The Yazidi Women Survivors Bill & Where We Go From Here

After two years in the works and under negotiation, the Yazidi Women Survivor’s Law was passed earlier this month on March 1st. This is a monumental victory in the ongoing efforts to support the Yazidi women who were kidnapped into sex slavery by ISIS terrorists. The bill includes reparations, pathways for rehabilitation, and education for survivors. Those who will be able to receive assistance under this bill include every Yazidi woman survivor kidnapped by Daesh, Turkmen, Christian, Shabak girls subjected to the same crimes, Yazidi children survivors, and ‘Yazidi, Turkmen, Christian and Shabak survivors from the mass killings and mass elimination carried out by [Daesh] in their areas.’ It also creates ‘a general directorate for female Yazidi affairs.’

This bill is also the first legal recognition of the Yazidi genocide by the Iraqi government. This helps to solidify the horrific events as crimes against humanity and a mass atrocity. 3,000 girls and women are still missing, over 120,000 were forced to flee in one evening, and mass graves were still being exhumed for proper burials this year.

Survivor and Nobel peace and Nobel peace laureate tweeted: “Today’s passage of Iraq’s Yazidi Survivors Bill is an important first step in acknowledging the gender-based trauma of sexual violence & need for tangible redress. Implementation of the law will need to be focused comprehensively supporting & sustainably reintegrating survivors.”

A lack of institutional acknowledgment of violence has historically made healing and justice difficult for survivors. More specifically, a lack of acknowledgement of sexual violence against women as a weapon of war has worked against feminist movements to fight gender-based violence as a systematic issue. 

So let us take this win, as we continue to ask ourselves what it looks like to fight for women and what it means to demand accountability. 

But we are nowhere near done.

Children Born of Rape & War Crimes: Where Do We Go From Here?

This bill is only the beginning of what needs to be a long-term fight, which must include a gender-focused peacebuilding strategy in the Yazidi community, centering the women survivors and their children. Whether escaping from ISIS territory two years ago in Syria or the al-Hol refugee camp in eastern Syria, Yazidi women were cruelly forced to choose between being able to return home to their communities in Sinjar, northern Iraq, or keeping their children born to them under ISIS sex slavery and captivity. 

As reported in a New York Times article, Baba Sheikh Ali Elyas, the top Yazidi religious authority, makes clear the perceived connection between the community’s plans to move forward post genocide and the sacrifice these women are expected to bear: “Bringing the children of ISIS terrorists to Sinjar “would destroy the Yazidi community,”. “It is very painful for us. The fathers of these children killed the parents of these survivors. How can we accept them?”

Last week, a small group of Yazidi women (after over a year of planning between Kurdish and American officials) traveled to the Iraq/Syria border, leaving their families and communities behind, and reunited with their children who have been living in an orphanage in the Kurdish region. They are now in safe houses, unable to return to their homes. 

This all makes clear once again, that women impacted by conflict, war, and violence MUST BE partners in rebuilding their communities, lest they be forced to bear the unbearable sacrifices of a community that would rather move forward without transformative reckoning.

The Yazidis and the Kurdish people should not have to manage this nearly impossible situation alone. Nemam Ghafouri, an organiser of the Yazidi mothers and the founder of Joint Help for Kurdistan, put it succinctly: “We need to find solutions now. I don’t necessarily blame Yazidi communities or Kurdish communities in either Iraq or Syria, but I do blame the UN and the international community. They are victims again being victimised by those people saying they are supporting them, but not doing anything.”