Medical professionals are often the first responders to many women who experience violence. Whether it is to provide immediate help for physical injury, guide recovery from long suffered trauma or support the upholding of the law, the medical profession has a unique role in supporting, healing, documenting and advocating for victims of violence. For many, this has meant putting themselves in danger, stretching limited resources and bravely speaking up for a future without violence.
Everyone has a role to play to end violence against women, and this list recognises the myriad ways the medical profession supports this cause. This list includes some well known names, such as Dr Denis Mukwege, without whom no list about the fight against VAW would be complete, but also seeks to celebrate, draw attention and show recognition to lesser-known hard-working, diligent and brave medical professionals who dedicate their time, skills and resources to improving the lives of women and girls in their corner of the world.
We hope that the people listed here, and their bravery and dedication, are a reminder of the crucial role medical professionals play in supporting victims of violence, and of the unique power of individuals and communities to change lives.
Introduction by Gabrielle Beran. Research by Regina Yau and Gabrielle Beran
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Medical Professional Against VAW #1: Dr Alan Gonzalez – Colombia
Dr Alan Gonzalez is a pioneer in the field of facial reconstruction for acid attack victims in Colombia, where more than 100 attacks are reported annually – although the real number may be higher. Using his previous experience of treating soldiers, since 2010 Gonzalez has donated his medical skills to Reconstruyendo Rostros (Rebuilding Faces), an organisation that provides life-changing surgery and support to women disfigured by acid attacks. “We don’t just rebuild faces, we rebuild lives,” he says.
Medical Professional Against VAW #2: Dr Ann-Marie Wilson – United Kingdom
Dr Ann-Marie Wilson is a British psychologist and the founder of 28 Too Many (recently joined with Orchid Project), which focuses on eliminating female genital mutilation (FGM) in the countries where it remains legal through research, capacity development, global networks, and communications. Her organisation’s advocacy has included the NoFGM Ribbon campaign and the “It Happens Here” advertising campaign, which won prestigious industry awards for its depiction of the local impact of FGM in the UK and Europe.
Medical Professional Against VAW #3: Dr Chafik Chraibi – Morocco
Dr Chafik Chraibi is a gynaecologist and advocate for legalising abortions in a variety of circumstances in Morocco where 600-800 “backstreet” abortions take place each day. The organisation he founded in 2008, AMLAC (English: Moroccans Association Against Clandestine Abortions) advocates for changes in laws to prevent the hundreds of needless deaths of Moroccan women every year from unsafe abortions, attempted home abortions, honour killings of women pregnant outside marriage, and to prevent the trauma of forced birth by those who do not dare risk illegal abortions. “My plea to them [lawmakers] is that there are people who are dying,” he has said. Due to his outspoken activism he was removed from his position as head of maternal health care at a hospital in Rabat, and openly condemned by the Ministry of Health.
Medical Professional Against VAW #4: Dr Denis Mukwege – Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dr Denis Mukwege is a Nobel Peace Prize winning gynaecologist recognised for his work to end the use of sexual violence as weapon of war. He founded Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1999, where he specialises in the complex treatment of women who have experienced sexual violence by armed rebels. The complicated and ongoing violence in DRC between various armed groups has had devastating consequences for women. Dr Mukwege has treated thousands of women and girls and has been the recipient of numerous awards. Dr Mukwege is active and persistent in bringing international attention to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. He has faced death threats for his work and his calls for perpetrators to be brought to justice. He continues to risk his safety to “end violence on women in Congo, or bring justice – so women can feel that they are protected by a system.”
Medical Professional Against VAW #5: Dr Ganesh Rakh – India
Dr Ganesh Rakh tackles female infanticide in India through his initiative Mulgi Vachva Abhiyan (English: “campaign to save the girl child,” translated from Marathi), which he started at his small hospital in Hadaspare, east of Pune. Dr Rakh, an obstetrician, waives his fee and has a celebration, including cake and petals, if he delivers a baby girl. He was inspired to act by the levels of female infanticide in his country, his love for his daughter and a desire to “change attitudes – of people, doctors. The day people start celebrating a daughter’s birth, I’ll start charging my fee again.” His worked has raised awareness of the stigma against girls and infanticide practices, and has inspired other doctors to reduce their fees when a girl is born.
Medical Professional Against VAW #6: Dr Ghada Hatem-Gantzer – France
Dr Ghada Hatem-Gantzer was the Director of the Maternity Clinic at Saint Denis Hospital, France. In response to the needs of the patients she was seeing, she created the first facility in France for the reconstruction and reparation of sexual mutilations. La Maison Des Femmes, which she founded in 2016 to provide psycho-medical support to victims of domestic violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), is co-located at the hospital. These clinics have been the subject of documentaries and Dr Hatem-Gantzer is outspoken on preventing FGM in France, focusing on the root causes: “We need to involve men so that they say ‘I will not marry a woman who has been circumcised’[…] Women circumcise little girls for men. If men say no, they will stop getting circumcised.”
