When he first opened the doors of the Panzi Hospital, Dr. Denis Mukwege’s aim was to reduce the maternal death cases in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Little did he know that his first patient would be rape survivor?
Over the years, more survivors of rape and sexual assault visited the hospital. According to Panzi Foundation, the doctor and his staff have operated and cared for more than 50,000 survivors of sexual violence since 1999.
Apart from the medical treatment, the hospital also provides psychosocial support, legal assistance and community reintegration services as well as education and advocacy as a way to address causes of violence.
Within Panzi is the Badilika (change) Program that seeks to increase accountability of the Congolese government and local authorities in protecting human rights and reducing the vulnerability of women in such crisis. The program works with a number of local community civil society organisations to teach Congolese citizens of their rights and duties and the roles of authorities.
Dr. Mukwege has been vocal in condemning mass rape and calling out DRC’s government for failing to stop violence against women. In his 2012 speech to the United Nations in 2012, he also called out the international community for not addressing the conflict in DRC.
“How can I say to you representatives of the international community where [it] has shown fear and lack of courage in these 16 years in the DRC?” he asked in reference to the continued sexual violence in DRC.
Although his efforts were lauded by a huge section of the community, some people were not happy with the strides he was taking.
A few weeks after the UN speech, four armed men attacked his home while he was not present. Upon his arrival, they tried to shoot him only for his guard to intervene and die in the process. Mukwege left for Europe until January 2013 when he returned to the warm welcome from the people of DRC.
In his 2016 speech at the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards ceremony, he reiterated his call to put a stop to rape as a weapon of war and oppression.
“It is time to act and put words into action. It is time to fill the gap between the law and its implementation. It is time to engage men and boys, with women and girls, in the struggle to end patriarchal discrimination and gender based abuses. It is time to draw a red line against rape as a weapon of war, as a weapon of oppression. It is time to unite and act together for our common humanity, towards freedom from want globally,” he said.
Dr. Mukwege’s efforts to raise awareness on rape and sexual assault has earned him several accolades. He is the recipient of the 2008 UN Human Rights Prize, 2011 Clinton Global Citizen Award, 2014 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, 2015 Women for Women International Champion for Peace Award, 2016 Four Freedom Award, among others.
He has been conferred honorary degrees by universities across the world and is also a member of the advisory committee for the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in conflict and UNHCR’s Advisory Board on Gender and Protection. He is also the special advisor at Mukwege Foundation.