. We all need to play our part, only that way we will see true change.
International communities’ moral responsibility.
Everybody talks about the loss of millions of lives in Congo over the last two decades. Many people know and are aware of the mass rapes. But, we are not hearing international cries for justice. The international community is silent. These figures were documented by the high commission of human rights at the UN. But where are the reports? Stored away somewhere in an office drawer.
In May 2016, many lives were lost in an eastern Congo town, Beni. A gruesome genocide took place, including children being decapitated. But, we didn’t hear about that in the media like we hear about Syria and countries that are deemed more newsworthy. The world is under the impression that Africans don’t need dignity, respect or care. We must tell the world about what is not acceptable; not just as Congolese, but as Africans.
Dr Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital in Kivu for victims of brutal rape and war in the region. The surgeon and his team have operated on over 40,000 rape victims, and he has become a leading expert on the surgical procedure for traumatised victims.
Back in 2012, the outspoken critic of the horrors the resource-war has inflicted on women, made an impassioned speech at the UN condemning the “impunity of mass rape in DRC” and criticised both President Joseph Kabila and the Rwandan government’s role in the Eastern Congo conflict. A month later, armed men ambushed his South Kivu home, held his two young daughters at gunpoint, shot at him and killed his guard. He survived and fled to Brussels. “This violence has been going on for 16 years! 16 years of errancy; 16 years of torture; 16 years of mutilation; 16 years of the destruction of women, the only vital Congolese resource… the international community has shown its lack of courage… But until when must we continue, helpless, to witness the massacres?” he decried then.
The celebrated gynaecologist, is also a recipient of the 2014 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
He shared the 2018 Peace Nobel with Nadia Murad , an Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist, who was herself subjected to rape and violence at the hands of Isis militants.
Murad who says her captors described her ordeal as “sexual jihad”, said in a BBC interview that she feels the Nobel Peace Prize “is a huge responsibility…as a victim, I know that there are millions of women victims of these atrocities. We need justice.”