All images © Vian Dakhil
I spent last weekend at the WOW Festival and realised I hadn't fulfilled a promise to myself. Women of the World is an annual event in London at the Southbank Centre. It's been running for six years and is the brainchild of Jude Kelly, the Artistic Director. She had a dream to bring women together and give them a platform to discuss their experiences good and bad. It kicks off around International Women's Day and is a heady mix of great fun, inspiration, lots of serious debate, and some talks so sad they can move you to tears.
I was a WOW virgin so everything was new and exciting. There were many things that stood out for me. I'd seen it advertised in the past but never got round to going. This year it was firmly in my diary. I hoped there would be lots of potential recruits for The Mutton Club, my online magazine. Lots of interesting women to profile. But when it came to it, I couldn't bring myself to hand out too many of my little red Mutton Club flyers. It seemed inappropriate given the gravity of many of the topics being discussed.
The most serious of those reminded me I'd been planning to write about the genocide of the Yazidi people for some time. I heard it discussed at Tina Brown's Women in the World Summit in October 2015. I heard Vian Dakhil, the only female Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament, speak about her people. They are being systematically destroyed by ISIS and Yazidi women are suffering the worst. I made a note then that I wanted to write about their plight. But they remained an item on my to-do list. I didn't write. At WOW, Vian was speaking again. During the panel discussion on Ending Violence Against Women and Girls, she made another plea for help and urged everyone to share the story of the Yazidis. So I am putting fingers to keyboard now.
We are beginning to know more about the travesty of female genital mutilation (FGM) and
about the horror of child marriage, otherwise known as child rape. But most are still unaware of the systematic genocide of the Yazidis by ISIS. The Yazidis seem to be experiencing hatred many more times that of other ethnic or religious groups. They will soon be extinct.
The Yazidis are an old people, predominantly ethnically Kurdish, who took elements from Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism to form their own religion. They kept this religion alive for centuries despite previous oppression and the threat of extermination. Now their men are killed and their women kidnapped by ISIS. The 'forced conversion campaign' of the Yazidis in Northern Iraq by ISIS began in 2014. It is nearly two years since Vian made her desperate televised plea for help from the Iraqi parliament.
Vian told us of a man whose daughter had been taken by ISIS. She had been raped and sold repeatedly and now her captors were demanding money for her return from sexual slavery. Vian told us this girl was one of many for whom she was trying to raise enough money to buy them back. She had already bought back many women and girls.
IT IS 2016 AND WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THE BUYING AND SELLING OF WOMEN AND GIRLS!
In another talk at WOW, I was moved to tears by anti FGM campaigner Hibo Wardere reading a personal account of FGM as recorded in the posthumous book written by Sue Lloyd-Roberts, The War on Women, out in August. Girls are having their genitals cut with razors so they will be 'clean' for their future husbands. We were told that 95% of women in Egypt have suffered FGM and British girls are being mutilated too. I already knew about this practice, but to hear it described so graphically was heart-breaking.
And to hear Vian Dakhil talk about children of 6,7,8 being systematically raped in the name of religion made my blood run cold. I sat in the comfy surroundings of the Southbank Centre and decided this time I would write. I would add my voice to those calling for action for the Yazidi woman and girls. Vian asked everyone to write about the Yazidis' plight. That we take to social media to talk about this travesty. That we write to our MPs and ask them to prioritise action against this genocide. If we do not act quickly there will be no Yazidis. It won't just be national heritage sites that ISIS has destroyed, but a whole people. Their only crime was to be different.
Do you remember the nearly 300 Nigerian school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014? Over 200 are still missing. But there are no more Bring Back Our Girls signs. We have forgotten them. Their plight has fallen off the media agenda. But they are still waiting to be rescued. We all got excited for a week or two. We thought we were making a difference by changing our social media profile picture. But we moved on and changed our pictures back.
The Yazidis, the Nigerian schoolgirls and the victims of FGM cannot afford for us to move on. Vian Dakhil is travelling the world pleading for people to listen and care about the massacre of her people. Yazidi men have been lined up and shot in the back of the head and buried in mass graves, the women kidnapped, raped and sold. Impossible as it may seem, their plight continues to worsen.
Vian has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. I can think of no more deserving recipient of this award. And her people need the global awareness the award could bring. Maybe then the world will care enough to demand action.
Please help spread the word about the genocide of the Yazidis and the continuing enslavement of Yazidi women and girls.