Women Confronting ISIS: Local Strategies and States’ Responsibilities (Video)


Symposium at City University of New York- School of Law
Friday, March 6, 2015


This Symposium offers a unique and timely opportunity to engage with locally-based Iraqi and Syrian women activists working across sectarian lines, as well as international experts to address the crisis of women’s human rights in areas controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Participants will explore the relationship between gender-based abuses under ISIS and State-sanctioned discrimination and violence against women, highlighting lessons for policymakers and women’s rights advocates in diverse contexts of political and armed conflict.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.owfi.info/activities/women-confronting-isis/

Women Confronting ISIS: Local Strategies and States’ Responsibilities

Friday, March 6, 2015 | 9:00am – 5:00pm

Dave Fields Auditorium
CUNY School of Law
2 Court Square
Long Island City, NY 11101

This Symposium offers a unique and timely opportunity to engage with locally-based Iraqi and Syrian women activists working across sectarian lines, as well as international experts to address the crisis of women’s human rights in areas controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Participants will explore the relationship between gender-based abuses under ISIS and State-sanctioned discrimination and violence against women, highlighting lessons for policymakers and women’s rights advocates in diverse contexts of political and armed conflict.

Sponsored by: The Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice, MADRE, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Nobel Women’s Initiative (NWI), the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI)

Speakers Include:

Laila Alodaat, Chairperson of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center; WILPF

Amir Ashour, Iraqi Human Rights Activist; Iraq Human Rights Officer, MADRE

Charlotte Bunch, a Board of Governor’s Distinguished Service Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies; inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame

Radhika Coomaraswamy, former U.N. Under Secretary-General, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict; Visiting Professor of Law at NYU Law School (invited)

Lisa Davis, Clinical Professor of Law, CUNY Law School; MADRE

Leisl Gernholtz, Executive Director, Women’s Division, Human Rights Watch

Jannat Al Ghezzi, Iraqi women’s Rights activist, Baghdad, Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI)

Camille Massey, Executive Director, Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice, CUNY

Yanar Mohammed, Founder and Director, Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI)

Pramilla Patten, Vice-Chairperson of the UN CEDAW Committee (invited)

Oula Ramadan, Syrian Women’s Peace Activist; Member of the Badael project

Madeleine Rees, OBE, Secretary General, WILPF

Jacqui True, Professor, Monash University

Patricia Viseur-Sellers, former Gender Legal Advisor and a Prosecutor for the ICTY & ICTR

Yifat Susskind, Executive Director, MADRE; contributor, The W Effect: Bush’s War on Women

Nawal Yazeji, Syrian Women’s Peace Activist, Damascus; Member, Syrian Women’s League


CLE Credits provided by Community Legal Resource Network at CUNY School of Law

CLE credit will be offered only to those attorneys completing entire sessions; attorneys attending only part of a session are not eligible for partial credit. Attorneys arriving late are welcome to attend the program but will not be eligible for credit. Attorneys wishing to receive CLE credit must sign in the program’s attendance register prior to and following the CLE program; once a speaker begins the program, the sign-in sheets will be removed. Similarly, attorneys leaving the session early are also ineligible for CLE credit.

Financial Aid Requests

To request financial aid, please first email John-Paul Kocot at john-paul.kocot@law.cuny.edu. Do not register on this page. Financial aid details and registration instructions will be sent to you.

Cancellation Policy

CUNY School of Law reserves the right to cancel a program at any time. If CUNY School of Law cancels a program, you will receive a full refund.

Refund Policy

Full refunds are available, less a $5 processing fee, up to 48 hours before the program date. Requests for refunds must be made via email to John-Paul Kocot at John-Paul.Kocot@law.cuny.edu.

Refund requests made less than 48 hours before the program date will be refunded at 50% less a $5.00 processing fee.

No refund will be available if you cancel on the program date, if you do not show up, or if you leave a program early for any reason. No refund will be available if you attend a program and are dissatisfied with its presentation or content.

If you do not cancel and do not attend the program, a complete set of materials will be forwarded to you in consideration of the registration fee.

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Friday March 06

9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Engage with locally-based Iraqi and Syrian women activists and international experts addressing the crisis of women’s human rights under the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

Permanent link to this article: http://www.owfi.info/activities/women-confronting-isis-local-strategies-and-states-responsibilities/

You’re Invited: “My Body Is Not Your Battlefield”

EVENT: Women Confronting ISIS: Local Strategies & States’ Responsibilities

Engage with locally-based Iraqi and Syrian women activists and international experts addressing the crisis of women’s human rights under the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).


