There is an article I read several years ago that sticks with me even now like some viscous substance I can’t shake off. If you read the article, you’ll understand why.
Trying to figure out how to start this essay, I can understand Eve Ensler‘s words at the beginning of that article she wrote for Glamour magazine. I understand her hesitance, her fear that her words would make people shut off, shut down, stop reading. Again, I will start with a promise of hope before I delve into today’s topic. Again we will wade into darkness together before we come back out into the light.
If you’re ready, take my hand.
Far away from most of us, there is a country ripped by war. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (the DRC) has been vied over for centuries. Under King Leopold, her people were brutally oppressed as he rifled through the country’s hills and lush jungles caring only for the diamonds and other resources that flow so richly in that land. And for the last fifteen years, the DRC has seen another war. What started as an insurrection to oust Mobutu Sese Seko became something else entirely.
A war on women.
The Congo is the most dangerous place on the planet to be a woman or a girl.
While for the world, 1 in 3 women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime, in the Congo that statistic looks almost hopeful. 48 women per hour are raped in the DRC. That is 34,560 per month and 414,720 per year.
This is not confined to conflict areas. Once a minute, a woman is abused in her home. I would also like to point out that these instances are only reported rapes. The actual numbers could easily be much, much higher.
Women are the Congo’s most valuable resource. And that resource is being raped faster than it can recover. It’s hard to type these words. As I watch my screen, it swims through the standing tears in my eyes. For a moment I’m almost grateful for my own experience. Because in spite of the horror that exists in those statistics, it pales in comparison to the atrocious, violent brutality of those numbers.
These women aren’t just being raped. They’re being destroyed from the inside out. Stay with me and please continue to read. I promise we’ll get to the part with hope. I am sorry for having to show you this darkness, but it is a human darkness, born of the most poison parts of the human condition. And it must be acknowledged if it is to be fought.
Fight we must.
Women have been raped in front of their children, their families. Soldiers have forced women to watch as they rape the women’s children and kill them. Women have been raped with the barrel of rifles, have had rounds unloaded into their bodies where they destroy their internal organs, gut them inside. These women develop horrible infections. They cannot control their bowel movements or their urine and leak constant streams of excrement because their insides have been annihilated.
Worse, the victims are ostracized. Cut off from what’s left of their villages. Left too wander and suffer alone. I don’t know how many have died.
But I do know it would be far, far more if it weren’t for a man named Dr. Denis Mukwege.
Dr. Mukwege founded Panzi hospital. This is a place for women to go to recover. He operates on them. He patches their insides. Even the women who haven’t had rounds unloaded into their bodies often develop lesions, infections, and fistulae that fester and can cause death. He heals their bodies to the best of his abilities, and with the community of other survivors and nurses, he also helps heal their spirits.
Dr. Denis Mukwege is my hero. He sometimes performs up to 10 surgeries per day during his 18-hour working days. He has become the world’s leading expert on how to repair a woman’s body after she has been gang raped. Because of his tireless efforts, he has been awarded with a dozen different honors, including the Clinton Global Citizen Award, the Wallenberg Medal, and has been honored as a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur in France. He has also trained many others to perform the surgeries. He has been called the Angel of Bukavu.
The women who come to Panzi hospital come broken in more ways than one. Rape, when used as a weapon of war, destroys not only the bodies of women but the souls of all people. Children forced to watched their mothers violated, spouses held down while their wives are gang raped — this creates a level of psychological damage that nothing else can compare to. These women, if they survive, bear scars. Scars within their bodies, deep inside.
And yet when morning dawns at Panzi hospital, you will hear their voices singing. You will hear them raise songs to God and praise him. Some women have rescued orphaned babies and pour themselves into raising the children as their own to start a new family.
These women have hope again. These women survive.
The hope for the Democratic Republic of the Congo lies in the women of that land. Dr. Denis Mukwege is helping to make sure that hope is not snuffed out.
Partnered with Eve Ensler, they have founded the City of Joy, which is a place women can go to recover more fully, to learn skills, and to become whole again. It opened last year, and its first class just graduated.
Tomorrow is V-Day. Tomorrow is the day to acknowledge that over one billion people on this planet have been beaten or raped. Tomorrow is the day to celebrate hope and the ability of women, of men, of humanity to overcome darkness. Please join with me to help share the message of hope. Please join with me to break the silence.
Tomorrow will be the final post of my V-Day series. I hope that this message has sobered you. I hope that it has shocked you. I hope that it has inspired you to take action, even if you think it is a small action. Even if you, like me, don’t have millions to help expand Panzi hospital and the City of Joy.
There are many ways to help. Tweet about V-Day (#vday). Talk about V-Day. Have conversations with women and men about the cause. Open a dialogue. Break the silence. Blog about V-Day tomorrow. Share your own story, or a story of someone who has touched your life. Attend a V-Day event in your area. You can donate to the V-Day cause, or directly to work in the Congo. Be strong. Be hopeful.
Together we can affect change. Together we can break the silence.
Until the Violence Stops.
An article in the Guardian about the statistics from the DRC.
The original article in Glamour by Eve Ensler “Women Left for Dead — And the Man Who’s Saving Them.”
- Inspire Me (emmiemears.com)
- Why eastern DR Congo is ‘rape capital of the world’ (cnn.com)
- Until the Violence Stops, I Shall Raise My Voice (emmiemears.com)
- Congolese women graduate from inaugural rape survival class (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Congolese women graduate from inaugural rape survival class (cnn.com)
- Ben Affleck: Going Back to Congo (huffingtonpost.com)