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Activism Focus

Nobel Peace Prize Recipients Shed A Light On Sexual Violence

Narayan Felix October 16, 2018

On October 5, 2018, the Nobel Peace Prize was jointly awarded to human rights activist Nadia Murad and gynecological surgeon Dr. Denis Mukwege for their distinguished work to end the use of sexual violence as weapon of war.

The Last Girl

In 2016, Nadia Murad established Nadia’s Initiative, an organization dedicated to “increasing advocacy for women and minorities and assisting to stabilize and redevelop communities in crisis.” In the same year, Ms. Murad was named the U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human trafficking.

The Iraqi native was recognized for her humanitarian efforts in condemning the use of sexual terror and raising awareness about the horrors of sexual violence especially in areas of armed conflict. She gained international attention for her personal testimony of surviving sexual enslavement after her native village in northern Iraq was wiped out by the Islamic State in 2014. After being abducted from the town of Sinjar, Murad and several other single Yazidi women were taken to the city of Mosul where they would be sold into sexual bondage.

After being subjected to daily instances of violent rape and brutalization, Murad managed to escape captivity and fled to a refugee camp outside of the Islamic State’s territory. Ever since, Nadia Murad has gone on to be a consistent international voice for the human rights of the Yazidi people as well as all victims and survivors of wartime atrocity. In recent years, Murad has used her story of survival to directly appeal to UN Security Council and the U.S. Congress to take further action in protecting innocent people from the tragedy that she and so many others had to endure. She also penned the New York Times bestselling memoir The Last Girl and, at age 25, is now the second youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Nadia Murad’s work and story serve as a source for hope and action in the fight to eradicate human suffering.

Doctor Miracle

The other half of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize is Dr. Denis Mukwege. In 1999, Dr. Denis Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital in his birthplace Bakavu, an eastern city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Here Dr. Mukwege and his team have treated over 50,000 survivors of sexual violence and continued to fight alongside the Congolese women of their greater community to end crimes of rape and abuse. The efficacy and expertise of Dr. Mukwege’s work in reconstructive surgery has earned him global acclaim amongst his professional peers and the title of “Doctor Miracle” by his fellow Congolese.  

As a notably outspoken critic of the lackluster global action against sexual violence, Dr. Mukwege dedicated his award to all women impacted by rape and sexual abuse, saying “This violence committed on their bodies happens not only in our country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also in many other countries.” The 63-year-old who has survived exile and an assassination attempt for his work, hopes that the award is a sign that the international community is prepared to listen and productively support the struggle women have been fighting for centuries.

Sexual violence is a systematic weapon of war and a tactic of terror. Both Dr. Mukwege and history itself can attest to the use of sexual violence as a means to destroy, control, and dominate human populations. In a recent interview with France 24, Dr. Mukwege concluded the following:

“I realized after many years of my work that rape is a strategy of war […] I think today everyone’s attention should be drawn to this issue because we are talking about the total destruction of our social fabric, and that is unacceptable.”  

Where Do We Stand

While a quick surge of pity and sympathy toward victims in war-torn areas is understandable, it would be naive, and even irresponsible, to overlook the current affairs of the so-called peaceful nations. In the United States just this past weekend, a new justice is confirmed to the Supreme Court in spite of accusations of sexual assaults by multiple women.

Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, our state of residence, have reportedly been covering up over 1,000 child sexual abuse cases by more than 300 priests. Sex trafficking markets in some U.S. cities are worth up to $290 million. Sexual violence, rape, and abuse is alive and well throughout the world. We must ask ourselves the long overdue question: Where do I stand in this struggle? It is one thing to #believewomen, but as Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege show us, it is another to put your life on the line to make an impact.