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A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad

One of the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize 2018 is Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi activist, for her effort “to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”

The Norwegian Nobel Committee underscored, “This year marks a decade since the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1820 (2008), which determined that the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict constitutes both a war crime and a threat to international peace and security. This is also set out in the Rome Statute of 1998, which governs the work of the International Criminal Court. … A more peaceful world can only be achieved if women and their fundamental rights and security are recognized and protected in war.”

Ever since ISIL laid siege to a large portion of Iraq in 2014, Yazidi women have borne the brunt of the violence in that country. Hapless women have been negotiating with members of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), both materially and sexually. Unfortunately, the innate conservatism of Arab and South Asian societies prevents them from overtly describing and condemning sexual exploitation. Yazidi women are further dehumanized because of the self-denigration that accompanies physical defilement. The law of the jungle which prevails in those areas leaves no scope for rehabilitation of the victims of violence. The brutalization of the culture has been rendered more lethal by the socialization of boys and men into the militarized ISIS culture. Within such a masculinist discourse, the rigidly entrenched hierarchical relationship between men and women is inextricably linked with sexualized violence.

Little did Nadia Murad’s family know that their precious daughter, whom they had sheltered from the turbulent waves of life would be driven to insanity by unbearable suffering and humiliation. She along with other Yazidi girls, several of whom were under the age of puberty, was horrendously violated by a bestial group of ISIL militants. Nadia was defiled and her beautiful innocence ended. Had God forsaken her? Would she be saved by a messiah or would she be left at the mercy of these satanic creatures? Was this a nightmare that would vanish at the break of dawn? Despite the indelible scar on her psyche and her humiliation, Nadia had the resilience to cope with the buffets that fate had dealt her.

Subsequent to the Peace Prize announcement, Nadia Murad observed, “Persecution of minorities must end. Sexual violence against women must never be tolerated. We must remain committed to rebuilding communities ravaged by genocide. … We must work together with determination — so that genocidal campaigns will not only fail, but lead to accountability for the perpetrators.” She added, “Survivors deserve justice. And a safe and secure pathway home.”

Will the grievances of such aggrieved and powerless people ever be redressed? Will violated Yazidi women ever have the satisfaction of knowing that those who wronged them did not go unpunished?

It is heart wrenching to see despondent women with hopelessness entrenched in their atrophied looks and minds. Physically bruised, psychologically broken, improvident; socially marginalized and left to their own devices; unsought by those with the means to help; each sigh bespeaks a grief that knows no bounds and has no hope of respite. Some conservative Yazidis disapprove of attempts to welcome survivors back into the faith and would rather ostracize them. These repositories of communal values and cultural traditions are not always able to find a support system in a community that had experienced the trauma of state-formation at its expense. Several “dishonored” women in conflict zones retain their status as familial and cultural chattels lacking control over their own bodies.

Although the international community made a commitment to incorporate gender perspectives in peace efforts and underscored gender mainstreaming as a global strategy for the growth of gender equality in the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action in 1995 (Mazurana et al. 2005: 12), I observe a lot more could be done toward prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict zones and increasing women’s participation in peacekeeping and postconflict peace building and nation-building in Iraq.

As Dyan Mazura, Angela Raven-Roberts, Jane Parpart, and Sue Lautze (2005) observe, “inattention to, and subsequent miscalculations about, women’s and girl’s roles and experiences during particular conflicts and in early post-conflict periods systematically undermines the efforts of peacekeeping and peace-building operations, civil society, and women’s organizations to establish conditions necessary for national and regional peace, justice, and security” (2).

It is heartening that the Norwegian Nobel Committee has recognized the worth of the peace-building work that survivors of sexual violence and women’s organizations can contribute at the local and regional levels. The aspirations for accountability of terror groups’ use of sexual violence, healing, and peace must be translated into a powerful force that would determine the substance of conflict resolution.

 

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Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

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