Who is Nadia Murad? In August 2014, ISIS raided the village of Kocho in northern Iraq. On August 15th, the terrorist group separated the men from the women, shooting and slaughtering them mercilessly. Among many, one mother and six of her sons were killed while her three other sons managed to escape. This was Nadia’s family, a Yazidi girl who loved history and aspired to become a teacher.
In that same episode – one would even say a work of fiction – Nadia was captured as a sex slave. After three months of inhumane imprisonment and continuous rape, she was able to escape. She was 21 at the time. On August 16th 2016, Nadia became a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. While Nadia’s story is a painful reminder of the humanitarian suffering and the brutality of ISIS, it is also an evidence of another phenomenon: the growing importance of women in conflict.
Five years of war in Syria have triggered a change in gender roles and responsibilities. With many of the men killed or on the frontline, the responsibilities of women in Syria and in the neighboring countries have increased significantly. Where schools are closed or destroyed, or parents fear letting their children walk to school, women become teachers to the children. Where rehabilitation facilities or medical centers are no longer available, women take care of the old and injured.
Where water and electricity are cut, women walk long distances to provide for these essentials. In circumstances where men are wanted and thus limited of their movement outside home, suffer from an acute injure, or have joined the fighting groups, women assume the role of principal income generators and breadwinners. This is a major shift from the historical tendency of women to lead the household without greater economic involvement. In war-torn cities and disintegrated societies, women emerge as changemakers.
Are these women the basis of reconstructing Syria even after the war ends? They were both made by this region and remade this region. Their story is as noteworthy as the story of a male Syrian fighter, battered but resolute, fighting in the ranks of the rebel armies against Bashar Assad’s regime. The paradox is that the average Syrian citizen is the key actor that allows for the war to keep going by providing its physical assistance, and yet the bearers of this average citizen – the women – are underprovided in their basic needs and not acknowledged their essential role in the post-conflict reconstruction.
In this sense, women in the Levant countries are victims of gendercide: they are being assaulted not only by the oppressor (as in the case of Nadia), but by their local community as a result of their changing societal roles.
The war in Syria, among other things, is a political game theory of oil-producers and oil-seekers, law-makers and law-breakers, and ultimately a mechanism to achieve certain objectives that are beyond the scope of comprehension for the average citizen. This creates the ‘illusion of validity” of the war. If there is no accountability for the human toll of war, the urge to deploy military assets will remain strong and the conflict will continue to be perceived by the public eye as ‘normal’.
So, who is Nadia Murad? To me she is a symbol of dignity rather than a shameful reminder of the enemy. But I cannot identify with her and neither can you – she is a rare breed of people who tread the fine line between succumbing to despair and remaining resilient. Try to empathize instead, it is for free.
Women in business_Bocconi Female Students Association