After much hullaballoo and speculation about whether President Donald Trump or North and South Korea would be the eventual recipients of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, the decision is in … and it may leave many scratching their heads and wondering who the dual winners actually are.
This year’s winners have been announced as Doctor Denis Mukwege and activist Nadia Murad, who received the award for their individual efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. Given to two relative unknows in the wider world, this dual award may be accused of dodging a political bullet, but it would be difficult to argue that the newest laureates did not deserve it.
Denis Mukwege is a Congolese gynecological surgeon who has spent the better part of his adult life helping women who have been raped by gangs of marauders that plague the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
It is estimated that almost 2 million women have been raped in the DRC. Many of these occur as a form of political violence and include victims from ages two-years-old through to elderly women. As well as the initial trauma, the victims often suffer from additional complications, including complex gynecological problems as well as machete wounds, internal damage, HIV infection, and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Dr. Mukwege opened the Panzi Hospital in 1999, with the aim of bringing down childbirth mortality. His first patient was a survivor of a brutal gang rape, and the patients then began to flood in. He states that his team operated on 45 women during their first three months:
“I had the impression that this was an enormous number, because I’d been in the region for a few years, and I’d never seen this before … It wasn’t until 2000 that I understood that this was normal, and I began to call on the international community.”
To date, his hospital has treated 85,000 patients, 60% of whom suffered injury from gang rape.
Mukwege, as well as still being involved in his hospital and treating between nine and 15 new patients a day, also runs an organization that he says “turns victims into survivors.” He has moved onto the international stage and received multiple awards for his work, which involves not just repairing these women physically, but also mentally. “After treating 10,000 victims of sexual violence, including children who had been abused, I realized the problem wouldn’t be solved inside the operating theatre. I needed to go beyond the surgeries,” he said.
Nadia Murad is a Yazidi Muslim whose brothers were slaughtered by the Islamic State in her home country of Iraq. She herself was captured, bought and sold many times, abused, and raped. Upon escaping, she told her story to the world and became a Goodwill Ambassador with Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking for the UN.
Her bravery and campaigning have done much to expose to a wider audience the very real danger women and men are subjected to within the Islamic State.
Murad has highlighted the plight of Yazidi Muslims, who are regarded by Islamic extremists as infidels. It can be all too easy to paint the different branches of Islam with the same brush, but her efforts have shown that among the most persecuted in Muslim majority nations are those who hold to a more progressive form of Islam.
Within such a charged political climate, it would have been difficult for the Nobel Committee to make a choice that did not upset someone. Yet here they have made a decision that few could contest.
Rape as a weapon of war – whether through slavery or gang rape – has been taking place for thousands of years. And it still happens today. The #MeToo movement gained traction across Western society, but perhaps it’s time to cast our eyes further afield when looking at the abuse of women. If a fraction of the effort spent highlighting every incidence of upset in the U.S. were directed into standing behind real heroes like Doctor Denis Mukwege and activist Nadia Murad, we could finally put a stop to that kind of barbarism.