In the United States it was called the Underground Railroad: the network of people and safe houses used to help black slaves in the 19th century escape bondage in the south. Recently a documentary filmmaker travelled to Iraq and learned the story of a 21st century network of people who are risking their lives to help free Yezidi women and girls who have been enslaved by Daesh.
The filmmaker, Edward Watts, spoke of the bravery of the individuals engaged in the rescue operations, as well as the level of depravity experienced by the young women who have been captured.
Women and girls from minority groups, like the Yezidis, suffer unspeakable depredations at the hands of Daesh: torture, gang rape, slavery, imprisonment, and in some cases, murder. They are bartered and sold naked at markets, offered up as incentives for Daesh recruits and rewards for fighters. And Daesh boasts about such atrocities, ignominiously claiming that because these women are not Muslims, Daesh fighters are religiously justified in their behavior.
But it is not only women from religious minorities who are suffering under Daesh’s reign of terror. Muslim women and girls are as well. In its most recent Trafficking in Persons Report, the State Department notes that Daesh forces local girls and women under its control into marriages with its fighters and kills them if they refuse. In a CNN interview last year with a Syrian female defector from Daesh, the twenty-five year old woman said, “The foreign fighters are very brutal with women, even the ones they marry. There were cases where the wife had to be taken to the emergency ward because of the violence, the sexual violence."
I don't want anyone else to be duped by them. Too many girls think they are the right Islam."Khadija, a Daesh defector
The defector, identified only as Khadija for her protection, said that she agreed to be interviewed because she wanted to warn people, especially women, who, like herself, are lured to join Daesh through its on-line propaganda. "I don't want anyone else to be duped by them. Too many girls think they are the right Islam," she said.
Daesh, as Zainab Bangura, United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has said, “has institutionalized sexual violence and the brutalization of women as a central aspect of their ideology and operations.”
Such brutalization is a blow to human dignity and to the very foundation of civilized society. It destroys entire communities, and makes stabilization efforts all the more difficult. And it is a key reason why the United States and its partners remain determined to defeat Daesh.