The Nobel Prize Awards came to a close recently, with the current forerunners of academic, cultural and scientific advances achieving global recognition and financial reward for their contributions to society.
Of particular interest, is the Nobel Peace Prize, which this year was awarded to the Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos “for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end”. It is worthy recognition of the titanic efforts that Colombia has gone through to reach peace. Despite the fact that a peace agreement was not reached, it is hoped that the exposure will lubricate tensions and eventually lead to a ceasefire.
President Santos has decided to divide the $1 million prize money between the victims of the civil war. However, with over 8 million recognised victims this would mean each person would receive roughly $0.13. While the non-financial benefits of the award will still be significant for the Colombian people, it is interesting to wonder how else the $1-million-dollar prize fund could be spent should the award have been given to another of the deserved nominees.
One of those said nominees is a practising gynaecologist and advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. In the last decade the topic of gender inequality has seen significant advances in its global exposure. After being listed in the new UN Global goals, there has been a surge in female empowerment initiatives. Despite this, the ultimate goal is a long way away; many areas of the world are yet to address the issue. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to a grass root development that seeks to resolve this problem. The Nobel peace prize nominee responsible for this is Dr Denis Mukagwe.
Nominated 3 times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr Mukagwe and his associates founded the Panzi hospital in 1999, a treatment centre for women who have been subjected to rape in the DRC. Working 18-hour shifts, Dr Mukagwe performs surgeries and provides treatment for these women, most of whom have fallen victim to militia and government forces fighting in a brutal civil war that has plagued the country since 1997.
In its 17-year history, Panzi Hospital has treated over 60,000 women of all ages, who were admitted with wounds as a result of rape; an act that has been described as ‘systematic’ and ‘normal’ in the DRC, and is widely utilised as a ‘weapon of war’ by forces on either side of the internal conflict.
In this time, Dr Mukagwe has become the worlds leading expert on repairing internal physical damage caused by rape, as well as a frontrunner for the global campaign to end the use of rape as a weapon of war.
Panzi Hospital, however, is much more than a place for the women to have their physical wounds treated free of charge (normally with surgery performed by Dr Mukagwe himself). The hospital encompasses a number of programs that resemble a forward-thinking movement, way ahead of its time in the DRC and even many other African countries of similar constitution.
Primarily, the hospital is partnered with a program called City of Joy; a place where up to 60 women who have received treatment can remain in a safe environment for a number of months to receive psychological treatment for their mental trauma and learn about women’s rights. Dr Mukagwe has also recently been looking into targeting the problem at the stem, by initiating a program that will bring offenders to justice, hopefully deterring future offenders.
These are small-scale, yet effective programs that are slowly changing attitudes, behaviours and breaking through the thick crust of gender inequality that engulfs the DRC.
It is interesting to wonder whether correct funding injected into the right places, as well as more widespread recognition of the issue, would extend the reach of these programs to influence much more of the country. If we were thinking optimistically, a movement like this from one of the poorest countries in Africa could inspire hope in other African countries that suffer from similar issues. This could have the potential to kick-start similar initiatives all over the continent.
While Dr Mukagwe has been honoured for his services with nearly 30 different awards from all over the world, he has never been granted the prestige or financial reward of the Nobel Peace Prize, a prize-fund that could potentially have provided huge progress for gender inequality in parts of the African continent.
Through our three gender empowerment programmes across Africa, we have seen ourselves that simple investments into education and uplifting the adolescent girls makes a significant difference to their lives as well as the community dynamic. In order to achieve the UN’s global goal, even more precedence and financial investment must be granted to this issue.
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