Friday, March 6, 2015 | 9:00am – 5:00pm (FREE Entry)
CUNY School of Law | 2 Court Square | Long Island City, NY 11101


1423775374_Postcard-Front-FINAL-EMAILSponsored by: MADRE, Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Nobel Women’s Initiative, International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict


RSVP here https://publicsquare.law.cuny.edu/isis


  EVENT: Ending Rape as a Weapon of War

Rape is not an accident of war; it is a weapon of war. Join activists from Nicaragua, Colombia, Iraq and Syria, each with a breakthrough perspective on preventing wartime sexual violence.

Friday, March 13, 2015 | 10:30am – 12:00pm (FREE Entry)
Armenian Convention Center, Ballroom 2 | 630 2nd Avenue | New York, NY 10017

Sponsored by: MADRE, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Circle of Health International, International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict
RSVP at madre@madre.org


EVENT: Honoring Charlotte Bunch

Join MADRE as Dean Michelle Anderson of CUNY School of Law presents the 2015 Dean’s Social Justice Award to Charlotte Bunch, the Founding Director and Senior Scholar of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 | 6:00pm – 8:00pm (FREE Entry)
CUNY School of Law | 2 Court Square | Long Island City, NY 11101

Sponsored by: MADRE, CUNY School of Law, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice


RSVP here https://publicsquare.law.cuny.edu/events/live/bunch

Photo credit: Daniel Smith


Permanent link to this article: http://www.owfi.info/activities/youre-invited-my-body-is-not-your-battlefield/

Under Isis, Iraqi women again face an old nightmare: violence and repression

In a PBS NewsHour video report in June, Isis extremist militants parade through Mosul, Iraq, one of the first cities to fall to their onslaught in early June. The armed men are hanging off the back of trucks, as the crowd films them. One fighter leans out a car window, wagging his finger. The footage provides a translation. The fighter has spotted a woman, and he is ordering her to cover up.

naamloosThis is how an extremist agenda is imposed: on women’s bodies. That fighter had barely arrived in Mosul yet his first order of business gives us a chilling glimpse of a broader strategy, one that targets women with repression and violence. In recent weeks, women living under Isis control have been seized from their homes and raped. They have been ordered to cover themselves fully and stay in the house.

As Iraq descends into war, women are not only on the frontlines: they are the battlefield. But here is the part that too many media reports have missed: they are not just victims; they are critical first responders.

To understand this, we need to rewind to the worst days of the sectarian violence that erupted under the US occupation. In those bloody years, the US dismantled Iraq’s secular government bureaucracy. It imposed a system that allocates political power according to religious sect, turning a theological difference into a dangerous political divide.

The US also backed militias who enforced that divide with brutality and used US money, training and weapons to impose their own fundamentalist agenda on the population. Under US rule, sectarian militias launched a campaign of terror, hunting down activists, artists, academics and anyone who challenged their vision of society. Women were targeted specifically. In 2008, graffiti on the walls in the city of Basra threatened, “Your makeup and your decision to forgo the headscarf will bring you death.”

Women were not even safe at home, especially after the clerics of US-empowered political parties endorsed “honour killing” as a religious duty for families to police women’s behaviour.

In response, Iraqi women mobilised in unprecedented ways. For instance, the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (Owfi), a partner organisation of Madre, created a network of underground safe houses for women fleeing violence at home and in the streets. Under conditions of military occupation, civil war and fundamentalist witch-hunts, the women of Owfi spoke out against policies that created sectarian divisions and fuelled gender-based violence.

Fast forward to today, and Iraqi women are facing the new incarnation of an old nightmare. In Baghdad, sectarian violence is again on the rise. Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is fanning those flames by rejecting calls for unity and resurrecting the militias that only a few years ago turned public hospitals into torture chambers and raped women who stepped out of line.

As men leave to fight, tens of thousands of women are becoming heads-of-households, responsible for meeting the urgent needs of their vulnerable families and communities. Meanwhile, in communities occupied by Isis, fighters have kidnapped women from their homes, telling their families that these attacks are justified by a “sexual jihad”. Four women committed suicide after militants raped them.

This violence is not random. Rape is a terrifyingly common weapon used to terrorise and control communities during warfare. Yet, only recently has the topic been treated with the seriousness it warrants. On the day that Isis conquered Mosul, world leaders were in London for a summit to address the scourge of war-time rape. Now, governments’ commitment to protecting women in war zones from sexual violence is again being tested.

World leaders have a vital source to turn to for solutions to this crisis: Iraqi women themselves. In cities across Iraq, Owfi, with Madre and other international allies, is rallying resources to provide shelter, medical care and humanitarian aid to women who have survived rape or have been forced to flee Isis-controlled areas. Owfi is providing food aid to women who are heads of households, who can then reach the most vulnerable displaced people, including children and the elderly.

