Pari Ibrahim described how ISIS attacked Yezidi civilians in Sinjar, northern Iraq, in August 2014. During the assault, she said, Yezidi women and girls were captured and sold as sex slaves in markets in Iraq and Syria, and that there are still thousands of Yezidi women that are held captive by ISIS, mainly in Syria.
â€œWhere I come from, people donâ€™t go to the doctor for mental health issuesâ€¦ So I thought that we needed to provide post-trauma experts from outside Iraq so that the women and girls could talk to them without shame and further stigmatization.â€
The Free Yezidi Foundation opened a womenâ€™s centre that provides access to a psychologist and a trauma programme. The centre also runs music, art and language classes as part of efforts to reduce stress, and helps women prepare for employment through livelihood trainings.
â€œIn the beginning, we saw these women and girls just sitting in the house doing nothing, not going back into society because they were ashamed of what had happened to them. We donâ€™t blame them. They are victims of sexual violence, of rape.
â€œDeep inside, the victims are suffering immensely because of the associated social stigma that implies that maybe it is their fault that they arenâ€™t virgins, that they canâ€™t marry. In the beginning, especially, a lot of these women and girls committed suicide.
â€œThe UN Trust Fund made it possible for us to get two psychologists from Britain. I did not want to make the women feel that they are worthless and I wanted them to share their experiences with someone who would enable them to express their feelings.
â€œIn one year, two years, three years, weâ€™ve already [seen] a lot of change with these women and girls who have gone to a psychologist. You see them being more active, you see them in groups, you see them making friends, and thatâ€™s a huge difference. You see the women and girls holding their head up rather than down. We have more than 100 women actively participating in a three-month course. For women and girls who need further treatment after the three months, we have an option for them to come back every Thursday to talk with a psychologist.
â€œBy bringing the women and girls to the centre, by going to their houses, by talking to their family members, I see the women and girls becoming much stronger, much healthier because they express what they feel. Our centre is a safe space and a refuge. Outside of the center is full of colours and drawings which gets the attention of the women and girls as a safe space. All of our staff are IDPâ€™s [Internally Displaced Persons] themselves who have training in psychological first aid. Many of the women look up to me because I am a woman. They look up to the staff because they are women.
â€œOne of the first things we ask when the women come in is how do they feel. At the end of the three-month course, how do they feel then? Are they happier? Are they more outgoing? Do they like to participate in activities? Do they talk about their issues?â€
Pari Ibrahim summarized the Foundationâ€™s aims and achievements:
â€œWe as the Free Yezidi Foundation, led by Yezidis, led by women, show them possibilities. They say that they feel comfortable and that we can help them build a future and build a new life.â€