Nobel glory for former sex slave
A former Iraqi sex slave has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her courage in speaking out about the ordeal faced by women like her
WHEN she was growing up she daydreamed about the exciting life that awaited her – how she would carve out a career for herself as either a history teacher or a make-up artist.
But those dreams were crushed in 2014 when militants of the Islamic State (Isis) stormed the tiny village in Iraq where Nadia Murad lived with her family. She was sold as a sex slave and for months on end she was beaten, burnt with cigarettes and raped every day.
By a stroke of pure luck Nadia (then 21) managed to escape. And once she made it to safety in exile in Germany she knew exactly what she had to do. Aware that there were thousands of other girls and women still trapped in Iraq and living as sex slaves, she vowed she wouldn’t rest until she made the whole world aware of their plight.
At first she felt helpless. What could one woman stranded in a foreign country do? Then she had an epiphany.
“I realised my story, told honestly and matter-of-factly, is the best weapon I have against terrorism,” she says.
So she started speaking – and people were riveted. Her story was so harrowing and emotive she was invited to address the United Nations. Even Pope Francis wanted to meet her, while high-profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney threw her weight behind her efforts to bring the terrorists to justice.
Now after she’s won the Nobel Peace Prize the whole world is talking about her. Nadia was recently announced the joint winner of the prestigious award along with Denis Mukwege, a gynaecologist treating victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Although many had expected to see the prize going to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in for their peace endeavours in the region, it ended up going to the two relatively unknown activists for their “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war”.
“Nadia Murad is herself a victim of war crimes,” the Nobel committee said in a statement. “She’s shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims.”
SHE’LL never forget the look in her usually proud mother’s eyes. On this day she looked scared and broken, her hair wild and messy. Nadia wished she could tell her everything would be okay – but deep down she knew that would be a lie.
Just a short while earlier she and her mother had sat helplessly at the school
where they were being held captive along with hundreds of other residents of Kocho, a village in the mountains of northern Iraq, and listened as Isis militants shot 312 of their men in an hour. Among those executed were her six brothers.
“Nearly 6 500 women and children from the Yazidi [a Kurdish religious minority] were abducted and about 5 000 people from the community were killed during that day [3 August 2014],” Nadia recalled in an interview with CNN.
Once all the men were dead the militants turned their attention to the women and children. As one of them grabbed Nadia and dragged her away her mother’s last words to her were, “I’m going to die.”
She never saw her again. Nadia was put on a bus and taken to Mosul in northern Iraq where she was paraded at a market and sold as a sex slave.
From then on her life was a daily hell of sexual and physical abuse – she was assaulted, spat on and gang-raped.
But three months into her captivity Nadia managed to escape. She eventually ended up in a refugee camp and from there she was able to flee to Germany.
Even once she was safe Nadia couldn’t just get on with her life. Not while she knew there were thousands of other Yazidis who were trapped, serving as sex slaves.
And so she kept on telling her story to whoever would listen.
In November 2015 – just more than a year after her own captivity, she delivered an electrifying speech at the UN forum on minority issues. She relived the horror, revealing how Salwan – the highranking Isis militant who’d bought her – looked like a monster with his sunken eyes and smelt of rotten eggs and cologne.
By the time she was finished, hundreds of diplomats were in tears. What she’d said had made such an impact she was invited to become the first United Nations goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking.
And now it’s earned her something totally unexpected – a Nobel Peace Prize. She’s the first Iraqi to win the award and at age 25 the youngest recipient after Malala Yousafzai, who won in 2014 aged 17 for campaigning for girls’ education in Pakistan.
But in typical style Nadia remains modest about the achievement.
“I share this award with all Yazidis, with all the Iraqis, Kurds and all the minorities and all survivors of sexual violence around the world,” she says.
She now lives in Stuttgart but although she’s grateful to the Germans for offering her a safe haven she desperately misses home. Nadia admits she finds the food a bit strange and doesn’t like the damp weather. But one comfort has been her romance with fellow Yazidi human rights activist Abid Shamdeen (30), a former translator for the US army who also lives in Germany.
“The struggle of our people brought us together and we’ll continue this path together,” she recently tweeted when she and Abid announced their engagement.
Even though Nadia still dreams of one day being able to open her own make-up and hairdressing salon, she knows a long road stretches ahead.
“Many people might think my story is difficult, but many more had more difficult than mine,” she says.
And it’s for these women that she continues to fight.
Her life was a daily hell of sexual and physical abuse
ABOVE: Nadia Murad delivering a speech in traditional Yazidi dress. LEFT: She shares the award with Dr Denis Mukwege. JOINT WINNERS
Addressing the United Nations in 2015, supported by human rights lawyer Amal Clooney (left).