Shirin Neshat

— Marcella Mizzi

AMSTERDAM — Violence against women throughout the world is so omnipresent and systematic that it is often blatantly ignored. However, the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’ or ISIS’ treatment of women, which has been harshly condemned by the UN Women Executive Director, is particularly infamous. ISIS’ interpretation of Islam is radical, extremist and sets forth a dangerous patriarchal agenda.

At the core of ISIS’ beliefs is sexuality and men’s power over women. Women are regarded as objects, being either trophies or targets for persecution. On the one hand, the women recruited by the ISIS carry out a sexual jihad, having the only purpose of pleasing and marrying off to the soldiers of the Caliphate. On the other hand, the ‘infidel’ women of all ages and faiths are kept as slaves, barbarically raped, and, if not Muslim, forced to convert to Islam. Once more, the female body is a weapon of war, as well as a reward.

ISIS’ most rigid interpretation of the Sharia law is interpreted in places like Raqqa, Syria, where women’s rights to mobility, health, work and education are extremely restricted and ruthless punishment is reserved for any indiscretion. Flogging and stoning women for adultery has been an effective way to control women’s sexual freedom. Reportedly, the worst treatment is born by minority girls and women. Christian and Yazidi survivors recount atrocities and gross human rights violations, such as abduction, organized rape and sexual assault, sexual slavery, and forced marriage. Survivors find themselves in a tragic dilemma: they are threatened by ISIS when they do not comply, or if returned to their families and communities, they are threatened with honor killings. The permanent psychological and physical scars make it hard for victims to adjust to normal life. Some go to the extreme extent of taking their own lives because of the shame of having been raped.

These extremist and barbaric groups are distorting the image of Islam and committing the most atrocious crimes against humanity. Most crimes against women go unpunished and are justified with fictitious religious or cultural justifications. Until women’s rights are blatantly disregarded and women are treated as second-class citizens, there will not be victory against ISIS and their patriarchal agenda. Too many times, women are treated as possessions. Too many times, women are not able to act out of their own free will. Egyptian politician Moushira Khattab calls on governments, international organizations and civil society to act collectively and forge alliances with enlightened religious leaders to raise awareness and thwart the rise of ISIS. Failure to act promptly could prove disastrous for women’s rights in the Middle East. As Albert Einstein once wrote, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”

Barbarians: ISIS Mortal Threat to Women, Wilson Center, Viewpoints No. 60, August 2014
Slavery, the ISIS rules, HRW, September 2015, available at: <>
Life as a woman under the ISIS: document reveals for the first time what group really expects from female recruits living in Syria and Iraq, the Independent, 23 July 2015, available at: <>

The Tragedy of Women’s Rights under ISIS

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