top of page
podcast episode 26image.png

Click Play To Listen

00:00 / 31:23

Empowering Women:  Dr. Denis Mukwege's Inspiring Journey

Hey there mamas! Welcome back to the Mom-entum Podcast with your host, Tanya Valentine. I'm so glad you're here!

So about a month or so ago I was listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Podcast and she was interviewing a Congolese ob-gyn and they were talking about his book: “The Power of Women: A Doctor’s Journey of Hope and Healing”. Listening to this man’s story, I was so intrigued and so impressed with his resilience through the horrific things he had been through.


Dr. Mukwege gives his life in service to others, literally sacrifices his life every day as he saves lives and fights for the rights of so many women. 


After listening to this episode I felt inspired to learn more about Dr. Mukwege, his story and his cause.

So, after being completely floored by Dr. Mukwege's interview, I couldn't resist getting my hands on his book, "The Power of Women: A Doctor’s Journey of Hope and Healing." Guys, it's more than just a book; it's a journey.

Strap in, because this book is packed with eye-opening stories. Dr. Mukwege doesn't hold back as he shares his own experiences and those of the women he's crossed paths with. Get ready to feel inspired, empowered, and maybe even shed a tear or two.


Can we just take a moment to applaud Dr. Mukwege's unwavering dedication? Despite facing obstacles at every turn, he's literally built 2 hospitals in remote areas of Congo, one of which was hijacked and turned into a military camp.  He has been driven out of his country on multiple occasions by assaults and threats made to his life, yet he continues to fight tooth and nail for women's rights. Talk about a true hero!


Fair warning, some parts of Dr. Mukwege's book are tough to read. He doesn't sugarcoat the harsh realities of sexual violence. But within those heartbreaking stories, there's also resilience, strength, and hope.


Feeling fired up and ready to make a difference? Heck yes! There are plenty of ways we can support Dr. Mukwege's mission, from spreading awareness to lending a helping hand.


One way you can help is by raising awareness.  Grab yourself a copy of this book.  Talk about it, share it with others. If your children are old enough, talk about rape with them.  Talk with your daughters about the power of their voice, to not be afraid to speak up.  Teach your sons to respect women and to speak out against acts of abuse and mistreatment of women.  You can also visit to discover more ways to help, leave a donation or even start a fundraiser.  Let's band together and be the change we want to see in the world.


Remember, even in the darkest of times, there's always a glimmer of hope.  Be that candle in the darkness, keep shining, keep supporting each other, and until next time, take care and keep rocking motherhood!

Resources Mentioned In The Show
  • Snag a copy of "The Power of Women:  A Doctor's Journey of Hope and Healing" by Dr. Denis Mukwege by clicking here.

  • Discover ways you can help support Dr. Denis Mukwege's foundation by visiting one or both of these websites:

  • Click here to listen to Oprah's interview with Dr. Denis Mukwege.

  • Click here to check out this book mentioned in the show: "Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds" The 9 Key Factors That Can Make a Real Difference by Kelly A. Turner, Ph.D.

  • Need help organizing your time?  A great way to start is by doing a time audit.  Don't know where to start?  I've got you covered! For access to my FREE TIME AUDIT TOOL click here.

  • Love quizzes?  Discover your mom personality type and unlock personalized episodes designed to tackle your unique challenges based on your personality. Take Quiz.

  • Click here for your FREE DECLUTTERING CHECKLIST.

  • Click here to join The Mom-entum Podcast Private Facebook Community

  • Please subscribe, rate and review the show to help me reach and support more amazing moms just like you! Click here to learn how.


Hello and welcome to another episode of the Mom-entum Podcast, the show dedicated to inspiring, uplifting and empowering women on their journey through motherhood.  I’m your host Tanya Valentine, thank you so much for being here.


I want to switch gears here today and talk about a book I just read that had a profound impact on me.  And I want to give you all fair warning, if you have little ones around I highly suggest popping some air pods or headphones in as what I’m about to talk about isn’t for little ears, although I think the message of this book is of great importance.


