- Vaward-winning playwright and author of The Vagina Monologues. She is the founder of V-Day.
After a landmark year for the “Me Too” movement, which ignited an international conversation on sexual assault, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday morning to two champions of women’s rights who have built their careers fighting sexual violence: physician Denis Mukwege and human rights activist Nadia Murad. Dr. Denis Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1999. The clinic receives thousands of women each year, many of them requiring surgery as a result of sexual violence. Nadia Murad is a 25-year-old Yazidi Kurdish human rights activist from Iraq. She was kidnapped and held by the Islamic State for three months. During her captivity she was repeatedly raped. We speak with Eve Ensler, award-winning playwright and author of “The Vagina Monologues” and the founder of V-Day, a movement to end violence against women and girls. She is a good friend of Dr. Mukwege and has also worked with Nadia Murad.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to the Nobel Peace Prize. Officials announced this year’s recipients early this morning in Oslo, Norway.
BERIT REISS-ANDERSEN: The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Denis Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1999. The clinic receives thousands of women each year, many of them requiring surgery as a result of sexual violence. Nadia Murad is a 25-year-old Yazidi Kurdish human rights activist from Iraq. She was kidnapped and held by the Islamic State for almost three years. During her captivity, she was repeatedly raped, held as a sex slave, she said.
In 2009, Denis Mukwege appeared on Democracy Now! along with our guest today, Eve Ensler. I asked him to talk about how he got involved in fighting sexual violence.
DR. DENIS MUKWEGE: [translated] It’s a particularly difficult situation. For the past 10 years, at the hospital we have women that are not only raped, but have been tortured also, and their genitals have been literally been destroyed. And they’re often young. They’re at the beginning of their youth. And they arrive in such a condition where urine and fecals are coming out, and it’s very hard to take them, to take care of those women. But we are here because we have hope, and we have hope that the world can listen. It is unacceptable. It is unbearable that women are treated this way.
AMY GOODMAN: Who is committing these crimes?
DR. DENIS MUKWEGE: [translated] These crimes are committed by armed groups. For the past 10 years, the Congo has been occupied by seven armies. And each army, each armed group, including the Congolese armed forces, each group commits its own atrocities. And I think it’s a very big deal, because women have no hope. Even those who are supposed to protect her abuse her and torture her.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about the City of Joy, Dr. Mukwege.
DR. DENIS MUKWEGE: [translated] When we take care of women at the hospital, these women are wounded physically but are also traumatized profoundly. And it’s not possible, just like that, to cure them; it takes time, sometimes a lot of time. We cannot kick them out of the hospital, so we needed a place where women can stay to be taken care of and to train them to reinsert socially and to give them the possibility and the ability to take care of themselves and to be able to fight in life, because they do have the capability to do this.
I have seen amazing transformations. There is an enormous potential in women that I did not imagine. They arrive completely destroyed, and they fight, and they fight between life and death. But afterwards, they have an incredible strength. The City of Joy will give them this possibility to say what happened to them, to tell that people have tried to destroy them, but we can tell them that they are strong and can fight.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Dr. Denis Mukwege almost a decade ago on Democracy Now! Today he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Nadia Murad, the 25-year-old Yazidi Kurdish human rights activist, also won. This is Nadia Murad speaking at the U.N. in 2016.
NADIA MURAD: [translated] Before ISIS came to my village, there was nothing more important to me than my dignity, than my mother, my dear mother. And although she is now gone, my dear mother is with me here today in soul and in spirit. She, along with my brothers and so many others, left this world too soon. And my life in Sinjar as a simple Yazidi farm girl is gone forever. The dreams and hopes of my whole community are gone.
As you have heard, the night of August 3rd, 2014, everything changed. Daesh came to kidnap, to murder, to rape. This was genocide. It is that simple. In a matter of days, if not hours, thousands of Yazidis were killed, and thousands of women and children were taken, just because they were Yazidis. I was taken to Mosul with others. I was used in the way they wanted to use me. I was not alone. And perhaps I was the lucky one. As time passed, I found a way to escape, where thousand others could not. They are still captive.
AMY GOODMAN: Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, through a translator, at the U.N., and Dr. Denis Mukwege. We’re continuing with Eve Ensler, the award-winning playwright and author, founder of V-Day. You just got off the phone with Dr. Mukwege—
EVE ENSLER: I did. I did.
AMY GOODMAN: —speaking to him at the hospital in the Congo. Talk about—and you’ve worked with both of them, Nadia as well. Talk about Dr. Mukwege’s work and the work you both have done together in Congo.
EVE ENSLER: I just want to say, you know, Carl Jung once said that surviving this century will be holding two opposite thoughts at the same time, you know? And I’m thinking here we have the Kavanaugh hearings and Dr. Mukwege winning. So, what I want to say is, Dr. Mukwege and Nadia—I mean, it’s so fantastic that they’ve chosen both a doctor who has been fighting to end rape as a weapon of war and a survivor of that, and that they’ve honored them together, because it’s such a model of how men and women should be working together on these issues across the world.
