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Women Confront ISIS and Demand Rights

A Timeline of Grassroots Activism and International Advocacy

ISIS Invades and MADRE Mobilizes

June 2014

As news broke of ISIS' sweeping invasion of Iraq, MADRE leaped into action. We mobilized an emergency response to secure and sustain the network of underground women's shelters we run with our local partners. 

"In a climate of rising sectarian violence, those championing secularism and human rights are particular targets. MADRE is activating a strategy to secure the safety of our partners at the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) and the women they serve." - MADRE Executive Director Yifat Susskind, June 2014

Under ISIS, Iraqi Women Again Face an Old Nightmare: Violence and Repression

July 2014

In a video report in June, ISIS extremist militants paraded through Mosul, Iraq, one of the first cities to fall to their onslaught. The armed men were hanging off the back of trucks, as the crowd filmed them. One fighter leaned out a car window, wagging his finger. The footage provided a translation. The fighter had spotted a woman, and he was ordering her to cover up.

This is how an extremist agenda is imposed: on women's bodies.

MADRE Condemns US Airstrikes in Iraq

August 2014

The US launched airstrikes in Iraq, in an attempt to destroy artillery installments of ISIS. There is no military solution to political problems, and airstrikes threatened to escalate the violence further. MADRE called for the prioritization of humanitarian response to meet the needs of those most threatened by the crisis.

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Aid and Shelter for Women Fleeing ISIS

We delivered food packages and other humanitarian aid to communities out of reach of even the large aid agencies, thanks to our on-the-ground activist connections.

International Advocacy for Women's Right to Shelter

We issued an open letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights calling for an investigation. We demanded a focus - not just on ISIS rights violations - but on all threats to Iraqi women's rights, including a government ban on shelters run by local women's organizations.

More Powerful than ISIS

December 2014

Atrocities grab headlines. But behind these headlines are the stories of things that did not happen, of women who escaped the threat of rape and found refuge beyond ISIS' grasp. Despite the odds, grassroots women's rights activists in Iraq and Syria are risking their safety and their lives to do what others have dismissed as impossible: to prevent rape as a weapon of war. These are the glimmers of hope that must light our way.

Caption: 
(c) OWFI

"We should not consider immediate violations committed against marginalized and at-risk Iraqis including women and girls as isolated events. It is equally important to consider and respond to the context and underlying conditions that fuel women and girls’ vulnerability and undermine their capacity to survive and recover from the crisis." - MADRE Human Rights Advocacy Director Lisa Davis, in testimony submitted to the US Congress, December 2014.

Iraqi and Syrian Women Share Strategies for Change

January 2015

Women in Iraq and Syria are the targets of brutal oppression and sexual attacks perpetrated by ISIS. We organized a landmark event in Istanbul, Turkey to bring together Iraqi and Syrian women's rights advocates working to protect survivors and to document evidence of rape as a weapon of war. 

What Will It Take to Stop ISIS Using Rape as a Weapon of War?

February 2015

“We want Noor’s community to see her not as a ruined, raped girl, but as a prisoner of war who was strong enough to survive weeks of torture and brave enough to escape.” - Yanar Mohammed, president of our partner organization, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq.

The urgent care we provide with our partners to survivors of ISIS brutality does more than save lives. We saw how it fundamentally shifts how communities respond to rape — and creates the possibility to prevent future violence.

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Advancing Women's Strategies for Change

March 2015

Under even the harshest circumstances of brutal occupation by ISIS fighters, Iraqi and Syrian women were organizing to save lives and demand their rights. To spotlight these women-led solutions, MADRE helped organize a symposium, a public meeting of locally-based Iraqi and Syrian women activists and international experts addressing the crisis of women’s human rights under ISIS.

"Women Confronting ISIS: How Can We End Rape as a Weapon of War?" (March 2015)

"This is also what gives rape as a weapon of war its destructive power. Perpetrators know that it can traumatize, and even destroy a person, and that the impacts do not stop there. The trauma of rape reverberates through families and communities. When people ostracize, reject or, as is all-too-common, kill survivors because of the stigma attached to rape, it tears apart the ties that bind families and communities. Resilience resides in these bonds of support vital to people’s ability to sustain each other through armed conflict. Armed groups in war will eagerly use a weapon that attacks those bonds, rendering a community even more vulnerable to domination and control." - Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director, in "Shelters Without Walls: Women Building Protective Infrastructures Against Rape" (April 2015)

New Shelter for Women

“This is not an easy time. But today I feel that I am a productive woman in my community.”

“I feel grateful that I have been able to help and communicate with others in need.  I feel helping them is helping me to heal too.”

The words above were spoken by women who were transformed, thanks to the safety and support of a new safe house that MADRE and our on-the-ground partners at the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) opened in Karbala.

Lifting the Ban on Women's Shelters

We were able to open this new shelter in Karbala because we and our partners fought for — and won — permission from local authorities to create an exception to the law banning shelters run by local women's groups.

Now we're fighting to overturn this harmful policy, nationwide.

In October 2015, Yanar Mohammed, our Iraqi partner, addressed the United Nations Security Council. She spoke directly to policymakers about women's solutions to the warfare and violence in Iraq, Syria and much of the region.

Women Peace Builders Demand to Be Heard

Just days after Yanar addressed the UN Security Council, women's rights advocates gathered to discuss strategies to advance women's solutions for peace. In particular, we dove into a new report examining women's leadership in effective peace processes — and where women are shut out.

Incubating Solutions for Peace in Syria and Iraq

October 2015

We re-convened Syrian and Iraqi women activists to reflect on new developments, support one another and advance new concrete strategies to confront the violations they face. The women proposed actionable solutions to policymakers.

How to Talk Hope in Hard Times

November 2015

Attacks carried out by ISIS in places like Paris and Beirut triggered a backlash against refugees and a rush toward militarized responses. We created this resource to debunk myths and failed strategies, and turn to solutions rooted in peace and human rights. 

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From Grassroots to Global

March 2016

We brought grassroots women's solutions to an international gathering of policymakers and advocates for women's rights and peace. 

Opening New Doors to Heading for Iraqi Girls Fleeing ISIS

March 2016

With our local partners, we opened the doors to a brand new rape crisis center in Dohuk, Kurdistan—the only one of its kind in the region. Now, 30 young women and girls, survivors of ISIS enslavement, receive lifesaving support, including medical care, food and shelter. 

What's Next

April 2016

We're keeping our momentum rolling to protect the lives of women and girls and to push for rights with policymakers. In April, MADRE will travel to Iraq to meet with activists who shelter women escaping ISIS, who risk their own lives pushing into ISIS territory to find and rescue people at risk, and who create safe spaces in dangerous places to organize for rights.

We'll keep updating this page with new progress!

How You Can Help