So about a month or so ago I was listening to Oprah’s super soul podcast and she was interviewing a Congolese ob-gyn and they were talking about his book: “The Power of Women: A Doctor’s Journey of Hope and Healing” . Listening to this Man’s story, I was so intrigued and just in a state of I don’t know disgust and shock at the kinds of things he shed light on that actually happen in the world today and equally I was so impressed with this man’s resilience through the horrific things he had been through and his pure heart. This man gives his life in service to others, literally sacrifices his life every day as he saves  lives and fights for the rights of so many women. 


After listening to this episode I felt inspired to learn more about this man, his story and his cause. I will be sure to link to this podcast episode in the show notes so you can check it out yourself.  

Dr. Denis Mukwege is a world renowned Doctor, Nobel Peace prize winner, and women’s rights activist. Dr. Mukwege is a Congolese ob-gynecologist who runs a hospital that specializes in treating injuries caused by rape.. 


After listening to his interview with Oprah,  and learning about the horrendous things that are taking place in Central Africa, I was so moved that I felt compelled to purchase and read this book, “The Power of Women”.  And when I say read I mean I listened to the audiobook, because I gotta be completely transparent with you, it is the only way I have found in this season of my life for me to be able to complete a book.  


So if you are like me and have the desire to read but don’t have the time and at the end of the day, or your just too tired to read, or if when  you do start reading you find yourself reading the same sentence over and over again because you’re unable to focus, or maybe you even have a hard time keeping your eyes open, then here’s a tip.  Try an audiobook!  Don’t deny yourself of what you can learn and enjoy from reading by believing the lie that you don’t have the time or that it’s not worth it if you won’t be able to finish it.  Listen, You can listen while driving in the car, doing dishes, laundry, while you're going for a walk or a run.  This is the type of multi-tasking that I highly encourage.  


 So to start, let’s talk about why you should listen.  Why is this important?  Well I can say why this is important to me-I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t aware this was going on in the world.   But after listening to Oprah’s interview with Dr. Mukwege, and hearing his story, I had a strong interest in learning more, learning more about what I can do to help and support this amazing larger than life of a man and his mission of fighting to end sexual violence and support women all over the world, as well as making the world a better place for our children.  


This book is not just about the marginalized women of the Congo, but it also talks about how sexual violence manifests all over the world, including in our own country, and what we can do to prevent it from happening. Which is educating ourselves, our daughters and even our sons on the devastating consequences of rape. We really do have the power to make a change.  It may seem overwhelming, like this is such a big problem and it’s so complex, but through the simple act of educating ourselves, our daughters, and raising our sons to respect women, we really can make a difference.  And this part of Dr. Mukwege’s message really resonated with me.


So the book is the story of Dr. Mukwege’s life, and interwoven in his story he explains the wars that have torn apart his country, which have resulted in over 5 million dead or missing since 1996.  He tells the stories of the women he has encountered over the years and the atrocities they suffered and inspiring stories of their strength, power, and resilience despite the unimaginable horrors they fell victim to.  He talks about the causes of sexual violence and walks us through how it manifests all over the world, in places like South Korea, Latin America, the Middle East, and even here on US territory.  


He also talks about his work as a women’s rights activist, and how his work in this area has resulted in many threats being made to his life, and despite these threats he refuses to quit- which is a message I think we all can benefit from.  Like think about it,  what are you giving up on right now and what are your reasons why?  My guess is that you didn’t quit because someone was threatening your life.  And that’s a piece of this book that I’m taking away is this man's tremendous ability to keep going, to never give up even through the worst of the worst setbacks which you can read about in his book.  


But I just think hey if he can keep going through everything that he has been through, then I really have no excuse. And I think the major source of power behind this man’s determination is well for one his faith in God, but also his purpose.  Helping these women, being a voice for these women who have suffered unimaginable trauma and fighting for what is right, fighting against injustice, is his purpose.  Purpose is what is going to carry you through even the darkest of times.- Kelly Turner a psychotherapist who specializes in integrative oncology wrote in her book “Radical Remission, The Nine Key Factors That Can Make a Real Difference” she wrote that from her research of cancer patients who spontaneously healed, she found these key factors to be a common theme amongst all of the patients who healed despite their poor prognosis and one of which is “having strong reasons for living”  and I interpret that as being purpose. 


