There has been an international outcry at last week's attempted assassination of Dr Denis Mukwege at his home in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A world-renowned surgeon, Mukwege is the founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital, where he and his staff have helped to treat over 30,000 survivors of sexual violence.
Rightly regarded by many in Congo and around the world as a hero, Dr Mukwege worked tirelessly to assist rape survivors at his hospital - and to advocate for their rights and needs across the world, helping to shine local and international attention on the extraordinarily high rates of sexual violence in eastern DRC.
He spoke forcefully at a recent UN meeting, where he called for an end to impunity and for swift action to be taken to hold perpetrators to account. He also called on the Congolese government, the UN and other member states to act urgently to stop the violence.
"We fear for the safety of Dr Mukwege and worry that this attempt on his life was directly linked to his advocacy work," said Bafana Khumalo, co-founder of the Sonke Gender Justice Network. "It closely follows a speech he gave at the UN last month in which he denounced the country's 16 years of violent conflict and called for action to arrest those responsible for these crimes against humanity and to bring them to justice."
Along with Sonke Gender Justice Network and many other people and organizations, OSISA calls on the DRC government to immediately ensure Dr Mukwege's safety and to rapidly bring those responsible for this attempted assassination - and for the murder of Mukwege's driver during the attack - to justice.
"Dr Mukwege has provided inspiration and support to many organisations working on gender violence in South Kivu province, giving them the confidence to continue their critical work," said Louise Olivier, Law Programme Manager at OSISA, which has supported a legal aid clinic for rape survivors at Panzi Hospital and worked closely with Dr Mukwege in recent years.
A forthcoming report by Sonke and Promundo on men's self reported use of violence in Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo reveals how important it is that men speak out against rape: fully 37% of men surveyed reported having raped a woman, nearly a third of men believed that women sometimes want to be raped and that when a woman is raped she may enjoy it.
Disturbingly, given the very high levels of rape in war, nearly half of all men surveyed said that men should reject his wife if she has been raped.
"Dr Mukwege is one of a growing number of men in Africa who recognise that men have a role to play in ending violence against women and who are acting on their conviction that men's violence against women has to stop," said Khumalo. "We at Sonke celebrate Dr Mukwege as a powerful and important example of the role men should play in society as champions of gender equality and women's rights and we urge swift action to secure his safety and to hold the perpetrators of the attempt on his life to account."
It is critcally important that the government of the DRC and the UN Mission in the DRC ensure that Dr Mukwege is able to continue with the important work his is currently doing at the Panzi Hospital. Any disruption to this vital service will have a huge impact on the many women and children who are victims of conflict in that region - and to the broader campaign to stem the tide of sexual violence in eastern DRC.