As Nadia Murad, a 22-year-old Yazidi woman, addressed the United Nations on Wednesday, the silver nameplate around her neck caught the light. Spelled out in Arabic was the name of Murad's hometown, Kocho, from which she was kidnapped by Islamic State (ISIS) militants. After surviving three months in captivity, she has since become the public face of the thousands of Yazidi women and girls who remain in sexual slavery.
“I am one of the thousands of Yazidi women who were taken into captivity in August 2014,” she said in a large U.N. conference room. “Thousands of girls were taken and they were being sold, they were being exchanged, they were being [used] as gifts given to the [ISIS] members who were over the age of 35.” Some of the girls were 9 years old or even younger, she said.
Murad last addressed the U.N. in December, when she begged the Security Council to eradicate ISIS. On Wednesday, she spoke at panel on sexual violence in conflict co-sponsored by the French mission to the U.N., held during the body’s annual Commission on the Status of Women.
“I’m glad that I can speak at these events and advocate for women,” Murad tells Newsweek through a translator.
Watch Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a Yazidi woman, talk about her experience surviving ISIS sexual slavery at the UNPosted by Newsweek on Wednesday, 16 March 2016
When Murad was taken from her hometown in northern Iraq, she survived a massacre that saw more than 300 people killed in one hour, including six of her brothers and her mother. The ISIS militants believe Yazidis—a community numbering in the hundreds of thousands who are scattered around Iraq, Syria and Turkey and who follow an ancient religion—are devil worshippers.
Murad was put on a bus to Mosul, Iraq, and forced into slavery alongside thousands of other Yazidi women and girls. She escaped from captivity in late 2014 and ended up in Stuttgart, Germany, where she now lives with her 28-year-old sister.
In December 2014, ISIS published an informational pamphlet stating that sex with a child is permissible, as is the rape and selling and exchanging of non-Muslim women, as well as subjecting them to sexual slavery. While women are often the worst-affected by war, those who are subjected to sexual violence are not seen as victims of conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, the U.N. undersecretary general for sexual violence in conflict, said during the panel on Wednesday.
The international community needs to make sure “the world becomes aware that you can't talk about counterterrorism without ensuring the protection and empowerment of women,” said Bangura, adding that ISIS has generated an estimated $35 million to $45 million from the sale of women.
Murad told the U.N. on Wednesday that she was “given to more than 10” ISIS members, while other women and girls “were given to 20, to 30, to more.”
“They were exchanging us, giving us to different ISIS members every hour, sometimes every day,” she said.
Less than 24 hours after Murad's appearance at the U.N., U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said ISIS is committing genocide against Yazidis, Christians and Shiites in Syria and Iraq. The declaration of genocide came after months of pressure to apply the contested and controversial label to the group's actions.
“The fact is Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIS] kills Christians because they are Christians, Yazidis because they’re Yazidis, Shiite because they are Shiite,” Kerry said on Thursday.
Last week, The New York Times reported that ISIS fighters use contraceptives to control women and girls used as sex slaves, ensuring that as few victims as possible become pregnant. According to the Times, just five percent of the women held captive became pregnant, four to five times less than the expected fertility rate. Murad told Newsweek that she and other women were given birth control by ISIS fighters.
Murad has spent several months meeting with world leaders and delivering her message, and Iraq nominated her for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work highlighting the plight of Yazidi women and girls. After she spoke on Wednesday, Murad was mobbed by women who wanted to shake her hand, speak with her or take selfies together. Asked by Newsweek how she finds the strength to repeatedly share her unthinkable story, she says: “Because this thing happened to us and it’s still happening to us, to let people know what’s happening to us so they can help.”
With an estimated 3,000 Yazidi women and girls still held captive and traded by ISIS fighters, Murad’s work is nowhere near finished.
“I will keep going because none of us have a future with ISIS being around,” she says.