“The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Doctor Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.”
After spending several years travelling the world to spread word of his cause and winning a number of awards (United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights, Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament, etc.), Doctor Mukwege was emotional when he learnt that he had been chosen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Dear survivors around the world, I would like to tell you that, through this prize, the world is listening to you and refuses to remain indifferent,” stated the man who, 20 years ago, began his long fight against sexual violence.
Twenty years of struggle
Doctor Mukwege founded Panzi hospital in 1999, in Bukavu (Democratic Republic of the Congo). There, he discovered a tragedy deliberately caused by armed groups: the mutilation of women’s genitals. Deeply touched by the countless victims, Doctor Mukwege quickly specialised to become a world leader in ‘repairing’ the survivors of sexual violence, making Panzi hospital a place providing care, welcome and social healing.
A mission under threat
However, not everyone is a fan of Doctor Mukwege’s activities. While his struggle receives more recognition and media attention, he regularly receives threats on his life. “The threats continue today,” he explains. “We always receive one or two a week, but rather than discouraging us, we face up to them.”
The Congolese authorities do not have a positive view of the work of Doctor Mukwege, who has never hesitated to talk about the political problems in the DRC. “Several times, the hospital has had excessive taxes imposed on it, which other hospitals do not pay. They clearly want to prevent us from doing our work.”
It is to support the work – which is crucial but constantly under threat – of Doctor Mukwege that Doctors of the World formed a partnership with Panzi hospital in 2015.
With Doctors of the World, fighting sexual violence
“With Doctor Mukwege, we started from the idea of a shared utopia: one where victims of sexual violence are cared for but also recognised as victims,” explains Éric Wynants, coordinator for Doctors of the World at Panzi hospital.
At the hospital, Doctors of the World provides two of the four pillars of the project’s ‘holistic’ approach: medical care and psycho-social care. The two other pillars – legal assistance and socio-economic reintegration – are provided by other parties, including the Panzi Foundation. “This is the benefit of this system, which has been recognised and replicated in several countries: it is not a medical intervention with no follow-up, but instead comprehensive care to allow survivors to resume their lives under the best conditions.”
Since 2015, the partnership between Doctors of the World and Panzi hospital has been bearing fruit. “First financially, as despite our renown and the importance of the work done there, Panzi hospital is almost entirely dependent on international support,” stresses Éric Wynants. “Next, the advocacy of Doctor Mukwege is significantly amplified by Doctors of the World, in particular through our international network.”
Finally, the collaboration has been very productive in the field, where good medical practices, expertise in various areas related to sexual violence and in the use of tools are shared between the teams.
The future of women
Today, in the DRC, rape is not only a weapon of war, but a common practice among civilians, especially former child soldiers. The victims themselves are increasingly young, with some being under 10 years old. But for all this, Doctor Mukwege believes the future will be better. Things have changed since he started, 20 years ago. “Congolese women are mobilising. Today, they have the courage to speak out, to stand before courts, to bring their tormentors to account.”
This is a change that the work of Doctor Mukwege has contributed to heavily, and that Doctors of the World will continue to support in the years to come.