Medical Professional Against VAW #7: Dr Karen Williams – Australia
Dr Karen Williams, a psychiatrist from New South Wales, Australia, is the founder of Doctors Against Violence Against Women. She successfully advocated as part of a wider group for Australia’s first Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre, co-designed with women with lived experience of sexual, domestic and family violence. It provides free, specialised wrap-around support across health disciplines. Dr Williams promotes mental health care as part of breaking a cycle of abuse and when the doors of the centre opened in 2022, she said, “I really hope that these women can see that there’s nothing wrong with them, but that something bad happened to them.”
Medical Professional Against VAW #8: Dr Kemi DaSilva-Ibru – Nigeria
Dr Kemi DaSilva-Ibru is a gynaecologist, obstetrician and the founder of Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF), which she set up in 2016 in response to the “epidemic” of rape in her native Nigeria. WARIF has a unique approach that Dr DaSilva-Ibru says covers both “target-oriented interventions to address post-incident care as well as the root causes of SGBV” The WARIF Rape Crisis Centre provides treatment, testing, forensic medical services and counselling to victims. However, the WARIF approach doesn’t stop there–it also manages education initiatives for schools and universities. “In tackling gender-based violence and the empowerment of girls and women, advocacy is a powerful tool to create awareness, educate, and transform the lives of girls and women all over the world,” says Dr DaSilva-Ibru.
Medical Professional Against VAW #9: Dr Marci L. Bowers – United States of America
Dr Marci L. Bowers is a gynaecologist and pioneer of Gender Affirmation Surgery who has been performing “clitoral restorations” to reverse the effects of FGM since 2009. Most of the patients in her California clinic are women from North America, Europe, Australia and Asia who are sent to the countries their families originate from for FGM, known as “vacation cuttings”. Dr Bowers also works with an NGO in Burkina Faso and Kenya to perform clitoral reconstruction on women there. While some doctors have been critical of the anatomical possibilities of the surgeries Dr Bowers performs, she has no shortage of patients and says: “It’s life-changing, and this is a term we hear over and over again. They say they feel like they have their sense of womanhood back again.”
Medical Professional Against VAW #10: Dr Monika Hauser – Germany
Dr Monika Hauser is a gynaecologist based in Germany who advocates for and specialises in the treatment of victims of wartime sexual violence. After seeing the trauma inflicted on victims of sexual violence in the Bosnian War, she set up the country’s first rape crisis centre there in 1993. She has since supported victims of sexual violence in war in many countries, including Kosovo, Afghanistan, DR Congo, Liberia and, most recently, Ukraine, through her organisation medica mondiale, which advocates for women’s rights and sets up centres for counselling and treatment with trained local staff. Speaking of the women in Bosnia who influenced her work, she said: “These women showed great strength because, despite everything, they held their lives together and had the courage to tell the world what happened.”
Medical Professional Against VAW #11: Dr Morissanda Kouyaté – Guinea
Dr Morissanda Kouyaté is a founding member and former executive director of the Inter-African Committee on Harmful Traditional Practices, which aims to end practices that harm women’s and children’s health throughout Africa, and established its Guinean branch. Since establishing these organisations in 1983, he has campaigned to end FGM, including through campaigning to criminalise it in Guinea and globally, and educating local and national decision-makers. As Guinea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2021 and co-winner of the United Nations Mandela Prize 2020, he sees his role as no longer protecting women and girls, but fighting alongside them. Speaking of the misconception that FGM is part of African cultures, he said: “Culture is positive. Cutting the genitals of girls is not a part of culture, it’s just tradition, bad tradition.”
Medical Professional Against VAW #12: Dr Nagham Hasan – Iraq
Dr Nagham Hasan is a gynaecologist, director of Sheikhan General Hospital and the founder of Hope Makers, an Iraqi NGO that supports Yazidi women who have been captured, tortured and sexually assaulted by Islamic State militants. Since 2014, Dr Hasan has treated 1,200 survivors, assisted by Hope Makers’ staff of 50 who provide psycho-social support. As a doctor and Yazidi woman herself, she has a unique drive to continue this challenging work, which often takes place in camps or settlements with limited resources: “I have a cause. I think [the survivors] still need help so I don’t want to give up on them.” She has been deservedly recognised for her work with a USA International Women of Courage Award.