 So Dr. Mukwege.  He is a special kind of human being. He shares that the stories and encounters with his female patients over the years have inspired him to campaign against the cruelties and injustices against women and to write this book. He states his book is a tribute to the power of all women. And It’s his hope that all genders will listen to and read this book because he says men must be part of the solution to step up and support their sisters, mothers, wives, daughters and friends. 


He states, if you’re not apart of the solution, then you're apart of the problem.

 He begins with the story of his humble beginnings and how he was born in a shack in Congo and almost died due to the lack of medical care available. While his father was away for work, his Mother delivered him at home with the help of a neighbor, who come to find out had incorrectly severed his umbilical cord, causing him to fall ill with septicemia, which is a blood infection.   


Just days after giving birth, His mother walked with him strapped to her back  to a dispensary where they were refused care because of their religion. It came to the attention of a Swedish missionary woman that they were being refused care and she came to the rescue.  This woman, whose name is Mikah, went to the dispensary and  informed them that his condition was critical and if they refused treatment that they would be responsible for his death. They inevitably admitted him, administered antibiotics and saved his life all because of this woman who had advocated for him and his mother, who he credits for saving his life.  So he begins the story talking about the first 2 most influential women in his life who exhibited tremendous strength and power and determination to do what is right. without whom he would not be alive today, and then think of all of the women who are alive today because of Dr. Mukwege’s work, all because of this woman’s decision to take action and do the right thing.


He talks about how His 2 grandmothers died in childbirth. And this just goes to show the dangers of pregnancy in this area of the world.  I think we can all take for granted the privilege of having access to medical care.  In his book, Dr. Mukwege shares there are no reliable figures for the number of maternal deaths at this time in congo, but an estimate from the first national census carried out between 1955-1957 concluded that most women did not reach their 40th birthday and life expectancy in the Congo was 38 years (how old I am now) and childbearing was a major killer.


He originally wanted to be a pediatrician but his experience as a student doctor in rural Congo opened his eyes to this lack of maternal care. There was almost no prenatal care and the vast majority of women gave birth at home with no medical expertise. An estimated 850 women lose their lives for every 100,000 live births in Congo according to unicef, that is in comparison to the US where according to a study done in 2021 revealed the mortality rate was 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. The cause is mostly failure to provide facilities for routine checkups and emergency care. 4 out of 10 women here give birth without medical care.  So he saw this desperate need and decided to take it upon himself to do something about it.


Of the inequalities in his country, He writes “I sensed that the lack of maternal healthcare was symptomatic of something larger.  That the lives of women were taken for granted and seemed to be undervalued. Women grow up in congo being treated as second class citizens.  They are expected to do most of the work in the fields.  They are expected to carry heavy loads full of crops or firewood even throughout pregnancy.  If divorced or widowed, they have little prospect of remarrying, some live in fear of their husbands taking another wife and forced to live in a polygamous relationship.  He talks about the many women who made it to the hospital barely conscious, and those who didn’t make it due to hemorrhaging or obstructed childbirth, meaning the baby was stuck in the birth canal and they were unable to push baby out.

He could have chose an easier life.  He is a Doctor after all.  He had the opportunity to leave the violence, the devastation in his country and practice in France, where he would’ve enjoyed more safety and security. Where he would have an abundance of supplies at his disposal. 


He recounts operating by the light of a flashlight in the remote area of Lamera, where resources were scarce. In contrast, during his time studying in France, he was struck by the abundance and wastefulness of supplies. In his hometown, every last inch of thread from suture kits was used out of necessity, while in France, unused materials were discarded without a second thought. Despite the allure of abundant resources elsewhere, his commitment to serving the women in his community led him to return to Congo as the region's first trained obstetrician-gynecologist. 


