“What about the women who were raped who were depending on Dr. Mukwege's support?” pleads Faida Mutula, an expectant mother living in Eastern Congo's South Kivu province.
For the past nine weeks, she has been a patient at Panzi Hospital, where Dr. Denis Mukwege serves as medical director. Due to a risky pregnancy, her life and the life of her unborn child depend on the expertise and skills of this man, who over the years has treated more than 40,000 women survivors of sexual violence.
Dr. Mukwege has been forced to flee the Democratic Republic of Congo following an attack on his life, leaving hundreds of women survivors of violence fearful and questioning who will perform the crucial surgeries necessary to repair the bodies of women who have been brutalized by violent rape.
According to Physicians for Human Rights, on October 25 four armed men entered Mukwege's home in his absence and held several family members at gunpoint. Upon his arrival they forced him out of his car, held a loaded gun to his head, and shot and killed a security guard who tried to intervene. They then fired shots at Dr. Mukwege before driving off in Mukwege's own car, which was found abandoned soon after. Following the assassination attempt, Mukwege and his family fled to Sweden.
In the wake of the attack, Mutula's question reverberates throughout DRC. In a country where rape is systematically used as a weapon of war and a third of men in the Eastern region report committing acts of sexual violence, Dr. Mukwege's commitment and dedication to women survivors is a ray of hope in an otherwise desolate climate.
In a statement prepared for World Pulse, Congolese grassroots leader Neema Namadamu says, “To the assassins, having Dr. Mukwege leave Congo is almost as good as having him dead, because with Dr. Mukwege gone, so also is our symbol of hope.”
“Every day in East Congo we have to face new atrocities against our gender,” she continues. “The assassination attempt on Dr. Mukwege highlights the fact that there is no bottom to how low they will go. These beasts don't want us to be healed. They don't want us to recover.”
Namadamu joins 185 women from DRC who are using World Pulse's online platform to speak out against violence and band together in calling for peace in their homeland. The group, who self-identify as “Mama Shujaas” or “Hero Women” in Swahili, includes Mutula, who types from her hospital bed at Panzi. They are self-publishing personal testimonies and declaring visions for a new, peaceful Congo with women at the helm.
Since the attempt on Dr. Mukwege's life, their stories have taken on a tone of greater urgency, underscoring the need for increased security in their region.
“We want the insecurity to stop so that women can continue to go to their jobs, so that the Congolese woman feels at ease to eat in the moonlight with her children like before,” says 53-year-old Ruhebuza Vumilia Jeannette.
Twenty-six year old Anaurite Basedeke echoes this urgency. “No country in the world can plan to emerge while there is instability. [In DRC], not one day passes without one speaking of massacres, pillages, and flagrant human rights violations [like the attempt on Dr. Mukwege]…. We ask for an urgent intervention from the international community so that the insecurity can be mastered.”
These women continue to shine light on the many survivors of sexual violence who are still in need of assistance. They are sending a strong statement reminding us that the work Dr. Mukwege started in the Congo is not over.
Dr. Mukwege himself is hoping for a strong commitment from the international government to ensure regional stability. He is eager to return to the DRC where every year he helps an estimated 3,000 women.
In a November 2nd blog post for the New York Times, he said, “All the elements are there to put an end to an unjust war that has used violence against women and rape as a strategy of war. Congolese women have a right to protection just as all the women on this planet.”
Ntakebuka Wilhelmine has worked with Mukwege for the past ten years, treating victims of sexual violence who suffer from fistulas, prolapses, and other gynecological problems.
She says, “The population of Bukavu and all the thousands of women who have already been healed by Dr. Mukwege are incapable of guaranteeing him safety. But we demand that the Congolese government guarantee the total safety of our dear doctor whom God has given to us.”