I fought back... and survived | 29 juni 2020 | by PAX

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I fought back... and survived

Many women and girls in Iraq face various forms of sexual and gender-based violence, which are worsened as a result of armed conflicts and political instability. PAX partners Al-Amal Association and the Al-Firdaws Society have been gathering stories from women and girls who dare to speak out, stories about fighting back against sexual and gender based violence. We are publishing some of these stories in this blog series. These stories are shocking, and are difficult to read.

The stories have been gathered and are being retold as part of an effort to break the 'culture of silence' around violence against women and lessen the stigma of being a victim. And, of course, to try to improve the government's and the security sector's response to such violence. The Dutch NGO Impunity Watch is also involved in this project.

Names and some details have been fabricated to protect the identities of the people involved.

I am Salima from Salah Ad-Din

Education was not one of the main priorities for our family. I dropped out of school after finishing primary school, and I was happy. Having fun was my only concern.

When I turned fifteen, I realized that any move I make can be held against me. Two years later, a man called Louay asked for my hand in marriage. I was not psychologically or mentally prepared, but my father insisted I accept because of the values and customs in our tribal society.

Louay belonged to armed factions. Soon we got married, and for a while, I thought that our honeymoon would last. A few months later, my father passed away. His death was very hard on my mother and siblings, but my husband never left our side.

In June 2014, the most terrible terrorist group known to mankind took control, a group that knows no language but the language of weapons. Louay, who worked for an entity opposed to the group, did not leave the house for two months. A friend of his called Hussam used to visit to check on him every now and then, until his visits turned into secret meetings along with my brothers. It became clear to me later that Hussam had convinced them to join the armed group – ISIS!

After my daughter’s birth, our area fell under a tight siege, and my husband and brothers joined ISIS and took part in the fighting, as instructed by their leaders. Soon enough, the devastation unfolded. We did not have financial worries, but we were treated differently, looked down on as a family linked to an armed group.

This situation lasted for three years until my husband and brothers were killed and the situation got even worse.

On 23 September 2017 the long-awaited day came: ISIS was defeated and the Iraqi army regained control of our town. Soon, the security forces and the town residents started expelling the families of ISIS members, who were taken to displacement camps in a nearby town. The camp was formed of over 10,000 small tents crowded with families. Later on, we were transferred to another camp in Tikrit. We adapted to living in a small tent and receiving aid from humanitarian organizations. One of the volunteers, a man called Bilal, used to visit our tent every day to bring our food and showed particular interest in me. One evening, while I was sitting outside the tent drawing in the soil, he offered to marry me in secret. Despite my mother’s refusal, I managed to convince her by explaining how our harsh conditions were a motivating factor. Our marriage was performed in the presence of two witnesses that he brought to the tent. One of them was a cleric who officiated the marriage according to our religious traditions, but not under the law.

During the first few days, he came to eat and fulfill his desires at night. Whenever I asked for our marriage contract, he would get angry, until he finally told me: “there is no marriage contract! We agreed to keep our marriage a secret.” The last time I saw him, I discovered that our marriage was fake. He left and never came back. My mother kept blaming me until I started suffering from health problems, and I sank into a deep and long depression. I lost trust in all men and even avoided my own family. But over time, my mother encouraged me and helped me overcome the situation by becoming stronger. I put my trust in God. Today, I am married to a man who lived up to his promises to my mother. He did not touch me until I legally became his wife.

I regained my smile, and my confidence in myself and others. I got a second chance, a new life.

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