Medical Professional Against VAW #13: Dr Nomonde Ndyalvan – South Africa
Dr Nomonde Ndyalvan is a South African disability and gender activist, and manager at the Sinawe Thuthuzela Care Centre. Since she became Centre manager, her skills, testimonies and the centre’s partnership with the National Prosecuting Authority have supported an increase in conviction rates for perpetrators of crimes against victims treated at the Centre. Dr Ndyalvan provides care to victims in very challenging and under-resourced circumstances. In an interview with the UN, she said: “We need to strengthen the justice system and change our laws to really root out the cruelty of gender-based violence and promote a conducive society where all people live in peace and harmony.”
Medical Professional Against VAW #14: Dr Renu Adhikari Rajbhandari – Nepal
Dr Renu Adhikari Rajbhandari is a human rights advocate and the founder of the Tarangini Foundation and the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre, a Nepalese organisation that has shelters across the country for victims of physical and psychological abuse and trafficking. In addition, the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre works to prevent violence against women, its causes and consequences, and to ensure the economic, social and cultural well-being of women as well as other marginalised groups, by promoting their access to rights and social justice. It runs campaigns on issues like rape and dowries and undertakes disaster response initiatives. In a 2021 interview, Dr Adhikari said of VAW: “We generally assume violence to be always physical, but women have also been facing mental violence from our patriarchal society.”
Medical Professional Against VAW #15: Dr Summaiya Syed – Pakistan
Dr Summaiya Syed has been a medico-legal officer in Pakistan for 23 years. This role requires her to be a first responder to rape, sexual assault and homicide, conducting a variety of important jobs to link the medical and legal responses to crimes, such as physical examinations, collecting evidence, providing treatment and presenting evidence in court. In her increasingly senior roles – most recently, in 2022, she was made the first woman Police Surgeon at one of Karachi’s busiest hospitals, JPMC – she has introduced new standards for examining rape victims to minimise further trauma and to properly gather evidence to increase conviction rates. She is working against corruption, under-funding and scepticism, saying: “This is a fight that continues, and if I quit, I’ve lost. I’m not a quitter.”
Medical Professional Against VAW #16: Vicenta González – Costa Rica
Vicenta González is a community figurehead in Costa Rica where her business cooperative AMECUP (English: Association of Entrepreneur Women of Upala) works to eliminate local domestic and gender-based violence and is dedicated to helping defend local and refugee women and their rights. She is a local healthcare provider to the women who come to her for help, and has practised as a midwife for many years, delivering over 200 children. Despite threats, especially from men whose victims she has helped, she persists: “Well, if I have to die for something, it will be defending women, I have put all my effort and my life so that women get out of that cycle of violence.”
- Dr Alan Gonzalez – From Alan Gonzalez.com
- Dr Ann-Marie Wilson – From “Ann-Marie Wilson Wins A British Citizen Award” (28TooMany.org)
- Dr Chafik Chraibi – From “Does Morocco’s Strict Abortion Law Need Reform?” (Al Jazeera/Maha Naami)
- Dr Denis Mukwege– From Wikimedia (Claude Truong-Ngoc cc-by-sa-3.0, <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0> via Wikimedia Commons)
- Dr Ganesh Rakh – From “Ganesh Rakh: The doctor who delivers India’s girls for free” (BBC/ Anushree Fadnavis)
- Dr Ghada Hatem-Gantzer – From Wikimedia (Ghada Hatem, le 11 avril 2017, Espace Simone de Beauvoir, Nantes, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)
- Dr Karen Williams – From “The Woman Who Would Not Give Up” (The Saturday Paper /Bobby Kidd)
- Dr Kemi DaSilva-Abru –From Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF)
- Dr Marci L. Bowers – From Marci Bowers.com
- Dr Monika Hauser – From Wikimedia (medica Mondiale CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0> via Wikimedia Commons)
- Dr Morissanda Kouyaté – From Wikimedia (Embassy of the Philippines in Rabat, Morocco via Government of the Philippines)
- Dr Nagham Hasan – From “Iraqi Doctor Provides Care and Comfort to Yazidi Survivors” (UNHCR/Andrew McConnell)
- Dr Nomonde Ndyalvan – From “Interview with Dr Nomonde Ndyalvan” (UN South Africa)
- Dr Renu Adhikari Rajbhandari – From South Asians for Human Rights
- Dr Summaiya Syed – From “ ‘Not a quitter’ – the Karachi Doctor taking rapists to court” (Al Jazeera/Sanam Maher)
- Vicenta González – From “Former Midwife Delivers Safety and Hope to Nicaraguan Refugee Women” (UNHCR/Nicolo Filippo Rosso)