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What will happen to the Yazidi sex slaves in Mosul?

At least 300 women from the minority sect are estimated to remain inside the city.

When fighters from the Islamic State (IS) attacked the Yazidi communities in northern Iraq in August 2014, they took many of their victims captive. They raped, forcibly married and converted to Islam thousands of Yazidi women, using them as sex slaves. IS is still holding a significant number of them.

Family members who managed to escape have been glued to their television sets watching the Mosul military operations. They wonder what it will mean for their missing women and girls, who have already endured so much. According to the United Nations, as of August, IS still held 1,935 Yazidi women, as well as 1,864 Yazidi men. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that IS has moved many of the women who were being held in Mosul to Syria. But a human rights worker, tracking the movements of prisoners from the Yazidi religious minority still held in IS captivity, told me this week that at least 300 Yazidi women remain inside the city. News media reported on 24 October that at least 70 Yezidi women and children have been rescued since the beginning of the operation to retake Mosul.

Yazidi families who escaped from IS in the last year told me in August that the mental health and other psychosocial support, the Kurdish regional Government, UN, aid agencies, and donors have provided in the 15 or more camps for the displaced Yazidis in Dohuk governorate has been inadequate. Now, with people caught in the middle of a huge battle, there is going to be an even greater need for these services.

The Iraqi central government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities, with the support of an international coalition, announced on 17 October  the start of the military operations to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which IS captured in June 2014. There are an estimated 1.2 million civilians in Mosul.

For Yazidis in Mosul who come under the control of the Iraqi authorities during or after the fighting, including women who have spent the last two years in sexual slavery, they are going to need urgent assistance to meet their basic needs and provide mental health support.

But aid workers in the nearby city of Erbil have told me that there has been no significant planning by the military forces to ensure access for aid groups to the city, once the fighting moves there or for the aftermath.

Since the beginning of the Mosul operations, Iraqi authorities have been calling on residents in and around the city to stay in their homes throughout the fighting.

Given the amount of resistance that anti-IS forces are currently encountering in the battle for villages surrounding Mosul and the likelihood that IS will put up significant resistance inside the city, there is a strong possibility that the battle for Mosul will be long.

I have asked human rights colleagues in Erbil what the military's plan is for assisting the Yazidi population inside Mosul, in the context of the military operation. They said this is a conversation that has not yet happened.

Even for the Yazidi women and children who have already been freed during the Mosul battle, it is not clear that they will have access to the emergency assistance they need, including support for the trauma they have endured. Human Rights Watch's research showed that since the Yazidis were taken captive and since some have escaped, the camps that house these displaced people have failed to supply adequate counselling and mental health support.

The anti-IS fighting force and the aid agencies working in the region urgently need to come to a basic agreement on how to provide assistance to the civilians of Mosul who are following the government’s advice and staying home.  A clearer plan is needed including the provision of special healthcare services, such as post-rape care for the victims of sexual violence. All sides in the conflict need to ensure that essential humanitarian assistance can freely flow to those who need it during the fighting, and that civilians can safely find their way out of the war zones and get the help they need to deal with the hardships and trauma of the past two years.

Belkis Wille is a senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch who focuses on Iraq

NICHOLAS KAMM / Staff
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Blow-dried and supplicant, Ivanka shows the limits of the power women are allowed in Trumpworld

A new book by the US President’s daughter has surpisingly strong echoes of medieval royalty.

Exactly 500 years ago this month, the apprentices of London rose up, ­angry with Flemish immigrants and the bankers of Lombard Street. The race riot was quelled only when a couple of dukes sent in their private armies. Hundreds of looters were arrested and some were hanged, drawn and quartered. But some rioters were as young as 13 and the city’s residents felt sorry for them.

Henry VIII wanted to look magnanimous, but not weak. And so, at the trial in Westminster Hall on 7 May, ­Cardinal Wolsey first asked for mercy on the youngsters’ behalf. He was refused.

