Nadia Murad: The Woman Who Refused to Be Silenced

Marwa Hameed, Editor-in-Chief

With this year’s theme for Women’s History Month being “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence,” no one but Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist and survivor of sexual slavery at the hands of ISIS in Iraq, came to mind. After going through unfathomable torture and abuse, Murad did not shut down nor did she waiver. Instead, she used her traumatic experience–kidnapping, enslavement, and rape by ISIS militants in 2014–to fight for her people, who had been subjected to genocide at the hands of the Islamic State in Northern Iraq. She led the fight to free the Yazidis–when no government at that time would hear their cries, called attention to the fact that not a single member of ISIS had been prosecuted for crimes against the Yazidis as she directly testified in front of the United Nations in 2016 (becoming one of the first survivors of sexual slavery at the hands of ISIS to do so), and became an advocate for refugees and women’s rights as the first U.N. goodwill ambassador for survivors of human trafficking. Former Secretary-General of the United Nations,  Ban Ki-moon, praised her for her courage, stating that “Nadia shows with her life how important it is to fight for trafficking victims. They deserve justice. And when we empower them, they can help transform our world.

Nadia Murad shakes hands with Peshmerga officers who welcome her back to her village in Sinjar, Iraq on on June 1, 2017. (photo : from, Thomson Reuters Foundation / Fazel Hawramy)

In 2014, at the age of 21, she was captured and endured three months as sex slave in Mosul,  the de facto “capital” of the Islamic State’s so called caliphate. Kocho, the village where she lived in Northern Iraq near Sinjar with her family and a large Yazidi population, was decimated by ISIS. Murad recalled the horrors of August 3, 2014 in an interview CNN: “Nearly 6,500 women and children from the Yazidi were abducted and about 5,000 people from the community were killed during that day. For eight months, they separated us from our mothers and our sisters and our brothers, and some of them were killed and others disappeared.” Those killed included her mother and 6 of her brothers. She was able to escape Mosul in November of 2014, when a family there helped to smuggle her out with false identification into Kurdistan. In February of 2015, she told her story to a reporter from the Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique while she was staying in the Rwanga Refugee Camp in Duhok, Northern Iraq. From then on, her voice become the hope of the Yazidi community. She and Human Rights Attorney Amal Clooney teamed up to bring legal action against ISIS commanders, in their first address to the United Nation. This became the start of Murad’s advocacy, as she spread the plight of the Yazidis globally.

Nadia Murad delivers her speech during the Nobel Peace Prize 2018 Ceremony in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 2018. (photo: EPA-EFE)

Since the start of her advocacy, Murad has went on not only to found her own charity, but has been given many recognitions for the work she has done to bring awareness to the of the Yazidis. Murad founded Nadia’s Initiative to assist redevelopment in the areas such as Sinjar, where most of the remaining Yazidi population has struggled to rebuilt. It is helping to bring back life into those areas and relief to the dismantled families left with the reconstructing of facilities, communication networks, education & healthcare infrastructures, and establishment of economic opportunities for those there. She was awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Council of Europe in 2016, where in her acceptance speech in Strasbourg, called for an international court to judge crimes committed by the Islamic State. That same year, the European Parliament awarded her the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. In addition, she became the first survivor of atrocities to be named the U.N.’s first goodwill ambassador for survivors of human trafficking later that year on International Peace Day in a session of UNDOC by then Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. Most recently, Murad was became the first Iraqi to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict, along with fellow honoree, Dr. Denis Mukwege. In her Nobel Lecture, it was clear that her work to help end the suffering of the Yazidis would not be extinguished as she thanked the committee for the honor but remarked that “…the fact remains that the only prize in the world that can restore our dignity is justice and the prosecution of criminals.”

Nadia Murad has refused to be silenced. And in that, she has forced to the world to open its eyes. As she has often remarked, her efforts will not bring back the thousands of Yazidis that have been slaughtered, but it will make sure that they did not die in vain. Murad is fighting for all survivors to one day be able to see their tormentors brought to justice. “This is not something I chose. Somebody had to tell these stories,” she said. And with a brave heart and an unwavering conscience, she did.