Last week, the nation was transfixed on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, a man accused of sexual assault by a woman whom many people across the political spectrum found believable, but whom was ridiculed by others. Against this troubling backdrop, and nearly lost in last Friday’s news was something truly uplifting: Dr. Denis Mukwege, a hero for brutalized women in his native Democratic Republic of Congo, won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with an extraordinarily courageous young activist, Nadia Murad, herself a victim of profound sexual violence. There is no one I can think of more deserving of the prize than Denis Mukwege, whom I’ve had the honor to know for nearly a decade.
Denis Mukwege is not a household name. But, it should be. And, I dearly hope the Nobel Peace Prize will give Mukwege the platform he deserves. You see, he founded Panzi Hospital in war-torn DR Congo that treats women and girls who have been victims of exceptional violence, including gang rape and vaginal assault with weapons, not just male organs. He’s the son of a Pentecostal minister and told me he wanted to do with his hands what his father did with his words: make the world a better place. But, he does far more than use his surgical skills to heal women, he is their champion — a courageous voice demanding the world’s leaders pay attention and help end the needless violence and tremendous suffering, as he did at the United Nations General Assembly in 2012.
When I first met Dr. Mukwege he was in the U.S. with playwright Eve Ensler. I run Fistula Foundation, which funds vaginal surgeries for women left incontinent by unrelieved obstructed labor or violence, and I wanted to find out if he needed help. It turns out he did. In late 2008, the economic tsunami hit the global financial system and a key donor unexpectedly pulled their funding from Panzi Hospital. Dr. Mukwege said he’d had to cut his staff practically overnight. Fistula Foundation is small, but nimble — we try to be like a speedboat with an ATM on the back. I asked for a proposal, audited financials, references, and all came back within a few days from his team operating in a war zone. We sent funds, doctors were hired back, and more women got treated.
That meeting so long ago led to a long-term partnership; our foundation is honored to have provided a little over $2.3 million in support of Dr. Mukwege’s pioneering work to heal women broken by violence and childbirth. But Dr. Mukwege’s Panzi Hospital is more than simply a place to repair bodies. It is an indispensable island of peace and love; what Human Rights Champion Stephen Lewis calls “the epicenter of resistance.”
Every day, Mukwege serves as my North Star. His portrait hangs on the wall next to my desk as it has for nearly as long as I’ve known him. In a white doctor’s coat and a lapel pin that says “DO NOT STAND IDLY BY” he reminds me of the sacrifices he’s made to give the voiceless a voice and to return their health and their hope.
According to the World Health Organization, violence against women is a violation of human rights and stems from “prevailing attitudes that serve to justify, tolerate or condone violence against women, often blaming women for the violence they experience.” Sound familiar? In a developed country like ours, that abuse, unlike in DR Congo, is not inflicted by marauding soldiers as a tool of war, but usually by family members, intimate partners and acquaintances.
Now more than ever the world needs champions for women. While Dr. Mukwege confronts violence in women a continent away, all of us in the U.S. can take inspiration from him and his indefatigable commitment to the welfare of women. He shows by example that we must not just stand idly by.
Kate Grant is CEO of Fistula Foundation.
Fistula Foundation believes no woman should suffer a life of isolation and misery simply for trying to bring a child into the world, which is why we are dedicated to ending the suffering caused by obstetric fistula. We’re working with local partners in more than 20 countries, funding more fistula repair surgeries worldwide than any other organization. Based in San Jose, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley, Fistula Foundation is honored to have received 12 consecutive four-star ratings from Charity Navigator; only 1 percent of charities have received this designation.
Originally published at medium.com