Women's Rights

ISIL female victims speak out against the group

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

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The 'Women on the Front Lines' conference on March 6th in Beirut included a panel featuring women fighters and survivors of the war in Iraq. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

The "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) robbed Bafrin Osso of her adolescence.

The 19-year-old Yazidi girl was abducted by ISIL from her small village of Kojo in the Iraqi town of Sinjar on August 3, 2014, and held captive for nearly two years during which she was "tortured, raped and beaten on a daily basis".

Today, almost one year after her escape, Osso -- along with other Iraqi women -- are speaking out against the horrors women, especially those from the Yazidi community, are subjected to at the hands of ISIL.

Their outcry was part of a panel that featured women fighters and survivors of the conflict in Iraq at the 5th annual "Women on the Front Lines" conference, held March 6th in Beirut by the May Chidiac Foundation-Media Institute.

'Robbed of my adolescence'

The women recounted tales of torture and persecution under ISIL and shared how they are able to overcome the immense challenges they face on a regular basis in a country where conflict reigns by the second.

When ISIL attacked Sinjar in August 2014, Osso and her family fled to the mountains but were quickly captured and separated in two groups: the women were taken as slaves, while the men were rounded up and killed.

"They immediately killed three of my brothers and took me and six other women as sabaya [women captured, enslaved in war]," she told Al-Mashareq on the sidelines of the conference.

"I remained in captivity for one year and 10 months and was tortured, raped and beaten on a daily basis by two ISIL elements who bought me for $800, and others to whom I was given as a gift," Osso, who was 16 at the time, said.

Her captors were all under 20 years of age, she said.

"Throughout my captivity, I lived in fear and horror," she said. "They labeled me as a kafira [infidel] and as their sabiya."

Osso was moved from Sinjar to Mosul to al-Raqa and al-Shaddadi in Syria and back to Mosul, before she was finally able to escape during the holy month of Ramadan in 2016 to the house of another family who sold her back to her own family.

The young Yazidi girl now lives with her mother and remaining brothers and sisters in a refugee camp in the Kurdish region.

After undergoing psychiatric treatment at the Care Centre for Female Survivors in Dohuk, Osso said, "I reclaimed my stolen life from ISIL which robbed me of my childhood and adolescence."

"I have regained my freedom and today I stand on podiums to convey my message to the world, speaking on behalf of thousands of girls and women imprisoned by ISIL," she said.

Osso's participation in the conference was to defend "not only Yazidi women, but all women who are subjected to violence in the world", she added.

Overcoming the trauma

The Care Centre for Female Survivors in Dohuk began its operations when the first Yazidi woman escaped from ISIL in September 2014, said centre director Dr. Luma Badi.

"Later on, we added psychological rehabilitation and support services to help [ISIL victims] overcome their trauma," she said.

The centre has treated close to 900 women from the Yazidi and Christian minorities as of the beginning of February, Badi told Al-Mashareq.

The girls arrive at the centre "traumatised by violence and rape and in a very distressed psychological state", she said.

"We have succeeded in helping some of them overcome their ordeal, as was the case with Bafrin Osso and Nadia Murad, who are bringing their suffering and that of others to the world’s attention, while the psychological state of other girls has deteriorated further," she said.

The centre "is getting ready to receive more girls abducted by ISIL once the liberation of Mosul is completed", she added.

"Our participation in the conference aimed to convey the message that women and girls are among the primary victims of wars, and to demand that they be protected in armed conflicts," she said.

Front line fighters

In the face of all those challenges, some Iraqi women have taken up arms against ISIL and are contributing in their own way in the fight against the terror group.

Mazda Mohammed Rashid is a Kurdish training officer of the Peshmerga women’s regiment in northern Iraq.

The regiment "includes more than 500 female fighters ranging in age between 18 and 25, in addition to volunteers up to 46 years old", Rashid told Al-Mashareq.

The training female fighters undergo covers the use of light and heavy weapons, military drills, the dismantling of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and fighting as part of a special unit.

"[The training] has allowed them to participate in the war against ISIL and serve on the front lines for many months," she said.

Female fighters have participated in liberating villages in southern Kirkuk province, and more recently villages around Mosul, and they continue to be involved in the ongoing battle in the city’s environs, said Rashid.

"Kurdish women are fighting with zeal and in earnest to defend their dignity, honour and land, on top of their home and familial responsibilities," she said.

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ISIS and al-Qaeda were made by Israel and America to occupy as much area of the Arab and Muslim countries as possible using Gulf money and Muslim mercenaries. They also aim to tarnish the image of Islam, and this has become clear to everyone, both young and old.

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