Dr. Denis Mukwege

I want to tell you a story about Dr. Denis Mukwege; a man I consider to be incredibly inspiring and courageous.

When war broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Dr. Mukwege had 35 patients killed in his hospital in Lemera. He fled to Bukavu where he opened a hospital with what he had available (made from tents) and eventually built a maternity ward with an operating theatre. In 1998 this was also destroyed, so he started again in 1999.

In 1999, he had a patient come into his hospital who had been a victim of extremely brutal sexual violence – bent on destruction – and he treated her, assuming this was an anomaly. Within three months, 45 more women came to seek his services each with an equally brutal story. He saw a pattern and realized this was not just sexual violence, but that rape was being used to destroy communities.

Dr. Mukwege instigated several stages of care beginning with a psychological examination to determine whether the women have the resiliency to undergo surgery and recovery. The next stage involves whatever medical care is necessary; this is dependent on the type of violence and can range from basic medical care to reconstructive surgery. He then connects patients with socio-economic care as many patients arrive with nothing (not even clothing). Patients require the ability to be able to care for themselves after they leave the hospital, so they undergo skills and jobs training while in recovery, they can access education, and they build strong support systems with those who protect their dignity. Lastly, patients are connected with legal services as in most cases they are aware of who their assailants were but might not be aware of their legal rights.

Dr. Mukwege’s work is integral to the safety, dignity, and well-being of women within the DRC, yet as sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war Dr. Mukwege became a target because he was helping women live. Because he fought for these women’s rights to live, because he provides them with the tools to live with dignity he was targeted. Dr. Mukwege and his family were targeted and very nearly killed. Following the attack he brought his family to Brussels, however he could not leave his work. He came back to the DRC. In his words,

I was inspired to return by the determination of Congolese women to fight these atrocities. These women have taken the courage to protest about my attack to the authorities. They even grouped together to pay for my ticket home – these are women who do not have anything, they live on less than a dollar a day.

These women formed groups of 20 and stand guard at the hospital day and night to ensure that those seeking and providing care are safe. To date, he has treated over 30,000 women for injuries related to extreme sexual violence and currently sees roughly 10 patients per day.

This week he was recognized for his extraordinary work with the Sakharov prize – Europe’s top human rights prize. It’s this man’s extraordinary work, it’s the dedication and resilience of the women who stand by him and seek his services that inspire me to pursue the research I’m interested in. It’s people like this and the people that he sees every single day that remind me of the importance of this.

Learn more and look up his incredible work at the Panzi Hospital (most of it’s in French so you can also message me and I’ll explain it in English).

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Listen to the y…

Listen to the yell of Leopold’s ghost
Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host.

From Vachel Lindsay’s poem ‘The Congo’

Research struggles

There are a lot of aspects of research that I struggle with, mainly because of my research interests. I’m interested in sexual violence in Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC, I want to know if the horrific history and legacy of Belgian colonial rule have had an impact in domestic sexual relations and if so, how, and why, I want to know where development funding is going and what kind of impact it’s having, I want to know if development funding could be better directed (most always it can be, but how and under what kind of program), I want to know women and men’s experiences of sexual assault either through conflict or not. But I struggle with this because I’m not part of the culture. While my research isn’t aiming to tell anyone to change anything (apart from maybe development agendas) and is instead aiming to understand what is happening and why, I worry that this could be misconstrued, that I will be perceived as doing what so many people have done before and just contribute to the continued violence of colonialism. So I’m stuck in this bubble, struggling with myself on whether this kind of research would be a good contribution to knowledge, or whether it’s ideological and would be better done by someone else. 

Abstract – Genocide: Perpetrated through Sexual Violence

I’ve recently finished a paper which examined the ways in which sexual violence can constitute acts of genocide and it’s a paper I’d like to continue to develop with additional research and additional case studies to better represent a variety of geographical locations. For the meantime, I thought I would share my abstract and once the mark from class becomes official I will share the rest of the paper as well.

Genocide and sexual violence are relatively new topics in the realm of international humanitarian law, yet their interconnectivity has caused some of the worst humanitarian crisis from the twentieth century into the present time. In understanding the ways in which specific instances of sexual violence have contributed to and constituted acts of genocide it can be argued that, in context, sexual violence can be a means and act of genocide. Through analysis of secondary sources and government reports this paper will examine the experiences of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to demonstrate the ways in which sexual violence has been used as a tool of genocide.