By Saveria Antonacci
On October 5, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winners were announced in Oslo, Norway. This year’s winners are Denis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nadia Murad of the Republic of Iraq. Both Mukwege and Murad were awarded for “their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict,” according to The Nobel Prize.
CNN reports that the two approach the issue of sexual violence from differing perspectives, as Mukwege assists thousands of women and girls that were victims of sexual violence, while Murad was previously held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and was forced to serve as a sex slave. Both use their voices to bring the physical and mental effects of sexual violence to light.
According to The Washington Post, Dr. Mukwege felt his calling towards a career in healthcare after becoming concerned by the number of childbirth complications in his region. He founded Panzi Hospital in 1999, where rape victims often seek out treatment in the Democratic Republic of Congo. states that Dr. Mukwege reportedly treated over 50,000 victims of rape at Panzi Hospital. He is a critic of the DRC, who he calls out for corruption and ignoring human rights abuses.
Murad is a member of the Yazidi minority that lives in northern Iraq. In 2014, her town came under siege by ISIS and she was taken as a sex slave for three months, further reports The Washington Post . After she escaped, Murad took on the role of using her experience to spread awareness.
In 2016, Murad went on to become the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking. In addition, she ignores the social code that expects victims to stay silent on their experiences with abuse. Instead, she speaks out on behalf of herself and others, according to the Nobel Prize. She argues for the increased documentation and recognition of war crimes.
TIME reports that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize had 331 nominees, which is the second-highest number of candidates after 2016. Other notable candidates included: North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in for their work in moving towards denuclearization, President Donald Trump for his efforts to put an end to the Korean War, Carles Puigdemont for acting as the figurehead of the Catalonian independence referendum, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in honor of their work to help relocate those fleeing from persecution and violence. Other noteworthy candidates include Pope Francis, Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
This year’s Nobel Prize is especially contentious as the climate surrounding sexual abuse shifts from taboo to acceptance. In the United States, for example, the #MeToo movement has gained traction, encouraging victims to speak up and share their experience with sexual violence in order to decrease tolerance for these situations. Most recently, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in front of the United States Senate for the confirmation hearing of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh rattled U.S. politics and drew an unprecedented amount of attention towards the topic of rape.
Sexual violence in warfare is systematic and strategic. It is intended to control and take advantage of others. The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize awardees may inspire other women and witnesses to speak up and break the stigma that surrounds sexual violence. The awardees challenge the idea of what it means to be vulnerable. As Nadia Murad told the Washington Post in an interview last year, “Somebody had to tell these stories. It’s not easy.”