DRC: Interview with Congolese gynecologist and Eve Ensler

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Democracy Now!
Tens of thousands of women have been brutally raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of an ongoing internal conflict.
Dr. Mukwege has helped over 21,000 women in the past decade and was named “African of the Year” by a Nigerian newspaper last month. Eve Ensler is the creator of The Vagina Monologues.
The top UN official for humanitarian affairs is traveling through the war-ravaged eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo today where nearly 900 people have been killed and unknown numbers of women raped since the beginning of the year.

After visiting a hospital the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes expressed his shock at the large number of rapes that continue to take place. According to the United Nations tens of thousands of women in the Congo have been brutally raped as part of the ongoing war.

Dr. Denis Mukwege is a Congolese gynecologist and the founder of one of the only hospitals that treats victims of rape and mutilation. He’s been honored by the United Nations with the 2008 prize for human rights for his tireless work at the Panzi hospital that receives nearly 10 new patients each day. Dr. Mukwege has helped over 21,000 women in the past decade and was named “African of the Year” by a Nigerian newspaper last month.

Dr. Mukwege is in the United States this month to raise awareness about the war on the women of the DRC. He’s beginning a five-city tour with playwright and activist Eve Ensler, the author of the Vagina Monologues and founder of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women.

Last fall Ensler worked with UNICEF to organize events in two cities in the DRC where survivors of sexual violence publicly spoke out against violence and about their experiences for the first time. Seven women told their stories in front of community members and government and UN officials.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m joined now here in the firehouse studio by Dr. Mukwege and Eve Ensler.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Eve, talk about this tour, “Pain to Power.”

EVE ENSLER: Well, I had the privilege and honor of meeting Dr. Mukwege about two years ago. I interviewed him at the bequest of OCHA, a UN agency. And I had known before there some of the stories and some of the things that were going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but really it wasn’t until I met him and talked to him and listened and heard the stories that I came to understand the severity of the situation. And since then, I’ve been three times to Panzi Hospital and to the Democratic Republic of Congo and really witnessed firsthand and heard the stories of women and spent a lot of time with Dr. Mukwege.

And I felt if we could bring him here and we could travel America and we could go to universities and we could do small events and large events and all kinds of events, and this country could hear his voice and could hear directly from him the stories that were going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we might be able to shift consciences and really activate a movement here on the ground, which is already beginning to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mukwege, tell us how you got involved with this issue. Dr. Mukwege is being translated.

DR. DENIS MUKWEGE: [translated] It’s a particularly difficult situation. For the past ten years, at the hospital we have women that are not only raped, but have been tortured also, and their genitals have been literally been destroyed. And they’re often young. They’re at the beginning of their youth. And they arrive in such a condition where urine and fecals are coming out, and it’s very hard to take them, to take care of those women. But we are here because we have hope, and we have hope that the world can listen. It is unacceptable. It is unbearable that women are treated this way.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is committing these crimes?

DR. DENIS MUKWEGE: [translated] These crimes are committed by armed groups. For the past ten years, the Congo has been occupied by seven armies. And each army, each armed group, including the Congolese armed forces, each group commits its own atrocities. And I think it’s a very big deal, because women have no hope. Even those who are supposed to protect her abuse her and torture her.

AMY GOODMAN: Eve, you recently came back from Congo. Tell us about the Panzi Hospital.

EVE ENSLER: Well, I also—I want to say, too, that it’s really important to remember that violence against women is not a particular African thing or a Congolese thing; we know it’s happening in every country in the world. One out of three women are violated. I think what’s going on in the Congo, with a history rich in colonialism and genocide and rich in plunder, we know that the West is—this is essentially an economic war that is being fought on the bodies of women, that what we’re seeing at Panzi Hospital, to me, is a kind of end-of-the-world scenario.

We’re seeing hundreds and hundreds of women who are there who have been raped, whose bodies have been ripped apart, who are incontinent, who can’t hold their pee or pooh because of the terrible things that have been done to them, the guns, the knives, the many penises, the many rapes that have been done to them. And we’re seeing really, essentially, a country where this has been going on for ten to twelve years with complete or close to complete indifference in the world. There have been some groups, obviously, that have—like Human Rights Watch, that have kept their eye on this, but for all intents and purposes, the world has been fairly indifferent.

And I think, for me, having spent a lot of time in the rape mines of the world, when I went to the DRC and I heard these stories, I saw what could happen everywhere in the world if we don’t pay great attention to women’s bodies, because it is really so extreme there, and there’s been almost complete impunity there, that if we, as a world, do not develop a conscience and support the women there and have their backs and provide resources, but just really pay attention and start working through political channels to put pressures on the appropriate people, we will see the spread of this everywhere. We’re already beginning to see the spread of it in places like Zimbabwe.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about the deal that has just been reached on the Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, it being reported that Rwandan officials promised this weekend to return him to his home country more than two weeks after the Rwandan military arrested him near the border. Let’s start with you, Eve.

EVE ENSLER: Well, I think “arrest” is a hopeful phrase. I think he’s been taken out of the country. We don’t know where he is. It could be a vacation for Nkunda in Rwanda at this point. What I’m very concerned about is the fact that Bosco is still there, and he needs to be arrested, as well. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Who is Bosco?

EVE ENSLER: Under Nkunda. And what I’m more concerned about is that 6,000 troops have just been sent in, Rwanda’s troops, who have been kind of unleashed on the country without any protection of the women. And I think Dr. Mukwege can to speak to that, but it’s incredibly dangerous.

AMY GOODMAN: Doesn’t the US support Kagame, the head of Rwanda, the president?

EVE ENSLER: Yes. Do you want to address—

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mukwege?

DR. DENIS MUKWEGE: [translated] We are very worried. We know what armed groups do, what military does to women. Your question is about the protection for women, what measures have been taken to protect women. There is no answer. There’s thousands of militaries. There is no witness. There is nobody. I think all the women who have been raped and we have fixed them, we’re going to find them again in the same situation in a few months. There are UN forces there. Why cannot they be associated to the situation for more transparency? I am very worried, because there are no witnesses to what is going on now.


To watch the interview or read a full transcription, follow the link: www.democracynow.org/2009/2/9/playwright_v_day_founder_eve_ensler