Why We Won’t Stop Fighting: Hope in the Form of Men like Recent Nobel Prize Winner Denis Mukwege
Reasons to keep marching on after the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Doctor Mukwege, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Source: The Right Livelihood Award
On 6 October 2018, the United States Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacant position left on the United States Supreme Court by the retirement of former Justice Anthony Kennedy. This event proved to be heartbreaking for women across America and abroad. Both men and women, from our neighbours to our senators, took to social media to express their grief. Hundreds gathered outside the United States Capitol building to protest the confirmation in person. A group of students at Ithaca College in the New York even gathered to pray for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to live until after President Trump is out of office.
The outcries against Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation have not come without reason. Three women - Doctor Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick - came forward and accused Justice Kavanaugh of sexual harassment or assault during their high school or college years. Doctor Ford agreed to appear at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in which she testified bravely against the then-potential confirmation of Kavanaugh. His reactions were nothing short of telling - a speech characterized predominantly by yelling and self-victimizing accusations, suggesting a man who cannot face the truth of his wrongdoings. This is evident in exclamations such as: 'Since my nomination in July, there has been a frenzy on the left to come up with something, anything, to block my confirmation.' Here, Justice Kavanaugh mistakes his own personal karma for an attack orchestrated against him solely for political gains. What he attempts to suppress is that the surfacing of the accusations are simply a case of people fighting for people. In neglecting to own up to his mistakes, Kavanaugh reveals a lack of sympathy and compassion for his victims.
Justice Kavanaugh is not the man for whom my mother, my aunt, and I, as well as hundreds of thousands of other women marched last January. We marched for security and respect, two qualities we very likely may not feel our government represents for as long as he sits on the court.
Kavanaugh on trial, 2018. Source: Vanity Fair
Despite the public disappointment, I do not feel it is time to abandon all hope. Only one day before Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the Nobel Committee announced that Doctor Denis Mukwege would be one of the two Peace Prize recipients for 2018. It is men like Doctor Mukwege who give women of the world reason to keep our heads up.
In 1999, Doctor Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the original intent to decrease the maternal mortality rates. However, his very first patient came not to deliver a baby, but to receive medical attention after having been brutally raped. Years after the treatment of this patient, the hospital has since become an international foundation that helps rape victims with emotional, physical, and spiritual trauma through a five pillar program. Doctor Mukwege and his team have treated tens of thousands of patients, spanning all ages. Physical and psychological treatment paired with training in skills to improve their socioeconomic status renders the women exponentially more confident and capable when they leave the hospital.
The victims who seek help from the Panzi Hospital are most often survivors of rape by members of both the Congolese militia, and the rebel groups the militia has been fighting since 2003.
Shortly after winning the Sakharov Prize in 2014, Doctor Mukwege was interviewed by Fredrik Skavlan, a Norwegian television talk show host. When asked his thoughts on the practice of rape as a weapon in the Congo conflict, Doctor Mukwege replied that '...[it is] a really effective weapon...even more effective than all the classic weapons that we have, because...it is not only to destroy physically, the victim, it’s also to destroy the family, to destroy the community...there is, now, children born after rape who are suffering for what happened to their mother'. Doctor Mukwege later noted, 'I have seen even husband[s] who are completely destroyed, and they lose all their capacity of masculinity…'
Doctor Mukwege is a completely different, if not the totally opposite type of man from Justice Kavanaugh. His consistently calm disposition and outward compassion are reassuring qualities to witness in the media. He is a man not from whom women would run away, but from whom they can receive consolation and aid following dark, degrading, and terrifying experiences. After being congratulated on winning the Sakharov Prize by Skavlan in the aforementioned interview, Doctor Mukwege replied that he did not wish to receive any more prizes if they only helped his image and not his foundation: 'If you have a prize who can’t help you to achieve your cause, you don’t need it.' Finding sheer selflessness like Doctor Mukwege’s in the world is rare, but coming across it is more than enough to fill one’s heart.
I felt my hope for the future of American politics decline after hearing the news of Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation. However, after reading about Doctor Mukwege, I felt my chin rise higher than ever before, as I realized that sometimes, all it takes is a little reminder that the world is still full of people just trying to help in any way they can.