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Author Brita Fernandez Schmidt
Executive Director at Women for Women International – UK
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Celebrating the Nobel Peace Prize win – but what's next?

The awarding of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize to Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege is an important landmark, and their global recognition could not be more timely or urgent.

Both Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege have worked tirelessly, and at great personal cost, to shine a light on an often unacknowledged dimension of conflict – the systematic rape of women and girls as a military tactic, used to destroy the fabric of communities.

I remember watching Nadia Murad’s powerful speech to the UN Assembly in 2016. What she had endured at the hands of ISIS seemed unimaginable – yet, sadly, through my work with Women for Women International over the past decade, I had heard it countless times before. I’ve heard strikingly similar, devastating stories from women in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I heard it repeatedly during the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, held in London four years ago, which brought together survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, NGOs, subject experts including lawyers and psychologists, and government delegations from over 150 countries. 

WfWI - DRC programme participant_Photo: Ryan Carter
Described as one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a woman, Women for Women International has supported more than 95,000 women survivors of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2004. Photo: Ryan Carter

The world is less peaceful today than at any time during the past decade... Right now, millions of women are the targets of horrific violence and abuse.

Since 2014, the world has become more violent and insecure. There are currently more than 40 active conflicts and refugees make up over 1% of the global population - the highest level in modern history. The world is less peaceful today than at any time during the past decade, according to the 2018 Global Peace Index. This means that, right now, millions of women are the targets of horrific violence and abuse. 

Sadly, we have seen little progress from governments on the pledges made at the 2014 Summit. We desperately need to see international laws upheld and implemented to protect women in conflict zones, and better justice systems to support survivors coming forward. We need to support women’s participation in decision-making, so that the voices of survivors are heard and their needs are addressed. 

Survivors like Nadia Murad and allies and advocates like Denis Mukwege have highlighted the extremes of a culture that normalises violence against women.

In order for women to ‘leave behind’ their shame and speak out, societal norms around gender need to change – norms that see women as less than men, as property, as extensions of their husbands and male relatives rather than people in their own right.

In the past week, thousands of women all over the world have come forward to share their experiences of sexual violence, and the subsequent challenges and barriers they faced in disclosing it – the culture of shame and stigma that pressures them to stay silent.

Survivors like Nadia Murad and allies and advocates like Denis Mukwege have highlighted the extremes of a culture that normalises violence against women. We need to face up to the fact that the targeting of women in Iraq, DRC and other conflict zones are not monstrous aberrations or inevitable ‘excesses of war’ - but part of a continuum, rooted in the abuse of a profoundly unequal power dynamic.

Nankafu’s, Women for Women International - DRC graduate

SPONSOR A SISTER

Sponsoring a sister through our programme allows her to take charge of her future. Nankafu learned about brick making and her rights. She now has her own business making bricks.

Awards and hashtags are helping to put these connections at the forefront of the global news agenda. But awards and hashtags – just like global summits - need to be backed up by action.

Accepting his award, Dr Mukwege said:

This award will have real meaning only if it helps mobilise people to change the situation of victims in areas of armed conflict.

To create this change, we need to fight a battle for gender equality on all fronts. Join the Women for Women International global sisterhood today and help us raise the voices of women survivors of war who have experienced the unimaginable.

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