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5 October 2018

The Nobel Peace Prize was a victory for survivors of sexual violence over Donald Trump

If two other nominees had won, the celebrations would have looked very different. 

By Sian Norris

Well, when it comes to the Nobel Peace Prize… thank God it wasn’t Donald Trump. Instead of a man who boasts about grabbing women by their private parts, it was in fact those who campaign against sexual violence who have been celebrated today.

The winners Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have focused their work on supporting women and girls who have been raped as a weapon of war. Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist who has devoted his career to defending victims of sexual violence in one of the bloodiest and most lethal conflicts of recent times. Murad – the 17th woman to win the prize, compared to 89 men – is a Yazidi Kurdish human rights activist from Iraq. Like many Yazidi women who were brutally raped by Isis terrorists, Murad is a survivor herself. She was recommended for showing courage in recounting her own sufferings, and for her work speaking up for her fellow survivors.

A year on from the #MeToo revelations that sought to reveal the extent of sexual violence and harassment across the world, it is resoundingly positive to see these two activists rewarded for their campaigning. The prize demonstrates how advocating for women and girls, and working to end sexual violence, is one of the key human rights issues in the world today. With an estimated one in three women and girls experiencing gender-based violence in their lifetimes, it is about time we recognised how the fight to end sexual violence is the fight for a more peaceful society.

It’s a vindication, too, to see those fighting for women’s rights awarded the prize – and, once again, what a relief that the gong didn’t go to two fellow nominees.

The first, as mentioned, was Donald Trump, who in the run-up to the 2016 election campaign was accused by 22 women of sexual harassment and assault. He continues to deny the allegations and has called the women liars. This week, we watched him publicly mock Dr Christine Blasey-Ford, who has accused his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of assault (Kavanaugh denies the allegations). 

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The second was Kim Jong-un, a man who presides over one of the world’s cruellest and most brutal regimes. It’s estimated that over 200,000 are imprisoned in a system of gulag prison camps in North Korea.

How could it be that a man who mocks women who say they have suffered sexual violence, and one whose regime tortures women and men, could even be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize?

And don’t worry – I know about bomb-happy Henry Kissinger, and I know how the nomination process works – anyone who falls under the Nobel criteria, including politicians of national assemblies, can nominate, so at that stage, it is hardly an exclusive pool. It’s not that long since everyone was shocked Vladimir Putin was in the running.

But even seeing such men on the list was a kick in the teeth. 

Why? Because it sends a message that the violence committed against women and men is a mere pawn to be swapped around on the geopolitical chessboard. It sends a message that the women who risked everything by accusing the president of the United States don’t matter, when compared to an inconclusive summit meeting. And it sends a message that those struggling for survival in the desperate and violent conditions of North Korea’s gulag system don’t matter – they are collateral damage in a “love affair” between two egoist leaders.

As one US presidential hopeful once said: women’s rights are human rights – and one key human right is to live free from sexual violence and exploitation.

Women’s rights, then, cannot be treated as secondary. They cannot be disregarded in peace negotiations, like those between Trump and Kim. If movements towards peace are not centred on respecting and protecting women’s rights, then those movements towards peace will never succeed in creating a fairer world.

Worse, if those accused of sexual assault and human rights violations are rewarded as peacemakers, it sends a message to violent men in any position – world leader or not – that their behaviour has a free pass. That they can be free to abuse, assault, exploit, and torture… and still be celebrated and awarded more power.

We are in a war against women. In every country of the world, from the US and the UK, to the Congo and Iraq, to India and Brazil and Australia and Nigeria, women and girls are raped, assaulted, and exploited. 

Without an end to violence against women and girls, we can never have a peaceful world. Until we end violence against women and girls, we will never have a fair and just world. And until we stop awarding and celebrating those accused of violence against women and girls, we will never have a world where human rights are truly valued.

All of which is why it matters that today, those who fight against sexual violence are celebrated and rewarded.