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Upcoming dissertation on sexual violence in armed conflict addresses the work of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winners

News: Oct 05, 2018

Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to make visible and to fight sexual violence in armed conflict. This prize acknowledges a phenomenon that is often overlooked: the resistance of individuals and organizations to sexual violence perpetrated by armed actors. Research shows that such resistance is more than a fringe phenomenon.

Since he founded Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1999, Dr. Mukwege has operated thousands of victims of conflict-related sexual violence, restoring their sexual organs and their dignity. When Dr. Mukwege visited the University of Gothenburg in 2016, he presented a harrowing account of the toll this violence has on its victims. He recounted that he had performed reconstructive surgeries on babies only a few months old as well as on patients well over 80. Sexual violence in armed conflicts is often indiscriminate – armed actors rape and perpetrate other sexual violence crimes regardless of their victims’ age, gender and ethnicity.

This violence has terrible physical and psychological consequences. Injury, disability, infection with sexually transmitted diseases, depression and other severe mental health problems, social stigmatization and pregnancy as a result of rape are common. What has been less in the public eye is the ability of some – albeit certainly not all – victims to persevere and to pursue lives of activism, often despite facing threats against themselves and their families for doing so. Nadia Murad, who escaped sexual enslavement by ISIS, is a prime example. Even though the sexual violence to which she was subjected in months of captivity remains stigmatized, she has for the past years been an activist and raised awareness of the violence perpetrated against herself and others.

In my dissertation, I examine precisely this activism of women in response to conflict-related sexual violence. Using available data on conflict-related sexual violence across different armed conflicts since the 1980s, I show that women’s non-violent protest and women’s mobilization in civil society organizations are higher in conflicts where sexual violence is prevalent than in conflicts where this violence has not been widespread. My fieldwork in Colombia, where I spent four months carrying out interviews with civil society activists, illustrates women’s propensity to mobilize collectively in response to the collective threat that this violence poses to them. As early as the 1970s, women began confronting sexual and other violence against women committed by the since-demobilized guerrilla group M-19, in an organization called Mujeres en la Lucha.

Today, dozens of women’s and victims’ associations provide psycho-social and legal assistance to the victims of sexual violence and, in collecting and analyzing the testimonies of victims, they have contributed to making this previously neglected issue in the Colombian armed conflict visible. They have also tirelessly fought for women’s inclusion in the peace process, and their representatives – including victims – have provided testimony during the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC. It is thanks to the pressure of women’s organizations that a differential treatment of conflict-related sexual violence was incorporated into the peace agreement that was formally adopted in 2016.

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Dr. Denis Mukwege and to Nadia Murad is an acknowledgement of the resistance to conflict-related sexual violence that takes place in many conflicts all over the world.

 

Contact
Anne-Kathrin Kreft, PhD candidate, Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg, anne-kathrin.kreft@gu.se

An article entitled Responding to Sexual Violence: Women’s Mobilization in War, based on my dissertation work, is forthcoming in the Journal of Peace Research
 

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