In A Time Of Turmoil, Dr. Mukwege's Nobel Peace Prize Is A Heavenly Gift For Us All

 Carl Wilkens Fellowship  see website

Carl Wilkens Fellowship see website

Introduction from Anne: Professor De Reus considered the humanitarian righteousness of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Congolese physician Denis Mukwege in 2015, a tremendous honor that was not his that year.

AOC has a decade-long history of writing about the courageous vision of Dr. Mukwege and the horrific challenges faced by women of the Congo. To awaken on October 5, 2018 and read that Dr. Mukwege and activist Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman once taken captive by ISIS, were sharing the 2018 Nobel prize was truly good news at a stressful time in America and around the world.

I spent time organizing our older AOC articles about Dr. Mukwege before turning to The Conversation to see what articles were available for sharing on AOC. I met up with Professor De Reus in my own East Coast backyard and also watched her TEDx Talk featured at the end of her article. If you don’t know about Dr. Mukwege and his Panzi Hospital, Lee Ann De Reus shares an excellent 2015 overview.

by Lee Ann De Reus

Regardless of who wins the Nobel Peace Prize this year, Denis Mukwege deserves the award for his important work in Congo.

Mukwege is a Congolese physician who heals broken bodies and restores dignity to survivors of sexualized violence at Panzi Hospital.

According to hospital records, he has personally treated over 20,000 women, girls, men and boys who have suffered the physical and psychological wounds of traumatic rape.

As a scholar-activist and the cofounder of Panzi Foundation USA, I travel regularly to the hospital in eastern Congo to conduct research, develop programs for rape survivors, and inform my advocacy work in the US.

Mukwege’s vision

Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital in 1999 to stem the high maternal mortality rates driven by the war that raged near his home. His first patient, however, was a rape survivor who had suffered horrific internal injuries due to the perpetrator’s assault with a knife.

As the war continued, so did the number of women coming to him in desperate need of medical treatment for illness or wounds from sexualized violence.

Today, under Mukwege’s leadership, the hospital and its staff are known worldwide for their specialized care of survivors, including the surgical repair of fistula caused by traumatic rape or pregnancy.

The current staff totals 370 people, including 40 physicians, who provide world-class care for over 18,000 patients a year in an environmentcharacterized by continued violence, poverty and a lack of basic services such as consistent water, electricity, sanitation and passable roads.

congo violence against women.jpg

The need in eastern Congo is great. Over the last 20 years, nearly six million people have died and tens of thousands of women have been raped due to the ongoing armed conflicts.

These mass atrocities are a symptom of failed economic, social and political structures rooted in the legacy of colonization, gender disparities, the geopolitics of the region – and a scramble for “conflict minerals” made profitable by the first world’s consumption of electronic devices such as cellphones.

‘Tell others’

I first met Mukwege during a three-week research trip to his hospital during the summer of 2009. I was there to interview women about their experiences of gender-based violence, the resulting stigma and their hopes for the future. I also conducted a research methodology workshop for medical students completing their residencies at Panzi.

While there, I met 14-year-old Mateso – just one of the over 1,900 recipients of medical treatment at Panzi that year for injuries due to sexualized violence. She shared unspeakable horrors that were masked by her confident demeanor, ease and quick smile.

I asked Mateso why she thought it important to share her experience with me. She said, “I tell you my story because so many people don’t know. I want you to tell others.”

A year later, Mukwege and I joined forces, along with Peter Frantz, to cofound Panzi Foundation USA. The mission of our nonprofit organization is based on Mukwege’s vision and objective to raise awareness about the challenges in eastern Congo. We are engaged in strategic advocacy to end violence against women and support Panzi’s programs to heal women and restore lives.

 Denis Mukwege. Torleif Svensson/Panzi Hospital

Denis Mukwege. Torleif Svensson/Panzi Hospital

Empowering women

A unique aspect of the hospital is Maison Dorcas, an after-care facility for survivors of gender-based violence.

Following discharge from Panzi, many women are unable to return to their homes. Some need follow-up care. Some have have been displaced from their communities because of the conflicts. Others have been cast out of their families due to the heavy social stigma associated with rape.

At Maison Dorcas, 200 women can extend their stay and receive counseling for the treatment of trauma, legal assistance for prosecution of perpetrators, literacy instruction and skill-based training. The programs are designed to enhance a woman’s ability to heal, provide for herself and her family, and take an active role in her community.

Panzi Foundation USA has also initiated a petition calling on Secretary of State John Kerry and other US officials to pressure the Congolese government to hold free and fair elections in 2016 that include women as candidates, advocates and voters.

Our work is informed by the belief that the restoration of women’s lives strengthens civil society and is one essential measure for stemming mass atrocities.

Indigenous voices

As one woman, Mwamaroyi, a survivor turned advocate, told me in an interview: “If I were given the floor, I would speak up and tell people that rape and violence have had terrible consequences. Please, it is time for the violence to stop.”

Persistent oversimplifications by media, aid agencies, development organizations, advocacy groups, academics and other well-meaning parties often distort the world’s perceptions of Congo. In order to break this cycle, the voices of survivors and the Congolese who work with them must be heard.

Mukwege is a tireless and outspoken advocate for women such as Mateso and Mwamaroyi – but not without personal cost. He receives death threats, and there have been serious attempts on his life.

Awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize will amplify an often overlooked indigenous voice, draw global attention to Congo, and help Mukwege confront the complex causes of suffering in DRC.

Daring to Make a Difference for DR Congo: Lee Ann De Reus at TEDxPSU

Dr. Lee Ann De Reus is Co-Founder of Panzi Foundation USA and an Associate Professor of Human Development & Family Studies and Women Studies, Women’s Gender & Sexuality Studies at Pennsylvania State University. She travels regularly to Panzi Hospital in eastern Congo to conduct research, develop programs for rape survivors, and inform her advocacy work in the U.S.

Dr. De Reus is a 2009 Carl Wilkens Fellow and the recipient of numerous awards from Penn State University including the Spirit of Internationalization Award given in honor of her commitment to global service and outreach. She is a featured activist in John Prendergast's book, The Enough Moment: Fighting to End Africa's Worst Human Rights Crimes. A guest blogger for Women Under Siege and speaker about the crisis in the DRC, her 2013 presentations include TEDxPSU, Daring to Make a Difference for Congo (watch above) and the Oslo Freedom Forum, A Different Kind of Warfare.  

Visit her website or follow her on Twitter. This article was first published on The Conversation, a frequent source of fresh content on important topics for AOC.

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