Yazidi Discussion Circle hopes to affect change

Photo by Mikki Herbold

All levels of government should do more to help the Yazidi women and children heal and recover from trauma, say the Remember Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE) organization. The Yazidi Discussion Circle will be held at VIVO Media Arts Centre (Feb. 24).

If you don’t care for people, you can hurt them for seven generations. There’s nothing worse than silence, secrets and denial. We know that,” says Chris McDowell, moderator for ROSE.

It’s been more than two years since the start of the Yazidi genocide, a genocide confirmed by former Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion in 2016, but ROSE wants to raise awareness about it.

Exploring Canada’s role in helping Yazidi women

Some questions up for discussion include: What are three things we want the federal government to do about providing trauma care? What can be done by provincial and civic governments? What roles can educational institutions play in providing support?

“That’s why we’re having this discussion … to bring together a lot of different people who have expertise and people who are curious, and people who are caring and to figure things out together to make recommendations to the government from the grassroots,” says McDowell.

The Yazidi, a religious minority, are predominantly ethnically Kurdish. They have been persecuted for their religious beliefs. On August 3, 2014, ISIS attacked the Yazidis as part of a crusade to “purify” Iraq and its neighbouring countries of non-Islamist influences.

According to ROSE’s website, many of the Yazidi men and boys were slaughtered along with “older” women. Young women and children were forced into sex slavery and tortured by the ISIS military. According to the United Nations report, there were daily unspeakable atrocities committed against thousands of Yazidi women and girls.

Affecting change

McDowell didn’t know what to do to affect change, but when she heard about One Billion Rising, a movement that Eve Ensler (the author of the Vagina Monologues) created to fight violence against women internationally, it changed her.

She posted articles she read on the Remember our Sisters website. The organization wrote letters pleading for members of parliament to take in Yazidi women and girls as refugees because at that point, McDowell says, the federal government was not taking them in deliberately based on grounds of religion. She wanted the Canadian government to step up and take action. McDowell says people might think the issues of the Yazidi women and youth are too ugly for them to bear.

Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services, speaking at the vigil in Vancouver on December 6, 2016. | Photo by Mikki Herbold

“But really, we need to face the ugliness that’s happening. This is ISIS. We really need people to learn about and pay attention – to say this is an atrocity and we have to stop it,” she says.

On top of basic needs, McDowell says Yazidi women and children will need trauma care –
something which Canada still needs to offer. She points to Germany, which has 20 safe houses where women and children can get counselling for their traumatic experiences.

“We’re part of a different society, one that is more open, where we value therapy, we value honesty and we value healing. To not provide the opportunity to survivors of such extreme torture would be such a serious mistake. It will cost us more money in the long run,” says McDowell.

Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services, will be the Master of Ceremonies. Senator Mobina Jaffer will provide a background on what has happened to the Yazidi people and her insights into Canada’s role in supporting Yazidi women and girls as refugees. Jenny Kwan, MP – Vancouver East will talk about the current situation regarding Yazidi women and girls and offer her insights into Canada’s role in supporting refugees.

For more information, visit www.rememberoursisterseverywhere.com.