In recent weeks, there has been an overall a mounting sense of despair and gloom in light of reports from around the world regarding sexual abuse crises in church and society . The #metoo movement for example revealed the disturbing magnitude and seemingly ubiquitous problem of sexual assault against women in all walks of life and in many contexts around the world .
Interrupting this rather overwhelming sense of gloom, however was the good news some two weeks ago that the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize was jointly awarded to Nadia Murad and Dr Denis Mukwege for their work in combating sexual violence against women and children. One of The Laureates, Dr Mukwege was recognized for his many years of advocacy and activism to combat sexual violence specifically in the Bukavu region of DRC, a region which has endured almost two decades of a protracted armed conflict .
The phrase sexual assault/violence is almost a euphemism for what some have called with more accuracy (in my view) Intimate terror ! The phrase “sexual violence” does not adequately capture the kind of terror, anguish and trauma thousands of women have gone through particularly in contexts of armed conflicts where rape has become a “weapon of war.” This is palpably the case for the Bukavu Region of DRC context in which Dr Denis Mukwege, works.
The news of his award reminded me of a documentary I saw several years back. Made in 2007, the documentary follows the story of one young woman Lumo Sinai who is a survivor of a gang rape which left her with severe bodily damage and fistulas that required multiple surgeries to repair. I learnt from the write ups around Dr Mukwege’s award that he is being recognized for his many years of advocacy for justice for thousands of women like Lumo in DRC.
Dr Mukwege was recognized for founding and running Panzi hospital which has provided healing support to more than 85,000 women and girls.  For 50,000 of these women, the treatment was in the form of surgical repair of fistulas, most of which were incurred through rape, while thousands others were treated for fistulas sustained due to protracted difficult obstructed labor labor while giving birth in contexts far a away from essential medical services.
Recognizing the complexity and the multiple layers of the trauma endured by these women, through what he calls the “Panzi Model” Dr Mukwege has commendably developed a healing program that goes beyond the physical surgeries to include attention to the psycho-social dimensions of the women’s trauma. Panzi makes a concerted efforts to “to stem the tide of survivors arriving at our doorsteps each day by healing not only the individual body’s and spirit but also the healing of families, communities and indeed the nation” in which they live. This approach commendably recognizes that healing is not just about the individual survivor of sexual crimes. It recognizes that sustainable healing will only come when we address the damage done to communities and families in contexts of armed conflict.. .a damage quite well described by the notion that such communities are “war-torn”
In recognizing the work of Dr Mukwege, The Nobel Peace Prize committee reminds us that 2018 marks ten years since the UN Security council adopted Resolution 1820 (2008) which determined that sexual violence as a weapon of war constitutes a war crime. Many activists would consider rape not just a sexual offence but a crime against humanity recognizing that such violence strikes at the very core of the survivors’ humanity in multiple ways.
It seems to me that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Dr Mukwge and Nadi Murad is not only an acknowledgment of the individual activists’ work to combat such violence, wherever it appears. It is also a call to action for many more to be similarly involved in naming and combatting sexual violence, intimate terror that is indeed a crime against humanity. Dr Mukwege would concur with this interpretation since he is of the view that seeking justice is the business of everyone – not just a self selected few!
As I continued to celebrate and reflect on the larger implications of this award, I noted with palpable concern yet another disturbing statistic reported to the effect that “40-60 % of women who seek treatment at Panzi are unable to return to their home communities. Though they long to do so, the extent of their injuries is prohibitive and also the fact that the violent context which led to their assault in the first place is still ongoing and so they stand a chance of being assaulted again. Moreover, they go back home with a “double scarlet letter” on their heads for being survivors of rape and for the fistulas that they suffer.. .which lead to embarrassing incontinence .
For these reasons, thousands of women will not be able to have a normal family life. They are going to live in shelters as refugees in their own country. The multilayered trauma they suffer is compounded by this reality and that they suffer is indeed heart wrenching and raises the enduring urgent question,
Who will stand in healing solidarity with these women, exemplified by Lumo Sinai? What will such solidarity entail? What will it take to rebuild and heal not only the individual women but also the communities that are so torn apart that flourishing beyond survival is a pipe dream? Above all , what ought to be done to address the root causes of this sustained crime against the humanity of thousands of women? Considering that the protracted war in Northern Congo is largely about extracting the mineral wealth in the region. .. particularly Coltan, a mineral that is used in the manufacturing of cell phones and computers, what moral responsibility might there be for all of us as consumers and as citizens of a global village where our individual acts of omission or commission can have far reaching consequences, often leading to massive suffering as is the case here?
The answer we give to these questions both individually or collectively is crucial for the much needed healing that goes beyond physical healing to incorporate psyho-social healing of the survivors’ deep wounds and for the healing and transformation of the contexts they live in so that prophylactically such assault and intimate terror, will be stopped before they ever happen .
That the Nobel Prize committee awarded this prize to advocates against sexual violence is encouraging and gives me some hope that many more in the global village will indeed feel morally compelled to stand with Lumo !