Nobel Prize Laureate of 2018, Nadia Murad, spoke at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts’ Annual Student Forum on Thursday, Feb. 11. Student panelists Catherine Santangelo ‘21, Vincent Gadioma ‘22 and Molly Lamendola ‘22 hosted Murad, who recounted both her sufferings at the hands of ISIS and her activist work on this issue.
“Experiences of genocide and sexual violence are all too common around the world,” said Murad, whose responses were converted into English from Kurmanji by her translator and fiancé, Abid Shamdeen. “The story of ISIS’s brutality is far from over for too many women and girls.”
The Islamic State, which occupied her home region of Sinjar, Iraq in 2014, killed her mother and six of her brothers, imprisoned her in sex-trafficking and, overall, destroyed life for the Yazidi people.
“Yazidis are part of Iraq, they’re part of a culture. Women are looked at less in the greater context of that country,” explained Murad.
She explained Yazidism as a monothesitic religion, one of the oldest in the world actually, that revolves around simplicity and does not adhere to obligatory practices or rituals. Yazdidi people have a history filled with genocide, ISIS’s massacre against this ethnoreligious group serving as the most recent case of this oppression.
The courage and strength which she displays in revisiting these traumatic experiences stems from her understanding of how her story supports others enduring these hardships.
“Survivors need resources to live a life with basic dignity before they can truly heal,” said Murad.
Providing food, water and shelter are key objectives which Murad attempts to provide survivors with through her non-profit organization, Nadia’s Initiative. This foundation was established in 2018 and has worked towards restoring her now uninhabitable homeland. By re-building schools, helping women find economic opportunities and, with the help of the French government, constructing a new hospital with access to healthcare, Murad is doing so much for the displaced Yazidi peoples. However, she still asks for help.
“It has been over five years since ISIS has committed genocide against the Yazidis and nobody has held them accountable,” she remarked. “Perpetrators will continue to use sexual violence and genocide as tactics of war unless people prove there will be justice,” said Murad. “Justice can be preventative, but it must also be restorative.”
ISIS’s genocide was an attempt to take over Murad’s homeland of Sinjar. Their tactic: destruction to the point of no return. This method included both physically obliterating the land and infrastructure, as well as using women and girls as weapons of war.
The ambivalence of the world community against human rights violations recurred as a pressing theme in Murad’s responses. She stressed how youthful uncertainty should not stop students from advocating to make change in the world. Frustration and disappointment are two common themes in her line of work, but her willingness to speak on her own experience has produced significant results.
“Having women speak after this conflict is something new, and very meaningful and powerful,” explained Murad. “With many other conflicts, especially from that region, women would not come forward and speak about what happened.”
Nonetheless, her efforts remain limited, and the shortcomings of what one activist can do serve as the need for greater assistance.
“No individual community should depend on one source of hope for something. The whole community shouldn’t put their hope into something,” said Murad. “Even me, I don’t want to be their hope. I believe it’s our global responsibility to make sure those can live a life of dignity and restore their dignity.”
This response particularly resonated with the student panelist who asked Murad about the role of hope in her work.
“She is still looking for hope in order to succeed in fighting against the injustices that herself and the Yazidi community have faced,” said Santangelo. “Nadia made it clear that it is not just about one person standing up for a cause; it requires all people joining together to achieve those goals, and that is what will bring us hope.”
Whether she is conversing with Fairfield students or sitting down with world leaders, Murad will continue to share her story in order to educate others and hopefully inspire the pursuit of sustainable solutions for both the issue at hand, as well as any future humanitarian crisis.
“If we let a very small community like this be displaced, how can we find international solutions for something like a pandemic?” Murad asked.
Her focus on the responsibility which people worldwide have in fighting these injustices inspired at least one Fairfield student.
“The international community has to do more to provide justice for the Yazidi people, and needs to better respond to injustices around the world,” said Gadioma.
Over 2,000 women remain missing from this atrocity. Through her foundation, Murad is trying to make sure they are not forgotten.
“It’s unfortunate that Nadia has to repeatedly speak about the horrors she faced just so people don’t forget the atrocities and continue to help them attempt to find a place of peace,” said Lamendola.
Murad’s fight for the Yazidi people is not entirely separate from her fight against the injustices that women suffer all over the world.
“We have encouraged women to tell their own stories. Their stories should not be told by a man or someone else,” said Murad.
Though especially prevalent in Murad’s country, gender-based violence and the silencing of such victims is a universal issue. At Fairfield, the Prevention Resource Office is an on-campus group dedicated to combatting sexual violence. The group aims to support students, promote healthy relationships and positively affect the University culture.
“Sexual and relationship violence is real, and it can be anywhere including here at Fairfield University,” stated a message shared by the PRO. “There are many members of our community working hard to prevent incidents and a range of resources, services and educational tools available to all members of our community.”
The PRO encourages students to share their experiences and help be the voice that eliminates sexual and relationship violence at Fairfield. Students can stay informed on Fairfield’s actions and inititives against sexual violence by following @Fairfieldunivpro Instagram account and joining the group’s portal on Life@Fairfield.
Gadioma is the current President of the Fairfield University Student Association. Santangelo is currently the Editor-in-Chief of The Fairfield Mirror, and Lamendola is the current Vine Editor. Her term as Editor-in-Chief will begin in late February.