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Stephen Lewis and SAFER

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Stephen Lewis and SAFER, originally uploaded by tilak.dutta.

Tonya and I attended a talk at convocation hall on Nov 28th to raise awareness of sexual violence taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The evening was put on by SAFER and the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Tonya tells me that SAFER was started by a bunch of U of T grad students.

Anna Maria Tremonti, originally uploaded by tilak.dutta.

Anna Maria Tremonti was the moderator for the evening. (She’s from CBC radio). She started off the evening by introducing Dr. Mukwege.

Dr. Denis Mukwege, originally uploaded by tilak.dutta.

Dr. Denis Mukwege is the founder and director of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. He spoke in french with translation from Ms. Aissatou Diajhate. He spoke of the problems in his country and what the Panzi hospital was doing to help. Since 1998, civil war has killed 5 million people in the DRC and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped and tortured. His hospital provides free care to 3,500 victims of sexual violence each year. Dr. Mukwege works with a team of 6 surgeons to repair women’s extensive internal injuries. He spoke frankly about how rape was being used as a weapon of war.

Eve Ensler, originally uploaded by tilak.dutta.

Eve Ensler is most well known as the writer of the Vagina Monologues. She began by performing a harsh monologue written from the point of view of a girl who was kidnapped along with two of her friends. Her captor raped her repeatedly over a number of years and eventually impregnated her. One day she finally escapes with her child.

Eve, originally uploaded by tilak.dutta.

After the performance, she made a point of saying that she’d spent the better part of getting over her own rape as a “white person in a country where [she has] resources.” It’s unimaginable to her how some of these girls in the DRC might ever be able to move on with their lives.

Stephen Lewis, originally uploaded by tilak.dutta.

Finally, Stephen Lewis spoke. Stephen Lewis is a reknown Canadian politician. In the 70s he was the leader of the Ontario NDP. In the 80’s he was Canada’s ambassador to the UN. From 2001 to 2006 he worked as the UN’s special envoy for AIDS in Africa. He made a passionate, even shrill at times, plea to the rest of the world to help deal with AIDS in Africa.

At this talk, he called the world’s ignorace of sexual violence in the Congo the “festering scar on the first decade of this century…”. He wants people to amass a “movement of outrage” in order to get politicians to make good on the many promises they’ve made to help the women of the DRC. He said that Canadians in particular should be ashamed of our inaction. We pledged to help, but then did nothing.

He explained that a large part of the conflict in the DRC is due to the extraction of a mineral called “coltan”. 70% of the world’s coltan comes from these areas. Rape is used as a method of scaring people away from one of these mining towns so the operation can be taken over. The women that are raped as well as their families leave (and leave behind thier wealth) because they are ashamed of what has happened to them. They move to a new place where they may be able to start over.

The audience…, originally uploaded by tilak.dutta.

The audience paid very close attention to the panel. During the question period we found out that they’ve been teaching people with no previous medical training to become emergency surgeons with very good results.

The Panel, originally uploaded by tilak.dutta.

It was a very eye-opening and depressing evening.


Written by Tilak Dutta

December 27, 2008 at 4:15 am

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