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Yazidi Woman Who Escaped ISIS Sex Slavery Awarded Nobel Peace Prize

Nadia Murad has become a global champion for girls and women.

Nadia Murad, the courageous Yazidi woman who escaped sexual enslavement by ISIS and went on to become a global champion for girls and women affected by violence, has just been awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize! Murad was only 21 when her village was attacked by ISIS fighters in 2014 and she was forced into slavery. She spent months suffering rape, abuse, and violence before successfully escaping. Since that time, she has devoted herself to speaking on behalf of the Yazidi women still in captivity, as well as other girls and women who are victims of violence worldwide. "All those who commit the crimes of human trafficking and genocide must be brought to justice so that women and children can live in peace," asserts the 25-year-old activist. "These crimes against women and their freedom must be brought to an end today."

When ISIS invaded, Murad was living in the small Yazidi village of Kocho in northern Iraq with dreams of becoming a teacher. Since the Yazidi people practice a religion that combines elements of Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, they were often targeted by the terrorist group who considers them heretics. Hundreds of men, including six of Murad's brothers and stepbrothers, along with her mother and other elderly women who were considered undesirable, were murdered. The village's girls and younger women were rounded up, and the sexual violence began as soon as they were forced onto a bus. Murad later described how one militant fighter started groping her, stating, "It felt like fire. I had never been touched like that before... my tears fell on his hand, but still he didn’t stop."

The kidnapped girls and women were taken to the occupied city of Mosul where they were distributed as sex slaves to ISIS fighters. "They sold girls, [including] girls that were underage, because ISIS considered that permissible," she recalls. Murad was purchased by a judge who told her that she was his fourth sabiya, or sex slave, and who repeatedly raped and beat her. Her failed escape attempt a few days later made her situation even worse. "Under their rules a woman becomes a spoil of war if she tries to escape," she told the BBC. "She is put in a cell and raped by all the men in that compound.... They call this practice sexual Jihad."

For a time, Murad gave up all hope of escape: "Being in the hands of [ISIS] we felt as if we had already died. Most people die once in their lifetime, but we were dying every hour." Three months later, however, her new owner left the door unlocked while he was out, and Murad took the opportunity to run. A neighboring family took her in and helped smuggle her out of ISIS controlled territory. She eventually made her way to a refugee camp and then to Germany where she currently lives.

After she was safe, Murad could not forget the others still in captivity: the year she was captured, ISIS abducted more than 6,700 Yazidi girls and women. She started speaking out on their behalf, urging governments around the world to take action against rape being used as a weapon of war (The New York Times documented ISIS' wartime sex slavery practices in a harrowing report ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape). In 2016, in recognition of her efforts,  Murad became the United Nations' first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. She also wrote a powerful memoir about her experience and founded Nadia's Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to advocating for victims of genocide. When she was named one of Time's 100 most influential people, playwright Eve Ensler wrote: "Nadia Murad stands in a long, invisible history of fierce, indomitable women who rise from the scorched earth of rape during war to break the odious silence and demand justice and freedom for their sisters."

Murad shares the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize with physician Denis Mukwege, who has dedicated decades of his career to treating victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The pair are an apt choice this year, the tenth anniversary of the United Nations' Resolution 1820, which declared systematic sexual violence is a war crime and a threat to international security. "Nadia Murad is extraordinary in the sense that she used her personal experience as a platform to speak up about this kind of atrocity," says Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. "If we want people to say 'no more war,' we also have to communicate how ugly and how destructive and how brutal it in fact is." Today, Murad continues to work for an end to violence against women; as she stated in her memoir: "I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine." In a statement after learning about the Nobel Prize, she urged people to continue to fight for the "1,300 women and children, [who] remain in captivity" and called for "accountability for the perpetrators and justice for the survivors."

Books About Mighty Girls and Women Affected By War

The Journey

The Journey

Written by: Francesca Sanna
Illustrated by: Francesca Sanna
Recommended Age: 6 - 9

In this beautifully illustrated book, a young girl's life goes from peace and comfort to turmoil and tragedy as war envelops her home and forces the family to flee. The family must make decisions that are difficult for kids to imagine, but at the same time, simple comforts — like books and storytelling — help the family stay strong through their journey. While the ending isn't a true resolution, it is tinged with hope and optimism: the journey has been grueling but soon, perhaps, they will find a place to call home again. Debut author Francesca Sanna followed up this picture book with a companion, Me and My Fear, which highlights the challenges of adjusting to life in a new country — and how welcoming, accepting friends can help.

The Day War Came
New!

The Day War Came
New!

Written by: Nicola Davies
Illustrated by: Rebecca Cobb
Recommended Age: 6 - 9

An ordinary day at this girl's school gets interrupted when war suddenly comes to town, depicted as a destructive, giant cloud. In a moment, her whole life is turned upside down, and she's forced to flee, hoping to find a place of safety. But even in a country that's physically safe, things aren't easy: when she shows up at a school, she's turned away... until a boy welcomes her in and gives her a chair he brought from home. Lyrical, poignant, and emotional, this picture book will help young readers understand the trauma caused by war and violence — and how little we have to give up to help those in need.