Even in Anbar Province, where Isis flags are flying high, Owfi is there, offering protection and aid to those who are most at risk of sexual violence. These are the women who never stopped organising through the years of invasion, occupation and civil war. Once again, they are facing down brutality.


• Yifat Susskind is executive director of Madre, an international women’s human rights organisation

Permanent link to this article: http://www.owfi.info/article/under-isis-iraqi-women-again-face-an-old-nightmare-violence-and-repression/

What will it take to stop Isis using rape as a weapon of war?

Noor (not her real name), a 14-year-old girl from a small village in northern Iraq, was sold 15 times, passed from one Islamic State (Isis) fighter to the next. Each time, she was raped. Noor managed to escape and made her way, mostly on foot, to a refugee camp. There, she met Yanar Mohammed, an Iraqi women’s rights activist, who told me Noor’s story. “The worst moments,” Noor said, “were when one man would sell me to another. And I would have to hear them debating what my life was worth.”

I heard many more stories like Noor’s at a recent gathering of Iraqi and Syrian women’s rights activists in Istanbul. Some of the women had never met before, but they shared a common purpose: to end the scourge of rape unleashed on them by civil war and the ascent of Isis.

But how to do that? No soldier in a war will hold on to a weapon that does not work. So what will it take to disarm rape as a weapon of war?

1000A glimmer of an answer shone through the women’s harrowing stories. Activists from Syria and Iraq spoke of a subtle but critical shift in their communities to end the stigma surrounding sexual violence.

As recounted by the women in Istanbul, Isis has used rape to exert control and spread terror through communities. It has imposed draconian limits on women’s freedoms to work, speak or be seen in public, policing these controls through violence. Isis has abducted women and girls, sometimes by the busload, and sold them into sexual slavery.

Ordeals like Noor’s are neither random nor rare. Rape is useful for Isis: it traumatises individuals and undermines their sense of autonomy, control and safety. It triggers mass displacement when word reaches people.

But the most destructive power of rape as a weapon of war lies in the deep-rooted stigma attached to it. Survivors are ostracised, even blamed for the attacks. Families fear being tarnished by the stigma and banish wives, mothers and daughters. In the worst cases, people adhere to distorted notions of “honour” and kill rape survivors. In short, rape tears at the fabric that binds families and communities.

But something different is starting to happen in some of the Isis-controlled zones of Iraq and Syria. There, the sheer number of women who have suffered sexual violence seems to be creating a potential tipping point. The women I met, both Syrian and Iraqi, reported that with rape occurring on such a huge scale, some families are choosing not to reject their mothers and daughters returning from captivity by Isis. As Mohammed said: “It’s harder to blame a woman for having been raped when it’s happening to so many.”



We saw this change in Rwanda, where rape was a systematic weapon of genocide. Afterwards, the critical mass of survivors triggered a new national conversation on sexual violence, on the morality of ostracising survivors and on women’s human rights more broadly.

A similar shift may be possible now. If Iraqi and Syrian women’s rights advocates can uproot the community response that stigmatises and isolates rape survivors, the utility of rape as a weapon of war is diminished. It will not work to unravel communities. The strategic opening could be transformational for women and for warfare – but only if women from within affected communities can act now, while deeply rooted social norms around rape are in flux.

Grassroots activists in Iraq and Syria are already mobilised, reaching out to survivors and their families with aid and counselling. Some have set up emergency escape routes to activist-run shelters. Many regularly visit refugee camps, not only to bring relief supplies but to listen to women’s stories carefully and without judgment.

One woman whom Mohammed met in a refugee camp said that the first time she was raped, she asked herself whether she would survive to tell anyone about it. Speaking to Mohammed gave her hope, she said.

Activists like Mohammed have begun to change the conversation; in Istanbul, they referred to alliances forged with other activists and local officials, including prominent men. One Iraqi activist spoke of a local authority figure who has become an ally. At great personal risk, he condemned honour killing at a gathering of tribal heads. His brave act of solidarity opened a community dialogue in support of women’s rights.

All these are vital interventions, modelling a way for communities to stand by survivors and begin to render rape obsolete as a weapon of war.

As Mohammed said: “We want Noor’s community to see her not as a ruined, raped girl, but as a prisoner of war who was strong enough to survive weeks of torture and brave enough to escape.”

Yifat Susskind is executive director of Madre, an international women’s human rights organisation

Permanent link to this article: http://www.owfi.info/article/what-will-it-take-to-stop-isis-using-rape-as-a-weapon-of-war/

World Woman Festival 2015: Women in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan ‘worst hit’ by fundamentalism

Women are the greatest victims of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and the extent of the violence being inflicted upon them can no longer be ignored, an international panel of human rights campaigners has said.

