The announcement of who will receive the Nobel Peace Prize is always most powerful when it taps into the global conversation of the moment.
In that sense, the 2018 decision to recognize two people — Congolese surgeon Denis Mukwege and Yazidi campaigner Nadia Murad — for their efforts to end sexual violence as a weapon of war could not have been more apt, or better timed.
The announcement landed one year to the day since the New York Times published a report on Harvey Weinstein that blew open the #MeToo movement. It also came hours after hundreds of Americans were arrested during protests over the nomination of a Supreme Court judge who has been accused of sexual assault during high school (he denies the claims).
The significance of this cannot be overlooked, when you consider the impact the #MeToo movement has had all over the world — from bringing down prominent politicians to dictating the discourse around major events, like the Oscars and Emmy awards.
Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, was asked Friday whether the panel had been inspired by the #MeToo movement. “I believe that #MeToo and war crimes aren’t quite the same thing,” she responded. “What they do have in common is that it is important to see the suffering of women, to see the abuses.”
Friday’s announcement also comes a decade on from the United Nations recognizing sexual violence in war as a crime against humanity.
Reiss-Andersen said this year’s prize was intended to send the message that “women, who constitute half of the population, are used as a weapons of war, and they need protection, and the perpetrators have to be held responsible and prosecuted for their actions”.
Choosing two people deeply involved in the struggle to protect women will no doubt shine a new light on an issue that continues to affect countless women each day.
Recognizing a man and a woman was also an important move that speaks to the struggle for equality and shows that men can have play a valuable role in combating such violence and helping victims rebuild their lives.
Mukwege, who is believed to have been shortlisted numerous times before, has been called “the man who mends women,” after turning the maternity hospital he founded in Congo into a specialist medical unit to help victims of rape by treating their physical and emotional injuries.
Since opening its doors in 1999, Mukwege’s hospital has treated 40,000 victims of such violence.
Rewarding a victim-turned campaigner, as in the case of Murad, smashes another taboo that comes hand-in-hand with sexual abuse: shame.
Born in 1993, Murad is a survivor of Islamic State’s notorious sex slavery. When she speaks, she carries the voice of some 3,000 women and girls that were abducted and abused after the Yazidi strongholds were overrun in Northern Iraq four years ago.
It’s a voice she has taken to the United Nations to plea for their plight. And it’s a voice which, with the recognition of the Nobel name, will carry even further.
Yet this year’s selection is also a huge win for the prize itself.
There will be some who say other worthy causes and candidates have been overlooked, but the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has captured a moment in history.
In doing so, it stands a good chance of making the future a better place for women, all over the world.