Nadia Murad was born in the village of Kocho in the Sinjar District of Iraq. On August 3, 2014, Islamic State militants attacked her village and murdered hundreds, including her mother and six of her brothers. Murad was captured and taken into sexual slavery along with more than 6,500 Yazidi women and children. Murad chronicled her story of escape and survival in her book, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State, and has since become a leading advocate for both gender equality and survivors of genocide and sexual violence.
Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Dean Jennifer D. Keene, sat down with Murad in front of a packed audience for a special talk with the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner the day before she received an honorary degree from Chapman and delivered the 2022 Commencement Address.
Much of Murad’s advocacy work is focused on raising awareness of the genocide against the Yazidi people and the systemic use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. When Dean Keene asked her to share her thoughts on why it’s important to bring perpetrators of genocide to justice, Murad gave three reasons.
“What I learned from my work, and what I believe, personally, about injustice is three really profound effects. First, it acknowledges the survivors and the fact that our rights were violated. Second, it helps survivors heal, knowing that their abusers [are not] getting away with it, and they cannot continue to hurt other innocent people. Thirdly, accountability is really important for discouraging others from committing these atrocities. Genocide and sexual violence [are] repeated when there is a culture of impunity.”
“Only one other time, when I moderated a conversation with Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, have I witnessed an audience so absorbed in every single word spoken,” commented Dean Keene. “Afterwards, Nadia spent a full hour engaging every single student in conversation as she signed their books. We now must live up to her faith in us by building a better world in which such atrocities no longer occur.”
Murad expected to spend her whole life in her village. She wanted to be a teacher or possibly a hairstylist, but her abduction by ISIS put her on a different path and changed her life forever.
Murad has been through things that no human should ever have to face, yet she has taken the atrocities of her experiences and has become an advocate, speaking about her surviving ISIS and the sexual violence she has encountered. She gives her late mother credit for her strength.
“My mother was always my biggest teacher. The lessons she [taught] me influenced me even though she is no longer with me,” said Murad. “She was a single mother and was determined to be independent, which was not common for women in our community. She never let [a] man silence her, and I like to think that I am continuing her legacy through my work.”
“It was absolutely amazing to hear Nadia Murad speak at the Book Talk and Signing,” said Anika Manuel ‘23 (Peace Studies and Political Science Major). “She touched upon topics that are so often ignored in mainstream media, but topics that must be spoken in order to heal the harm of injustice and oppression and create a more peaceful and equitable future. She is an inspiration to women activists, and it was an honor to be able to meet and talk to her.”
In Murad’s book she talks about being captured by ISIS and how lucky she was to escape her captor after he simply forgot to lock the door to his house, however, there are still thousands of women and children, including her sister-in-law, niece and nephew, still being held captive.
Nadia started “Nadia’s Initiative,” an organization dedicated to “helping women and children victimized by genocides, mass atrocities, and human trafficking to heal and rebuild their lives and communities.”
“My team on the ground is continuously conducting community outreach reviews, collecting feedback about the current projects, and then learning about the ongoing need. We build our programs within the community, so they have the most impact,” she said. “I am really proud, we don’t just decide what is best for them, because they are the ones who went through everything and they are back in Sinjar, more than 150,000 people have returned. It’s important to go and talk to them, you learn a lot and we get feedback, and we do what’s best for them.”
Murad is currently pursuing a degree at American University in Washington, D.C. State, majoring in sociology. She has been named a Presidential Fellow at Chapman, and will be returning over the next three years to engage in additional programming and class visits. During her 2022 visit, a bust of her likeness was also unveiled and will be placed next to the bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. in front of Argyros Forum.
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