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Alumni Portrait
06 May 2019

Working to combat conflict-related sexual violence

Apolline Pierson earned her Master in International Affairs in 2018. She is currently Project Manager for the Denis Mukwege Foundation. 

For as long as I can remember, I have always strived to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and before coming to Geneva at age 22, I had already lived in Taiwan, Canada and Hong Kong. Today, I work as a project manager for the Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). 

The Mukwege Foundation is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) whose mandate is to eradicate the use of rape as a weapon of war worldwide. The organisation has an office in Maison de la paix, and with help from the Graduate Institute’s Career Services, I got an internship there at the outset of my master’s degree. That internship eventually turned into a traineeship and finally, a full-time position. While working at the Mukwege Foundation, I became passionate about the issue of conflict-related sexual violence – a topic that requires a multidisciplinary lens to fully grasp, for which I believe the Master in International Affairs prepared me well. 

Through events organised by the Mukwege Foundation, I have had the chance to meet with several survivors from all around the world. Their resilience and strong voices became the inspiration for my master’s thesis, entitled “Listening to Victims’ Voices When Awarding Reparations to Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Eastern DRC”, for which I spent two months conducting field studies. 

Following its completion, my thesis went on to form the basis of one of our projects at the Mukwege Foundation – the creation of a “Global Reparations Fund” for survivors of sexual violence. Survivors rarely receive any type of justice or recognition for the harm they suffered – this project aims to ameliorate this. In the coming months, the Mukwege Foundation will initiate a reparations fund pilot project in the DRC. I feel fortunate to be part of the team leading its implementation and in doing so, I have the unique opportunity to put into practice the recommendations I made in my thesis. 

Working with the Mukwege Foundation has been a very enriching and challenging experience, allowing me to engage closely with survivors in Guinea, Central African Republic, Nigeria and the DRC, as well as with Dr Mukwege, now a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. I had the chance to go to Oslo for the Award Ceremony last December and worked closely with Dr Mukwege to help organise strategic advocacy meetings across Europe to build upon the momentum. 

The two years I spent at the Graduate Institute, immersed in a multicultural and challenging environment, were instrumental in preparing me for my current line of work. The Institute is also where I found some of my closest friends, who continue to support me from every corner of the globe.