Denis Mukwege, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, is known as the “doctor who mends women” because in his hospital in Africa he healed thousands of rape victims, in their body and soul. We interviewed him in Milan.
Denis Mukwege, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner, the doctor who “mends” women
Denis Mukwege received the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize seventy years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. While taking care of women who had been raped by Congolese soldiers, he saw atrocities he doesn’t want to hide.
He’s known as “the doctor who mends women”. And he is so much loved by the people of his hometown, Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that when he was forced to flee to Europe they begged him to come back and even bought him a plane ticket with their own savings. On his return they welcomed him lining up by the side of a 20-mile long road that leads from the airport to the city centre.
Denis Mukwege has taken care of more than 50,000 women at Panzi Hospital, which he founded in Bukavu in 1998. He’s specialized in gynecology and he is considered the world leading expert in the treatment of physical damage linked to rapes. “My patients are like a ripped tissue: you have to take every single strand and tie them together again one by one,” the doctor said in an interview with Tpi. He has dedicated his life to the victims of sexual abuse, and every day looks after women, even children, whose body and soul were torn by war.
Sexual violence as a weapon of war to humiliate women
Gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, zinc, coltan: the Democratic Republic of the Congo is rich in resources. The greed for them is often the cause behind the conflicts that break out everyday. And gang rapes carried out by the militia are just as much frequent. During the Kivu and Ituri conflicts, from 2004 to 2008, four women were raped every five minutes. Mukwege was there to mend their wounds and try to put the pieces of their hearts back together.
His first patience had suffered such severe violence that she was no longer able to retain urine and feces. “Doing something like this has nothing to do with sexual desire. It’s thirst for destruction,” the gynecologist explained. Despite everything being hard since the beginning, he didn’t cower: he continued to help thousands of women who had been tortured inhumanely. “Rapes don’t only destroy them, but the whole society. Victims are considered guilty by their husbands, they are kicked out and forced to isolation by the rest of the community”. Not to mention that many of them get AIDS.
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) 10 dicembre 2018
The Panzi Hospital founded by Denis Mukwege welcomes the victims of sexual violence
Panzi, however, is a safe shelter. Girls don’t feel judged there, and they can find someone who gives them the hope of being able to return to life. Like deer dazzled by the lights of a racing car, they haven’t manage to escape, they’ve been wounded, but someone has picked them up, rescued them and after healing them he has set them free again.
It’s incredible to see these suffering people being still able to thank God, and having the strength to work. I also wonder how they can sing, when they struggle to survive. They can still sing, and that makes me happy.Dr. Denis Mukwege
Doctor Mukwege has many times denounced the situation in his country and accused the Congolese government neither to have punished the perpetrators of the rapes nor to have put enough efforts to stopp the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. In September 2012 he gave a powerful speech at the United Nations, confronting the international community. The words he used have cost him dearly, as four armed men entered his home the following month to kill him. He managed to escape, then he sought refuge in Europe. Before coming back to Bukavu.
The Nobel Prize awarding on World Human Rights Day
He couldn’t stay away from his patients. That’s why he was honoured the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, which he received in Oslo seventy years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. Denis Mukwege has never stopped fighting against one of the worst violations of those rights, one of the sneakiest arms of a conflict, which too often we hear about even where there is no war: gender violence.
Featured image © Jean Chung/Getty Images
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