“It is not common for a man to campaign for women’s rights. I am well aware of it (…) I saw the puzzled looks, the mimicry of incomprehension. From time to time, I even encounter hostility. Some people consider my choices suspect, even threatening. Denis Mukwege’s commitment is total, his determination complete, his dedication absolute. Gynecologist and evangelical pastor, Denis Mukwege founded in 1999 the Panzi hospital, in Bukavu, for the care of women suffering from rape, mutilation, and exactions of war so numerous in this tormented region of eastern Congo in the border of Rwanda. Nicknamed “the man who mends women”, he will receive the Sakharov Prize in 2014 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.
In his recently published book, The Strength of Women *, Denis Mukwege retraces the fight of a lifetime. The heroine of the novel is “the woman”, made up of all the women he presents to us, killed, wounded, raped, beaten, hunted down, massacred, amputated, repudiated, marginalized … These women who are above all mothers, these women who are the life, the energy and the honor of society, these women to whom Denis Mukwege constantly pays homage: “It is you, the women, who carry humanity. “
And the place of the crime is well specified, it is the Eastern Congo, his region which he never wanted to abandon. After studying gynecology in France, Denis Mukwege returned to Bukavu, his hometown. “I weighed up the mission I had set for myself – to come back to help women in the Congo – and the needs and wishes of my family (…) At the global level, the consequences of the brain drain in medicine from the countries poor towards the rich countries are dramatic: they still contribute today to increasing inequalities in terms of economy and health (…) We (the family) returned and I returned to the hospital in Lemera as the first gynecologist-obstetrician of the region (…) The maternal mortality rate began to drop (…) I then knew that my decision to come back was the right one. “
But for Denis Mukwege, who is also an evangelical pastor, his mission is not limited to medical care alone, the fate of every woman is a challenge to be taken up and he denounces the terrible constancy of the female condition: women by considering them as inferior and weak, I had witnessed their courage in the face of the pain and uncertainty of everyday life. “” I was just a doctor doing my duty by striving to care for his patients. But I was aware of these injustices. And these inequalities made me uncomfortable. I decided to help fix it. “The holistic approach (at the same time medical, psychological and social) of the wounded women is being set up and he makes this plea for the mothers, his great heroines:” I dream of a society where the mothers are recognized as the heroines they are. “Mothers who command respect,” he emphasizes. Among these mothers, it is first of all his that he honors when he speaks of his own birth and when he takes stock of the so frequent women who have died in childbirth, a scourge that he fights fiercely: “Face What was my mother thinking of the great childbirth lottery, twisted by the pain of the contractions or gaining strength on one of the thin raw cotton mattresses we slept on at the time? Did she allow herself to think of her own mother who had died in childbirth when giving birth to her twenty-three years ago? This loss, more than any other, had shaped his miserable childhood and stubborn personality. Her marriage was also influenced by this mourning. My father’s mother also died in childbirth… ”
Denis Mukwege offers us two books in one: his very moving and detailed autobiography in the first part of the book; then a plea against rape, the injustices of the patriarchy, in order to break the silence so that justice is done.
“Why do men rape? This is a question I am often asked and to which, unfortunately, I do not have a simple answer. When I discovered the extent of the crisis in Eastern Congo in the late 1990s, I found myself unable to grasp what I was seeing. It looked like the work of madmen. It was beyond my comprehension as a father, as a man, as a citizen. Finding meaning in it even exceeded my skills as a doctor (…) My job was to treat the victims; I didn’t have the strength to try to understand their tormentors. “” Premeditated rape as a military tactic constitutes a crime against humanity (…) The total impunity with which these crimes were committed in the Congo explains why they continue to occur today. “
The term that recurs on every page under his pen, “atrocity”, reflects as closely as possible the feeling that inhabits this man entirely devoted to women victims of the madness of men. The abuses are daily and atrocious. Mukwege details the Mapping report of human rights violations in the DRC from March 1993 to June 2003, the inventory of which is difficult to sustain. During the Lemera hospital attack: “one of the women (…) was disembowelled, her children torn from her womb (…) fifteen women had been raped, forced to march naked in the streets and then buried alive . Horror is written on every page of this report. “Despite the danger, Mukwege continues his remarkable mission:” This trip was one of the most terrifying of my life “” three of my nurses lost their lives “” my office riddled with bullets “” the hospital massacre was the prelude to a large-scale rebel invasion of the Congo… ”“ Doctor, we need you now. “” … we took care of a dozen raped women every day. “Despite certain progress, to the whole world, in reporting male abuses against women, despite a better awareness of the very dark side of male domination, the situation has changed little but Denis Mukwege continues his total commitment:” I dream of ‘a society where mothers are recognized as the heroines that they are, where girls from our motherhood are considered as much as boys, where women grow up without fear of violence. “
A moving book, a major testimony, beautifully translated – because, paradoxically, Denis Mukwege, francophone, wrote this book in English for simultaneous publication in many countries – a message of hope must read.
In France today, many initiatives support women victims of rape and sexual mutilation. The Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) tells us how important this is: “It is estimated from a 2019 study that approximately 125,000 sexually mutilated adult women live in France. 11% of the daughters of these mutilated women are also mutilated. And the HAS issues recommendations of good practice for healthcare professionals. Finally, teams have been particularly involved in this reconstruction, which is both medical and surgical, but also psycho-sociological, like the institute Women Safe** of Saint-Germain-en-Laye founded by Pierre Foldes, one of the first to have repaired the damage of the clitoridectomy. Women Safe takes care of women and children who are witnesses or victims of sexual violence.
Denis Mukwege’s plea is again taken up by the authors of the Violence against women*** of the very useful magazine Human Sexualities, especially for the prevention and treatment of female genital mutilation (MSF). How can we help injured women to rebuild themselves, to overcome “the disqualified feminine”, to reconnect with respect and the relationship of trust? How to prevent sexual mutilation in groups with an immigrant background dominated by unacceptable traditions? “Migrant families continue to face social pressure from the community in the country of origin. Some migrant communities, facing an identity crisis and integration difficulties, would try to keep the MSF so as not to run the risk of a second marginalization in the community of origin. »France offers an unprecedented model of health policy: since 2000, MSF has been recognized as a public health problem and has been the subject of a health policy to repair sexuality. France is thus the only country which recognizes to women victims of MSF the right to compensation fully covered by health insurance since 2004. “
*The strength of women by Denis Mukwege, translated from English by Marie Chuvin and Laetitia Devaux, Gallimard, 2021; **Women Safe www.women-safe.org ; ***Violence against women, revue Human Sexualities, 2021, No 51, pp 6-49.
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Why do men rape?
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