In a debate about jihadis, campaigners at the World Woman Festival in Oslo said that in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, women’s rights were increasingly being threatened by fundamentalists who wanted to return to the Middle Ages.

Attendees heard criticism of Western democracies for ignoring the plight of women in countries menaced by fundamentalism. Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan politician and author of the best-selling My Favourite Daughter, said that in the 1970s jihadi groups were handed blank cheques to help to end the war with the Soviet Union, but “there was no benchmark set on women’s rights”.

The Pakistani lawyer Hina Jilani said that at the time communism was seen as the biggest threat, but “fundamentalism could become a much bigger evil for all of us”. She added: “Ending religious fundamentalism with more religion is dangerous work. These policies do not work.”

Ms Jilani said similar warnings were ignored before the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. “We are the voices of the women who said, much before 9/11, much before the world felt the effects of jihad, ‘Don’t go down that road, it is dangerous’, but we were silenced.”


Hina Jilani said warnings about fundamentalism were ignored before 9/11 (AFP/Getty)


Yanar Mohammed, the president of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), which runs secret shelters in Baghdad for women fleeing abuse, said Iraqi women were suffering because of policies put in place by the US and Britain which had allowed the rise of Isis. “Thousands of Yazidi woman have been sold into enslavement,” she said. “They are sold on 15 times as the men are told not to keep them a long time. But nobody is doing anything about this.”

The festival’s organiser was Deeyah Khan, who made the Emmy-winning documentary Banaz: A Love Story, about a British woman murdered by her family in an “honour killing”. She said: “We give so much space to the villains, such as IS, yet the heroes get so little space. We are here to stand in solidarity with the heroes.”

Norwegian-born Ms Khan, who had to quit her career as a pop star and flee to Britain and later to the US because of harassment by Islamists, said: “The Charlie Hebdo attacks could not be seen in isolation but were part of the Islamist terrorist campaign to silence any critique of the religious right.”

The Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy, who was assaulted by Egyptian security forces while covering the Arab Spring demonstrations in 2011, warned that there was an epidemic of sexual violence in Egypt and that “there could be no revolution without a sexual revolution”.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway’s first woman prime minister in 1981, told the conference it was difficult to balance being a “woman and a changemaker and to deal with your country as a whole” but this was what she had set out to do. In contrast, she said Margaret Thatcher had felt it was enough just “to be a woman and become Prime Minister”.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.owfi.info/article/world-woman-festival-2015-women-in-countries-such-as-iraq-syria-and-afghanistan-worst-hit-by-fundamentalism/

We all know about jihadists, but what about those waging an ‘anti-jihad’?

notaliban-1024x789As the UN Security Council tackles the entity claiming to be “Islamic State,” and President Barack Obama invokes global Muslim responsibility, many ask whether people of Muslim heritage do enough to counter extremism.

The fact is, away from the media spotlight, thousands wage daily battles in their own countries against what President Obama called a “network of death.”

Unfortunately, jihadists make headlines while those who wage the anti-jihad rarely do. After all, everyone has heard of Osama bin Laden, but few know of those standing up to would-be bin Ladens across the globe.

There is a long, untold history of brave individuals of Muslim heritage who have challenged extremists.

In the 1990s, the women’s group known as the Algerian Rally of Democratic Women or RAFD (Refuse) dared to do just that during a “dark decade” of jihadist atrocities committed by the Armed Islamic Group battling the Algerian state. That violence claimed as many as 200,000 lives.

The demonstrations organized by the women of RAFD drew thousands of protesters, despite the danger. In October 1993, as the violence began to accelerate, they wore symbolic cloth targets in front of the President’s office to decry the threats to women and secularists. The entire roster of RAFD’s leaders ended up on a fundamentalist death list, but still they would not be cowed.

The day after a deadly 1995 bombing on a crowded street in Algiers, RAFD protested at the bomb crater itself. The police told them it was too dangerous, but activists gathered anyway and filled the crater with flowers.

Then, in 1995, the women’s organization held a mock trial of the Islamic Salvation Front’s leaders in Algiers. Some 900 attended despite posted threats to kill anyone who did.

Through acts like these, activists helped galvanize and display the population’s burgeoning rejection of an Islamic State project in Algeria. Nevertheless, RAFD’s work received little attention internationally.

Even worse, it sometimes elicited criticism from the Western intelligentsia and press suggesting that its members were inauthentic and Westernized.

Why were they labeled this way? One reason is that the Western media often frames the conflict as one between Muslim extremists and the West, rather than as a fight for human rights within Muslim majority societies. In this narrative, opposition to extremism is deemed Western. This is entirely mistaken.

