Nobel Peace Prize choice captures #MeToo moment © Frederick Florin, AFP | Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege (L, on November 26, 2014 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg) and Nadia Murad, public advocate for the Yazidi community, on December 13, 2016 at the European parliament in Strasbourg.

Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege and Yazidi campaigner Nadia Murad won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their work in fighting rape in warfare, capping a year of global reckoning about sexual violence across the world.

Staff and patients at the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, erupted into jubilant cheers and singing on Friday morning. The hospital’s founder and celebrated surgeon Dr Denis Mukwege has been named the joint winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Iraqi Yazidi campaigner Nadia Murad.

Dr Mukwege, 65, is a gynaecologist specialising in the treatment of victims of sexual violence. He and his colleagues have treated over 30,000 women, earning him the nickname of “the man who mends women”.

Murad, 25, was tortured and raped by Islamic State militants, before escaping and using the horror of her experience to become a global human rights campaigner.

Sexual violence as a weapon of war

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded them the prize for “their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.” Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said that Murad had “shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and peaking up on behalf of other victims”.

“I think that the women who are fighting every day against sexual violence deserve our congratulations. Without their courage, I would not be able to continue my work,” Dr Mukwege said to FRANCE 24.

The doctor praised the strength of victims of sexual violence, but added that justice still needs to be done, in the form of reparations and judicial proceedings against perpetrators.

FRANCE 24 talks Dr. Denis Mukwege

Speaking before colleagues, patients and the press at Panzi Hospital earlier on Friday and still dressed in his doctor’s white coat just after finishing an operation, Dr Mukwege dedicated the prize to survivors of sexual violence.

“Dear survivors around the world. I want to tell you that through this prize the world is listening to you and refuses indifference. […] We hope that the world will no longer delay taking action in your favour, with force and determination, because the survival of humanity depends on you. It‘s you women who carry humanity.”

A year after #MeToo

The announcement of the prize-winners falls on the anniversary of the #MeToo movement, a feminist movement denouncing sexual harassment and sexual assault that has toppled high-profile men from positions of power.

In an interview with FRANCE 24, Céline Bardet, the founder of NGO ‘Not A Weapon of War‘, an organisation working to eliminate sexual violence in conflict, stressed the importance of the award in the context of increased global awareness of sexual assault.

“Now we are starting to talk a lot about sexual violence. It’s very related to #MeToo. I think it’s not a coincidence that the Nobel Prize is going to Mukwege this year. Something is happening in society,” said Bardet, who worked with Mukwege in Bukavu.

Nadia Murad, who was used as a sex slave by IS, opens up to FRANCE 24

In his interview with FRANCE 24, Mukwege acknowledged how the #MeToo movement has helped in the fight against sexual violence. “The rule of silence perpetuates sexual violence. As soon as women break the silence and are able to call out [their abusers], those torturers stop. The #MeToo movement is a movement that I support because it helped to break the silence.”

Prize captures zeitgeist

Rothna Begum, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, agrees that the #MeToo movement has served to highlight the prevalence of sexual violence across the world, and that the Nobel Committee’s decision to reward campaigners fighting against sexual assault with the prize captures the zeitgeist.

“While this award is about those fighters, it really is about spurring the efforts to combat the stigma against sexual violence, whether in war or peace,” Begum said.

The Committee’s decision was hailed across the world. Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament, called it a victory for the Yazidis against ISIS. Interviewed by FRANCE 24, she said the prize was very important for Yazidis and other victims in the world.

Murad is the first Iraqi to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and the 17th woman. The Iraqi government offered its “deepest respect” to Murad, reiterating its own part in the fight against sexual violence.

Hillary Clinton, a former US secretary of state and presidential candidate, tweeted her congratulations to the pair.

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, released a statement thanking the two. “Nadia and Denis, I’m sure I speak for all human rights defenders when I say we salute you, we admire you beyond words. You have fought for the pain women have suffered through sexual abuse to be recognized and confronted, and for their dignity to be restored. […] Thank you for everything you have done”.

Both winners have also previously been recipients of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, an award designed to honour people and organisations defending human rights. European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said that Murad “embodies the fight for the dignity of human trafficking survivors”, and commended Mukwege’s courage in denouncing sexual violence.