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International Women's Day: 'Millions' join Spain strike - BBC News If we stop, the world stops," say Spanish women as an estimated five million join a 24-hour strike.
March 8 2018

International Women's Day 2019 Innovate for Change

#InnovateforChange March 8 is International Women's Day — a day to recognize women's achievements and acknowledge the challenges they continue to face in the quest for gender equality.

#BalanceforBetter Better the balance, better the world. How will you celebrate women's achievements on Friday March 8, while calling for a more gender-balanced world?

Planning is underway by groups worldwide. Partnerships and Collaborations are invited for 2019 (& 2020), so don't delay in making contact.
International Women's Day 2019 events:

The Enthusiasm of Women’s Day Celebration in Canada!

International Women’s day which is celebrated on 8th of March is celebrated with the same enthusiasm in Canada and all around the world. On this people from various part of the world come forward advocating gender equality in all spares of life.

Women’s day was first observed in 1911 on 19th March in Denmark, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. On that particular day millions of men and women advocated the idea of equality of women participating in public even and over the preceding years it started to get significance in other European countries and gradually it became a global day.

It got its name as International women’s day by UN in 1975 and officially in 1977, 8th March was declared as International women’s day. Today many countries including Canada celebrates International women’s day on 8th March. Over last many years women in Canada have come up with so much success in various fields.

It’s been centuries that Canadian women have been granted the right to vote. The people of Canada celebrate the achievements of women that she has been obtaining from last many years on this day. While there has been so much progress in removing the gender parity in Canada, yet more work needs to be done to bridge that gap between men and women.

Talking on the significance of women’s day celebration in Canada the Canadian Prime Minister on International women’s day 2016 had said that, even after so many long years there are women who are still denied education and are facing various gender based valances are being forced into child marriage.

So, as a society, as parents, as community members we need to come forward and support the idea of gender parity. The theme that the Canadian Government had adopted for the International day celebration 2016 was “women’s Empowerment leads to equality”.

A campaign started on this day in Canada #YouAreEmpowerment and Thrudeau, the Prime Minister urged the people of Canada to participate in the campaign. For gender equality it is essential to encourage women to choose freely for gender equality. Women who have come forward and are pursuing studies in STEM alias Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are an inspiration of many.

Canada is one such fortunate place which ardently advocates the idea of gender equality. Many women in Canada had inspired women around the world to come forward one such example is Dr. Victoria Kaspi, a professor at McGill University, she is the first woman who has been awarded Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal at Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

When she was young she was very much enthralled by the sky that appears at night and gradually she turned her fascination into her career and researched about the extreme physics of the neutron stars which is believed to be the densest type of start in the Universe.

There are many such women in Canada who have proved themselves and made the country proud by crossing the limits of the sky even after so many taboos and prejudices related to women and their ability to achieve.

(Previous women's memorial march, about 2004)



Thursday Feb 14th, 2019
Family and community members gather in remembrance at 10:30 am
March starts at noon from Carnegie (Main and Hastings)
Unceded xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) territories.

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The first women’s memorial march was held in 1992 in response to the murder of a woman on Powell Street in Vancouver. Out of this sense of hopelessness and anger came an annual march on Valentine’s Day to express compassion, community, and caring for all women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Unceded Coast Salish Territories.

The women’s memorial march continues to honour the lives of missing and murdered women and all women’s lives lost in the Downtown Eastside. Increasing deaths of many vulnerable women from the DTES still leaves family, friends, loved ones, and community members with an overwhelming sense of grief and loss. Indigenous women disproportionately continue to go missing or be murdered with minimal to no action to address these tragedies or the systemic nature of gendered violence, poverty, racism, or colonialism.

On Thursday Feb 14th 2019, we will gather at 10:30 am at the Carnegie Community Centre Theatre, 401 Main Street (corner Hastings, Vancouver) where family members speak in remembrance. Given space constraints, we ask the broader public to join us at noon, when the march takes to the streets and proceeds through the Downtown Eastside, with stops to commemorate where women were last seen or found; speeches by community activists at Main and Hastings; a healing circle at Oppenheimer Park around 2:30 pm; and finally a community feast at the Japanese Language Hall.