Escape From Aleppo

Escape From Aleppo

Written by: N. H. Senzai
Recommended Age: 9 - 13

Nadia's perfect twelfth birthday is interrupted by shocking news marking the beginning of the Arab Spring — and the start of the civil war in Syria. In mere months, her home city becomes a war zone, and her family decides to flee... but before they can, Nadia is buried in the rubble after a bombing, and her family is forced to go without her. As Nadia attempts to follow them, she receives help from an elderly bookbinder and encounters others like her, people young and old who just want safety and peace. Author N. H. Senzi uses Nadia's memories to highlight both the normal lives that most Syrians lived before the war, but also the hints of the dangers when your country is ruled by a dictator, creating a compelling look at the trauma facing Syrian refugees.

The Red Pencil

The Red Pencil

Written by: Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by: Shane Evans
Recommended Age: 9 and up

12-year-old Amira lives an ordinary life in South Darfur, Sudan, dreaming of adulthood and the chance for an education, but there is a constant fear under the surface: the Janjaweed, who are so dangerous that Amira’s mother tells her to run immediately if she sees them. When the Janjaweed do come, Amira is so traumatized that she falls into silence, even as the family finds a place to stay in the Kalma refugee camp. Slowly, with the help of the people around her — and the gift of a red pencil — Amira must find a way to restore hope to her life. Davis Pinkney ends this novel in free verse with an endnote with details about the conflict in Sudan and the real Kalma refugee camp, which still exists today.

The Bite of the Mango

The Bite of the Mango

Recommended Age: 14 and up

Mariatu has heard stories of rebel attacks in other places in Sierra Leone, but one day, the 11-year-old encounters their brutality first-hand: rebel soldiers destroy her village, murder her neighbors, and cut off both her hands with a machete. “We want you to go to the president and show him what we did to you,” they say. “You won’t be able to vote for him now.” Miraculously, Mariatu survives, a single mango providing her first meal after the attack — and giving her the desire to live on. Her journey will take her to a refugee camp in Freetown, a home and education in Canada, and, finally, a position as a UNICEF Special Representative. Kamara's raw and powerful account of the conflict in 1990s Sierra Leone is unsettling, but inspiring: if Mariatu can find new hope, others can, too.

Sold

Sold

Written by: Patricia McCormick
Recommended Age: 14 and up

Lakshmi’s family is poor, so when the crops fail in their rural Nepal home, their situation suddenly becomes dire. Lakshmi’s stepfather tells her that she must work in the city to help support the family, but when she reaches the “Happiness House” in India, she learns the truth: she has been sold into prostitution. As Lakshmi faces the horror before her, she remembers her mother’s words: “Simply to endure is to triumph.” Perhaps, if Lakshmi can endure long enough, escape will become possible. Author Patricia McCormick spoke to many girls and women from India’s sex trade in researching this National Book Award finalist novel in verse, giving an authentic feel to the terror, bewilderment, and hope experienced by her main character.

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree
New!

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree
New!

Recommended Age: 14 and up
With her dreams of studying at the university and becoming a teacher within reach, a teenage girl in Nigeria has a promising future ahead of her – until the day that Boko Haram terrorists descend on her village, killing her family and kidnapping her. Along with the other young women, the unnamed narrator is taken into the forest where she is forcibly married, subjected to serial rape, and forced to watch her best friend slowly accept their captors' radical beliefs. Despite it all, the young woman holds onto hope, determined to fight for a future of her own making. This harrowing yet empowering story is based on the true story of the 276 Chibok girls whose kidnapping spurred an international movement to "Bring Back Our Girls" in 2014.

The Girl Who Escaped ISIS

This Is My Story

The Girl Who Escaped ISIS

This Is My Story

Recommended Age: Adults

Farida Khalaf's life was normal, even sheltered, in her northern Iraqi village — but all that changed when ISIS attacked in the summer of 2014. In this unflinching book, Khalaf describes both her life before the attack, complete with dreams of becoming a math teacher, and the misery and torture she faced afterward. Despite it all, she refused to lose hope, and when she was brought to a training camp in the middle of the desert, she planned an escape attempt against seemingly ridiculous odds. A riveting firsthand account of life in captivity and a courageous flight to freedom, this astonishing memoir is also Farida’s way of bearing witness, and of ensuring that ISIS does not succeed in crushing her spirit.

The Last Girl

My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State

The Last Girl

My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State

Written by: Nadia Murad
Recommended Age: Adults

In 2014, 21-year-old Nadia Murad's quiet life in a Yazidi village in Iraq ended when ISIS invaded, massacring most of her family and neighbors, and kidnapping women young enough to be used as sex slaves. Nadia was taken to Mosul and forced into the ISIS slave market. Following months of abuse, she escaped -- and went on to become one of most vocal advocates for the girls and women left in captivity. Named one of the world's most influential people of 2016 by Time, Nadia tells her harrowing and ultimately inspiring story in a powerful new memoir. This courageous young woman's story is a moving testament of the human will to survive and a call to action to end abuses towards women worldwide.

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