Ending the Use of Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War

By Giving List Women   |   May 20, 2024
Nadia Murad and Angelina Jolie meet with genocide survivors in Sinjar, Iraq.

Nadia Murad was just 21 years old in 2014 when she was taken captive by the Islamic State (ISIS) in her hometown of Kocho, a farming village in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq. Determined to destroy the local Yazidi community there, ISIS embarked on a genocidal campaign, killing thousands across Sinjar, including Murad’s mother and six of her siblings. Murad was one of over 6,000 women and girls who were taken into slavery, where they were subjected to repeated rape and torture. After three months in captivity, Murad bravely escaped and eventually resettled in Germany. 

Murad’s harrowing personal experience mirrored the experiences of women and girls across Sinjar. As a survivor and witness to these atrocities, she established Nadia’s Initiative (NI), a nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding communities in crisis and advocating for survivors of sexual violence worldwide. 

“The aftermath is not easier than when there is war. Because in the aftermath people have nothing. Their homes are destroyed, their dreams, their villages, their farms, their lives. Everything they built for generations is taken from them. And the people, the women, they are traumatized,” says Murad.

Murad realized that the trauma women and girls from her community had been subjected to was not unique. For centuries women’s bodies had been used as battlefields during conflict. Refusing to let other women suffer as she had, Murad partnered with barrister Amal Clooney to begin campaigning for justice on behalf of survivors, believing that future atrocities could be prevented if perpetrators were held accountable for their barbaric actions.

Rebuilding Communities in Crisis

By 2017, when ISIS was defeated and Sinjar liberated, over 70% of the homes and 80% of the region’s public infrastructure had been decimated. Over 400,000 Yazidis were displaced by the genocide.

NI focuses on creating a world where women are able to live peacefully and communities that have experienced trauma and suffering are supported and redeveloped. Since its founding, NI has completed over 120 projects across its six programmatic areas, restoring basic services, rebuilding schools and health centers, reviving cultural sites, and working with a variety of partners to promote women’s empowerment and facilitate the safe return of Yazidis to their homeland. This year they opened NI’s Women’s Center, which will offer a comprehensive, safe, and community-based support center for all women in the region.

The Last Girl

Murad shares her own story and the story of the brutal persecution of her community because it is “the best weapon” she has. She wrote a New York Times best-selling memoir entitled The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State. In 2018, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Congolese Dr. Denis Mukwege for their work on conflict related sexual violence.

In her memoir, Murad says, “I still think that being forced to leave your home out of fear is one of the worst injustices a human being can face.” She wants to be the last girl in the world with a story like hers, and she’s on a mission to make that vision a reality.


Nadia’s Initiative

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Executive Director: Brandon Jacobsen


Nadia’s Initiative is on a mission to create a world where women are able to live peacefully and communities that have experienced trauma and suffering are supported and redeveloped. We advocate — at the local, national, and international levels — for resources and policy changes needed to protect and support survivors of sexual violence and rebuild communities in crisis. We collaborate with global leaders, governments, and international organizations to raise awareness and direct critical funding necessary to making positive, meaningful change.

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