When the West frames the conflict in this way, it can come across as a “clash of civilizations.” But this is not the case. There is a clash of ideologies—not civilizations—and it is taking place within each and every country affected by extremism.

The public relations battle of the ‘anti-jihadists’ is a critical part of the struggle against groups like ISIS—just as important as the military campaign. That is why the international community must do a better job to support those who are today’s version of RAFD, and to recognize that they represent a legitimate voice from within their societies.

And there are many like them.

Inside the danger zone, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) publicly denounces ISIS for its genocidal campaign against minorities, for raping women, imposing strict female dress codes and operating a “concubine market” that reportedly sells women and girls into sexual slavery. OWFI runs emergency phone lines and even a safe house for women fleeing ISIS persecution.

The Iraqi architect Yanar Mohammed, an opponent of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, founded the group in 2003 after the fall of Saddam Hussein.  Her goal was to promote women’s rights by advocating a secular, non-sectarian Iraq.  Like the women of RAFD before them, OWFI faced threats– in this case from both Sunni and Shiite extremists.  The founder once received an email with the subject heading, “Killing Yanar.”

Despite her bravery, Yanar once told me that she had limited access to Western media. This echoes what RAFD spokeswoman Zazi Sadou recently told me about the international response to their efforts: “No one wanted to hear us.” Even today, the West is still not listening to the voices of Iraqis who are standing up to the extremists. This must change.

If the international community wants more individuals to fight back, it must offer them support. While Qatari coffers have nourished jihadists across the region, secular groups who fight Islamists scrounge for funds.

If all this is not addressed then there is a real risk that Muslim fundamentalists–armed with money, weapons, foreign fighters and emotive religious rhetoric– will win both propaganda and military battles.

  • PHOTO: A human rights activist holds a placard during an “anti-Talibanisation” protest in Lahore April 19, 2007. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza 
  • http://www.reuters.com/
  • By Karima Bennoune

Permanent link to this article: http://www.owfi.info/article/we-all-know-about-jihadists-but-what-about-those-waging-an-anti-jihad/

OWFI statement for the 14 day to end VAW

Liberate the Iraqi Women Detained by Daesh,

unnamedOn June 10, the occupation of the city of Mosul started a new chapter of women’s suffering in Iraq. Daesh (ISIS) reawakened the ancient tribal habits of claiming women as spoils of war. While most of the detained thousands of women were from religious minorities such as Yezidies, there were also hundreds of Turkmen Shia, Shebek and Christians.

The international campaign against Daesh negotiates further militarization of the war lords in Iraq, and blind-bombing of Iraqi cities, and the local Iraqi and Kurdish governments applaud and receive. None of them are concerned with the enslavement of more than five thousand woman who are being bought and sold in broad day-light in Mosul, Raqqa and other “Islamic State” cities.

Around a hundred women were liberated by money paid to Daesh fighters by volunteering individuals, to go to their homes and find out that their patriarchal tribes no longer desired to see them. The Iraqi government officials do not find the fate of thousands of tormented women as a priority, and do not address the urgency of protecting and caring for them to the public at large. They continue to stick to their patriarchal positions which view women as private property which is of no more use to the men of the tribe once they were “used” by others. The Iraqi government officials have not yet stepped into an era of regarding women as citizens whose protection is the responsibility of the state, and do not see the need to address the mass sexual torture of their female citizens.

Neither does the international community which seems to be ruled by patriarchs who choose to stand by the Iraqi government’s side by providing further military arms and bombing only, as if further militarization ever brought peace to Iraq.

We in the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq have taken a strong position against trafficking of women for many years, but are finding ourselves living the days of watching our sisters endure sexual slavery with no solution at hand other than those followed by individuals who bought the women out of slavery.

The day when negotiation with the human beasts towards liberating thousands of women from sexual slavery has come, and we cannot wait many years for Daesh’s destruction while our sisters endure sexual torture. OWFI begins to find ways to liberate women from detainment in all possible means, and plans to open a shelter for those who are rejected by their tribes.

Eleven years of cartoonish state-building in Iraq left the women unprotected, humiliated, and on their own. OWFI will continue to create the model of protection, empowerment, and nurturing of the victims of wars on Iraq, whether the state allows it or not.

With the help of the freedom-lovers around the world, we continue to survive the ongoing attacks on our society, and we will strive to be the model of a humane and egalitarian future.

Shame on all those who empowered a state which gave way to Daesh and never-ending sectarian massacres.


Long live the free women of Iraq
Down with Daesh and all the creators of Daesh

Yanar Mohammed
Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq Dec 4 – 2014

Permanent link to this article: http://www.owfi.info/campaigns/owfi-statement-for-the-14-day-to-end-vaw/

International Campaign Warns: No Women, No Peace in Iraq

(Ottawa—October 27, 2014). As world powers deploy military missions to fight ISIL*, the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict is urging them to prioritize ending widespread sexual violence by ISIL and other militant groups in Iraq. The Campaign also warns that without the inclusion of Iraqi women in diplomatic efforts to establish peace, violence will worsen.

