By Journalists For Justice
“They did not have guns, but they promised they would protect me and I believed in them. I had seen the resilience of these women.” This is part of a scenario Denis Mukwege, a gynaecologist in Democratic Republic Congo, describes every time he is asked why he works in an area described as the worst place on Earth for a woman.
Dr Mukwege, who started Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in Eastern DRC in 1999, had fled his country after an attempt on his life in 2012 for speaking against atrocities in his country, among them rape. Reports say 48 women are in DR Congo every minute.
After fleeing, he first went to Sweden then to Belgium. Meanwhile, rape continued unabated and since there was no facility to treat the victims some of who had their private parts burned with acid or shot, a group of women sent an emissary to the doctor requesting him to return. They even did a fundraising to get him an air ticket and offered security.
“The women promised that there would be around 20 of them watching over me around the clock in shifts. They did not have guns, but they were ready to protect me,” says Mukwege.
This persuaded him and he went back barely three months later more determined and touched by the courage of the women, who knew nothing but war. He trained as a gynecologist in France with the aim of helping to improve birth survival rates in his home country, but the violence in DRC changed the course of his career. He has run the facility since 1999 and operates on several rape victims each day.
Mukwege, 61, has attributed his resolve to work in his country to the resilience of the women ‘who despite being stripped off their dignity, still face life with determination’.
He has been tipped for the Nobel Prize five-times-running and has won several awards for his work. On Thursday, he was named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
- The war, thought to be Africa’s most deadly, began in 1998
- A complex conflict, it directly involved eight nations and 25 armed groups and was fought over Congo’s exceptionally rich natural resources
- Both militias and the Congolese army have been accused of committing rape against women and men
- The war officially ended in 2003, but fighting has continued in the east of DR Congo, with the numbers of rape reportedly rising every year.