The award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Iraqi human-rights activist Nadia Murad, who will receive the award jointly with Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, has been widely celebrated in Iraq, both by the authorities and the population at large.
Iraq Media Net put the hashtag #NadiaMuradPeaceIcon in the corner of the screen on its five TV channels and on the front pages of its dailies and weeklies.
Nadia Murad, born in 1993, is a young Iraqi Yazidi woman who became a human rights activist and was kidnapped by the Islamic State (IS) group with around 1,000 other Yazidi women and children from their village of Kojo in the Sinjar district of the Nineveh Governorate of northern Iraq about 530 km north of Baghdad.
Kojo, with a population of 2,000, was controlled by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters after April 2003, but was attacked by IS in August 2014 after the Peshmerga had left the day before.
The Yazidis were given three days either to convert to Islam or be killed, and at the end of this deadline men and older women were killed and young women and children were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery.
Nadia Murad herself became a sex slave and was raped dozens of times. However, she eventually managed to escape even as other Yazidi young women in a similar predicament were either killed by explosive devices or caught by IS and executed.
Murad then told her story to the world, wanting to halt the use of woman as tools in warfare. She was quoted as saying that telling her story was her strongest weapon against IS and their sex crimes against women.
Since her award of the Nobel Prize, Iraqi writer Amer Badr Hassoun has begun a campaign to ask Adel Abdel-Mahdi, the prime minister-designate of Iraq, to choose Murad as a minister in his new cabinet.
“She must become a minister because of her bravery in breaking the silence on sex slaves in Iraq. While she has not stopped being a victim, she has become a victim who won,” Hassoun told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“Murad has been received by many presidents, UN officials and different religious personalities, among them the sheikh of Al-Azhar in Egypt, yet our minister of foreign affairs did not salute her Nobel Prize in his own name, but only in the name of the ministry. I think there are many who still see sexual slavery as somehow shaming the victims,” he said.
Hassoun condemned other ethnics whose young women were also kidnapped by IS and became sex slaves, saying that “these adhered to a false concept of honour by forcing their young women to stay silent about what had happened to them. The Yazidis urged their freed young women to speak out, on the other hand, seeing their daughters as victims that should be helped and supported.”
Princess Aouroba Bayazid, a member of the leading Yazidi princely family who is herself a human-rights activist and an adviser to the former governor of Mosul, said the Prize could restore justice to the Iraqi Yazidi victims.
“The award of the Nobel Prize to Nadia Murad is global recognition of the catastrophe that has hit the Yazidis in general and Yazidi women in particular.
Nadia has become the voice of the more than 3,400 Yazidi young women who became sex slaves,” Bayazid said.
“I blame the Iraqi government that has not taken care of the hundreds of Yazidi young women who have lost their entire families and are still living in camps in poverty without any medical care.”
“The Yazidis’ happiness will not be complete until all Yazidi young women return to their homes. The award of the prize to Nadia Murad is also not only for Yazidis. It is for all Iraqis as Nadia is the daughter of Iraq,” she added.
Hassoun and Bayazid agreed that the award of the Prize to Nadia Murad was a way of taking a stand against using women in war.
However, it could not stop the crime of sexual violence against women as long as there were still those who believed rape could be used to bring about victory.
In speaking out against the use of rape in war, Nadia Murad has equated honour with bravery, refusing to see rape as somehow bringing shame.
This was underlined by Iraqi President Barham Salih and other high officials who saluted her courage this week in their tweets and messages of congratulation.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 11 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Honouring Nadia Murad