In a time when leaders and others in powerful positions question the truth of allegations made by sexual violence survivors, and when issues of abuse can divide a nation and send protesters onto the streets, the Nobel Peace Prize win today by two of the world’s leading advocates for sexual violence survivors could not have come soon enough. It’s not only a deserved win for Dr. Denis Mukwege and for Ms. Nadia Murad, but it’s also something that the world sorely needs: a spotlight on the plight of survivors and the need for them to be treated with dignity and respect. What is equally powerful is that the Nobel Committee decided to honor a doctor alongside a survivor – showing the world both sides of the struggle, and highlighting their different, but equally inspiring, reasons for devoting their lives to advocacy.
I’ve known Dr. Mukwege for nearly a decade; our partnership to help train key stakeholders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has existed since 2011. During this time, we have strengthened the capacity of local doctors, nurses, police, lawyers, and judges to collect, preserve and present evidence of sexual violence in order to support prosecutions for these crimes.
This vital work by Dr. Mukwege, as well as Ms. Murad’s advocacy for Yazidi women and girls who are subjected to sexual violence in Iraq, has been critical in raising awareness about how pervasive and widespread sexual abuse is, at all levels of society, and in all industries and cultural landscapes. It shows that sexual abuse exists not only in Washington DC, where Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified last week about alleged abuse at the hands of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, or on the film sets of Hollywood. It exists in the villages of the DRC and Kenya, in Myanmar and Bangladesh, where Rohingya refugees seek refuge from violence, including sexual abuse – and in Iraq, where Yazidi women and girls try to rebuild their lives after fleeing rape and sexual assault by ISIS.
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Dr. Mukwege and Ms. Murad have long advocated for the treatment and protection of sexual violence survivors – at their own personal risk and peril. Theirwork has played an important part, in a time of #MeToo, in encouraging survivors to come forward and to tell their stories in a world full of stigma and retribution, where many who have suffered sexual abuse fear re-traumatization and social repercussions, especially when the perpetrators are in positions of power.
The importance of this win cannot be overstated. It’s time for the world to sit up and listen, because the work is far from over. I whole-heartedly congratulate Dr. Mukwege and Ms. Murad and thank them for turning the world’s attention to the epidemic of sexual violence in armed conflict and for strengthening the call for a global reckoning over sexual abuse. It’s as a result of people like them that survivors can find the meaningful justice they deserve and perpetrators can be held accountable for their unacceptable and brutal actions.