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“Carry With You the Stories of Others”: Nadia Murad Emphasizes Unrelenting Advocacy

Students, faculty, and community members lined the walls of the Heights Room Thursday evening to hear Nadia Murad share her story.

“These conversations are more important now than ever,” Murad said. “The past year has seen so much conflict, so much pain, from Ukraine to Sudan, [Democratic Republic of the Congo], and all over the Middle East. Our fragile world is in such a precarious state.”

The Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics hosted Murad for the Clough Colloquium on Thursday. 

Murad, recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, activist, sexual violence survivor, and United Nations (U.N.) Goodwill Ambassador, was 21 when ISIS attacked her village of Kojo in northern Iraq, killing and capturing thousands of Yazidis, a religious minority group in the Middle East. ISIS killed Murad’s mother and brothers.

Murad remained a captive of ISIS for three months, during which she and thousands of other young girls were forced into sexual slavery. Murad escaped to Germany in 2014.

Murad said that while going public exposed her to the consequences of speaking out against rape, she felt an obligation to do so nonetheless.

“After sharing my story publicly, I had learned that rape and sexual violence go hand in hand with stigma, silence, and social exclusion,” Murad said. “But I knew I had a responsibility to fight for Yazidi women and girls, like my nieces, who had not been lucky enough to escape and could not yet speak out for themselves.”  

Murad said she began advocating for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence after learning the stories of women across the world with experiences similar to her own.

“10 years ago, I did not have a plan—I do not think any activist does,” Murad said. “I did not know about the U.N. and how it worked. I had never left my small village, let alone Iraq. But once I had my story, and once I grasped its connection to the stories of so many others, I knew silence was not an option for me.”

According to Murad, activism is a lifetime effort—and one without reliable allies.

“I’ve also learned that even big organizations and powerful politicians who say they support you will not always enact the ideas you put in front of them, no matter how compelling you think they might be,” Murad said. “And when that happens, you have to keep advocating over and over again, until the actions of one become the actions of many.” 

Murad also said there is a lack of action by governments in prosecuting and holding members of ISIS accountable. Despite victim testimonies and evidence of crimes, only three ISIS members have been charged, she said.

“We have evidence of, you know, everything that we need,” Murad said. “But what is missing is political will.”

Iraq in particular has not done enough to support the Yazidis and help rescue the thousands of young women and girls still living in captivity, according to Murad.

“They don’t care about people leaving,” Murad said. “They’ve not done anything to rescue the missing women and girls, they’ve done nothing to hold those responsible accountable,” she said.

Murad also said that ISIS and other terrorist groups use sexual violence as a weapon of war.

“They want to leave a permanent mark on the communities they attack,” she said. “That is not only mass murder or the destruction of their homeland, but it is through sexual violence, and the use of sexual violence. So sexual violence is not a side effect of war—it is a weapon of war.” 

Murad said she created the organization Nadia’s Initiative to help establish a community in Iraq for Yazidi women and children. According to Murad, countries should be doing more to help refugees rebuild their lives back in their home countries.

“When the war is over, and when it’s better for people to go back, why not invest in that, why not help people to rebuild their lives in a more sustainable way?” Murad said.  

Although 10 years have passed since the Yazidi genocide, Murad said the Yazidi community is still reeling.

“The community is still healing and recovering from this genocide,” Murad said. “I don’t think that this generation that went through it will fully recover from what they have witnessed.” 

Murad ultimately encouraged audience members to carry the stories of themselves and others with them when they advocate for the voiceless. 

“Know your story, carry with you the stories of others, no matter how difficult, and find people who are ready to listen,” Murad said. “And remember that when you speak out, you don’t do this for you, your people alone. It’s for those who are not ready or able to do themselves.” 

February 23, 2024