BY AZADEH VALANEJAD
Seven thousand Yazidi women and girls from the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar were abducted on March 15, 2014 by the Islamic State and forced into sex slavery. Five thousand of their husbands, fathers, and brothers murdered in front of their eyes.
Three thousand of those women and girls are still in ISIS’ captivity, according to the UN.
Nadia Murad Basee Taha, 21, was one of those victims. Murad became the sabia, or slave, of an ISIS fighter who kept her locked in a room. Her captor had a wife and daughter, but Murad never met them. After three months of torture, Murad was able to escape one night when her captor left his door unlocked.
Murad bravely shared her story at the United Nation’s Committee on the Status of Women, last month during an event about the exploitation of refugee women.
“Women and children have escaped on their own,” said Murad with a shaking voice. “There are no humanitarian efforts.”
Murad is tall and thin, her long hair pulled back in a simple ponytail. Even from a distance, there is hollowness in her eyes. Her voice cracks from tears she holds back when retelling her story. She never smiles.
This is not Murad’s first time testifying before the UN. In December, she spoke to the Security Council about the difficulties ethnic and religious minorities face under ISIS.
“For more than three months I have been delivering this message, but still these women and children are in captivity and no solution from the international committee,” said Murad.
Murad’s story is one of the thousands that detail the sexual exploitation of refugees. Terrorist groups have adopted sexual violence as a form of institutionalized strategy to have control. ISIS has offices in Raqqa and parts of Turkey where pamphlets about these captured women are issued that indicate they are available for trade or even gifts.
“For them, it’s a project. It’s part of their permanent structure,” said the UN’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura at the discussion. “Enslaving women has become a priority,” she said.
According to a UN report, terrorist groups such as ISIS made $5 million alone from selling women. The Islamic State has legalized slavery inside its territory, raping and enslaving non-Muslim women, like Yazidis. Some fighters are reported to believe they can convert women if 10 Muslims rape her.
“You can’t talk about terrorism war strategies without talking about women,” Bangura said.
But sexual violence is not just a problem within the borders of ISIS’ self-proclaimed caliphate. The crisis in Syria has left 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon where several forms of sexual exploitation have risen drastically.
Forced marriages to young girls are an example of this. A study this past year showed 23 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon were married underage, with some brides as young as nine. In Lebanon, many do not believe a marriage license issued and registered in court is necessary. Instead, families believe marriage can be done in the presence of sheiks.
The reasons for the increase include the perception that girls are financial burdens to their families, and some men take advantage of these private marriages, sometimes taking several girls as brides and forcing them into prostitution.
Prostitution in Lebanon takes places in the streets, brothels, and nightclubs. In 2014, 60 percent of the women arrested for prostitution in Lebanon were Syrian, according to aid workers.
“There is not enough to provide for refugees living in these miserable situations,” said Zoya Rouhana, a representative from Lebanese NGO Kafa. “There is a big, big need for financial and sustainable support to provide all the services needed for women who have passed through sexual harassment or exploitation. “
Unfortunately, it has become a common cultural practice to perceive women as objects in regions ISIS controls.
“We should focus on the International community,” said Rouhana. “They should start thinking how international treaties and laws can be more effective.”
As activists strive to ensure sexual violence becomes a central topic for policymakers, Murad has taken asylum in Staatsburg, Germany, waiting to hear news from her other female relatives.
“We were subject to injustice. Now we only receive silence from the international community,” Murad concluded her story with. “It feels like injustice is being committed again against us.”