Nobel Prize gives a new platform to combat sexual violence

Ben Borrok, Staff Writer

The Nobel Peace Prize organization states that any recipient of the prize “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” To put it simply, to award Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad with this prize is an official and alarming declaration that sexual violence is a threat to global peace. It should also serve as a guide for current leaders about what to expect from their people in the future.

Before diving into the significance, what did the recipients do to deserve the prize?

Mukwege, a gynecologist, has spent his life helping victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s long-running civil war. He has become a leading voice, pressuring his own government and others for not doing enough to stop such abuses. Murad was kidnapped, raped, and sexually abused at the hands of ISIS in 2014, as part of a mass kidnapping of Yazidi women in Iraq. After her escape she became an activist to seek justice for the crimes against her community, becoming a United Nations goodwill ambassador in 2016.

It is important to notice that both Mukwege and Murad were affected by sexual violence through the context of war. Rape and other forms of sexual violence have long been a byproduct of war, where the losing nation’s people would be subjected to this at the hands of the victorious soldiers. It was also used as a strategy by Genghis Khan as a way to warn others away from attempting to fight his army and as a way to force the conquered population to accept his rule.

So if it had been acceptable through most of history, what changed? Women, the usual victims of sexual violence, began to gain more rights and had a greater voice to air their own grievances. In addition, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1820, classifying the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Finally, those who engaged in this type of behavior during war would be identified as war criminals. But it’s clear that there is still much to be done in the effort to end wartime sexual violence and the epidemic we seem to be having in our own society today.

This week, I felt inspired by the Clothesline Project here at the University. It reinforced what we already know, that victim-survivors of sexual violence are all around us and they are not being taken seriously. Before we punish war criminals, we must first believe survivors. In the United States, and more specifically on college campuses, we seem to shame those who try to speak out for fear of “ruining the perpetrator’s life,” but have no regard for the damage they do to others. If we are too timid to take down everyday citizens how are we expected to take down warmongers and rebels? Mukwege and Murad have been incredibly brave in their quest to gain justice for their communities, but also pose important questions for our own society: What are we actually doing to help solve the problem? The recent developments with Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump, and the #MeToo movement are stark reminders of how ingrained sexual violence has become in our society and how far we have to go in order to tackle this issue once and for all.

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