This event is organized and led by women in the DTES because women – especially Indigenous women – face physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual violence on a daily basis. The February 14th Women’s Memorial March is an opportunity to come together to grieve the loss of our beloved sisters, remember the women who are still missing, and to dedicate ourselves to justice.

Please participate. Read more here:

Thousands of women demonstrators march in the streets during the Women's March in Washington D.C. on Jan. 19, 2019. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Third Women's March faces winter weather, a shutdown and anti-Semitism charges

"It’s such a movement, and it’s so empowering to be around so many people who are celebrating women and fighting for change," one of the marchers said.
Jan. 19, 2019, by Kalhan Rosenblatt, Courtney Buble and Phil McCausland

WASHINGTON — Marchers gathered for the third Women’s March on Saturday, taking to the cold and wet streets for the second such march to occur during a government shutdown. Attendees this year appeared less in number than Women's Marches in the past, potentially a result of allegations of anti-Semitism made against the organizers.

Nonetheless, those who show up for the march expressed excitement for the event. "It’s such a movement, and it’s so empowering to be around so many people who are celebrating women and fighting for change," said Shannon Lydon, a recent Boston College grad who is attending the march for the first time in Washington.

Crowds gather across the country for third annual Women's March Jan. 19, 201901:38 The Women’s March organizers said it would be difficult to estimate the turnout overall this year, but said “there are almost 300 marches happening nationwide.”

They said the 2017 march, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, “was the product of a specific political moment that can't be replicated. The work, however, has never stopped.” At the march in New York City, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y., joined demonstrators as they made their way downtown.

The national Women's March was rocked by claims of anti-Semitism. Now local marches are grappling with the fallout. "It’s so exciting. It’s so thrilling to see so many New Yorkers, to see so many women across the country that are coming together and showing that we’re still taking up a presence and we’re still going to push for the agenda that we elected so many people to advance," she told MSNBC.

Though the progressive firebrand took to the streets, the DNC and many other Democratic leaders have distanced themselves from the march. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at NYC Women's March Jan. 19,

Mallory and Perez have said since that they condemn anti-Semitism and attempted to distance themselves from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has made numerous anti-Semitic and homophobic statements. Mallory attended an event hosted by Farrakhan.

The controversy has also caused a rival march organized by The Independent Women’s Forum to spring up, which is planned to occur simultaneously. But those in attendance said that these allegations should not disrupt the focus of the Women's March.

"We believe that the Women’s March has shown itself to be a broad tent, that it has both publicly — in words and in actions — indicated that they are against Anti-Semitism, against bigotry," said David Weinreich, 47, who was attending the march from Silver Spring, Maryland.

"And while some of the statements that we’ve seen have been concerning, we don’t think that means that we shouldn’t be out here in solidarity with people of all kinds, of all religions, all races, of all backgrounds in support of the issues that we care about."

Thousands gather for third annual Women's March Jennifer Beshaw, 49, works in companion care for the elderly and she agreed. "As much as it’s concerning, we should be more concerned with the government. I’m not saying the stuff that happened isn’t pertinent, but we don’t need to break into fringe groups."

Douglas Chavarria, 23, lives and works in Maryland. He said that gender shouldn’t matter in a conversation over equality, but noted that he was troubled by the allegations of anti-Semitism. He added, however, that it shouldn’t derail the march’s mission.

"We shouldn’t forget what the purpose and the message of this day is and has been for many years: In the 20th century we’re still fighting for women’s rights," Chavarria said.

Many others said that the allegations should not dampen the central tenet of the March — to empower women. That goal alone should override any individuals' actions.

Rebecca Davis, 31, brought her daughter MacKenzie Davis, 10, to the event and MacKenzie was quick to announce that "I already love it." She held a sign with a quote by Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter book series: "While we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one."

