Emma Wade

Foreign Policy Counsellor

Part of Shoulder to Shoulder

4th March 2014 Washington DC, USA

My New Hero: Dr Denis Mukwege

On Tuesday evening at Georgetown University, the UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, received an award from his friend and former US counterpart, Hillary Clinton. The award recognizes his leadership in steering the energies of the British government into the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, an international project to end the use of rape and sexual assault as weapons of war and tackle impunity for perpetrators of such appalling crimes.

Secretary Clinton can certainly draw a crowd. Georgetown’s magnificent Gaston Hall was packed with students, ambassadors and human rights advocates. By attaching her name to the Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards for Advancing Women in Peace and Security, she has lent her star power to this issue. But despite an inspiring speech from my Foreign Secretary, it was his fellow honoree, Dr Denis Mukwege, who stole the show for me.

You have probably not heard of Dr Mukwege, but he is an outstanding proponent of women’s rights. He is a gynecologist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country that for almost 20 years has been ripped apart by a series of wars. One of the most shocking features of these conflicts has been the widespread use of sexual violence as a weapon. Around half a million Congolese women have been raped since the fighting began.

In 1998, Dr Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital in his home town of Bukavu on the Rwandan border. Since then, the hospital has treated some 40,000 victims of sexual violence. It carries out operations every day to repair the serious physical damage caused by these brutal attacks. And by offering psychological and social rehabilitation programs alongside medical treatment, Dr Mukwege has, in Hillary Clinton’s words, “tried to repair broken hearts and spirits, as well as broken bodies.” Characteristically, he dedicated his award to the survivors, and spoke movingly of finding inspiration in their “fierce determination.”

Dr Mukwege has become an eloquent advocate for the rights of women in his home country. He travels the world speaking on the subject and raising funds for the hospital. In September 2012, he addressed the United Nations. He expressed his admiration for the victims he has treated, and called for “unanimous condemnation” of those responsible for Congo’s plague of sexual violence. Weeks after he gave that address, gunmen attacked Dr Mukwege at his home in Bukavu and killed his bodyguard. Dr Mukwege narrowly survived, but had to flee the country for a time. In January 2013, however, he returned home to an ecstatic reception. He has since returned to all his medical and advocacy work. He still sees patients and performs surgery two days a week.

Politicians and government officials are, at long last, beginning to wake up to the realities of sexual violence in conflict. Some 140 countries have signed a UN Declaration, sponsored by the UK, calling for an end to the culture of impunity that has left hundreds of thousands of people, including men and boys, with no hope of justice for the crimes committed against them. That is progress. But we now need to turn these commitments into action on the ground – as courageous men and women like Dr Mukwege do every day. Making real change happen to end the brutality is the driving force behind this summer’s global summit on ending sexual violence in London.

When Dr Mukwege returned to Bukavu early last year, one member of the cheering crowds that greeted him wore a shirt that read “Welcome our Superman.” I can say that Dr Mukwege is one of my superheroes too.

About Emma Wade

Emma Wade OBE is the Foreign Policy Counsellor at the British Embassy in Washington. Prior to arriving in Washington in July 2012, Emma led the government’s international crisis management operations,…

Emma Wade OBE is the Foreign Policy Counsellor at the British Embassy in Washington. Prior to arriving in Washington in July 2012, Emma led the government’s international crisis management operations, for which she was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty The Queen. She has had diplomatic postings in Mexico and Chile, as well as the UK’s Mission to the UN in New York and the EU in Brussels. Emma has also had a range of roles in the Foreign Office in London, including as Chief of Staff to the Middle East Minister. Emma studied politics and government at the Universities of Essex and Manchester. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her fiancée

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