I’ve been working with—I met Dr. Mukwege in 2006, when I was asked to interview him for the U.N. And when I met him, I was overwhelmed by the fact that his eyes were so bloodshot witnessing all the atrocities and horrors he had seen. He invited me to come to the Democratic Republic of Congo so V-Day could support his work. And I remember the first day I arrived at Panzi Hospital, and there were hundreds and hundreds of women, all of whom had been tortured and raped, all—many of whom had been operated on. All of them were in the hospital under his care, under his love, under his magnificent, radiant energy. And I stood there, and I thought I had arrived at the end of the world.
But there was this man, this towering man of grace and dignity and commitment and devotion, literally sewing up women’s vaginas as fast as the militias were tearing them apart, and desperately trying to get the word out to the world that this war, this economic war that was being fought for the resources, particularly coltan, which goes into our cellphones and computers, where militias are desecrating villages, having husbands rape daughters and sons rape mothers, so they destroy the families. The families flee. The militias take over the mines. And they are proxies for multinationals who then take the coltan back to us to go into our cellphones and computers.
I saw this man, who—I had never seen a man like that. I had never seen a man who was literally giving his life to stop rape, to end sexual violence, to call attention to what rape as a systematic tool of war was doing to the women of Congo and would be doing, if it were not curtailed, to many more women throughout the world in many more countries. And I have watched him. I mean, I have had the privilege of traveling with him across this country, across Europe, across the world, Africa, where I have watched him tell his story over and over, at the U.N., at the European Parliament, at the White House, telling it and telling it and telling it, risking ostracization, risking criticism, risking his life. There was an assassination attempt on him, I think four years ago, where they almost murdered him and murdered his—the driver who worked with him, kidnapped his daughter for 20 minutes. And now he is living literally under security at the hospital, no longer living in his home. He is a man of devotion.
And I think, at this moment, he is modeling a way of being as a man who is standing with survivors, with us. And he said to me this morning, he said, “This award is not just my award. It’s an award for every survivor in this world, every woman who has been working for years to end this.” And he said, “We don’t just need recognition. We need reparations. We need to end impunity, because impunity is allowing this to continue and continue.” And as we’re seeing at the Supreme Court, if there is no justice, if there is no accountability, this is how rape spreads. And we have seen that over 14 years in the Congo.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, I could only think there was all sorts of discussions of the shortlist, and Dr. Mukwege has been on that list for a number of years. He was even—the Nobel Prize officials were even asked about why this year. And you have to think about that, because among the other people whose names were being bandied about for this award today was President Trump, because of the North Korea issue in resolving that war. And you could only think, imagine, perhaps, someone said, “But look at, I mean, 16 women have accused him of sexual assault.” And the Nobel committee is dealing with its own controversies around sexual assault and rape.
EVE ENSLER: Indeed.
AMY GOODMAN: And so they went in the other direction, and they honored Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, who V-Day has also supported.
EVE ENSLER: Nadia is one of the most extraordinary, brave, grace-filled women. And we had the pleasure of working with her and supporting Yazidi women. And I got to meet her, and I did a piece about her. But she’s so young. She has been through some of the worst atrocities. But she has turned her life, devoting it to not only saving the women and speaking out against the genocide against the Yazidi people, but also becoming an incredible spokesperson and model for ending the scourge of sexual violence used as a weapon of war and armed conflict.
And I think this award, hopefully, will signal to the world, and particularly to men, that there is a different way of being, you know, that we have to honor survivors, we have to honor women like Nadia Murad who stand up. And we have to say to men, there is a way you can act—you can devote your life to ending violence against women. You can devote your life to working with and standing beside us. And you don’t become less of a man. You become more of a man and more of a human. I mean, you only have to meet Dr. Mukwege to see the light, to see the radiance, to see the love, to see the beauty that pours through that man, who has given his life to the women of his country.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, today, Eve, also marks the first anniversary of the explosive exposé in The New York Times around Harvey Weinstein, really the beginning of the #MeToo movement as it’s being talked about today, though it was formulated well before that. How far have we come? As you point out, the irony of this day, the Nobel Peace Prize goes to those who fight sexual violence and to sexual violence survivors, and today the vote of the Senate, the first vote, the second supposedly as early as tomorrow—not clear—on whether Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexual assault by several women, will be confirmed to the Supreme Court?
EVE ENSLER: It’s a good question, because it seems like the white men in power, that Republican Judiciary Committee and the Republicans, are not getting it, are not waking up, are not feeling it, are not in tune. But the genie is out of the bottle. Women are out of the bottle now. They are never going back in. And I think whatever happens with the Kavanaugh hearing, it will never sit right with women of this country. It will never sit right with them.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, there are elections within a month.
EVE ENSLER: Yeah, exactly. Not only elections, but I believe a fury is being unleashed in women, a fury and a determination that we will never turn back from at this point. And I just want to say to all survivors and women out there, this is our crucible moment. And we need to—after whatever happens here, we need to rise and make sure the window that has been opened never closes again. It can’t.
AMY GOODMAN: Eve Ensler, I want to thank you so much for being with us, award-winning playwright, author of The Vagina Monologues and so many other books, her latest, In the Body of the World, founder of V-Day. This is Democracy Now! We’ll link to her letter to white women against Brett Kavanaugh—
EVE ENSLER: For.
AMY GOODMAN: —or, her opposition, expressing her opposition to Brett Kavanaugh, but her letter to white women who are supporting Brett Kavanaugh, at democracynow.org.
When we come back, we head south to Brazil, where major elections are taking place this weekend. We’ll speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. Stay with us.