Addressing Rape in Eastern Congo

In September 2015 a documentary about Dr. Denis Mukwege brought new attention to the devastating situation of women in the war zones of eastern Congo, where many many thousands have been raped since the fighting began in 1997. The film was entitled “L’homme qui répare les femmes – la colère d’Hippocrate” (The Man Who Repairs Women: the Wrath of Hippocrates”).

It tells the story of Dr. Mukwege, a gynecological surgeon from Congo who returned from studying aboard to establish Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC, in 1999. He and his staff have dedicated themselves to the medical treatment of 30,000 survivors of sexual violence. They also assist with legal and psycho-social support. The documentary provides interviews of women and identifies categories of rapists, include the army. For this reason, the DRC government banned the film for a time and required changes before it could be shown in Congo.

Like the women whom he helps bring back to life, Dr. Mukwege has been on the frontlines for many years. After a speech at the UN in Oct. 2012 calling on Congo’s leaders to address the fighting and denouncing sexual violence as a weapon of war, he and his family were attacked and his guard was killed. The family fled from Congo but in Jan. 2013 Dr. Mukwege returned to his work of repairing the ravages of rape, especially fistula. Fistula is a medical condition usually caused by prolonged obstructed childbirth, especially of young girls whose bodies are not mature, but it is frequently one of the consequences of rape by a gang or with brutal instruments (in war zones, guns or sticks may be thrust into a woman as a kind of rape). The abuse tears the wall between uterus and urinary tract or rectum so that waste cannot be controlled. When urine continually runs down her legs a girl is cast out as a disgusting, stinking broken body. Many die.  Surgical repair is relatively easy — but it requires the will to see these victims as valuable people — something that Dr. Mukwege and Panzi Hospital do so well.

For more information, see Physicians for Human Rights, co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 1997.