By Priyanka Sarkhel (‘20)
On the morning of October 5, 2018, gynecologist Denis Mukwege and human rights activist Nadia Murad won the Nobel Peace Prize. Mukwege is a gynecologist from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and he treats victims of sexual assault and abuse. Murad is an Iraqi Yazidi who was captured and used as a sex slave in 2014 by Islamic extremists (ISIS) until she escaped.
Mukwege and Murad have both raised awareness specifically as to how rape is a prominent war crime towards minority groups. Their work for the fight against sexual violence precedes movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up, and their influence brought light to the silencing of sexual harassment and assault survivors, which is a main goal of #MeToo and Time’s Up as well.
Junior Rujuta Sawant said, “I believe Murad and Mukwege’s victory highlights that no matter how messed up the world is, there are still people out there working 25/8 to combat the exact things (rape, racism, etc.) that make this world so messed up. There’s still hope of a better world because of the people who work so hard towards change. I hope that Murad and Mukwege being recognized for their efforts inspires other people to also speak out and be a part of the road to a better world. Change cannot be brought on by one person, but by a group of people who believe wholeheartedly in a single outcome.”
Murad, 25, knows firsthand about the assault against religious and racial minority groups because she is Yazidi. Encyclopedia Britannica defines Yazidi as “a Kurdish religious minority found primarily in northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northern Syria, the Caucasus region, and parts of Iran. The Yazīdī religion includes elements of ancient Iranian religions as well as elements of Judaism, Nestorian Christianity, and Islam.”
In 2014, war crimes against the Yazidis committed by the extremist Islamic State grew. Extremists terrorized captured women with threats of death if they did not convert to Islam. Murad is the victim of slavery, human trafficking, multiple sexual assaults, and torture.
In her autobiography The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State, Murad recounted her personal experience during her time in captivity. Despite having to relive her trauma every time she re-tells her story, Murad is willing to raise her voice so that other Yazidi women, as well as women in other war-stricken countries, can be saved.
Three months after her capture, Murad was able to escape extremists. In 2016, she joined the U.N. as a goodwill ambassador.
Mukwege, 63, works at the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Congo. He has treated sexual assault victims ever since the Second Congo War.
The sights he had seen and the patients he had treated during the war motivated him to turn to activism. Mukwege’s cause is protesting against the inefficiency of the Congolese government. While condemning the impunity of committing war crimes against women and children, his activism has additionally put his life in danger.
Although not physically present to accept the award, Mukwege released a statement where he said, “To all the survivors from all over the world, I would like to tell you that through this prize, the world is listening to you and refusing to remain indifferent. The world refuses to sit idly in the face of your suffering.”
Activists claim that Mukwege’s contributions and activism towards the fight for justice against sexual violence show how a man’s voice can be influential and necessary.
Global studies teacher Mr. Marc Babich said, “I think that it is one of the most prominent points, that [Mukwege] is a male, and that there is a male standing up for the fight against sexual abuse and assault. I think that it’s very important that the males be a part of the solution. He demonstrates not only what one person is capable of doing and how one person can make a difference and can help so many people, but shows what men can do as well.”
The Peace Prize can be seen as a first step towards awareness, but in conflict-ridden areas like Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Somalia, mass rape is still met with inaction from the United Nations and no justice for the victims.
Mr. Babich said, “The problem is trying to get a collective will through the United Nations in order to stop and punish those countries that do it [war crimes]. In most cases, we have been unable to come to a consensus in order to do that: the acknowledgement that we’ve agreed a long time ago that people just can’t exterminate [people] or do this to their citizens.”