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Transform Your Pain into a Tool for Change: Lessons from the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Winner- Nadia Murad

“No matter how much falls on us, we keep ploughing ahead. That’s the only way to keep the roads clear.”― Greg Kincaid

Nadia was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 at just 25 years for her “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”. She emerged as a champion against Gender-Based Violence of women and minorities after suffering rape and sexual abuse. A member of the Yazidi minority, she is the first Iraqi to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She has also bagged several other international recognitions including the First Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the United Nations (2016), Council of Europe Havel Award for Human Rights (2016), Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought (2016) and the Bambi Award (2019).

Nadia Murad is the founder of Nadia’s Initiative, an organization dedicated to “helping women and children victimized by genocide, mass atrocities, and human trafficking to heal and rebuild their lives and communities.” Nadia Murad is the founder of Nadia’s Initiative, an organization dedicated to “helping women and children victimized by genocide, mass atrocities, and human trafficking to heal and rebuild their lives and communities. Although Nadia has been celebrated globally, her story is one of intense pain and horror that emanates from the brutal rule of ISIS in Iraq.

Nadia Murad was born in 1993 to a family of farmers in Kocho, a small village in Sinjar District, Iraq. Her family are from the Yazidi ethnic and religious minority predominantly found in Northern Iraq. Nadia’s life soon turned upside down as a student in Sinjar at the age of 19. In August 2014, the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group spread across northern Iraq capturing territory and co-opting them into their so-called religious caliphate. Sinjar, together with the Yazidi ethnic group who are not Muslims were captured numbering 50,000 and forced to flee into the mountains. The IS fighters killed 600 people in Sinjar including Nadia’s mother and 6 of her brothers and step-brothers.

Nadia was captured on 15 August 2014 and carried off to Mosul to become a sex slave, one of over 6,700 Yazidi women taken captive by the Islamic State. She successfully escaped from her captor through an unlocked door and was smuggled out of ISIS territory to a refugee camp by November 2014. Nadia later shared her story with reporters of La Libre Belgique, the Belgian daily newspaper from the Rwanga camp in February 2015 and later received asylum from Germany where she is now based.

Nadia has become a powerful voice for the victims and survivors of human trafficking and gender-based violence. She emerged as the first person to brief the United Nations Security Council on human trafficking and conflict in December 2016. She launched her nonprofit Nadia’s Initiative in September 2016. Nadia is also an author of a book based on her life titled The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State.

Nadia is a youth who has tirelessly campaigned to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. She is an inspiration to youth globally especially those ravaged by war and conflict.

The following lessons are derived from Nadia’s life and work.

1.Transform your pain into a tool for change. Millions of people around the world have experienced and continue to live in the midst of violent conflict. In these contexts, gross violations of peoples’ rights are committed including sexual and gender-based violence and war crimes. The victims end up scarred for long periods of times with many succumbing to a post-traumatic stress disorder, self-abuse and similar violent behaviour. Nadia suffered some of the worst of these realities as a teenager that was kidnapped, repeatedly raped and sold into sexual slavery. Besides her own pain, she suffered horrifying losses of over 6 close loved ones before having to fight for her life in ISIS territory by escaping from captivity. The young Nadia could have retreated into the background to nurse her wounds and avoid the stigma associated with victims of sexual violence. But not Nadia! She stood tall a few months after finding rescue in a refugee camp and spoke her truth freely to ensure that such heinous crimes were not swept under the carpet. Nadia did not stop there but vowed to fight for the survivors of gender-based violence as well as victims of genocide such as the Yazidis through her non-profit organisation, Nadia’s Initiative. Her determination to stamp out this evil that befell her has informed her high-level advocacy making her the first person to address the United Nations Security Council in 2015 and taking her to The White House in 2019 to garner support for her cause from President Donald Trump of the United States of America.

2. Speak out against long-rooted injustice anywhere you see it. Nadia comes from the minority Yazidi ethnic group. This group has been persecuted for ages by other ethnic groups in the Middle East especially in places where they live such as northern Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The Yazidi are different from the Arabs with their distinct religion and culture including their dressing and traditional norms. Thus, they have been a target of oppression throughout their history from the Ottoman Empire of modern-day Turkey who tried to convert them to Sunni Islam to Saddam Hussein’s arabisation campaigns to turn them to Arabs. In 2014, the IS massacre saw the genocide of thousands of Yazidi men and enforced sexual slavery of women and girls leading to the emigration of tens of thousands of Yazidis from their ancestral homeland in Iraqi Kurdistan to several parts of Europe especially Germany. Nadia has sought to bring her people’s cause to the global spotlight. Through her Nadia’s Initiative, she draws the attention of the world to the plight of her people and provides much-needed succour to the Yazidis displaced in Iraq and across the world. Nadia wears her roots as a badge of honour and continues to advocate for them to be settled and for peace to return to their ancestral homeland. As youth peacebuilders, it does not matter how rooted the injustice is, you have to fight it spiritedly and you can make a change.

3. Denounce war and fight for peace. Nadia has consistently spoken out on the ills of war and how it only benefits warmongers. She argues that women easily become targets in war and are used as weapons though sexual slavery. She has maintained that in the absence of war, such brazen violence against women and girls would not be tolerated. Nadia’s message is war does no one any good and that is exactly the message that Building Blocks for Peace continues to preach in its work with local communities in Nigeria and its global advocacy. Conflict is inevitable but violence is never an option. We simply have to find a peaceful way to resolve our differences through dialogue, negotiation, mediation amongst other conflict management techniques.

Are you faced with a similar situation like that of Nadia, transform your pain and mobilise people for a change. “It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.”― Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Written by:

Obamara Victor Ayodeji
Partnership Member,
Building Blocks for Peace Foundation,

Posted in GENERAL