“When a woman in our program has the courage to tell her Life Skills trainer ‘I have been raped,’ we refer her to Panzi Hospital,” explains WfWI – Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Acting Country Director Gertrude Mudekereza.
The civil strife and multiple rebellions in Congo's eastern provinces continue to leave women and girls in danger, especially those living in rural and remote areas. Despite the peace negotiated after decades of war, they are terrorized by pervasive gender-based violence that goes beyond attacks committed by armed groups. Many consider the eastern Congo to be the “rape capital of the world.”
While WfWI – DRC does not offer post-rape medical care or counseling services, when survivors share experiences, the staff and trainers refer program participants and graduates to local partners such as Panzi Hospital in Bukavu.
The founder and director of Panzi Hospital is Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist who opened its doors in 1998 during the war in eastern DRC. The hospital quickly became known for its specialized care team and researchers who focus on supporting the healing and treatment of women survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
Seeing a revolving door of survivors returning to the hospital after enduring additional abuses, Dr. Mukwege was outraged and determined to speak out against the conditions that perpetuate the cycle of violence. He began to bring his evidence and treatment experience to humanitarian and human rights advocates, to draw greater attention to the use of rape as a weapon of war and the culture of impunity that protects perpetrators.
Researchers at the new International Center for Advanced Resource and Training (ICART) at Panzi Hospital are now studying the causes and impacts of rape to determine which interventions help both women survivors and their communities. Researchers believe that by strengthening the communities that have been affected by violence, those communities will be better able to support the women survivors who return in need of acceptance and understanding.
“Dr. Mukwege’s leadership and mobilization of attention and resources to further research-based evidence on effective interventions is key to developing smart policies that will bring an end to sexual and gender-based violence,” reflected former WfWI Chief Executive Officer, Jennifer L. Windsor. “His leadership and advocacy is a prime example of the critical role of using lessons from the field to confront this preventable and abhorrent practice.”