* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
By Muadi Mukenge, Regional Program Director for Sub Saharan Africa at the Global Fund for Women
The news was startling and saddening – Congolese gynecologist, Dr. Denis Mukwege, who has performed surgeries on countless women physically damaged by indescribable rape, was attacked and almost killed at his home on October 25th.
Dr. Mukwege leads a team of doctors working in Congo’s embattled northeastern corridor, where rape is used by armed groups to traumatize communities in their quest for political power and control of lucrative minerals destined for eager international markets. The Global Fund for Women supports women’s organizations in the Democratic Republic of Congo who liaise with Panzi Hospital, where Dr. Mukwege performs 2-4 restorative surgeries per woman.
Since 2006, Global Fund has supported over 52 groups in the Congo, with over $1 million in operating funds for essential services and programs that advance women’s rights. Essential services include counseling and healthcare for rape survivors, shelter for those thrown out of their homes by families casting blame, and skills training to help them get back on their feet and earn an income. It also includes support to accompany them to report the crimes to police, file court claims, and prepare them to testify in court against perpetrators. Dr. Mukwege’s work and that of women’s groups are intertwined – the physical and psychological reconstruction gives rape survivors hope that they can get back to being the indispensible members of society that they have always been.
These brave women and men cannot be taken for granted. Dr. Mukwege is part of the human rights movement that has risen up to put some teeth into Congo’s 2006 Sexual Violence Law, criminalizing violence against women. While perpetrators of rape and other types of violence rule with guns, human rights activists’ work via messages of peace, reconciliation and mutual respect. Because of their efforts, women are entering leadership positions that were once closed to them, demanding accountability in governance and the legal system, and demanding justice for women. Because of their efforts, U.N. reports naming the countries that support armed groups are getting international attention and calls to cut off development assistance. Because of their efforts, in February 2011, the world witnessed the first-ever conviction of an army officer who ordered his soldiers to rape. It was the testimony of rape survivors, who were prepared in part by Global Fund grantees that sealed the fate of the officer. Thanks to human rights activists, local groups are holding communities together in the absence of government-provided health services and schools. The price of 16 years of war is steep. Globally, Congo ranks #1 in hunger, and is among the worst in maternal mortality and unemployment. Yet, who is accountable? The arms flowing into the Congo are not made there. There was a time when these sexual crimes did not happen.
There are many “Dr. Mukwege’s” in Congo, individuals and community groups working without fanfare. You can be part of the solution by supporting this movement and standing with us to end the senseless violence once and for all.
About the Author: Muadi Mukenge is the Regional Program Director for Sub Saharan Africa at the Global Fund for Women. For more information about Global Fund for Women's work in the Congo, read the our impact report.