And then three women came forward: Henry’s queen, Catherine of Aragon, and his sisters Mary and Margaret, the widowed queens of France and Scotland. Faced with three women on their knees, the king relented. “It was a scene straight from the pages of chivalry,” writes Sarah Gristwood in her history of Renaissance women and power, Game of Queens. “An intercessory function, of course, had been traditional for queens, from the biblical Esther and Bathsheba to the Virgin Mary.”

Whenever contemporary politics gets too depressing, I take refuge in history. I always hope I will gain some perspective from people whose problems are very different from my own. Yes, climate change is terrifying; but at least I don’t have scrofula! Yet modern life has a way of creeping back. Late-medieval Europe was full of resentment for “aliens”, for example, who were felt to be prospering at the expense of native populations, even if those tensions were often expressed in religious rather than nationalist terms. It was Catherine of Aragon’s parents, Isabella and Ferdinand, who expelled all Jews from Spain in 1492.

Nonetheless, I was surprised to find such strong echoes of medieval royalty in Ivanka Trump’s new book, Women Who Work. I won’t waste your time by attempting to review this seminal tome, especially as it’s largely constructed out of bits of other self-help books. The advice boils down to: be “multi-dimensional”; don’t be afraid to use “architect” as a verb; feel free to turn down Anna Wintour, when she offers you a job at Vogue straight out of university, because your true passion is real estate. If it’s a busy time at work, as it was for Ivanka on the campaign trail, go into “survival mode”. (“Honestly,” she writes, “I wasn’t treating myself to a massage or making much time for self-care.”) Something for everyone.

Still, Women Who Work gave me the chance to contemplate the point of Ivanka Trump. I’ve seen her far more than I have heard her, which is no surprise, as her role in the administration is largely symbolic. What is Ivanka if not a Renaissance queen, tearfully pleading with her lord to show mercy? She is, we are told, his conscience. When his daughter’s clothing line was dropped by the US retailer Nordstrom in February, Trump tweeted: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person – always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”

Two months later, her name was invoked again. The First Daughter was distraught – “heartbroken and outraged”, she tweeted – at the sight of Syrian children gassed by the Assad regime. This prompted her father to bomb an airbase to atone for the slaughter of what his statement referred to as “beautiful babies”. “Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence,” her brother Eric told the Telegraph. “I’m sure she said: ‘Listen, this is horrible stuff.’”

This is the power that women are granted in Trumpworld: softening, humanising, empathetic. Their tears moisten the oak-like carapace of great leaders, showing them that sometimes it’s OK to be kind – but obviously not too kind, because that’s a bit soppy and girly and gay. Women are naturally prone to emotion, of course, unlike sturdy, ­rational men, who get so cross about the way TV news is reporting their firing of the FBI director that they start sending unhinged tweets implying they have incriminating “tapes” of White House conversations.

In this structure, however, the limits of women’s power are sharply circumscribed. The tears of both Ivanka and Catherine of Aragon only provided cover for something that their lord and master wanted to do anyway. (As New York magazine urged acidly on 13 April, “Someone Please Show Ivanka Pictures of Starving Yemeni Children”.) Ivanka’s whole book is designed to render female power unthreatening by making it “feminine”; merely a complement to male power instead of a challenge to it.

To reassure us that she isn’t some frumpy bluestocking, Ivanka has crafted an image of expensive, time-consuming perfection: perfect white teeth, perfect blow-dried hair, perfectly toned body. Her make-up, clothes and home are all styled in unobtrusive neutrals. Together it says: let me in the room and I promise not to be a nuisance or take up too much space, even on the colour wheel. It’s noticeable that no woman in Trump’s orbit has “let herself go”, even though his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has the complexion of a body that’s been found after two weeks in the water. I somehow doubt he ever makes “time for self-care”.

And don’t come at me with all that garbage about a nice frock and a manicure being “empowering”. Look at Donald Trump, the one with his own military: he has a fat arse and uses Sellotape to hold his ties in place. A president is allowed to have appetites – for women, for food, for power. His supplicant daughter gets to peddle platitudes about how you should “bond with your boss”. (Being a blood relative helps, although, sadly, Women Who Work is silent on what to do if he also fancies you.)

Is this how far we’ve come in 500 years? Ivanka Trump might try to sell herself as a modern woman, but her brand of female power is positively medieval.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies

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