Our ability to show empathy and kindness as a collective knows no bounds. Atrocities like 9/11, the refugee crisis and even the recent attacks in London united people. Yet, at the #IamYezidi exhibition earlier this week, I started questioning both my own and wider society’s morals.
The exhibition held at the Lacey Contemporary Gallery featured portraits, taken by photojournalist Benjamin Eagle, of female survivors who had endured what I can only describe as a stones throw away from hell.
In 2014, the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq was captured by ISIS. The aim? To eradicate the Yezidi people in order to purify the area of non Islamic influences.
The stories of what these women had to endure gave me goosebumps. Having glass mixed into food as a sadistic way to starve them, to kidnapping and beating their children to the point of death, it astounds me that there hasn’t been more of an international outcry.
Why have we forgotten about these women? How can we celebrate the likes of International Women’s Day and not draw attention to the fact that teenagers have been sold and raped by countless men?
Strength in the face of adversity
Part of this year’s #BeBoldForChange theme was to campaign against violence towards women. However many of us opted to bombard Donald Trump with abuse following his tweet to mark International Women’s Day. In hindsight, that platform could have been utilised to highlight the discrimination these women faced simply because of their religion.
That’s not to say there was hypocrisy in Trump honouring women, but there’s barely a day that goes by where we don’t give print and digital column inches to him. Don’t get me wrong. The women’s marches following Donald Trump’s inauguration to highlight women’s rights were great for us. It just seems like unless an injustice isn’t linked to us, there’s no sense of urgency. This inevitably makes women’s groups and individuals, myself included, who advocate for things like parity, hypocrites too.
Sure, Yezidi women who have been kidnapped, separated from their families and abused may not affect us personally. However, that shouldn’t stop us aligning ourselves with international communities when they’ve been plagued with terror attacks away from our shores. The ‘Pray for…’ hashtags are almost a guarantee when we hear about terrorist attacks on western soil. If we can show solidarity with social campaigns like ‘I am London’ or ‘I am Nice’, why can’t we do the same for these women too?
That’s not to say that we don’t feel fearful when we hear about these knife-weilding, gunshooting lunatics attacking people close to home. However if the same brutality that Yezidi women have experienced were to happen to British or European natives, can you imagine the uproar we would be hearing?
Thankfully the likes of Amal Clooney is fighting for justice and is adamant that ISIS need to be prosecuted for their crimes against women.
‘There hasn’t been a “single prosecution against ISIS in a court anywhere in the world for the crimes committed against the Yezidis…for any international crimes,”‘ she said.
Meanwhile, Khalsa Aid, who have been providing monthly support to the Yezidi community felt it was important to give these women a voice and so the #IamYezidi campaign was born.
Ravi Singh, Founder and CEO of Khalsa Aid, an international relief work organization, said: ‘The Yezidi community doesn’t have a prominent voice on the global stage. It is hoped that using this photographic exhibition as a piece of advocacy where we can raise awareness of the challenges faced by these women.’
The exhibition highlights what has happened to these women and gives them a voice, which is something the media has failed to do.
One of the women featured, Maha Ravo, 28, said, ‘People don’t believe in fairy tales, but I do because my husband and I had the most beautiful love story – until the day ISIS came to our village and took him away from me. I never heard from him again.’
Just like us, they also experience love and loss. Regardless of what they believe in and how they live, it’s time to focus on our commonalities.
The #IamYezidi exhibition was worth a visit for all – especially those who support women’s rights. We may not come from the same walks of life, but their hopes, grief and dreams will make you realise we are all Yezidi.
You can view photos from this project on Benjamin Eagle’s website.