ts The world erupts with rage over the brutal murders of two American journalists and a British aid worker by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants. As a result, international outrage has turned to demands for action against the jihadists. Calls for death to the monsters and demands to follow the “enemy” to the gates of hell can now be heard from politicians and pundits throughout the west. Even President Obama has declared that against ISIS, the U.S. will now go “on the offensive,” including air strikes, training of Syrian rebels, provisions of military weaponry and advisors on the ground. But there is little mention of the continued savage brutalization of women by ISIS — unnoticed and rarely mentioned.
Yes, the beheadings bring the reality home. Understandably, the gruesome deaths of innocent people captured the world’s concern. Yet, why not beam international attention to the ongoing brutalization of women by ISIS, relentlessly, day after day, hour by hour.
For months, ISIS has terrorized women in Iraq and Syria, where sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. Specifically, ISIS militants have been raping Christian Yazidi women and girls with the expressed intention of impregnating them to break their ancient Aryan bloodline. Up to 1,000 Yazidi women in Northern Iraq were recently kidnapped, tortured, held as sex slaves, and murdered by ISIS fighters. Terrified eyes peer desperately through the bars of Badush Prison near Mosul. Here, women are raped numerous times a day and young women are even forced to call their parents to detail being gang-raped by dozens of men in a span of a few hours. Some as young as 12 years old, are sold as wives to Islamist fighters for as little as $25 US dollars or given as “sabaya,”war booty — a reward for fighters.
Recently, 300,000 displaced Yazidis fled to Mount Sinjar with no water and food sustenance, battling blazing temperatures higher than 100 degrees F. Hard to hear and see, but not equal to the rest of the story. Women were stolen and “used.”
When three Yazidi sisters, who were kidnapped, repeatedly raped, but finally escaped back to their families on Mt. Sinjar, they begged to be killed and spared the dishonor that will follow them throughout their lives. When the family refused, the girls jumped from the cliffs to their deaths.
The suffering caused by the sexual violence inflicted on women and girls does not end even if they are released. In that shame-based culture, they forever carry the marks of shame, and any children borne from the rapes or forced marriages will never live freely.
Yes, the gruesome beheadings of late deserve media attention and demand action by coalition governments. But we must not wait until those of “our own” are murdered or mutilated before responding with outrage. Why do we turn our eyes away until our own citizens are impacted? We must broaden our lens to the entire human race and not simply count casualties of our own citizens, but of all humans who are suffering in these battles. Victims of other nations are seldom counted, nor are women noticed who are severely brutalized in the war process.
They are not “collateral damage.” They are human beings.
In his prime-time speech on September 10 and since, Obama vows to “degrade, and ultimately, destroy” ISIS “wherever they exist.” Obama’s response to ISIS includes increased airstrikes, sending nearly 500 U.S military advisors to the region, and training Syrian Rebels and Iraqi Security Forces. But nowhere does a plan include provisions for directly rescuing or helping the Yazidi women who have been sexually brutalized by ISIS militants. We need to be clear with our government and the United Nations that these women and girls are worthy of our attention. What action will they take to address the women’s safety from these barbarian acts?
We must exercise a greater voice to expect what we want of our respective countries in responding to sexual violence as weapons of war. The U.S. permanent ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is tasked with taking the U.S. message to the world. Having written, A Problem for Hell: America and the Age of Genocide she knows the issues well. Let us enlist Power’s assistance to solidify a response to ISIS — “No more.” No more sexual violence against women throughout conflict situations that proliferate around the ISIS world. Women and children deserve more from us.
In addition to U.S. and U.N. officials, we should demand greater and swifter attention be paid to the common practice of sexual violence as a weapon of war. The sexual atrocities committed against the Yazidi will certainly continue without immediate action by the U.S. and the U.N. We must demand that our government take immediate steps, not just to retaliate against the killings of U.S. and Britain, but also to interrupt the sexual violence against Yazidi women and girls.
The United Nations must condemn the attacks against women as war crimes to the full extent, and direct that ISIS fighters be prosecuted in International Criminal Court. This, too, is an international outrage.
These actions are not only achievable, but long overdue. Let us begin!
Co-authored by Elise Collins Shields and Jill Koyama, an anthropologist, and Assistant Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Practice at the University of Arizona. She is also a Tucson Op-Ed Fellow.