Iraq: Empowering Yezidi Women to Lead After Trauma


Apr 24, 2019

By Pari Ibrahim

In 2015, CHIME FOR CHANGE and Gucci supported the Free Yezidi Foundation with a grant to construct a women’s center in an internally displaced persons camp in Northern Iraq. Below, Pari Ibrahim, founder of the Free Yezidi Foundation, describes the challenges that the Yezidi people – especially women – face, and how the work of the Foundation empowers women and families to address their trauma and move forward.

On August 3, 2014, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, attempted to eradicate the Yezidi people in Iraq. The Yezidi people are an ethno-religious minority group. For many years they have been targeted because of their religion. When ISIS started their genocidal campaign, they killed thousands of men and older women. Young boys were kidnapped and brainwashed to become ISIS child soldiers and suicide bombers. In conflict, women are most brutally affected: ISIS kidnapped more than 6,000 women and girls and sold them into sex slavery. Some of these Yezidi women and children managed to escape from captivity.

The Free Yezidi Foundation (FYF) focuses on trauma rehabilitation for Yezidi women and girls, including those who escaped from horrific sexual violence. We also support women and girls who seek justice from courts in different jurisdictions. Our work also includes international advocacy efforts to raise awareness of the concerns of the Yezidis.

For many reasons, it is important for Yezidi women to have access to safe spaces where they are free from to recover, protected from any exploitation or unfair treatment. In 2015, Gucci and CHIME FOR CHANGE generously donated $120,000 to build FYF’s first women’s center and children’s center to serve as this safe space in an internally displaced persons camp in Northern Iraq. The funding enabled FYF to begin providing services and programs for Yezidi women. Since that time, FYF has received a number of other grants to operate a holistic program that includes trauma rehabilitation, education, and livelihoods training.

The center also offers a women’s empowerment course, which addresses gender equality, women’s rights and women’s political participation. Hundreds of women and girls have graduated from these programs, which also include therapy and classes in English, Arabic, math, ICT, yoga, sewing, music and art. Some of the graduates have stepped into leadership roles with FYF and lead trauma therapy efforts in the larger community, where they also spread the message of gender equality.

“Before participating in the FYF courses, I was just sitting in the tent, doing nothing. Now I graduated from FYF and I am going outside, talking to people; I go anywhere I want.” – Mayan

After working with the Yezidi community for many years, we have concluded that the best thing for the community is for women and girls to have the opportunity for a second chance in life. Providing Yezidi women with the trauma therapy and education they need, as well as to be strong voices for gender equality, is the way to ensure that the community can move forward from the discrimination and violence that it has faced.

Now that some of the women have received basic education and are aware of their rights and accomplishments, the next step is to transform them into leaders for their community. It is so important for women to speak out about their rights, for women to feel that they are able to participate in politics, to be at high-level meetings and participate in the conversations. FYF has created an environment where women can come and feel that they can learn, ask questions, propose solutions and be heard. We hope to continue supporting these women as they develop the skills to create the changes they want to see in their communities.

“After escaping captivity, I lived in an unfinished building. I participated in the courses and now I have a job and moved to a house with my family that I rent with my salary. I earn more than my brother.” – Zeytun

Help us support FYF’s vital work to empower women to recover from trauma and lead the fight for gender equality. Make a contribution via our strategic partner GlobalGiving.