Snatched from their families, hundreds of women are lined up for inspection by armed men. They are analogous to commodities. Some end up as unwilling companions of young jihadists while others are sold as slaves. All of them are forced to give men sexual favours nonetheless. Liked priced possessions, the younger and prettier, the better. While some are fortunate to runaway from their captors, others are massacred for their delinquency. This is the harsh reality inside the Islamic State.
Ever since ISIS received international prominence for declaring itself as a worldwide caliphate after successfully sieging Mosul in June 2014, horrid stories of abuse and brutality directed toward women have emerged from controlled territories. In fact, according to an op-ed article by Zahra Radwan and Zoe Blumenfeld, incidence of violence against women has shoot up across territories under the helm of the Islamic State.
It is important to take note of the fact that the abuse and brutally suffered by women under the ISIS is not a result of collective isolated cases. ISIS uses systematic sexual violence against women for several reasons, thus making the entire phenomenon an established part of how the Islamic State operates.
The Islamist extremist organisation has several motivations for promoting violence against women. For example, targeting women is a popular way of forcing communities into submission according to a PBS interview with Manal Omar of the United States Institute of Peace. In fact, these accounts of abuse and brutality are not unique in ISIS. The United Nations Resolution 1820, according to Omar, specifically identifies sexual violence as a tool of war. Abusing women is an effective means to targets their respective families and thus, the community in general.
In the same PBS interview, David Jacobson, professor of sociology at the University of Florida, said that organisations or cultures that have a special obsession around the issue of feminism usually target women as part of their strategic objectives to frighten populations. It is also important to consider the specific membership categories of these targeted women. In the case of ISIS, the jihadists victimise members of the minorities, including the Christians and the Yazidis, as well as non-practicing Muslim women. Nonetheless, Omar points out that these incidents of abuse and brutality directed toward women should be identified as acts of terrorism because they have been used to cause widespread terror and subjugate people.
But apart from forcing communities into submission, ISIS has promoted the slavery of women as a way of creating a reward system. The organisation rewards fighters with women, often presenting these enslaved individuals as probable brides. They have also used women to entice and recruit volunteers into the organisation. According to a report by Kira Bekke, younger and non-Muslim girls are the popular choice for forced marriages. However, these unions are temporary because fighters pass these women around after they have had sex with them.
Another staggering reason for enslaving women centres on income generation. ISIS has abducted women and paraded them in hot markets across occupied territories in Iraq and Syria. According to Zainab Hawa Bangura, special representative of the United National Secretary General, ISIS operates an emerging and expansive network of markets for selling women. The world is witnessing the revival of slave trade in the 21st century. One of the ways the organisations raise money is by trafficking women or selling them in established slave markets and through ransoms paid by relatives. Once under the custody of their buyers, they are raped and enslaved.
Ethnic cleansing is another motivation behind the barbaric treatment of ISIS toward women. According to several accounts of women who escaped from their captors, the Islamist extremist organisation usually force non-Muslims to convert into Islam. The report of Salma Abdelaziz revealed that ISIS justifies the enslavement of these individuals as part of Islamic theology through an official statement coursed through its online magazine Dabiq. Harassing the families of infidels, including non-Muslims, and taking their women as concubines is an established aspect of the Sharia Law according to the extremist organisation.
Possibly, the most compelling evidence pinning religion as a motivation is the issuance of a pamphlet by the Department of Research and Fatwas of the Islamic State. Entitled “Questions and answers on taking captives as slaves,” the document follows a question-and-answer format, ordering the proper use of women as slaves.
Currently, those who have escaped their sordid fate are able to seek shelter from nearby towns and refugee camps, particularly in Kurdish regions in Iraq and Syria where established Kurdistan fighters or armed forces and guerrilla groups of men and women have kept ISIS at bay. The increasing number of displaced women is part of the growing casualty resulting from the violent advances of the Islamic State.
But the tragic plight of women does not end with their escape. Several reports revealed that most of them end up too traumatised. Some had committed suicide, too ashamed of what had happened to them. In refugee camps, despite support from host communities, necessary social and healthcare assistance is lacking.
Further details of the op-ed of Radwan and Blumenfeld are in the article “Surging violence against women in Iraq” that appeared online on Inter Press Service. More details of the PBS interview are available on the video and transcript “How Islamic State uses systematic sexual violence against women” published online by PBS.
Details of the report of Bekke are in the article “ISIS is attacking women, and nobody is talking about it” that appeared online on The Huffington Post. Details of the opinion of Bangura are in the article “We’re witnessing revival of slave trade in the 21st century” published in CNN. More details of the report of Salma Abdelaziz are in the article “ISIS states its justification for the enslavement of women” published in CNN.