By MARIANNE NOVY
While some were expecting that the Nobel Peace Prize of 2018 would go to one or more of the rulers involved in the steps toward rapprochement between North and South Korea, instead the Committee awarded the prize to two activists against rape as a weapon of war—a 25 year-old survivor and member of the Yazidis (a religious minority in Iraq), Nadia Murad, and a gynecologist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Dr. Denis Mukwege.
Nadia Murad went public about her rape by ISIS members, insisting on being photographed and giving her name, so she could advocate on behalf of rape survivors against sexual violence and against the murder and persecution of Yazidi and other minorities. She spoke before the UN Security Council, the US House of Representatives, and other bodies. As the Nobel committee said, “She refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuse to which they have been subjected.”
While men and older women from her village were killed (including most of her family), she was taken to a slave market, forced to wear a revealing dress, sold to an Isis militant, and repeatedly raped by him and sometimes by his bodyguards. But eventually she escaped, and in 2016 she was named the United Nations’ first goodwill ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.
She is the first Iraqi and the second youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, after Malala Yousafzai, who was honored in 2014. Iraq’s new president, Barham Salih, congratulated her, hailing the award “an honor for all Iraqis who fought terrorism and bigotry.” A Tweet from the prime minister, Adil Abdul alMahdi, declared the prize to be “an acknowledgement of (the) tragic plight” of the Yazidi and “recognition for her courage in defending human rights of victims of terror & sexual violence.” A documentary about Murad, “On Her Shoulders,” will be released next month. She has published an autobiography, called The Last Girl, because she says “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.” Dr. Mukwege, now 63, founded a hospital in the east of the DRC about 20 years ago, where he has become a specialist in treating women and girls who were raped with extreme violence. Over 50,000 girls and women have been treated under his care, many of whom were subject to atrocities including burning, shooting, and having their internal organs ripped apart. Some must travel there from a great distance and at grave risk to their own health and safety after being sexually assaulted. He has provided them with psychological and socioeconomic support, as well as developing a legal program to help them obtain justice.
He has spoken out publicly, even at the United Nations, on behalf of the millions of abused women in the country criticizing violence in the rebels and the armed services as well as lack of concern by the government. He survived a kidnapping attempt and attempted shooting in 2012 after his speech at the UN. The Congolese government congratulated him for receiving the award, even though they criticized him for a tendency to politicize his humanitarian work. He is an advisor to the Dr. Denis Mukwege Foundation, a Netherlandsbased international human-rights organization working to end sexual violence in wars, founded in his honor.
The Nobel committee praised both winners for putting “their own personal security at risk by courageously combating war crimes and securing justice for victims.” They said, “Each of them in their own way has helped to give greater visibility to war-time sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions.”
Although rape has been a weapon in war through much of recorded history, it was only in 2008 that the United Nations Security Council officially recognized that “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/ or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” The resolution demanded the “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians.”
These awards are particularly timely in light of the #MeToo movement. The chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen said that while wartime sexual assault and the #MeToo movement in general are significantly different, their goals share key elements: They both aim to acknowledge abuses of women, eliminate victim shaming, and support women who speak out about their sexual assaults.
Thanks to the October 6 New York Times, the October 5 Guardian, and CNN online for the information in this article.
Marianne Novy is a member of the New People editorial collective.
(TMC newspaper VOL. 48 No. 9 November 2018. All rights reserved)