In the past several weeks, the world has witnessed the deliberate targeting of women and girls as a political and military tactic by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists. In Iraq and Syria, thousands women and girls, particularly from ethnic and religious minorities, have been kidnapped by ISIS terrorists. They are being brutally raped, used for sexual slavery, forced marriage and forced pregnancy. In other words, sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war.
In Iraq, Yazidi women and girls are a primary target for ISIS, falling prey to horrific acts of sexual violence and brutality as ISIS advanced through northern Iraq. Few managed to escape from their abductors. Adeba Shaker and Somaa are two such exceptions. Somaa was kidnapped, held hostage for almost a month, and together with her friend were sold to two old sheiks who ill-treated them. Abeda Shaker together with about seventy other women and children were abducted when militants took over their village. They were taken to an unknown destination where they joined around 1000 other Yazidi women hostages. Shaker was supposed to convert to Islam and to be forced into marriage. Fortunately, she and her companion were brave enough to try their luck and run away.
Nevertheless, these cases are rare exceptions. Many others kidnapped and held hostages are destined to suffer from ISIS brutality with no hope for rescue. What is worse, this is not a unique case. Kidnapping is a tactic of war conducted by militants, terrorists and soldiers in different conflict regions of the world.
As Nigeria’s Islamic extremist group – Boko Haram – has seized more towns along Nigeria’s northeastern border with Cameroon, more and more women and children are in danger. Last year, a group of women and girls was abducted and later rescued from Boko Haram. Some of them were pregnant. Others had been forcibly converted to Islam and married off to their kidnappers. The goal of Boko Haram is to impose their version of Sharia law across Nigeria, and they especially oppose the education of women. In April, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 girls from a boarding school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Some of them seized the rare opportunity to escape when they were left alone in the camp and returned to their razed villages. However, more than 200 of them remain captive. This is yet another tragic example of young girls and women being violated to achieve military and political objectives. Yet the world continues to do extraordinarily little to recover those lost.
The Taliban also actively seeks to stop women and girls from attending school in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Malala Yousafzai, a women’s rights activist who campaigned against the efforts of the Taliban to violently stop girls attending school, was infamously attacked in 2012 while traveling home on a school bus. She was shot in the head, but luckily survived. Just last week, ten militants were taken into custody in connection with the attempted murder. This summer, Malala visited Nigeria and appealed to Boko Haram militants in Nigeria to lay down their weapons and free the kidnapped girls. Malala is a powerful example of women activists fighting back against violent extremism, and not just in their countries, but globally.
Combating sexual violence against women and promoting women’s rights is truly a global peace and security issue. The international community must treat it as such and act robustly to stop the rampant spread of violence against women in conflict zones around the world.