Memoir of the world’s bravest doctor

Memoir of the world’s bravest doctor: Nobel peace prize recipient who treats up to 3,000 rape victims a year calls for a world where women grow up without fearing violence in his autobiography

  • By the mid-1990s, the deadly conflict in Rwanda had spilled over into the Congo 
  • Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr Denis Mukwege treated 3,000 rape victims a year
  • Has penned The Power Of Woman as part autobiography and part call to action  

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by Dr Denis Mukwege (Short Books £20, 320 pp)

Denis Mukwege had just finished operating when his anaesthetist burst in to tell him he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. After walking through the cheering, singing crowd which had gathered outside the hospital, he went home, accompanied by the armed guards who watch over him night and day.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire, is the richest country in the world in terms of natural resources such as gold, copper, diamonds and coffee. But after decades of corruption and conflict, it is one of the poorest places on the planet. It is also one of the most dangerous countries in which to give birth.

Dr Denis Mukwege (pictured), who has treated thousands of rape victims in Congo, has penned a part autobiography and part call to action

Dr Mukwege, the son of a Protestant pastor, decided in his 20s to become a gynaecologist and dedicate himself to making childbirth safer for women in his country. Soon though, treating pregnant women would take a back seat to what became his grim speciality: the treatment of rape victims.

By the mid-1990s, the deadly conflict in neighbouring Rwanda had spilled over into the Congo and the country became known as ‘the rape capital of the world’. The conflict continues and, just as in Europe during World War II and in Bosnia in the 1990s, mass rape is a horribly effective way for soldiers to terrorise and control the population. 

Soon, Dr Mukwege was treating 3,000 rape victims a year, many of whom had also been tortured or shot in the genitals by their attackers and needed his skills in reconstructive surgery.

Despite their trauma, the women showed extraordinary fortitude. ‘I drew my strength from them,’ he writes. He set up counselling services, safe spaces and aftercare for rape victims and campaigned internationally to raise awareness of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

As well as the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize — which he shared with Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad — his work earned him the enmity of the DRC government. This brave man, who still works in the Congo, has survived several assassination attempts, hence the need for bodyguards.

THE POWER OF WOMEN by Dr Denis Mukwege (Short Books £20, 320 pp)

THE POWER OF WOMEN by Dr Denis Mukwege (Short Books £20, 320 pp)

Why do men rape? Dr Mukwege, the father of three daughters, believes that rape prosecutions are so rarely successful that, even in countries with well-funded legal systems, it has been almost decriminalised.

Whether the rapist is a Hollywood mogul or a Congolese soldier, there are men who — if they think they can get away with it — will ‘use their power for their own sexual gratification’.

Shockingly, a fifth of British women report experiencing some form of sexual assault.

If things are to change, then parents have a vital role to play in educating their sons. ‘How many fathers sit down and actually talk to their sons about the nature of consent?’ asks Dr Mukwege. ‘We forget or neglect, often out of prudishness or embarrassment, to talk about sex.’

The Power Of Women — part autobiography, part call to action — is not an easy book to read, yet Denis Mukwege’s quiet courage and dedication to his patients is moving and inspiring.

His dream is of a world where ‘the girls born on our maternity wing are celebrated just as much as the boys, and in which women grow up without fearing violence’.


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