"I'm showing her that so many people can come together and make a difference," Davis said of her daughter.

Those who attended the march said they had many reasons to brave the cold and wet conditions, with many women pointing to the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court amid allegations of sexual misconduct as proof that more work needed to be done.

"Especially with the Kavanaugh stuff, the government shutdown, everything that’s going on right now, I think it made us really motivated to want to travel up here again,” said Katie Rash, 36, a therapist from Roanoke, Virginia.

As the second consecutive march to occur during a government shutdown, and with anticipated wintry precipitation on its way, the Women's March organization switched its starting location from the Lincoln Memorial to Freedom Plaza, organizers said.

Acting Chief of Public Affairs for National Park Service Mike Litterst told NBC News that the lapse of appropriations stemming from the government shutdown would not affect their ability to hold the event. "As is always the case, including the events during the shutdown now and in January of 2018, the Women's March will take place regardless of the lapse of appropriations, and the National Park Service and United States Park Police will ensure public safety and the protection of park resources during the event,” he said.

“The federal government shutdown has minimal effect on the daily functions of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). MPD is fully equipped to handle First Amendment assemblies of any stature in the District of Columbia,” Alaina Gertz, public affairs specialist for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, told NBC News.

5 million women form human chain in India to protest temple ban

by By Rachel Thompson, Jan. 2, 2019

An estimated 5 million women in India joined forces to form a human chain to protest gender inequality and a Hindu temple's centuries-old ban on all women of "menstruating age."

On Jan. 1, 2019, women in Kerala, southern India, joined to form a 385-mile (620km) "women's wall" to protest the persistent barring of women from the Sabarimala temple, which has historically banned women aged between 10 and 50.

After the formation of the protest, two women entered the temple for the first time following the lifting of the ban by the Supreme Court in September 2018. Per the BBC, protesters have since attacked women who've attempted to enter the temple.

According to the Guardian, the two women who entered the temple have been named by local media as Bindu and Kanaka Durga. The pair attempted to access the temple in December but were prevented by "right wing Hindu protesters determined to uphold the ban."

BBC Hindi reports that five million women from all over Kerala lined up along highways to form a chain "which stretched from the northern tip of Kasaragod to the southern end in Thiruvanthapuram." Organisers of the "women's wall" protest — set up by India's left-wing coalition government — had predicted a turnout of three million.

"This is a great way of saying how powerful women are, and how we can empower ourselves and help each other," protestor Kavita Das told BBC Hindi. "Of course, I support the move to allow women of all ages into the temple. I don't think tradition or any kind of backwardness should stop women. Those who want to pray must have the right to pray," Das continued.

India's ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), condemned the Supreme Court's ruling allowing women to enter the Sabarimala shrine on the grounds that it attacked religious values.

Per ABC, the BJP's Kerala state president PS Sreedharan Pillai said the court's verdict was "a conspiracy by the atheist rulers to destroy the Hindu temples".

A spokesperson for the Opposition Congress party, K Sudhakaran, described the two women entering the temple as "treachery" and that the left-wing state government "will have to pay the price for the violation of the custom".

Women protest in major cities against violence; two arrested in Tel Aviv

Organizers demand funding for campaign against such incidents, call on supporters to strike daily for 25 minutes – one for each woman killed in domestic violence this year

By Stuart Winer and TOI staff, 12 December 2018

Demonstrations were held in major cities around the country Wednesday in protest of violence that has claimed the lives of up to 25 women in the country since the beginning of the year.

Two women were arrested during a protest in Tel Aviv when they tried to block a road. Other rallies were held in Jerusalem and Beersheba.

The protests came a day after a woman was found stabbed to death in an apartment in the northern coastal city of Acre. Though police are still investigating the case, female activists have said they believe she is the 25th victim of fatal domestic violence in 2018.

“Following the women’s protest at Kaplan Junction in Tel Aviv, two women who refused to listen to police instructions were arrested on suspicion of disrupting public order and for attempting to burn tires,” police said in a statement. “They were taken in for questioning at the police station.”

