On November 11, 2015, Women for Women International honored Dr. Denis Mukwege at the 2015 Annual Gala in New York for his tireless work to advocate for an end to sexual violence in conflict. Below are his remarks upon accepting the Champion of Peace Award.
Thank you to Women for Women International, especially Jennifer Windsor, to the Board of Directors, my friend and colleague Tony Gambino, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Tonight we honor women, and this extraordinary organization, that has breathed hope into communities through transformative and innovative programs that recognize women’s centrality to society.
Tonight, we must re-light the fire of determination. We are united by purpose: to end the violence, most often targeting women and girls, and the impunity it inspires.
Every woman and child has the right to a roof over her head, an education, and freedom from fear. As long as corruption, poverty, and the scourge of rape plagues families and our society, there will be no lasting, nor meaningful peace.
Peace begins in our homes, and this is where women’s centrality is critical. Women give birth; breastfeed and raise children of BOTH genders the same way, with the same love. Without considering women as our equals, we deprive future generations of our legacy.
In my work, I have witnessed women waking up from anesthesia or even a coma, asking immediately whether their children have eaten or gone to school. For women, the priority is their children. Boys and girls are equal in the eyes of their mothers. Education is critical in order to transmit knowledge from one generation to the next.
Without education, boys AND girls will lose not only their innocence, but MOST importantly their potential. With every instance of repression, the cost becomes more and more difficult to calculate.
Today’s and tomorrow’s children must be given an opportunity for full education.
For more than a century, women built civil society organizations and conversations to solidify their right to vote, to own land, and property, and even to have control over their own bodies.
Women organized, and continue to organize, their families and instill values at home, and in their communities, but also in places of business, trade, and governance. They must have true economic opportunities. They must be free citizens with the right to vote in fair, and credible elections.
It is women who carry the burdens of society on their shoulders and in their minds, but they also carry the resolutions to corruption and violence.
The work of Panzi, with organizations like Women for Women, helps women to lighten their burdens – and restore their communities.
There were moments of triumph because society recognized that women and girls were more than just agents of change. They were, and are, central to the success of any civilization.
But today, ladies and gentlemen…
…the women in Congo, Syria, Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, Burma, Columbia, in every corner of the globe, and even here in the United States, are facing an upsurge of violence. They are brutalized by loved ones, by criminals, by oppressive governments, or non-state actors.
Rape devastates the body, but also the soul. It steals a woman’s self-worth and her physical and psychological health. When deployed as a strategy of control over land, over resources, or over an entire population, it is a cheap, effective way to destabilize entire communities.
Rape is more than a devastating crime; it is designed to dehumanize the victim. At Panzi Hospital, we have treated tens of thousands of women and girls who required many surgeries to regain control over their bodily functions.
We have seen how medical intervention combined with psychosocial care, literacy, numeracy, and vocational training are catalysts for change, both for the short and long term.
We recognize healing means ensuring that women possess the ability to work and provide for their families, and to build a stronger voice and space on the public square - as citizens and as participants.
Ladies and gentlemen…
It is not enough to acknowledge the devastating and chilling effect of rape. It is a war crime like no other but there is more to rape than suffering; there is more to rape than the women of Congo, or women in Iraq and Syria, or caught as sexual slaves to ISIS. There are the perpetrators.
The perpetrators are predominantly male. Misogyny fuels violence, as surely as broken governance models, corruption, graft, and criminal opportunity do.
Let us not be mistaken: the behavior of men during conflicts reflects their behavior during peace time, except that during wars, the lawlessness due to the absence of the state and security, in a collapsed judicial system, the violence that was sleeping in the family and the community, is set free and explodes.
When impunity is valued over justice, devastation is bound to follow.
But there is also opportunity for redemption.
Men must stand shoulder to shoulder with women. Men have a responsibility to speak out in their own communities for the women they love.
When we replace hatred and oppression with love, and with a firm commitment to justice, men contribute to real change.
The recent announcement from South Africa’s African National Congress party wishes to withdraw [their nation] out of the ICC – disregarding and violating all that Nelson Mandela fought for.
The International Criminal Court has one concise mission and message: impunity for mass crimes cannot and will not be tolerated.
The voiceless and the vulnerable in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Burma, across the continent of Africa, and around the world, must know that the world is committed to justice.
To weaken the ICC is to vote in favor of impunity, opening the door to more violence.
We must promote accountability, coherence, and transparency. We must stand at the side of women in all walks of life and treat them as equal. We must understand that wisdom comes not only from men but also from women.
This evening, I am calling upon us men to take responsibility, because those who rape are men, but not all men are rapists, not all men are evil.
Many men do a lot for women. Our problem is that although only a minority of men rape, the majority does not denounce.
Many men close their eyes and ears in total indifference. But let’s stress that rape is not a sexual relationship, it is the destruction of the other; it is to deny the other's humanity. We cannot close our eyes and ears when someone denies and challenges another's humanity.
Let’s open our eyes and ears in the face of such evil acts and speak out when we witness the unacceptable. Although we may not be rapists ourselves, we do become accomplices of the crimes by not denouncing them.
I call upon men who believe in equality of gender.
I call upon men who refuse to close their eyes and ears, and urge them to speak up.
I call upon men to join women in the fight they have been in over the last 100 years for their basic and fundamental rights.
The time is now, to stand in solidarity with women, for women.
Thank you, and good night.