SCOTT SIMON, host:
Yesterday, Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda was arrested in Rwanda. He's been leading a rebellion in Congo since 2004. Groups like Human Rights Watch have said that soldiers under his command have been responsible for much of the violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including mutilation and rape. Next month, Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues," and Dr. Denis Mukwege are setting off on a tour to tell the stories of women who have survived sexual violence in Congo. Dr. Mukwege is a gynecologist by training. He's founded the Panzi hospital in Congo, a place where victims can find treatment and counseling. He's been honored by the U.N. Thank you very much for being with us, Dr. Mukwege.
Dr. DENIS MUKWEGE (Gynecologist; Founder, Panzi Hospital, Congo): Yes, Simon.
SIMON: We are also joined by Eve Alice Rustock Stohler(ph) who'll be translating for Dr. Mukwege. Eve Ensler joins us from our studios in New York. Thank you.
Ms. EVE ENSLER (Playwright, "The Vagina Monologues"): I'm thrilled to be here.
SIMON: And let's alert the audience. We're talking about a vicious crime and some of the language may be graphic. Dr. Mukwege, tell us about the women that you treat in your hospital. What's happened to them? What do you try to do for them?
Dr. MUKWEGE: (Through Translator) The first thing is to help them on a psychological level because when they arrive they are psychologically traumatized, and we need to help them feel like human beings again before we can do anything else. The second type of help we give is medical help. And there 30 percent of women who are in the hospital will undergo major genital surgery. The surgery will be to repair vaginal fistula in parts or the whole vagina.
SIMON: Eve Ensler, how did you become involved?
Ms. ENSLER: I was asked to interview Dr. Mukwege around two years ago at the request of OTA(ph), a U.N. group. And I think it was the first visit to Bukavu when I spent a few weeks interviewing women and being at Panzi Hospital and sitting and hearing the stories. I had really never heard anything like what was going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo - without a doubt the worst crimes towards women.
SIMON: Look, it's Saturday morning, but at the risk of being graphic, can I ask you to tell us what's going on?
Ms. ENSLER: It's estimated that between 300, 400 thousand women have been raped in the last 10 to 12 years. It's really important we know that this is not all the men of the Congo or Rwanda who are committing the rapes. It's a very small percentage of men. But I will say that the crimes that are going on range from girls as young as six months, nine months old, their vaginas being ripped apart; eight-year-old girls were held for two weeks at a time and raped by scores of soldiers so that they become incontinent from fistula; eighty-year-old women being raped; groups of soldiers being sent into villages who are known to have AIDS to rape the community so that they infect all the women in those communities; women being strategically raped in front of their husbands, so that they absolutely destroy the infrastructure of the family.
You know, one woman who Dr. Mukwege operated on and saved her life, she was shot in her vagina with a gun, and her insides were so blown apart, Dr. Mukwege didn't even know where to begin the operation.
SIMON: Dr. Mukwege, how does it come to be historically in terms of recent events that sexual assault should become so prevalent in Congo?
Dr. MUKWEGE: (Through Translator) The most important reason, among others, is that rape is used as a war strategy. When a woman is publicly raped, and so violently, not only is she traumatized, but the whole community is traumatized - her husband, her children, and the whole village. The result is often that a population will leave the village and will leave it to the armed bands who can then use the cattle and the fields. And so that's just as good a result as using weapons.
Ms. ENSLER: And...
SIMON: Eve Ensler.
Ms. ENSLER: And if I can add, I mean, I think it's really important to remember that the war in Congo is essentially an economic war. It is a war that's being fought over mines and fought over resources because it is plentiful there. And I think rape is a very cheap method of warfare. You don't have to buy scud missiles or hand grenades. You just send soldiers in, and they take care of communities. And it's often right near mines, because once the village has been raped and destroyed, then people flee, and the bandits and the rebels can then take over those particular mines.
SIMON: Dr. Mukwege, from your point of view, what can people listening to our broadcast in America do if they are moved to help? What can they do both to stop the crime of rape and to help the women who you treat as patients and others who can't get to you to be treated?
Mr. MUKWEGE: (Through Translator) We need the help of Americans for the hospital. We need Americans' help to heal women in the hospital, but also to help the women who cannot be healed, the women who cannot be cured because they have such problems - they have no more vagina, no more rectums, no more bladders - and these women need to be taken care of in a different way. The second type of help we need is for prevention, because some women leave the hospital, but they come back months later in an even worse state. Sometimes they have contacted VIH when they didn't have it before.
And so we need the help of Americans to prevent these things to happen. And we need the Americans to put pressure on the political actors of the countries of the Great Lakes so that there will be a political will to prevent these horrible crimes.
SIMON: I want to thank you both for all of your time. Dr. Denis Mukwege, founder of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavo in Democratic Republic of Congo, thank you so much for being with us.
Mr. MUKWEGE: Thank you. Bye-bye.
SIMON: Also, Eve Alice Rustock Stohler, who was our interpreter. And Eve Ensler, of course author of "The Vagina Monologues" and founder of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women, thank you very much for being with us.
Ms. ENSLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Hundreds of thousands of women have been systematically sexually attacked in the civil war. Activist Eve Ensler and Dr. Denis Mukwege, founder of a hospital in Congo that helps rape victims, are going on a tour to raise awareness of what's happening to women and girls in Congo.
Rape — as much as guns or knives — has become a savage weapon in the civil wars of Congo. Hundreds of thousands of women reportedly have been systematically sexually attacked during the conflict.
Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda was arrested in Rwanda on Friday. Groups such as Human Rights Watch have said that soldiers under his command have been responsible for some of the widespread violence against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
NPR's Scott Simon talks with Eve Ensler, playwright and activist, and Dr. Denis Mukwege, the founder of a hospital in Congo that's helping victims of rape and mutilation, about their upcoming tour to raise awareness of what's happening to women and girls in Congo.
Mukwege, a gynecologist, founded the Panzi hospital in the Congo — a place where victims can find treatment and counseling. He's been honored by the United Nations for his humanitarian work there.
Ensler founded V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women. She is also the author of The Vagina Monologues.