 He notes that Immigration of medical workers from developing to developed countries deprives poor countries of much needed skills. He talks about the inequality of healthcare worldwide- according to WHO data, in us and uk there’s 1 physician to every 400 people, while in the  wealthiest countries such as Germany and Sweden there is 1 physician for every 200 citizens. And in Congo there is barely 1 doctor for every 10,000 citizens. And every time an African physician is recruited overseas, that’s one less physician available for those who are in desperate need of their skills and expertise, it just perpetuates the problem.  It’s like the rich getting richer and the poor get poorer.


However, despite the allure of greater financial rewards, security, and modern conveniences in more affluent countries, it is difficult to fault physicians who succumb to these temptations. Conversely, observing those physicians who choose to remain and serve their communities, such as Dr. Mukwege in Congo, underscores the immense credit they deserve for their honorable dedication to addressing critical medical needs, such as obstetric fistulas, and providing essential care where it is most needed.


In his work practicing as an ob gyn in Congo, Dr. Mukwege witnessed the personal devastation caused by Obstetric fistulas- which he explains commonly occur during obstructed labor when the pressure of the baby’s head restricts bloodflow in the tissue separating the vagina and rectum or the vagina and bladder or sometimes both the lack of oxygen causes necrosis in the tissue which eventually disintegrates, opening up a hole between these cavities. As a result women aren’t able to control their bladder or feces and the contents of the bladder or rectum leak into the vagina. The smell from these fistulas often leads to them being divorced and ostracized from their community.  The tissue can’t grow back on its own but can be repaired with complex gynecological surgery, which is what Dr. Mukwege came to specialize in out of necessity.


When he returned to Congo after completing his studies in France, he became medical director of the hospital where he had got his start in the remote area of Lamera in Congo.  He had big visions for the hospital and completed renovations which added a wing comprised of 200 rooms where women could come and stay as early as two months before their due date to ensure they would get adequate nutrition and saved them from the hard labor they were forced to do in the fields. He had started a nursing school and was training midwife’s up until the time when his hospital was attacked by rebel soldiers who killed 30 of his patients and 3 nurses, and then turned his hospital into a military camp and he was forced to flee.


The plans he had for his life shifted once again after he built a new hospital from scratch, as he received more and more patients with rape injuries.  Their reproductive organs would be badly damaged after they were shot in the vagina, mutilated with sticks, and some forced to squat over open fire.  His expertise in repairing obstetric fistulas was now being used to treat fistulas that were the result of traumatic rape injuries such as these.


He has treated patients who were raped in front of their husbands and families and sometimes children were forced to join in.  as if that wasn’t enough to kill their spirit, and as if the trauma of rape wasn’t enough, many times their husbands would divorce them and they were ostracized from their family and community . 


One of his patients was tied to a tree by rebel soldiers and was raped for an entire year until she became pregnant and they let her go because they had no use for her.  Another was attacked while walking to her brothers house, and when she tried to fight back they shot her in the vagina.  She was brought to Dr. Mukweges hospital, received multiple blood transfusions and had to have many surgeries to repair the fistulas that resulted from her injuries.  This woman, he wrote, inspired him because after suffering the unimaginable pain and trauma she fought hard to create a good life for herself.  She went to school and got her highschool diploma, she later went to nursing school where she had to walk an hour and a half each way every day to go to school.  Eventually she furthered her studies and became a nurse anesthetist and now works side by side with Dr. Mukwege at his hospital.  She even helps counsel women before and after their surgeries, empathizing with them as someone who has gone through the same pain, showing them what is possible.

You might think how can anyone commit such senseless acts of violence?  Well I don't know how it originally began but this book talks about how rebel soldiers steal young boys from their families and brainwash them, they give them guns and drugs and threaten to kill them if they don’t comply.


Dr. Mukwege has had many threats made to his own life and the life of his family.  At one point they even moved to Boston and were living comfortably until a group of women from the island of Idjwi in Lake Kivufought for him to return to the hospital- they wrote a letter to the president of Congo, demanding the government bring him back and provide security for him so he could continue his work. They wrote again to the UN secretary general, They committed to being his security 24/7. They even offered to pay the airfare for him and his family to return when they hardly had the finances to support themselves, making as little as $1/day.  