“With their monstrous tactics, ISIL has turned Iraqi women’s lives into a nightmare,” said Yanar Mohammed, President of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a Campaign member. “Women in communities under ISIL control have witnessed beheading of their husbands and sons, and fear to be sold with their daughters as spoils of war to become sexual slaves for princes of ISIL. We are raising our voices to the international community, to say that our lives matter and that the world cannot ignore these violations of Iraqi women’s human rights.”

The Campaign welcomed recent United Nations (UN) investigations into ISIL’s brutal campaign of sexual violence in Iraq and Syria, which revealed that ISIL has forced an estimated 1,500 women and children into sexual slavery. However, the coalition of Nobel peace laureates, civil society organizations and sexual violence survivors says world leaders must take more comprehensive action to end rape and gender violence in the region, including responding to the Iraqi military’s use of rape and torture as tools of intimidation, as reported by Human Rights Watch, another member of the Campaign. The Campaign says international leaders must pressure Iraq to end illegal detention and sexual violence by its security forces and prosecute all responsible for these crimes.

“In Iraq, there was rape, honour killings, kidnappings, trafficking and sexual exploitation before ISIL gave it ideological underpinning,” said Madeleine Rees, Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, a Campaign member. “If you don’t address violence against women and have a society that accepts it, you get an ISIL. The dividing line is thin—so thin that for women, its difficult to see the difference between war and so-called peace. The lesson must finally be learnt that there is no alternative but to have women in decision-making, or there will be no such thing as real protection or real security.”

The Campaign warns that without the inclusion of women in all diplomatic negotiations on Iraq—prescribed by UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security—efforts to establish peace will fail. It points to the exclusion of women from Syrian peace talks and deteriorating conditions in Syria as an example to avoid. The Campaign also calls on the international community to increase resources for local Iraqi women’s groups supporting survivors and working for peace.

“Iraqi women are specific targets of ISIL brutality and the first to respond to the needs of sexual violence survivors,” said Yifat Susskind, Executive Director of Campaign member, MADRE. “These grassroots activists recognize danger first and are risking their lives to offer women refuge from danger. Their knowledge is essential to ending conflict and sexual violence in Iraq.”

MADRE works closely with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, which runs emergency phone lines and a safe house for women fleeing ISIL. In September, both organizations called on the UN and other international leaders to pressure the Iraqi government to change laws and norms making women and children more vulnerable to violence. These include Iraq’s pending Ja’afari legislation, which would change the legal marriage age for girls to 9-years-old and permit marital rape, as well as current laws and government practices that deny shelter for women and prevent NGOs from running private shelters for displaced families and individuals.

The Campaign urges world leaders to tackle the severe need for psychological care in Iraq. Rates of serious mental health disorders are already at a critical high in neighbouring Syria—made worse with increasing ISIL kidnappings, sexual and other forms of violence. It also says survivors need the full range of medical, legal and livelihood services to rebuild their lives and communities.

*The militant group refers to itself as the “Islamic State, but is also commonly referred to as ISIL, ISIS, and DA’ISH/DAESH.

– 30 –


For Interviews, Contact:

Rosella Chibambo
Associate, International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict
+1 613 899-1623
+1 613 569-8400, ext. 118

Interviews with Campaign members, including Yanar Mohammed (President, Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq), Madeleine Rees (Secretary General, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom) and Yifat Susskind (Executive Director, MADRE) are available.


About The International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict: The International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict (www.stoprapeinconflict.org) is made up of over 5,000 individuals and over 800 member organizations working to end sexual violence in conflict: the first ever global collaboration between Nobel Peace Laureates, international advocacy organizations, and groups working at the regional and community levels in conflict. The Campaign calls for urgent and bold political leadership to prevent rape in conflict, to protect civilians and rape survivors, and ensure justice for all—including effective prosecution of those responsible.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.owfi.info/article/international-campaign-warns-no-women-no-peace-in-iraq/

Houzan Mahmoud: Political parties need to draw women into their ranks to make themselves “credible”.

A5-hozanHazhar Osman: What is your opinion on Islamic State jihadists?            

