23/06/2016 06:00 BST | Updated 23/06/2017 06:12 BST

Yezidi Women: Surviving the Horror of Isis


'When ISIS came they separated the men and the women. Then they killed the men. They separated the boys who were under 12 years old, the older women from the younger girls and the virgin girls. Everyone was put into stadiums and halls. Some of the ISIS commanders came and choose the girls they wanted. After they distributed 5 or 6 women to one man they started to sell the other girls in markets in Mosul. Women were marketed with their names and pictures. The phone number of the owner of the girl was there so people could call and buy them.'

This is what Viyan Dakhil told me in her home in Erbil on my most recent trip to northern Iraq. I was there to learn more about how the presence of ISIS has affected women as part of my work with my foundation Project Monma. Viyan, a Yezidi gained attention for her impassioned plea to the Iraqi government for help after ISIS began to massacre Yezidis in the mountainous province of Sinjar in 2014. Her plea led to the intervention of US airstrikes on ISIS.

However, the nightmare unleashed by the arrival of ISIS has not come to an end for the Yezidis.

Thousands of women and girls are still being held and sold as slaves in markets by ISIS.

A Sharia court has set the prices of the girls and ISIS has declared the slave markets legal.

Dahkil explained how buyers can either buy or rent an enslaved women. A girl would be sold for $70 to $100, more if she was beautiful. A girl could be rented for $30 for several days.

'The most unbelievable things are happening,' she told me looking haunted.

She recounted a horrific story of a 5-year-old girl who was being held captive with her mother. The little girl wouldn't stop crying. An ISIS fighter came and told the mother the child should shut up. When the child wouldn't stop crying the ISIS fighter came and hung her on the window until she died. The mother was forced to watch.

Some of the enslaved women were forced to convert to Islam which was done by a religious leader spitting into their mouths and then announcing they were Muslims. This was how they would justify raping them, Dakhil tells me, with the Koran.

The horror is unimaginable.

One girl reported to Dakhil that she was bought by an Arab family inside Mosul. The young girl heard the wife of the buyer telling him he shouldn't rape the young girl. The man responded by beating his wife until she was unconscious.

'In eyes of ISIS if you are a woman you are considered less than human,' says Dahkil.

In an unofficial camp in the center of Erbil we met with Bese Qawal and Hana Xwededa, two Yezidi women who fled to Erbil when ISIS arrived in Sinjar. They confirmed Dakhil's account of ISIS's arrival. 'They captured the men and killed them. They took our girls and enslaved them. ISIS blew up houses and our belongings,' she said. 'They are monsters.'

We travelled to Lalish, the spiritual centre for the Yazidi's to learn more. A friendly man called Luckman showed us around the temple where thousands of Yezidi's come each year. Then after being offered small cups of tea we settled down to talk, 'one girl told us that she tried to escape but was caught. She was brought into a room and tied up with 9 other girls. They didn't feed their dogs for four days and then cut the girl who tried to escape. The dogs came in and attacked the girl while the other girls were forced to watch. One 11-year-old girl said that 20 men had sex with her in one night.'


With the small light continuing to burn from small gas heater in the small dark room Luckman says, 'we are praying to god, not the god of ISIS, but to the god of Obama, it's a different god, they help us. ISIS is killing in the name of his god.'

Sometimes there are few words that can adequately describe the unimaginable horror that is possible on this earth. It is difficult to imagine any god that would rightly justify the brutality such as that of ISIS. However, I think it is quite likely that no god has justified such evil. Their acts are conscious actions done by individuals who arguably know perfectly well what they are doing. In the case of the slave markets, ISIS is simply searching for an excuse to rape at will and are using religion to justify it. They are nothing more than a group of rapists. However, as with the many atrocious acts of violence against women around the world perpetrators continuously find ways to justify them, and all too often the community around them accepts it. Whether the excuse suggests that religion calls for it, the culture allows it or the woman deserves it human beings all around the world perpetually allow horrific acts of sexual and physical violence against women to go on unstopped. Thus, there is no greater time to demand a change to these attitudes. When humanity has brought us to a point where young girls are being sold in markets for sexual slavery and it is being justified, we know that we are at an all time low. We must speak out. Whether justifying a slave market with the Koran or an act of sexual violence by a piece of clothing we must recognize this for what it is, an excuse to abuse. We must never allow sexual violence to occur, we must always speak out and we must ensure that our own religion, culture or society does not do what ISIS is doing, find excuses to abuse women.