Can men be feminists? In Congo, Dr Denis Mukwege urges men to respect and support women’s rights
According to a 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health every day, 1,152 women are raped in DR Congo. However, these acts of brutal violence towards women have not been met by silence. A group led by Denis Mukwege, a doctor known for founding a clinic for rape victims in eastern DR Congo, was launched ahead of International Women’s Day in March 2014. The group was called V-Men Congo. Many feminists and activist may question the formation of such an exclusively male-led group fighting for women’s rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But members of this group argue that, ‘Women’s rights don’t just affect feminist movements. The stakes are global…It’s about our common humanity and the future of our society.’ Of course in many respects one may question what a ‘feminist movement’ entails. If the structure of a society make it difficult for women to fight for their own rights and when male members take on the role of fight for women’s rights, the idea of what constitutes a ‘feminist movement’ needs to be expanded. A notion where feminist acts cannot be examined without examining masculinity. For example, in an inspiring speech Dr. Mukwege spoke of men to reflect and interrogate their masculnity and assume responsibility for their actions.
These sittings give me an opportunity to amplify the movement, which must call us into question as men with regard to our masculinity. We have to think again about our masculinity so as to make it more responsible. As far as masculinity is concerned, in my opinion, a responsible masculinity is the one that takes into consideration all women’s assets and fairly gives them the value they deserve with equality and without any fear. Rapes and gender based violence will end when men understand the ugliness of sexual assault; the day they will understand that rape and sexual assault degrade their masculinity.
Dr Mukwege is known as a ‘tireless advocate’ for the rights of women in DRC. He has addressed the United Nations General Assembly on the matter and regularly travels abroad raising awareness of the situation in Eastern DRC. In between responsibilities managing and administering Panzi Hospital and overseeing projects at the Panzi Foundation, Dr Mukwege continues to see patients and perform surgery two days a week. In this regard, Dr Mukwege’s work and efforts for the rights of women in DRC can only be met with unfathomable admiration even though his struggles may not coincide with western norms of feminist struggles.
The fact that Dr Mukwege, like many human rights activists in the region has met with death threats further attests to this fact. According to an October, 2012 Guardian article, written by Eve Ensler author of V-monologues:
On a given night, five armed men had broken into the residence of Congolese human rights activist Dr Denis Mukwege, founder of Panzi hospital in Bukavu, DRC. After holding his two daughters and their friend at gunpoint for half an hour, the armed men forced Dr Mukwege out of his vehicle as he arrived at his residence. Dr Mukwege’s security guard had tried to alert neighbours about the situation, but was fatally shot at close range by the armed men. The gunmen then fired more shots at Dr Mukwege, who narrowly escaped death by throwing himself to the ground. The five men fled the scene in Dr Mukwege’s vehicle – their identity and whereabouts are unknown at the moment.
The fact that Dr Mukwege continued his activism and work despite threats to his life and family attests to his level of dedication to human rights issues and justice for women.