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‘Whenever we reinforce the message that boys are more capable, more deserving, or more valuable, we perpetuate injustice – and ultimately violence – against women.’ Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Mukwege
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JuliaMumsnet · 18/05/2022 12:11

Dr Denis Mukwege is the author of ‘The Power of Women’ (Short Books) and a world-renowned gynaecological surgeon. He is recognised as the world’s leading expert on treating rape injuries and has dedicated his life to caring for victims of sexual violence. His holistic approach to healing has inspired other initiatives around the world. In 1999 Dr Denis Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital which has treated more than 85,000 women suffering from rape- or birth-related complications, and The Panzi Foundation’s community of health and wellness practitioners, lawyers, and activists strive to put an end to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. In 2014, Dr Denis Mukwege was invited to the White House by Barack Obama. In 2018, he won the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Yazidi human rights activist and sexual violence survivor, Nadia Murad.

"Why am I the man I am? I do not intend to hold myself up as a role model. I have plenty of faults, as my wife Madeleine can attest to. I was not brought up as a male feminist, a concept neither of my parents, nor I, would have understood. Yet my education as a boy in eastern Congo was different from that of others, and this clearly influenced the man I became. My mother had progressive views about the roles and responsibilities of her children. As a result, she forced me to do ‘girls’ work’ such as washing up or laundry. At first, I resisted, but gradually I took to the work and eventually enjoyed the sensation of self-reliance and contributing. All those skills came in handy when I lived alone as a young adult, and I believe my mother’s egalitarian approach had a profound impact on how I saw women.

In many countries, boys are put on a pedestal from the moment they are born. As they mature, they become aware of their gender-determined privileges through their treatment at home and their relationships with their sisters or other girls their age. The customs and ceremonies of life form the grammar of our existence and are important in nurturing our identities and sense of self. But it is also important to question them. We must open our eyes to their impact.
Whenever we reinforce the message that boys are more capable, more deserving, or more valuable, we perpetuate injustice – and ultimately violence – against women.

Why do I say violence? What is the link between the division of domestic chores, inheritance traditions, or funeral ceremonies and rape? It is that the more boys and men are made to believe they are superior, that their lives matter more, the more likely they are to conclude that they have a right to dominate and mistreat other people’s daughters and sisters physically. I believe that ‘masculinity’ is something that is acquired by children over the course of their lives. They are not born with it. It is a social construct. It’s something a boy puts on like layers of clothing as he develops. The end result can be as varied as that statement implies.

We need to bring up boys without all the preconceived notions of manhood based on strength, power, and dominance. We need to give them freedom to express a full range of emotions, not suppress those considered ‘feminine’ such as compassion, kindness, and sensitivity. We also need to talk to them a lot more about gender equality, gender roles, the importance of respecting women, and also – this is very important – about sex.

The underlying message drilled into girls and women is always the same: ‘Don’t get raped.’ We tell them to be careful about whom they meet, to avoid dangerous areas, to pay attention to what they wear, and to be cautious about the signals they send. They are urged to be on their guard and avoid making themselves vulnerable. But much less time and attention are spent on the far more important lesson that should be directed again and again at boys. We need to be telling them: ‘Don’t rape!’ How many fathers sit down and actually talk to their sons about the nature of consent?

We can all teach the boys around us to be respectful, so that we don’t have to protect our daughters. Only collectively can we smash the taboos around sexual violence, ensuring that it is something that is openly discussed and tackled, not swept under the carpet like a dirty secret. This is why the campaigns of recent years— from SlutWalk to #BringBackOurGirls to #MeToo— need to be applauded and encouraged. But awareness campaigns aren’t enough on their own. They are great at generating publicity. They can thrust an issue or person into the spotlight. But they can’t help a woman who needs assistance in filing a police complaint. They can’t lodge a case against a negligent or insensitive investigator. They can’t offer counselling or a safe place to stay for the victim of an abusive partner or family member. These tasks are often handled by grassroots women’s organisations that need our support.

Women and victims of sexual violence in particular have been oppressed and ignored for most of human history. Every one of us can be useful in correcting this injustice, driven not by a desire for revenge on men but by a desire for empowerment and security for all.

I am, in many ways, an accidental feminist and campaigner. I set out to become a physician, which was already a lofty ambition for a child born in a shack at a time when Congo was a Belgian colony. But my life has been shaped by events beyond my control, above all the wars since 1996 that have ravaged Congo, and women in particular. The stories of the patients I encountered and treated drove me to join a much larger fight against the injustices suffered by women. I defend women because they are my equals— because women’s rights are human rights, and I am outraged by the violence inflicted on my fellow humans. We must fight for women collectively. Together we can make the twenty-first century a more equal, fairer, and safer century for all of humanity."

Extracted from ‘The Power of Women’ by Dr Denis Mukwege Short Books.

Follow Dr Mukwege on twitter: @ denismukwege
panzifoundation.org

‘Whenever we reinforce the message that boys are more capable, more deserving, or more valuable, we perpetuate injustice – and ultimately violence – against women.’ Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Mukwege ‘Whenever we reinforce the message that boys are more capable, more deserving, or more valuable, we perpetuate injustice – and ultimately violence – against women.’ Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Mukwege
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StillWeRise · 18/05/2022 17:52

Brilliant inspirational message that shows there is nothing inevitable about male privilege and abuse, thank you for this and for your work in general.
Is Dr Mukwege going to be answering questions? If so I'd like to read his thoughts on ending FGM.

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hedgehogger1 · 18/05/2022 20:56

What an amazing guy!

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HotWashCycle · 20/05/2022 12:42

Thank you for this and for letting us know about this amazing man and his work. I am going to find out more. Why did we not know about him before?

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StillWeRise · 20/05/2022 18:54

@JuliaMumsnet can you move this so it gets more attention?

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Liminalstate · 20/05/2022 19:11

What is the link between the division of domestic chores, inheritance traditions, or funeral ceremonies and rape? It is that the more boys and men are made to believe they are superior, that their lives matter more, the more likely they are to conclude that they have a right to dominate and mistreat other people’s daughters and sisters physically. I believe that ‘masculinity’ is something that is acquired by children over the course of their lives. They are not born with it. It is a social construct. It’s something a boy puts on like layers of clothing as he develops. The end result can be as varied as that statement implies.

This is such an important message. Thank you for highlighting his work.

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BootsAndRoots · 21/05/2022 15:01

Perhaps it is mentioned in the book, but in societies where men are put on such pedestals they have a "third gender", which isn't about trans-inclusivity but is really about boys and men who are not deemed masculine enough and are forced out of manhood to become something else.

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EmbarrassingHadrosaurus · 21/05/2022 22:30

I'm struck by the same passage as @Liminalstate - such a powerful and simple observation.

I look forward to reading the book. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, MN.

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Emotionalsupportviper · 23/05/2022 10:23

How often I have wished for a "like" button on this site!

Never more so than now.

Wonderful message - thank you!

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OstrichFeathers · 24/05/2022 19:42

This is fantastic, thank you.

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80sMum · 17/06/2022 18:27

I've just seen this on Facebook. It's a powerful message that should be widely circulated.

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StillWeRise · 20/06/2022 15:16

in fact he is saying, in the quote posted above, that one is not born a man, rather one becomes one
😉
unfortunately that is a thought that has been widely misunderstood and misrepresented

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