ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Freed Yazidi women and girls are now receiving psychological care at a center in Duhok through the Free Yezidi Foundation (FYF), bringing change and hope to those who survived the world's largest genocide in modern history in the hands of ISIS militants during and after invasion of their region around Mosul in 2014.
"My people have suffered a lot at the hands of ISIS. These women have suffered enormous trauma. They have been raped many times a day by different men," said Pari Ibrahim, founder and Executive Director of FYF, UN Women reported on Tuesday. "That's why I started the Free Yezidi Foundation—to get trauma care for women and girls so that they can start living their lives again."
FYF receives support from the United Nations Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) and runs a women's center in Duhok to help women and girls deal with the atrocities which they have suffered.
"Where I come from, people don't go to the doctor for mental health issues. Deep inside, they [survivors] are suffering immensely, also because of the associated social stigma that implies it is [somehow] their fault that they aren't virgins, that they can't marry," she said. "In the beginning, a lot of these women and girls committed suicide."
The women's center provides post-trauma experts from outside Iraq so that the ISIS survivors can speak with them without feeling shame and further stigmatization.
All of the staff at the women's center are also Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and have received training to provide psychological support. Besides providing sessions at the center, they also make home visits and speak to family members to further help support the girls and women.
"In the three years since we started the center, we've already seen a lot of change in the women and girls who have received support," Ibrahim said. "They now express what they feel. You see them being more active, you see them in groups, and you see them making friends—and that makes a big difference, because the social integration is so important for healing."
There are currently over 100 women undergoing psychological support for a minimum of three months. Those who need further treatment come back once a week to see a therapist.
"At Free Yezidi Foundation, we are led by Yezidi women and we are here to show survivors the possibilities of a new life, out of the shadows of shame and trauma," Ibrahim said.
"Escaping ISIS is only the beginning of a painful journey for many Yezidi women," she added. "We cannot leave them alone in that journey."