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Defiant and Hopeful

Women will continue, survive, and become stronger

In 2014, Asma was kidnapped by ISIS fighters after they took over her village.

That day began the absolute horror that is living in ISIS captivity. For the next two years, Asma* was shuttled between Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq, traded back and forth between ISIS fighters five times in an unrelenting nightmare of sexual slavery.

For any chance at survival, she knew she had to risk her life to flee.  When her captor took Asma to a crowded market to buy food, she ran for her life. Terrified and alone, she made her way on foot to a neighboring town. There, she met a kind man who helped her travel to Kurdistan, where she arrived to the relative safety of a refugee camp. Right away, she heard people talking about a place where women and girls would find  support and where people would take care of them.

*Asma is a pseudonym.

Iraqi Girl Leaning Against Wall

“If I stay, I know I will die. To live, I must escape.” 

A few weeks later, she found her way to our partner’s center, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq.

When she first arrived, still shocked and traumatized, Asma could barely speak. She was afraid to look others in the eye. And she was hesitant to trust. But slowly, Asma started participating in weekly counseling sessions that your support makes possible. Little by little, she started to open up about her captivity. Asma still has a long way to go to recover from her trauma, but slowly — thanks to you — she is getting there.

Asma told our partners at MADRE, "Here, I have found my voice".

“Let me tell you something: women and girls can achieve a lot when we support each other.”

Awaz is one of the many brave activists MADRE partners with in Iraq. As part of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), our local partner, she helps run the brand new shelter and rape crisis center we opened in Kurdistan for Yazidi girls fleeing ISIS sexual slavery. There, she’s a mentor and a friend to young girls whose lives have been devastated by ISIS. A trained social worker, she listens intently and gives counseling to help these girls heal.

It’s not easy work. The girls that she supports at the shelter have endured unimaginable trauma. Many have lost their confidence and their trust in others. It’s hard for them to even remember what a peaceful life looks like. Awaz has made it her mission to help girls like Asma rebuild their lives.

young Iraqi children sheltered at OWFI

"We will continue. We will survive. We will become stronger." - Yanar Mohammed, Director of OWFI

In the two years since ISIS invaded Iraq, we have heard countless stories like Asma's. Of the killing of families, of life upended and of girls raped and sold into sexual slavery. Yazidi women, like Asma and Awaz, who have been targeted by ISIS, stand face-to-face with brutality that’s hard for us to imagine, yet they remain steadfast. These women may be turned away by family members they had hoped would shelter them. Worse, they risk becoming the victims of so-called “honor killings,” often committed against women who have been raped.

OWFI operates vital safe havens for women escaping life-threatening violence. But they have to do so illegally. The Iraqi government does not allow local organizations like OWFI to run women’s shelters.

"Shelters are thought of as encouraging women to disobey their husbands and daughters to disobey their fathers. This leads to the presumption that a shelter is a place where a group of immoral women reside without a male guardian,”  says Ms. Mohammed. 

 Women and families are fleeing Mosul in growing numbers, and shelters are needed now more than ever. OWFI and other local Iraqi organizations are calling on their government to overturn this harmful shelter ban. We are working hand-in-hand with our grassroots partners, and we need you to join us.

Their courage is undeniable.

Thanks to your support, last year MADRE and OWFI opened a rape crisis center in Kurdistan to bring vital care and healing to women and girls.

Nearly one million civilians have already fled Mosul, and the many people who remained trapped in the war-torn city have faced the threat of starvation and terrible violence. OWFI is delivering food baskets in refugee camps just outside of Mosul

OWFI and activists are hard at work, negotiating with local authorities for permission to set up new shelters for women who remain at risk of deadly violence - even after they've managed to escape ISIS.

Yanar Mohamed comforts children fleeing violence