While an estimated 40 to 300 Yazidi women and girls have escaped ISIL enslavement and joined their community in Northern Iraq displacement camps, it is believed that a further 5,000 remain in ISIL captivity. The sexual violence inflicted upon these Iraqi women is understood to be extreme; many are being traded and told for sex.
NPR released a report yesterday that sourced an interview with a young Yazidi man, Barzan (only his first name was published) whose youngest sister—just 15 years of age—has recently returned to him after being held captive by ISIL since August. Along with her mother, five sisters, and cousin, this teenage girl had been brutally taken when the extremist group swept through the Sinjar area of Northern Iraq. She is the only one out of the women in her family who has managed to escape and return to her people.
“She told me they held her hands down and they raped her once. She could barely tell me the story, she just cried and cried,” Barzan told NPR.
Not only are the Yazidi people an extremely conservative Kurdish ethnoreligious community—which in turn does not readily lend itself to this kind of explicit and sensitive dialogue—but they are a community who have been mercilessly targeted by ISIL, and, as Leila Fadel from NPR put it, “a community whose entire fabric has been shredded by this tragedy.”
The focus of concern for the surviving Yazidi women and girls who have managed to escape ISIL, is how they will be welcomed by and integrated back into their community. While victims of rape (at the hands of ISIL) are looked upon sympathetically by the Yazidi people and the Kurdish Parliament, abortion in Iraq is illegal—unless a woman’s life is endangered by giving birth. The conundrum is that a terrorist baby is unacceptable to the Kurds, and so, inevitably, illegal abortions are taking place. The Kurdish Parliament in the autonomous north is discussing laws that would better protect these women. One would be to legalize abortions for victims of rape by ISIS.
But in fear of ostracization and rejection, many women and girls are denying rape at all, saying instead that they fought off their oppressors and escaped. But already, health authorities are administering so-called ‘virginity tests’ to Yazidi women who return from captivity. “Virginity tests can re-traumatize the victims,” says Sherizaan Minwalla, an Erbil-based women’s protection and empowerment coordinator at the International Rescue Committee. “These are women and girls who have suffered, in many cases, sexual violence. And even if they haven’t, it’s an assault on their body really, it’s invasive, and many of them may not want to have it done but may feel pressure to in order to prove that they haven’t been raped.”
It seems that the fractured Yazidi and Kurdish communities at large are clambering to tackle this tragedy and consequentially sensitive aftermath, and the fate of the missing women and girls, returned women and girls, and rape offspring, is terribly uncertain.
Feature image sourced from sbs.com.au