Denis Mukwege: The Man of 30,000 Survivors

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was a tough result to call with a list of many decorated names as nominees. With the prize often causing controversy and the suggestion that the prize has been tainted by controversial names receiving the award in past years, 2013 has been a pivotal year for the reputation of the prize.

Denis MukwegeThis year saw a common theme among nominees, with many names being nominated for their role in the strive for gender equality and the relief of female suffrage around the world. Nominations included:

  • Malala Yousafzai, the young girl shot by the Taliban for daring to go to school and who is now a prominent voice in the struggle for equal education rights in the Middle East.
  • Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Svetlana Gannushkina and Lilya Shibanova. Little-known globally, the actions of these women are having a huge impact in Russia. The trio speak out against the Kremlin’s savage anti-gay laws and have been prominent in the backlash against the Russian government’s treatment of the gay community.
  • Claudia Paz y Paz, the first female Guatemalan Attorney General, who has made many prominent moves in the country against gender-based violence, but most famed or bringing perpetrators of human rights abuses to justice fourteen years after the end of the Guatemalan civil war.

For me, however, one nominee for this year’s prize really stood out. Denis Mukwege is little-known in the public eye, but has offered hope and salvation to over 30,000 women.

In the Congo 48 women and girls are raped every hours of the day. To Western society this number is almost inconveivable, but in the Congo this is entirely the norm. Rebel forces storm villages in the search for precious metals, enslaving male villagers and forcing them to mine for the metals, violently gang raping women and girls who suffer physical torture as guns, machetes and even branches are used to rape and sexually assault.

The horror of this situation is completely unimaginable, and it is often made worse by the cultural trappings of the Congo. Women who endure this ordeal often return to be rejected by their husbands and families, viewed forevermore as damanged goods tainted by the violence bestowed upon them.

In 1998 Denis Mukwege set up the Panzi Clinic in Bukavu in the Congo, against the backdrop of the raging civil war. The Panzi Clinic’s main aim was to help the catastophic number of rape and sexual abuse victims which was at the time growing at a terrifying rate. Since it’s launch, the Panzi Clinic has helped more than 30,000 victims – women and children who often arrive at the clinic naked, injured and bleeding.

Through his experience with the Panzi Clinic Denis Mukwege has become the leading doctor in vaginal reconstruction surgery, having returned to thousands of women what was so violently taken from them. In 2012 Mukwege spoke at the UK and openly criticised sixteen years of inaction by the global community. Less than four weeks after his speech armed men attacked Mukwege’s home, taking his daughters hostage and attempting to assassinate him. Despite constant threats, Mukwege returned to the Panzi clinic after just two months, in order to continue his work.

The names on the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize list are the names of people that have done remarkable things for their countries or the world. Unfortunately, many of these names will be forgotten after 2013 has passed. I believe, however, that Denis Mukwege is a name that should forever stay in the public eye, recognised by many.

In a forgotten country torn apart by civil war and the quest for riches, Mukwege is doing his part to pick up the pieces and to condemn a global community who choose to ignore the horror. Whilst Mukwege and the Panzi Clinic cannot overwrite memories, erase scare or return women to their homes and families, Mukwege’s work is returning dignity to the victims of these horrific crimes and in most instances, saving their lives.

Mukwege is building a community of the strongest kind – a community of survivors. For that, Denis Mukwege should be a name on the list that people remember long after 2013.

Photograph via CSMonitor.


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