Houzan Mahmoud: I would rather call them ISIS terrorists, since in my opinion Islamist jihad has always been about terror and terrorism. We can no longer separate the two terms, jihad and terrorism. Terror against defenceless civilians and massacres of non-Muslims – even Muslims who are not from the same religious sect – have become visible characteristics of jihadist/terrorist groups. Look at all the Islamic governments in our region: They are very similar to ISIS, if not the same. Anything to with Islamism and jihad has a very similar outcome for people in terms of brutality. What ISIS did recently, regardless of their origin and who is behind them and why they arrived in Mosul, is in itself a big story. At the same time we all saw how they are targeting Shiite civilians, Christians, Yazidis, and all other religious groups in Iraq.

I will always associate jihadists/terrorists with killing and rape, taking women as sex slaves to sell in ISIS slave markets and beheadings of civilians. They will never have any other associations in my mind and memory. We should all remember what they’ve done to Yazidi women, Christians, and other groups. They have left a dark stain and created a bloody history for themselves. Kurdistan will never be the same again; we should never tolerate Islamist terrorism and genocide. Kurdistan and its Peshmerga forces have proven to be in the forefront of fighting against these forces of darkness and medievalism.

Hazhar Osman: Why women are involved and fighting for ISIS jihadists?

Houzan Mahmoud: Women involving themselves in politics over the past decades have become a noteworthy phenomenon in the Middle East. People join political parties because the particular ideologies fit with their ideals of life. Of course there will be men as well as women joining ISIS for different reasons. Many political parties including Islamist parties, both those who are in power and outside of power, have women in their ranks. Also, each political party needs a huge membership, men or women it does not matter, so long as they can attract new people and recruit them into their ranks.

Having women involved in politics has been a result of the ongoing struggle by women to be part of the decision making in political parties and in government. Women constitute half of society. But women are no longer only home makers; they are also present at work, at university, and even in the military in some countries. Political parties need to draw women into their ranks to make themselves “credible”.

Above all, Islamic jihadist/terrorists want women for sex. A huge part of their propaganda has been about sex and sexual jihad. They promise men 72 virgins in heaven and sexual jihad or Jihad Al-nikah on earth, whereby female terrorists will serve male terrorists by providing sexual services. The whole idea of the sexual objectification of women has been part and parcel of their politics. After all it is taken from their holy book and Islamic Sharia law.


Hahzar Osman: Many feminists held the view that women are marginalized in Kurdish policy making, but we have seen many women politicians as spokespersons of their country in this life-and-death situation. What are your views on this?

Houzan Mahmoud: I would still argue that women in our region are not fully empowered and our existence is not fully acknowledged. We have been struggling on many fronts with our male counterparts. Women themselves have made gains and proven their public existence by entering the many professions, politics, art, education, and even the Peshmerga. Despite this, we are still far from being seen as equal human beings in our societies.

Let me make it clear here that having women in high-party posts and as spokespersons does not necessarily reflect their own will. We know in politics that people have to follow the party line and agenda, even if that agenda is detrimental to women’s rights and empowerment.  Of course I am for women’s presence and existence in all spheres of life. The important thing is we must continue with our fight for rights, freedom, and dignity for society as a whole. However, if the system is patriarchal and has retained all the structures that discriminate against women, how can women politicians be visibly effective?

Hazhar Osman: Tens of thousands of Yezidis, Christians, and other minorities in Iraq have been displaced, including children and women. What should Kurdish authorities do for them? Do you believe that they may face abuse, rape, and death?

Houzan Mahmoud: What has happened to our Yazidi brothers and sisters is genocide. This was not the first time: Yazidis have been subjected to genocide several times in history. What ISIS terrorists did to all groups in Iraq, and especially to Yazidis, by kidnapping women and children to sell as sex slaves is horrendous and beyond my worst nightmares. Let alone the beheadings and the massacres of Yazidi men. All of us are duty bound to publicize it, talk about it, tell the world, make films, and write the story as it happened.

Let me say that the Iraqi regime is useless and dysfunctional. Above all, it’s an ethnic-sectarian regime. They did not want to, and were incapable of, providing protection to anyone. The Iraqi regime is itself part of the problem, containing as it does representatives of political parties that are as bad as ISIS.

Although my hopes are not very high for the Kurdistan Regional Government, they should work harder to save Yazidis and bring back the captured women and girls. Also they should fully compensate people who have lost their homes, bread winners, children, and loved ones. The victims need care, attention, support, and solidarity. Their ordeal will need to be discussed and coped with for many years to come.

I am deeply saddened and shocked by all the brutality taking place in our region today. Islamists and right wing fascists are targeting particular groups and turning people’s lives into hell. Political Islamist ideology should be countered more forcefully wherever it raises its head. Our society has gone through many ordeals; we don’t need this outdated religious ideology to ruin our gains, lives, and countries. It should be pushed back into the desert where it belongs.

