Nadia Murad: An Advocate For Sexual Violence Survivors Everywhere
When Nadia Murad was a young girl, she dreamed of opening a beauty salon in Kocho, her village in the Sinjar region of Northern Iraq. She even kept a scrapbook of brides on their wedding days, marvelling at their hair and makeup.
But it was not to be. In 2014, when Murad was 21, ISIS invaded and began a campaign of genocide against Murad’s Yazidi community – whom the terrorist group considered un-Islamic – and her life was torn apart.
Her village was reduced to a wasteland surrounded by mass graves. Women and children were separated from the men and older women in the village school. The latter, including six of Murad’s brothers and her mother, were taken away and shot.
Murad herself was kidnapped and held captive as a sabaya (sex slave), being passed around ISIS fighters as a grotesque form of reward. With incredible bravery, she managed to escape and flee to Kurdistan – a daring feat that is detailed in her memoir, The Last Girl. There she discovered that most of her family was dead, and her community destroyed. Even today, thousands of Yazidi women and girls remain captive in Iraq and Syria.
Since then, Murad has refused to be defined as a victim. Instead, she began a campaign dedicated to rebuilding her shattered community and advocating for survivors of sexual violence around the world. While she lost so much to ISIS, she did not lose her voice, and even while suffering physical and emotional trauma, she knew it could become her greatest weapon against terrorism.
Today, she is the winner of numerous international accolades for her advocacy for survivors of sexual violence, including the Nobel Peace Prize. She is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, the co-founder of the Global Survivors Fund and the founder of Nadia’s Initiative.
Assisted by her legal counsel, human rights barrister Amal Clooney, she has worked to gather evidence of crimes against humanity with survivors’ testimonies and the exhuming of mass graves. Clooney recently achieved the first prosecution of genocide against individual ISIS members in a case that Murad hopes will prove a milestone in the Yazidi fight for justice.
She is also working to rebuild the shattered Yazidi community, so that the 200,000 people who are still displaced within Iraq will have somewhere to return to. Nadia’s Initiative, which she started in 2018, works to empower women and children and restore towns and villages with roads, schools and hospitals. The Sinjar she grew up in has gone for ever, but thanks to Murad’s incredible bravery and determination, at least some part of the Yazidi community is able to regain some of that which was lost.
Maria Padget is a British writer and social justice campaigner, who has worked with organisations including Oxfam, Skoll Foundation and Soneva Namoona