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What life is like for women living under ISIS

What life is like for women living under ISIS


Nawara was just 21 years old when Islamic State fighters claimed her hometown of Mosul and turned her life into a living nightmare.

Our wedding day was a single moment of joy in an otherwise bleak time, but we weren't allowed to celebrate it. Music and dancing had been banned. I had to wear a khimar to the ceremony. When I went to court to sign the marriage contract with my husband, he couldn't even see me.

Our daughter was born eleven months later. What should have been the happiest day of my life was coloured with guilt about bringing her into a world where life felt so worthless. Women and girls fleeing Daesh rule have been the victims of sexual violence, forced child marriages, and have been used as human shields.

By this time, we had moved to eastern Mosul, where my husband's family lived. I feared an upcoming conflict because I knew the only way that our city would be freed from Daesh control was if the Iraqi forces came to fight them for it.

That day came on December 12th last year, just after my daughter's first birthday. We had been living under Daesh for two years and six months. Weeks earlier, leaflets had been dropped from the sky telling us to stay in our homes, so we knew something was coming. Rockets flew overhead and the ground shook. On the third day of fighting, a mortar hit the house next door and killed our neighbour's little girl. I couldn't shake the thought that it could have been mine. We had to get out.

As soon as it was safe to attempt leaving, we fled to one of the camps a few hours away where tents were being provided for people escaping Mosul. The first thing I did was rip off my veil. I wanted to wear my colourful headscarves and clothing and feel like myself again. Other women around me were doing the same thing: It was our silent rebellion.

Life at the camp is hard. We share a space with thousands of other people who, like us, have nowhere else to go. More than 3 million Iraqis have been displaced by the war with Daesh. I am living in one tent with my husband, daughter, and in-laws. It is our kitchen, our bedroom, our everything. To wash, we boil water on a kerosene stove and take turns filling a bucket. We are surviving on bread, rice, and beans from the World Food Programme, as well as other supplies from NGOs - we are grateful to have shelter but it feels like half a life compared to the one we had.

I will not give up though. I am now teaching basic grammar and mathematics to children who live at the camp. They have missed nearly three years of their education under Daesh, which is something I can relate to. I'm trying to start rebuilding my life - I hope I am helping to rebuild theirs too.

A person doesn't leave her home through choice. Every day I feel heartbroken that this is the only life I am able to provide for my child - but when you are forced to survive, you have to make a decision. We couldn't live every day in fear of airstrikes and bombs and even though Iraqi security forces retook Mosul in July, we have nothing left to return to. Our city is in ruins. I wouldn't wish this on anyone.

My dream is still to become a doctor. My education is the strongest weapon I have - especially as a woman here. Under Daesh, I saw how the educated women were the ones that were able to stay strong. Daesh could restrict them physically but they were never able to control their minds.

I need to go back and repeat my final exam so I can study medicine as I had planned. Right now, living here, that dream feels far away, but I believe that one day it will be possible. If not for me, then I hope for my little girl.