Diakonia - People change the world
Demonstration of forced sterilized women's rights in Peru. Photo: Benjamín Alcarraz

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 – Recognition of millions of women worldwide

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 is about Peru. And the Rohingya crisis. Guatemala and Rwanda. Uganda and Colombia. Sri Lanka and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Sierra Leone. Iraq. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). And all other conflicts where sexual violence has been used as a weapon.


Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege will receive the prize for their courageous tireless work to stop this horrific global crime. She is a survivor who refuses to bear the shame that in actual fact belongs to the perpetrators. He is a doctor who year after year treats survivors and often saves their lives. Both are witnesses, spokespersons, and activists who do not allow themselves to be silenced, and instead, they continue, day after day, to spread awareness and work for political change worldwide.

Rape as a symbol of war victories and power

It is not a new phenomenon that sexual violence is used as a weapon in conflict. The Iliad, written in around 750 BC, describes rape as a symbol of war victory and power. But it was not until 1993, when the Yugoslav tribunal issued arrest orders for rapes, that it was first recognized as a crime against humanity by an international court of law. Since then, a great deal of progress has been made within international institutions.

A great deal of progress has been made...

The Rwanda tribunal in 1998 was the first international court to convict a person of rape as a genocide crime.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has existed since 2002, includes rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, and “any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” as a crime against humanity when it is committed in a widespread or systematic way.

In 2008 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1820, which establishes that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, and a constitutive act with respect to genocide. These were major victories for all the women’s rights organizations all over the world that had worked for decades to achieve this, and the victories formed a substantial step towards a more just world.

In 2009 the UN established the post of Special Representative against sexual violence in conflict, who reports directly to the Secretary-General, and Margot Wallström of Sweden was the first person in this role.

In recent years we have also started to talk about systematic rapes of men in conflict – something that in a patriarchal world is even more taboo to talk about.

...but a great deal remains to be done

A lot has therefore been achieved, but there is still a long way to go. In many conflicts and post-conflict communities, it remains life-threatening to state openly that sexual violence is or has been part of the warring parties’ military strategy. Our partner organizations work in some of these locations with this issue in secret or indirectly. They help survivors receive physical and psychological care and treatment and legal assistance and try to influence the view of these crimes and the legislation that regulates them.

Redress for survivors

In other places, women’s rights organizations have succeeded in putting pressure on society to such an extent that the culture of silence concerning sexual violence in conflicts has started to be unpicked. In such places, our partner organizations are working towards gaining redress for all survivors. In GuatemalaColombia, and Peru we support organizations that stand on the barricades to raise and keep the issue on the agendas of the general public and the courts of law, and they have contributed to bringing about historic trials.

In this work, we also constantly see the widespread lack of accountability for sexual violence. Time after time we see that even when courts of law establish that the crime has been committed, the judgments are easily overturned afterward, or no punishment is given whatsoever.

Gender inequality behind the violence

Nadia Murad has said, “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.” This vision remains a long way off, and law is only part of the solution. An enormous amount of work is also required at a societal level for people to stop committing rape. Pramila Patten is the current UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She focuses substantially on the fact that gender inequality is the underlying cause of this violence. It happens because women’s lives are regarded as being less valuable and because women’s human rights are not respected.

Meaningless peace prize without women’s voices

Shortly after Denis Mukwege heard that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize, he gave a speech to the women at Panzi Hospital where he works. He said, “When we together continue the fight, this prize will not have any significance if you women are not valued and if your voices are not heard and respected.”

On 10 December in Oslo City Hall, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege will receive global recognition for the fantastic work that they do. And when they step forward to receive the prize, they will not walk alone. The air will vibrate with millions of life stories from women – alive and dead – from all over the world.