Life of Fear and Darkness for Women Under ISIS

Daily life for women under ISIS includes crushing laws and the fear of being kidnapped, sold or married to a jihadi.

A Syrian woman (Photo: © Reuters)
A Syrian woman (Photo: © Reuters)

The Islamic State (ISIS) recently published their new requirements for women in Raqqa, the northern Syrian city which serves as their unofficial headquarters.

According to Abu Ward al-Raqqawi, one of the founders of the human rights group “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently,” women are now forbidden to leave their homes unless they are wearing a dara, an additional covering worn on top of the niqab (face veil) and chador (a loose, long black cloth or coat that envelops the body from head to toe).

The niqab and chador were imposed on women by the Islamic State when the group initially took over Raqqa in August of 2013.

Abu Ward describes everyday life for women under the Islamic State as living in a minefield that includes crushing laws and the fear of being kidnapped, sold or married to a jihadi – the fate of the Yazidi women captured in Iraq by the brutal group.

The new restrictions also preclude men from giving private courses to women unless the course is held in a recognized institute. The Islamic State has declared that any man that violates this rule will be executed.

Speaking to a reporter from Al Hayat, Abu Ward also described the intimidation used by the group to pressure Raqqa’s girls into marrying Islamic State fighters.

First come the promises of wealth, benefits and a good life, Abu Ward says, that women are conned into believing are true.

El-Khansa, the women’s brigade of ISIS, plays a large role in facilitating these marriages. Women from the brigade make it their business to know where each girl of marriageable age lives. They then visit the families with offers of a large mahr (a payment made by the groom or his family to the bride), which tempts many Raqqa residents due to the dire circumstances that engulf the city.

In addition, many of the girls’ fathers are afraid that the Islamic State will take revenge if they refuse to let them marry their daughters. The wives of the mujahadeen (jihadi fighters) are on the payroll of the Islamic State, a factor that has drawn local and foreign women to marry Islamic State fighters, according to Abu Ward. Once married, for each child born, the woman receives an additional payment.

So far, Raqqa’s girls have not been sold, used as sex slaves or been forced to participate in “sex jihad.” Abu Ward thinks the girls have escaped these fates due to the large number of young, Sunni, men and teenage boys from the city that have joined the group. The Islamic State knows that these locals would not tolerate the selling of "their" girls and, thus, does not want to face the consequences of a rebellion at this point.

The Islamic State recruits the boys at scout camps with promises of virgin girls who await them in heaven, says Abu Ward. They are then brainwashed with the ideology of the organization.

“The teenage boy that throws his lot in with the Islamic State sees in his mind the virgins that await him in heaven. Life becomes a burden that the dreamer wants to get rid of in order to get swiftly to heaven. This phenomenon makes suicide actions something to compete for,” wrote the reporter who interviewed Abu Ward.

Abu Ward describes the young people of Raqqa as the fuel of the organization. Since October 4, the last major Muslim holiday, he says no less than 30 young people aged 16-20 from the al-Raqqa province were killed in the battles for Kobani.

Meanwhile, Raqqa under the control of the Islamic State has become a ghost town. Fear controls the city. After hearing about what the group has done to cities in northern Iraq and how the Yazidi women were sold as slaves, residents are afraid to venture outside. Only at noon is there a sign of life in the city, when people emerge from their homes to shop for their daily food.

Routes of patrols and checkpoints manned by the Islamic State are changed constantly by the group. There is no avoiding them. Raqqa’s women and the girls don’t even think about disobeying the rules.

A lack of electricity engulfs the city in darkness. Combined with the constant fear, residents are left only with their hope that this bad dream that has turned their once vibrant city into a nightmarish reality will be over soon.

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