What Nadia Murad’s Nobel Peace Prize Means for War-Time Rape Survivors Around the World

Amal Clooney has remarked that Nadia Murad defied the labels life gave her—orphan, rape victim, refugee, slave—and instead created new ones—among them survivor, leader, advocate and author. Now, she has garnered one more: Nobel Peace Prize Winner.

(European Parliament / Creative Commons)

Murad and Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege were selected this year for the prize in honor of their endless efforts to stop sexual violence against women in war zones. The decision, which was announced in the midst of the Kavanaugh trials and with the #MeToo movement wavering on in the background, was in many ways a victory for survivors around the world.

Growing up, Murad wanted a simple life; she dreamt of being a teacher or opening up her own beauty salon in the small Yazidi village where she grew up. All of her dreams were shattered when Islamic militant outfit ISIS swept into her community, killing thousands, including her family, and taking her and other young women captive, torturing and raping them repeatedly.

When Murad escaped from an ISIS stronghold in Mosul, BBC journalist Nafiseh Kohnavard told her they would film her anonymously, to protect her identity, so that she could tell her story and shine light on the global crisis facing her small village. She refused—because she wanted the world to see what happened to them. She did not want to be covered with shame. She refused to let her stories to be echoed within the wall of silence.

“It takes superhuman courage and strength,” the International Civil Society Action Network said in a statement, “to retell the stories of personal pain and loss, as Miss Murad has done.”

Murad’s ultimate act of defiance is that she refused to let ISIS silence her indomitable human spirit. She went on to become a UN Goodwill Ambassador and testify before the global body multiple times about the atrocities she faced. She demanded more from world leaders who stood idly by as Yazidis suffered at home and abroad, in refugee camps where they often felt forgotten.

Even in accepting the Nobel Prize, Murad saw a teaching moment. “I am grateful for this opportunity to draw international attention to the plight of the Yazidi people who have suffered unimaginable crimes since the genocide by Daesh [IS], which began in 2014,” she said in a statement. “Many Yazidis will look upon this prize and think of family members that were lost, are still unaccounted for, and of the 1,300 women and children, which remain in captivity. Like many minority groups, the Yazidis have carried the weight of historical persecution. Women, in particular, have suffered greatly as they have been, and continue to be the victims of sexual violence.”

Since her escape, Murad has become the face of war-time rape survivors the entire world over, and she has especially become the face—and voice—of Yazidi women who have suffered under the ISIS occupation of their land. It is a role she has reluctantly accepted out of a sense of duty to her people, and as the ultimate act of resistance against the victimhood she will not resign herself to.

“My story, told honestly and matter-of-factly, is the best weapon I have against terrorism, and I plan on using it until those terrorists are put on trial,” said Murad in her book The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State. “I wanted to look the men who raped me in the eye and see them brought to justice,” she later wrote in the book. “More than anything else, I said, I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.”

Ms. digital editor Carmen Rios recently spoke to Alexandra Bombach about On Her Shoulders, a documentary about Murad’s life after her escape. You can watch it below and see more interviews by following Ms. on Facebook.


Kohinur Khyum Tithila is a journalist based in Bangladesh. She is a Fulbright scholar and received her second master’s degree in Magazine, Newspaper, & Online Journalism from Syracuse University, first master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice from Dhaka University, and bachelor’s degree in English from East West University. Kohinur writes about LGBTQ and women’s issues, feminism, crime, secularism, social justice and human rights. She is also addicted to anything caffeinated.