Pakistani girl-wonder Malala Yousafzai and Congolese rape trauma surgeon Denis Mukwege have emerged as strong contenders for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize to be announced today.
Both are championing the cause of women. Malala wants girls to be able to get an education and better their lot, while Mukwege has treated thousands of women raped by militias and soldiers in Congo. His Panzi Hospital has been a refuge for rape victims for many years now.
Vocal activists and critics of systems that don't recognise the rights of women, Malala and Mukwege both escaped death by a hair's breath but never quit in championing their respective causes.
On Oct 9, 2012, Malala was shot by gunmen for defying a Taliban campaign to close schools in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Since her recovery she has travelled widely, giving powerful speeches advocating the right for every girl to have an education. Recently she has expressed a wish to return to Pakistan and become a politician with the goal of making education free and compulsory.
In September 2012, Mukwege made a fiery speech at the United Nations, criticising what he called the shameful 16 years of inaction by the international community and the Congolese government for the mass rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On Oct 25, 2012, four men attacked his home, held his daughters hostage and attempted to assassinate him. His guard who intervened to protect him was shot dead. Mukwege then went into exile in Europe but returned on Jan 14 this year to a warm and rousing welcome. His patients had actually raised funds to pay for his plane ticket by selling fruits and vegetables.
Mukwege has won numerous international awards and has been nominated as a possible Nobel Peace laureate many times in recent years.
Since her recovery Malala has been honoured by dozens of organizations, spoken at the United Nations, had a New York-based charity for girls named after her and was a runner-up for Time magazine’s 2012 Person of the Year.
This year the nobel committee received a record 259 nominations, which include 50 organisations. Several other leading activists are also in the running. The crowd favourite however appears to be Malala, the 16-year-old Pakistani teenager who has battled the Taliban's oppression of women so publicly.
If Malala wins she will become the youngest candidate to win the peace prize in Nobel history. Should she win? Not yet I believe. No doubt the image of a young girl wagging a finger at Taliban warlords has garnered her quite a global following.
She is seldom not on CNN these days, on Thursday she was awarded the European Union's Sakharov human rights prize. Malala's fans I am sure, and she has many, must be hoping that this is a prelude to the peace prize.
Campaigning for the right of every girl to get an education is an important cause. Education can uplift a woman in many ways, but it won't shield you from sexual violence. I am sure the story of a young physiotherapist who was brutally raped on a bus in New Delhi is still fresh in the minds of many.
She was a bright student who had access to education, she was determined to make a better life for herself and her family with the education that she had obtained, but she died weeks after being brutally gang-raped from severe internal injuries.
More than ever in the past year, we have been confronted with the brutality of rape, apathy on the part of the authorities and a lack of deterrent laws. Which is why I am hoping that come this evening Mukwege, 58, the pioneering doctor who has dedicated his life to helping victims of rape will be the recipient of the peace prize.
At the Panzi Hospital, the victims are not just given medical aid. Once their physical woulds are healed, the next step of treatment is focused on helping them heal psychologically and reintegrate into their community. A legal team also helps every victim create a file of the injustices they have suffered.
In Dr Mukwege's words:
"Most of these women, after treatment, they become leaders in their own community. They are the ones who will save Congo. What they have faced is not just rape. It is a problem for all humanity."
Rape is indeed a problem for all humanity, whether in conflict ridden regions or affluent nations. Honouring Mukwege will send a strong signal to the international community that the plight of women and children in conflict ridden regio ns cannot be ignored. Secondly that rape is a 21st century malaise that must be eradicated.
Let us not fool ourselves that the plight of the women of Congo and other war torn regions is something that will never hit our doorstep, as we dwell in more prosperous countries. What is happening in Congo and Rwanda can happen anywhere in the world.
This world needs more advocates like Mukwege who has not restricted himself to only providing medical aid, but has gone on to champion the cause of these women, even taking on the governments of Congo and Rwanda in the process.
I hope the work of this pioneering doctor is not passed over by the Nobel committee this time around.
The full text of his speech to the United Natio ns in September 2012