Published in 10/08/2015

In one eye-opening scene in the documentary, a group of women gathered explain to Dr. Mukwege why they are in his clinic asking him for help. They recount their individual encounters with sexual violence, each one more horrifying than the last. What ensues is a series of long and painful attempts to rebuild these women’s self-esteem. This struggle is the bottom-line of this documentary, The man who mends women (L’homme qui répare les femmes), a portrait of Dr Mukwege, philanthropist and practitioner who has dedicated his life to looking after rape-victims in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The debate surrounding this remarkable documentary took place at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil yesterday. The first to speak was the mediator, Vik Birkbek, journalist and filmmaker and curator of the Frontiers series at this year’s festival. She reminded those present that a large part of the Brazilian population has African descendents, but that, even still, there is still widespread ignorance about the current affairs of this far-off continent.

Bernard Quintin, the current Belgian consul, analysed the breakdown of Congolese society, attributing it to the acts of sexual violence occurring over many years of conflict in the country. Moreover, he highlighted the extreme necessity for the justice reforms beginning to take place in the region. Quintin confirmed that he believes justice should be the foundation of every society, and that these reforms would be the most difficult to carry out – more so than the moves to radically improve the police or armed forces, for example.

Alain Pascal Kaly, doctor of Social Sciences, gave an overview of the DRC’s history – from pre-colonial past, through colonisation to the present day. Thierry Michel, the documentary’s director added to this, revealing that the Congolese military continue to use rape as a weapon for conquering territories rich in minerals that they can sell to multinational corporations.

The debate was highly polemical, with many different opinions being expressed, by both debaters and members of the public. The amount of screen-time dedicated to the women was criticised by some, while others praised the technical aspects of the work.

Alain Pascal Kaly closed the debate by imploring all women to unite against sexual violence, reiterating that rape is not just an “African problem”, but affects female populations globally.

By Pedro Alves, translated by Gill Harris. See the original version in Portuguese here.