In the midst of a global reckoning over sexual violence, a Yazidi woman who was a captive of the Islamic State and a Congolese gynecological surgeon were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their campaigns to end the use of mass rape as a weapon of war.
The award went to Nadia Murad, who became a bold, dignified voice for women who survived sexual violence by the Islamic State, and to Dr. Denis Mukwege, who has treated thousands of women in a country once called the rape capital of the world.
They have worked through grave risks to their own lives to help survivors and bring their stories to the world.
“We want to send out a message of awareness that women, who constitute half of the population in most communities, actually are used as a weapon of war, and that they need protection and that the perpetrators have to be prosecuted and held responsible for their actions,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chairwoman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said.
In a year when women have turned the world’s attention to an epidemic of sexual abuse in the home and in the workplace, the award cast a spotlight on two global regions where women have paid a devastating price for years of armed conflict.
[Read about the struggles of Dr. Mukwege and Ms. Murad, in their own words.]
Ms. Murad, 25, was singled out for rape by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, after being abducted alongside thousands of other women and girls from the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq in 2014. Whereas the majority of women who escaped refused to be named, Ms. Murad insisted to reporters that she wanted to be identified and photographed, and her advocacy helped to persuade the United States State Department to recognize the genocide of her people at the hands of the terrorist group.
Dr. Mukwege, 63, works in one of the most traumatized places on the planet, where villagers have fallen prey to militias, bandits, government soldiers and foreign armies: the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. In a bare hospital in the hills above Bukavu, where for years there was little electricity or enough anesthetic, he performed surgery on countless women. He campaigned relentlessly to bring attention to their plight, even after nearly being assassinated a few years ago.
The Nobel Prize was a rebuke to what Ms. Reiss-Andersen described as the failure of individual nations and the global community to prosecute perpetrators of wartime sexual violence.
Born and raised in the village of Kojo in northern Iraq, Ms. Murad, along with her family, was at the center of ISIS’ campaign of ethnic cleansing. Kojo, on the southern flank of Mount Sinjar, was one of the first Yazidi villages to be overrun by ISIS, which launched its attack from the south on Aug. 3, 2014.
Residents were herded into Kojo’s only school, where women and girls were separated from the men. The male captives, including six of Ms. Murad’s brothers, were loaded into trucks, driven to a field outside the town and executed.
Next, the women and girls were forced at gunpoint into buses. Ms. Murad was taken to a slave market, where she was sold to one of ISIS’ judges. He repeatedly raped her, beating her if she tried to close her eyes during the assault. When she tried to jump out a window, she recounted, he ordered her to undress and left her with his bodyguards, who raped her one by one. She eventually escaped.
She embarked on a worldwide campaign, speaking before the United Nations Security Council, the United States House of Representatives, the House of Commons in Britain and numerous other global bodies.
Ms. Murad has said that she was exhausted by having to repeatedly speak out, but she said she knew that other Yazidi women were being raped back home: “I will go back to my life when women in captivity go back to their lives, when my community has a place, when I see people accountable for their crimes.”
She became the second-youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize after Malala Yousafzai, an outspoken activist who was honored in 2014 after surviving a shooting by the Taliban.
In August this year, she announced she was engaged to a fellow Yazidi activist. A documentary to be released this month, “On Her Shoulders,” follows Ms. Murad as she travels the world in an effort to enlist global leaders in her fight. She also recounted her life story in a recently published autobiography, “The Last Girl.” In it, Murad writes: “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.”
The injuries that Dr. Mukwege has treated are ghastly: women who have had assault rifles stuck inside them; others pierced with chunks of wood; some victims collapsing on the hospital steps with deep rope burns on their necks from where they had been lashed to trees. Dr. Mukwege has also treated 2-year-olds and women in their 70s.
“It’s not a women question; it’s a humanity question, and men have to take responsibility to end it,” Dr. Mukwege once said in an interview. “It’s not an Africa problem. In Bosnia, Syria, Liberia, Colombia, you have the same thing.”
In 2012, Dr. Mukwege delivered a fiery speech at the United Nations, upbraiding the Congolese government and other nations for not doing enough to stop what he called “an unjust war that has used violence against women and rape as a strategy of war.”
His advocacy nearly cost him his life. Shortly after the speech, when he returned to Congo, four armed men crept into his compound in Bukavu. They took his children hostage and waited for him to return from work. In the hail of bullets that followed, his guard was killed, but Dr. Mukwege threw himself on the ground and somehow survived.
He spent more than two months in exile but decided that, in spite of the risk, he had to return. “To treat women for the first time, second time, and now I’m treating the children born after rape,” Dr. Mukwege said. “This is not acceptable.”
To the people in the crowd, some of whom had waited for hours to see him, Dr. Mukwege urged hoped and forgiveness.
Congo is a land that has been continually pillaged by armed groups and its own leaders, leaving a vortex of instability in the nation’s east. Dr. Mukwege has emerged as a champion of its people, even stoking hopes that one day he might run for president.
But he has repeatedly said he wants to focus on the hospital and related facilities and programs that focus on empowering women. He has also become a global advocate for gender equality and the elimination of rape as a weapon of war in recent years, traveling to other war-ravaged parts of the world to help launch programs for survivors.
He has also criticized the Congolese government for acts of sexual violence by its troops, and on Friday, the very same government congratulated him for the prize, even while chiding him for politicizing his work. In 2015, the government banned a documentary about Dr. Mukwege that was scheduled to be screened in the capital, Kinshasa.
In awarding the activists the award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided against an unlikely trio of leaders that had been the favorites among bookmakers around the world: President Trump, Kim Jong-un of North Korea, and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. They have taken on the herculean task of trying to denuclearize the divided Korean Peninsula, achieving a shaky détente.
The committee was unable to contact Dr. Mukwege and Ms. Murad before the announcement, it said. “If they are watching this, my heartfelt congratulations,” Ms. Reiss-Andersen said.
In 2017, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons for its efforts to advance the negotiations that led to the first treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.
On Monday, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science will be announced Sweden. The Nobel Prize in Literature has been postponed.