Houzan Mahmoud is a Kurdish women’s rights campaigner, and the Spokesperson of the Organisations of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. She was born in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1973 and currently residing in London. Her articles were published in UK publications including The Independent and The Guardian, The Tribune, The New Statesman and others. Houzan is an international voice for women’s and workers’ rights in Iraq and Kurdistan; led many campaigns internationally, including campaigns against the rape and abduction of women in Iraq, and against the imposition of Islamic sharia law in Kurdistan and Iraqi constitution. She led many other campaigns around the world against so-called honour killings, and against violation of freedom of expression. She has written many articles about the situation of women in Iraq, Kurdistan and Middle East, which have been translated into and published in many languages.

  • MA in Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London, Sep 27, 2013 to Sep 27, 2014.MA in
  • Gender Studies, SOAS, University of London, 2012

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Call for Iraqi Women Victimized by ISIS

10530923_802906303088073_2207505707422904555_nThe Islamic State of Iraq and Levantine (ISIS) atrocities, since the occupation of Mosul city, have shocked the Iraqi and the International community altogether. Their criminal conduct is abysmal against Iraqi women in general, and specifically against the Yazidi, Christian, Shiite Shebek and Turkomen women.

The women are kidnapped and sold in groups and as individuals, to become temporary wives for ISIS warriors where they are forcibly held as sex slaves under the name of “Sexual Jihad.” Those atrocities have escalated throughout the month of August in line with committing genocide against the minority communities. As the massacres committed against the Yazidi, Shiite, and Christian communities were followed by the taking of hundreds of women to the newly set-up “concubine market” in Mosul, to the cinema building in Telafar, all the way to the Syrian depth of Islamic state, for the purpose of selling those women as sexual slaves.
Moreover the “purchase” of sexual slaves is made easy and “affordable” for the foreign ISIS warriors who came from distant countries, while the prices are higher for local war lords, tribal heads.
Some women however, are being used as human shields in order to protect the ISIS facilities from airstrikes, such as in the case of Telafar. The ISIS organization has caused Iraqis unprecedented catastrophic conditions throughout the captivity of women similar to the Islamic conquests that took place thousands of years ago; thus creating pain and devastation beyond any modern expectation, uprooting some of the most ancient communities who never witnessed this extent of horror, massacre, and insult to their dignity, denying them any possibility of a secure life in the near future. ISIS do not hesitate to commit any horrendous crime even towards children such as the beheadings or selling their human organs; as they take advantage of selling women and trafficking in children’s organs for the purpose of financing their state.

OWFI hereby reaches out to every woman detained or exploited by the criminal organization of ISIS in Mosul, Telafar, Sinjar, as well as the Western cities of Iraq. We in the OWFI stand with you and strive to provide logistic and financial support to you in order that you escape your concentration camps controlled by ISIS. We will send individuals who can help you to arrive at our safe home in Baghdad where we provide you with all the care and safety you need.

[important]Call us at our organization numbers: (07800) 036317 or (07700) 036317[/important]

To all women chained and detained by ISIS slave-drivers, to all women who are forced to hide in their homes, to girls who aspire to live the in freedom dignity, and to all Yazidi women and Turkomen Telafar women, contact us at these numbers listed above and we will find a way to deliver financial and logistic support to get you to our houses safely. We beg you not to end your life or undervalue it in any way, or surrender to despair as a result of heavy torture or humiliation under the hands of ISIS criminals. Tomorrow brings hope with, and after every storm comes sunshine.

Long live Yazidi, Christian, Talafer, and Amerli women, in freedom and dignity Down with the ISIS monsters

Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq

August 28, 2014

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OWFI Statement

Organisation of Women’s Freedom Iraq-OWFI   (27/08/2014)

Statement of solidarity with the Yazidi community and condemnation of ethnic cleansing of Iraq’s minority groups by ISIS. Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.owfi.info/article/owfi-statement/

Who will condemn the sexual enslavement of Iraq’s minority women?

Slavery and rape are being used as weapons of war by Isis against Yazidi and Christian women, yet rights activists are silent Evidence that women belonging to the Yazidi and Christian religious minorities in Iraq are being raped and sold into slavery by the Islamic State (Isis) is mounting. One of the first to speak out was Vian Dakheel, the only Yazidi female MP who addressed the Iraqi parliament last week, despite the speaker telling her to be quiet and stick to the agreed statement. Continue reading

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AskYanar: Your Chance to Connect with an Iraqi Women’s Rights Activist

AGAINSTwomenVERTICAL_Final1Since the beginning of the crisis in Iraq, our partner Yanar Mohammed, President of Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), has provided us with on-the-ground accounts of the hardships and danger Iraqi women and families are facing. Now, we want to give you the opportunity to pose your questions to her.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.owfi.info/article/askyanar-your-chance-to-connect-with-an-iraqi-womens-rights-activist/