“Women’s strength keeps me going”

I had the great opportunity to meet the Sakharov‘s Prize winner of 2014 (It was awarded this year to Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar but I’ll come back to that great achievement later), Dr Denis Mukwege. Since 1999 he fixed 50 000 women in his hospital of Panzi, in Democratic Republic of Congo.Today, he still sees 6 or 7 women a day sexually abused in a very violent way.

Those women are casualties of a dirty war. Hordes of men target them and rape them publicly with extreme violence, shoot them in the genitals in order to destroy communities and entire villages. What Denis Mukwege saw is unbearable, especially when it comes to children, because yes, toddlers are targeted too. “These rapes are committed in prepared and systematic attacks, there is nothing random about that. They want to destroy communities. Fathers, husbands, the whole community is there to witness those barbaric acts. The women are dehumanized, and the pillars of the community, everything is destroyed. It is even worse than killing them actually, because the consequences will mark generations”.

In his hospital, Dr Mukwege still get 50% of women victims of sexual violence among all of his patients. He is pretty much the only one in the whole region to face up to that violence. For this fight, he’s threatened to death, and he can’t really leave his hospital. When his first hospital was destroyed, all his patients killed, his close collaborator killed, he and his family flew to Europe. But it did not last: “My patients started to save some money from selling fruits and vegetables from the market as they wanted to pay for my flight back. Those women are incredible, their strength is really keeping me going. So I had to come back before they gathered all the money! They are very poor, so their gesture was the world to me. The future of the country is in them, they are the winners of all of this”.

Those women are the winners of all of this

The question that I really wanted to ask Dr Mukwege is what can we do as Westerners? I thought his fight was hopeless and that I would leave quite downhearted hearing such horrible stories, but he was not in Europe for nothing. His message was full of hope:  “I want the world to know that in your smartphones, tablets, there is an ore called Coltan to build them. And this Coltan is extracted on those women’s bodies. 80% of Coltan is found in DRC, and the regions of mining are closing linked with the exactions. That is not a coincidence of course. So as a consumer you can do a lot. You can ask your provider, the manufacturer to know more about how the smartphone was produced, how they got the Coltan. It was done with the bloody diamonds. Today when you buy a diamond you know where it is from, that it is not from a conflict area. It should be the same with Coltan”.

On a short-term, Dr Mukwege fears that the situation might get worse very quickly. The current president has been in charge for the last 10 years, and the constitution of the country stipulates that two mandates of 5 years each is a maximum. elections should be held soon but it seems that the president does not want to let go: “The political situation is very unstable. Who knows what is going to happen when the population is going to demand free elections? I fear that the situation might get out of control again”.

In all of this, the worst part is that Dr Mukwege does not get any support from his own government, he is actually under the protection of UN soldiers inside his own hospital. For these women, they have to face for some of them their attackers on a daily basis. They are not under any arrest or trial, they are walking perfectly free under full impunity. A double sentence for those women who are the victims, but who are not treated like it in their country.



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