Interview with Nadia Murad

The Pope in Iraq: a sign
of hope for all minorities

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01 April 2021

The Nobel Peace Prize winner speaks with Vatican Media on Pope Francis’ recent visit to the tortured country, the hope for a peaceful future and the Yazidi people’s struggle for survival.

With her immense courage she became a symbol for her people, the Yazidis, and for all women who are victims of violence, whether or not in war. In 2014, Nadia Murad was enslaved by men of isis who either exterminated or imprisoned thousands of Yazidis in northern Iraq, including many of her family members. A victim of unspeakable acts of violence, Nadia did not let evil defeat her, and today her voice is that of a Nobel Peace Prize winner that speaks out against all forms of violence. In December 2018 she met Pope Francis to whom she gave a copy of her autobiographical book “The Last Girl”. Reading it, the Pontiff confided to journalists on the Papal flight, deeply touched him. In this interview with Vatican Media, Nadia Murad speaks about the fruits expected from Francis’ visit to Iraq, and she makes a pressing appeal to the international community to work to liberate the many Yazidi women who remain in the hands of Jihadists.

The media worldwide have unanimously described Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq as historic. In your opinion, what remains in the hearts of the Iraqi people from this journey?

Not only is Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq historic in itself, but it also comes at a historic time for the Iraqi people, as they rebuild from genocide, religious persecution, and decades of conflict. The Pope’s visit shone a light on the potential for peace and religious freedom. It symbolized that all Iraqis — no matter their faith — are equally deserving of dignity and human rights. His Holiness also sent a clear message that restoring the interfaith fabric of Iraqi society must start with support for the healing of minority communities, like the Yazidis, who have been the target of violence and marginalization.

Speaking to reporters on the plane, Pope Francis said that one of the reasons he visited Iraq was after reading your book, “The Last Girl”. In his first speech, which he addressed to the country’s authorities, he recalled the suffering of the Yazidis. How important is it to have the Pope offering this advocacy for you?

During my audience with Pope Francis back in 2018, we had an in-depth discussion about the Yazidi community’s experience of genocide, particularly the violence endured by women and children. I am glad that my story stayed with him and that he felt called to bring this message to Iraq. His advocacy for the Yazidi cause is an example for other religious leaders in the region to amplify the message of tolerance of religious minorities like the Yazidis.

Today you are a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a UN Goodwill Ambassador, and you have founded an organization (“Nadia’s Initiative”) to help women victims of violence. Where did you find the strength to turn all the pain you have suffered into this force for good?

All Yazidis have shown great strength in their survival and resilience. The entire community has withstood immense trauma. We will not be able to recover and rebuild our lives on our own. The community is in dire need of support and resources. Nadia’s Initiative is striving to empower the community in their recovery by providing tangible and sustainable support.

ISIS lost the war in 2017 but you remind us that there are still thousands of women, even young girls, in slavery who have not yet been freed. Why can’t this tragedy be ended and what should the international community do?

The fact that 2,800 Yazidi women and children remain missing in captivity after nearly seven years exposes the lack of political will to protect women’s basic human rights and safety. It shows that sexual violence and slavery are not taken seriously by the international community. A multilateral task force must be established immediately with the sole purpose of locating and rescuing these women and children.

You have said: “I want to be the last woman on earth with a story like mine”. What would you say today to the many women suffering from war and terrible violence?

To them, I say: “It is not your fault”. Global patriarchal systems have been designed to subjugate us, profit from our oppression, and wage war on our bodies. But surviving and fighting for recognition of these injustices is an act of resistance. I would also say: “You are not alone”. Over one-third of women around the globe experience sexual violence. That does not mean we must accept it. There are women in every community who are surviving, standing up, and speaking out. When we unite to fight for our rights, change will be unstoppable.

Alessandro Gisotti