Dr. Mukwege did end up returning to Congo and his hospital and foundation have helped survivors find strength in unity and have supported women to develop their public speaking and advocacy skills. They not only treat and support healing from rape injuries, but they help heal them holistically, providing counseling, teaching them skills, supporting them in starting businesses and new lives. 


There is so much more in this book that I could get into, but I hope this has peaked your interest and that you will consider reading or listening to this book.  I really do believe that there are valuable lessons to be learned here especially if you want the world to be a better, safer, more peaceful place for our children, and I think we can all agree that we do.


So listen, I understand that what I shared today is a bit heavy. But i really do want to do my part in raising awareness to this issue. And while it’s very sad and it can feel like this is such a big problem and we are only one person what could we possibly do to help?  And what I want to say, is it doesn’t have to be complicated. 


 Dr, Mukwege writes, “Emotion without action is pointless. We must all find ways to channel our emotions of sadness disgust, admirations and love into decisions that help reduce the suffering of others”.


To help support Dr. Denis Mukwege you can visit which I will link in the show notes.  The Mukwege Foundation is an international rights-based, survivor-centred organization working to change the global response to conflict-related sexual violence. They support survivors’ demands for a world where sexual violence as a weapon of war is no longer tolerated and bears consequences for individual perpetrators and states. They work for a future where survivors receive the holistic care and compensation they need to rebuild their lives. They create opportunities for survivors to speak out and be heard, and where they can organize to create change, influence policies, and demand justice and accountability.


So you can go on this website, learn more about them and what they do, leave a donation, or even learn how you can organize a fundraiser for them.

You could also purchase the book, “The Power of Women” by Dr. Denis Mukwege. And even share this episode or the episode he did with Oprah which will also be linked in the show notes to further raise awareness of this issue.

A difference can be made by simply  speaking out against rape,, supporting someone, listening to someone, believing the person who has the courage to share what they have been through.


We can educate ourselves, our daughters and our sons. Dr. Mukwege talks about the solution being building more inclusive, gender balanced societies that will require developing what he calls “positive masculinity”- a systemic change in male behavior and attitudes towards women.


As we wrap up, I want to mention that most of the time I despise comparison and I don’t think it’s good for us but in this case I’ve been using it to get me out of moments of depression when I’m feeling sorry for myself. Or for motivation when I need that push, to push myself a little further or dig a little deeper. And, Since reading this book and knowing what I know now, when I get into these slumps of feeling bad about myself and my life, I shift my thoughts to these women and what they’ve had to endure and what they would give to have my kinds of problems. 


And when I’m doing a peloton tread boot camp class and I don’t think I could do a sprint on an incline of 10 I think of the woman walking miles while in labor with a baby who was a result of rape. I think of her and I think if after everything she went through she was able to do that, I can dig a little deeper and do this. I think to myself,  my worries and concerns, although maybe valid and understandable, are nothing, they just don’t matter when I compare them to the troubles and terrors faced by these women. 


This man, Dr. Mukwege, is willing to die for his cause.  And I don’t know about you, but I Can’t think of anything I’m willing to die for other than my children. 


I will end with this quote by Dr. Mukwege. He writes, “We all face moments when we doubt ourselves. When we question our choices and feel like giving up. The costs can sometimes seem too high.  The effort, not worth it”. And what I want to say about this is that if you are doing something worthwhile and you are doubting yourself, this is normal.  It's normal to question yourself and feel like giving up, but don’t. Don’t give up.  Doubt the doubts, and anchor yourself in your purpose.  


Thank you so much for listening today Mamas.  If you found value in today’s episode I ask that you please share it with your friends and family, let’s raise awareness of this issue together!  And if you haven’t done so already, I would so appreciate it if you would subscribe, rate and review this podcast as this helps more amazing mamas like you find the show!  Until next week, keep up the good work mamas!  You’re doing so much better than you give yourself credit for! Bye!

bottom of page