In August 2014, ISIS terrorists overran the city of Sinjar and surrounding villages, committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the Yezidi population. Men and older women were massacred, while thousands of Yezidi women and girls were captured and subjected to unspeakable acts of sexual violence and torture. With the help of smugglers or through daring escapes, almost half of these abducted women and girls have reached freedom, and many of them are currently residing in IDP camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Most Yezidis from Sinjar were not captured, and fled to Mount Sinjar and eventually reached IDP camps in the Kurdistan Region. Hundreds of thousands of Yezidis have fled the ISIS attacks and were displaced in this way.
The FYF women’s center caters to all women and girls residing in the Xanke Camp, located in the Duhok province of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. There are more than 16,000 residents in the Xanke Camp alone, with another 12,000 IDPs living in makeshift tents and unfinished buildings in adjacent areas outside the camp.
In November 2015, the FYF women’s center first opened its doors. The center has the capacity to welcome those women who suffered in ISIS captivity and eventually escaped, as well as those who were never captured but were displaced by the ISIS attacks and whose entire families are now homeless and jobless.
FYF Women’s Center Activities
The center provides three types of activities: therapeutic, educational, and livelihood. Beneficiaries attend for three months, and those who successfully complete the program and pass final exams receive a graduation certificate, which can help them in their efforts to find employment in the local economy. Each three-month cohort includes approximately 100 women and girls, which totals to 400 graduates per year.
Prior to choosing activities for the women’s center, FYF sought advice from trauma experts and clinical psychologists. Upon this advice, FYF chose specific therapeutic activities designed to reduce stress and trauma. In art class women draw, paint, make mandala pieces, and complete arts and crafts activities. In music class, an FYF musician leads the women as they learn musical instruments, notes, and have the chance to sing. When weather permits, FYF also offers gardening and sport activities, such as volleyball. Physical activity is critical because it allows the women to release suppressed energy and facilitates the expression of emotions. Many of our beneficiaries have suffered traumatic experiences, and camp life is also stressful. The center is a safe space for women to be social, receive help, unwind from camp life, and heal from the atrocities they have endured. In March 2017, FYF received multi-year funding to begin an ambitious trauma program to offer group and individual therapy sessions to beneficiaries. More information on the FYF trauma program is below.
The educational courses are English language and computers, chosen because these are two of the skills in highest demand in the local economy. In many cases, women and girls do not have experience with computers. English language is the most popular class in the center. English class is of special interest to participants because it fosters greater connection to the broader world. After three months of daily computer and English class, beneficiaries graduate with some basic skills upon which they can continue to build in the future.
Women’s center instructors also teach participants the basics in sewing, knitting, and fashion design. Graduates can use these skills in local businesses. Helping women to achieve economic empowerment is of great value, especially for those who have lost the male members of their families previously responsible for providing income and livelihood. In addition, a women’s and human rights instructor leads a course that informs beneficiaries of their legal and social rights in regard to protection, working rights, non-discrimination, and family rights. This has been well received by participants and is a key element in the empowerment of women at the center.
FYF partners with Women for Women International (WfWI) in the planning, development, implementation, and monitoring of all women’s center outputs and outcomes. WfWI has provided funding, support, guidance, and regular consultations with FYF leadership to ensure that the center is operating according to international standards. FYF is extremely grateful to WfWI for sharing best practices and lessons learned.
The FYF Women’s Center Trauma Program
From its inception, FYF has recognized the urgent need for psychological assistance and trauma therapy. Women and girls who escaped from ISIS suffer acute trauma. Psychological experts and Yezidi community members have both strongly recommended to FYF that psychological assistance is needed for the entire Yezidi community. Because the crimes perpetrated against the Yezidi community are so horrific – especially for the women who were captured – local psychological services are not sufficient. It was immediately apparent to FYF leadership that experienced trauma experts from abroad would be needed to assist women’s center participants.
The competitive United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, managed by UN Women, awarded grants to only 36 organizations out of 1792 applicants in 2017. FYF is honored to have received this grant, which was drafted specifically to bring vetted trauma experts to our centers and work with women’s center participants on a daily basis. The UNTF grant has enabled FYF to employ two trauma experts from Britain, full-time, to practice at the women’s center.
FYF is very pleased that UN Women has recognized the enormous needs of Yezidi civilians and the unique value of trauma therapy. While FYF acknowledges the importance for the local community to rebuild and rely on its own strengths, the vital contribution of trauma experts from abroad cannot be overstated, and is among the most important aspects of the FYF women’s center.