A guest post by Dr. Denis Mukwege, Director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC.   Dr. Mukwege is the winner of the 2010-2011 King audouin International Development Prize and recently spoke at USAID in a roundtable discussion about gender based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The views in this post do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of USAID or the U.S. Government.

A few decades ago, the American pastor, Martin Luther King shook the conscience of his contemporaries in his speech with the famous line, I have a dream. This speech was written from the perspective of the “American dream”, a dream which is founded on the idea of rising up, of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. It also implies an attitude, which consists of pushing back the boundaries much further, of refusing the idea of fate and of hoping for a better future.

It is interesting to note that Martin Luther King’s dream unfolded against the backdrop of a social nightmare.

Today everybody knows that women in the eastern DRC are living a nightmare. Hundreds of women are raped every day. They are kidnapped and reduced to sexual slavery. Others have been raped by dozens of armed men who take pleasure in mutilating their genitals – a savagery that is unprecedented in the region’s history. Meanwhile unscrupulous traders and multinationals have joined forces with these militias and have taken to exploiting the minerals in the region for the manufacture of mobile phones and computers.

I cannot stress this enough : the organised rape of women in the eastern DRC is designed to destroy all of society in this region. In a country where the unemployment rate for men is estimated to be over 80%, women constitute the main pillar of socio-economic life, because of their hard labour in the fields or their small businesses selling their products at local markets. In fact, women are responsible for children’s education; they also pay for the cost of tuition and of medical care. A raped woman is equivalent to the long-term destruction of a family with several children. What will happen in the future to these thousands of children who were conceived in rape? These children, who have no identity, who cannot trace their descent and who are rejected by their communities? How will they integrate in tomorrow’s society? In a region where indifference is killing communities, USAID’s grassroots work can make all the difference.

The humanitarian situation of women victims of sexual violence requires an urgent and active intervention on behalf of the international community. For strategic and economic reasons, however, the cries of these raped women seem to come up against a wall of indifference. I remain convinced that the thousands of women in need who are ignored today will one day rise up forcefully and accuse the perpetrators of such vile acts as well as the many indifferent and cowardly people, who turned a blind eye on the misery of others to safeguard their own comfort.

Although their situation is a nightmare, the women in the eastern DRC dream of freedom. They dream of a simple life, of a free life. They don’t dream of Cadillacs or jewelery or of material comfort. All they dream of is to live – to be able to walk to the well or to their fields without fear.

May free men join their voices to those of the women who have suffered sexual violence, thus putting an end to a barbarism which defiles the human conscience, so that this dream of Freedom may one day become a reality.