On Friday 5th October, Yazidi campaigner Nadia Murad became the joint winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize along with Congolese gynaecologist and activist Denis Mukwege. Nadia, 25, and Mukwege, 63, were presented the esteemed award “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”.
Nadia, now the second youngest Nobel winner after 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai was awarded the same prize in 2014, said:
“I share this award with all Yazidis, with all the Iraqis, Kurds and all the minorities and all survivors of sexual violence around the world. As a survivor, I am grateful for this opportunity to draw international attention to the plight of the Yazidi people who have suffered unimaginable crimes since the genocide by Daesh (Isis).”
In 2014, Nadia was abducted with other Yazidi women when their village of Kocho in Sinjar, norther Iraq, was attacked by ISIS. She lost her mother and six brothers in the attacks as the extremists rampaged the village killing all the men and any women too old to be seen as a sexual asset. Nadia was sold into sexual slavery by her captors and recounts the horrors in her autobiography, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State:
“The slave market opened at night. We could hear the commotion downstairs where militants were registering and organising, and when the first man entered the room, all the girls started screaming. It was like the scene of an explosion. We moaned as though wounded, doubling over and vomiting on the floor, but none of it stopped the militants. They paced around the room, staring at us, while we screamed and begged. They gravitated toward the most beautiful girls first, asking, “How old are you?” and examining their hair and mouths. “They are virgins, right?” they asked a guard, who nodded and said, “Of course!” like a shopkeeper taking pride in his product. Now the militants touched us anywhere they wanted, running their hands over our breasts and our legs, as if we were animals.”
Nadia recounted how she tried to escape her captor, a man named Hajji Salman, by wearing an abaya and crawling out a window only to be caught by a guard. Her kidnapper whipped her and commanded his guard of six men to gang-rape her until she was unconscious. Over the next week, she was passed over from man to man to be repeatedly raped and beaten.
Nadia eventually managed to escape by jumping over a garden wall and taking the risk to knock on a stranger’s door. She ended up in a refugee camp in Mosul and has since become a fearless advocate for victims of sexual violence, unflinching in her criticism of Muslim leaders who she says must step up and do more:
“My story, told honestly and matter-of-factly, is the best weapon I have against terrorism, and I plan on using it until those terrorists are put on trial. There is still so much that needs to be done. World leaders and particularly Muslim religious leaders need to stand up and protect the oppressed.”
Nadia’s story is not uncommon – she is one of the several thousand Yazidi women taken as sex slaves by ISIS – yet her courage and bravery are rare. In a part of the world where the topic of rape is more easily brushed under the rug than talked about, her readiness to speak about her ordeal in order to shed light on the plight of thousands of women hidden in the shadows is nothing short of heroic.