The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has gone to anti-rape activists Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege.
As Brett Kavanaugh’s bitter nomination fight monopolizes all conversations of sexual violence, the work of Murad— a Yazidi rape survivor—and Mukweg— a Congolese gynecologist—urges everyone to look beyond partisan squabbling in the U.S. and recognizes the sheer brutality faced by women all over the world.
Both award recipients come to represent the global battle against gender-based violence. Murad’s story, especially, showcases the active role of the sexual assault survivors as they turn their tragic past into a source of strength and compassion.
Now a fearless fighter for the rights of rape victims in conflicts, just four years ago Murad was herself a victim of sexual enslavement by ISIS militants.
On August 3, 2014, ISIS besieged Murad’s hometown—the quiet village of Sinjar.
“We knew that something dreadful was about to happen to us,” she said during an interview with BBC HARDtalk.
She recalled calmly how on that same day she was corralled inside a high school building along with other women and children. Then, from windows of the village school, she witnessed the massacre of 700 Yazidi men, including her six brothers, by the edge of the town.
For more than a year, no one tried to examine the site of killing or report on the incident. 700 men simply vanished.
“No help came, not from inside Iraq or elsewhere,” she said.
That night, ISIS militants transported 150 young girls including Murad and her three nieces to Mosul.
“On the journal they were touching our breasts and rubbing their beards in our faces.” She told the interviewer how they silently endured the mistreatment, not knowing what to expect once they arrived.
The next day, a group of ISIS soldiers came to bring them home. Some of the girls were only about 10 to 12 years old. They were crying and clinging to the older girls as soldiers dragged them away.
“The man who selected me was very fat,” Murad recalled. She begged another skinnier militant to take her, hoping that a smaller man would inflict less pain.
She was wrong. All of them were violent rapists.
“I found myself wishing that I had stayed with the fat man as he had also taken one of my nieces,” she added.
After staying with the first soldier, she was passed on to many other men, as it was common for soldiers to sell their girl a few days or even a couple hours after they had her.
By then she had not heard from her family for weeks, so she implored her captor to let her make a minute-long phone call to her nephew. The man said yes, but on the condition that she would lick his toe which he had covered in honey.
Desperate for a family voice, she agreed.
“Most people die once in their lifetime but we were dying every hour,” said Murad, still perfectly composed, her speech calm and eloquent, the involuntary shaking in her voice barely perceivable to the audience.
One time she asked her rapist: “why are you doing this to us? Why did you kill our men? Why are you violently raping us?”
“You deserve this, you are infidels,” he said. “We are doing our duties.”
Murad tried to run away once but was caught on the site.
As a rule, if a woman attempted to escape, she would be locked in a tiny cell and raped by all the soldiers in the room—the “sexual jihad,” as they called it.
After this, the idea of escape rarely occurred to her.
Yet one day, as her captor went out to buy her some clothes before selling her off to another man, a sudden burst of courage hit her and she started running frantically away from the house, until she reached a Muslim household and knocked on their door.
The family—not an ISIS sympathizer in any way and equally abhorred by their horrendous deeds—did not hesitate to offer all the assistance she needed. They provided her with a black abaya and an Islamic ID and made sure that she safely crossed the border.
When the interviewer asked Murad if she ever thought of committing suicide, she simply replied “no.”
“I believe that everyone should accept what god has given them regardless of whether they are poor or have suffered injustice.”
Murad’s calm resignation to her own fate stands in shocking juxtaposition to her unyielding determination as she now seeks freedom and justice for other women still suffering from sexual war crimes.
Since her escape, she has been to America, Britain, Europe and a number of Arabic countries to campaign for the rescue of Yazidi women in sexual enslavement. She met with parliamentary members and world leaders, telling them what was happening in Sinjar and what she had to go through.
But her quest for justice was marked by setbacks and disappointments. According to Murad, whenever she appealed to officials and politicians, they always listened carefully but never made any promises.
“The situation is urgent and requires actions within hours…I keep telling my story but nothing has happened.”
She said of her yearlong campaign to push the world to react.
Because of her relentless work, in 2016, Murad became the U.N.’s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. And now, she received this year’ Nobel Peace Prize and will formally accept the award during the ceremony in Oslo on December 10.
Whether this award signifies a real change in the West’s dealing with such conflicts, however, is yet to be seen.
Featured Image via AP/Christian Lutz