On October 5, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad who both worked against the sexual abuse of women in conflict zones.
Dennis Mukwege is a Congolese gynecologist who helped women raped during the conflict in Congo, dubbed the “rape capital of the world’’ by a UN official in 2010. To increase access to medical services for victims of sexual assault, Mukwege set up Panzi hospital in the east of the country. Much of his work involves performing reconstructive surgery on women who have suffered sexual assault. Panzi Hospital cares for about 3500 women per year.
Nadia Murad is an Iraqi Yazidi activist campaigning to try Islamic State militants for war crimes. Murad’s work began as one of the thousands of Yazidi women captured in 2014 by ISIL subjected to brutal sexual violence. Murad along with over a thousand other survivors were resettled in Germany as part of the Humanitarian Readmission Programme jointly created by the German government and the International Organization of Migration (Iraq).
For the first time in Nobel Peace Prize history, the award went towards work raising awareness and helping women abused in conflict zones. The Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Anderson, explained that the award is a part of the effort to raise the issue’s awareness, stating: “We want to send out a message of awareness that women, who constitute half of the population in most communities, actually are used as a weapon of war — and that they need protection.”
In the era of the Me-Too movement and other campaigns to end sexual harassment and violence against women, this was a bold and necessary step taken by the Nobel Committee. It is well known that sexual violence against women is often prevalent in conflict zones, however, little attention has been brought to the issue in the past. It is inspiring to see people like Mukwege and Murad raising awareness of the problem. The next step would be to increase access to care and counseling for women who have been sexually assaulted during war. As stated by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, “A more peaceful world can only be achieved if women and their fundamental rights and security are recognized and protected in war.”