One of the women arrived at the square with a car full of tires and the other was carrying blazing torches and refused to cooperate with police, reports said.

The protests began at 10 a.m. and continued for 25 minutes, one minute for each woman killed in domestic violence in 2018 — a number that includes the Acre woman whose body was discovered Tuesday and whose killer has not yet been determined.

The Association of Secondary School Teachers in Israel said that its members would strike for 25 minutes in support of the protests.

Overnight Tuesday, activists dyed the waters in two Tel Aviv fountains blood-red.

Organizers have called on women across the country to continue protests by striking every day at 10 a.m. for 25 minutes until the government approves a stalled NIS 250 million ($66 million) budget for a campaign targeting violence against women.

“We will not let this matter slip from the agenda, and we will not accept any more talks and committees,” organizers said in a statement. “We have a concrete demand, a budget that has been stuck for more than a year and half, and we will not stop until our demands are met. The protest continues.”

On Tuesday 29-year-old Iman Awad was found at home in Acre with her throat slit. Police arrested her husband and he was to be brought for a remand hearing later Wednesday.

Awad’s husband denies any involvement in his wife’s death and his lawyer said he has given a detailed alibi to police that can be confirmed from security camera footage.

Last week thousands of women went on strike and tens of thousands rallied across the country to protest women killed by a partner, family member, or someone known to them, and what they say is the authorities’ failure to stem a sharp increase in violence against women.

The protests came after the bodies of two teenage girls, slain in separate incidents, were found on November 26.

There have been several protests targeting government inaction since the murders, with activists also coloring the waters in several public fountains blood-red, including a fountain outside the Prime Minister’s Residence.

For a Yazidi refugee in Canada, the trauma of ISIS triggers rare, terrifying seizures

Years after escaping her Islamic State captors, Jihan Khudher isn’t just haunted by her experiences of rape and violence – they’re making her black out. Now safe in Canada, she’s finding that refuge alone might not be enough

by Christina Frangou, The Globe and Mail, December 1, 2018

The names of Jihan Khudher’s missing family members and fiancé are tattooed across her upper body. When she was a prisoner of the Islamic State in Iraq, she hoped the markings – considered forbidden by some in Islam – would serve as a shield from her captors’ abuse. Now, she is a refugee in Canada, and the tattoos remind her of a family that was torn apart by the militant group’s onslaught in the Middle East.

Photography by Kiana Hayeri/The Globe and Mail

Jihan Khudher doesn’t remember the first time it happened. She remembers the minutes before. She’d just been raped by the man who held her captive. Then he left the room, locking the door behind him. The next thing she remembers took place some unknown time later. She awoke in a medical clinic. Everyone around her spoke Arabic, not her native language. Her rapist stood beside her. He would not explain to her what happened – telling her only that she had been brought there because she was tired. He took her from the clinic and back to the building where she had been imprisoned.

That was three years ago. Since then, these episodes she can’t remember keep happening.

When they come, she loses consciousness and falls. Her body writhes, her back arches, her head twists violently from side to side. She sometimes bites her hair and crosses her arms in front of her face – leading her doctors to believe she may be reliving a rape. The episodes are physically draining; humiliating to experience; terrifying to watch. To the untrained observer, they look like a grand mal seizure. But unlike epileptic seizures, there is no atypical brain activity driving these spells, thus no medication or surgery that can prevent them or decrease their frequency.

Known as pseudoseizures, Jihan’s episodes are similar to epileptic seizures in symptoms but entirely different in source. They are triggered by extreme psychological stress. In that way, they offer some mercy: For a minute, two, 10, 30, however many minutes or hours they last, she is aware of nothing. She is completely dissociated from the world, temporarily reprieved from her present and past.

Psychiatrist Rita Watterson, right, pays a home visit to check on Jihan.

Jihan, who is 29 and lives in Calgary, arrived in Canada as a refugee in the summer of 2017, as part of the federal government’s Victims of Daesh resettlement program. She and her family were driven from their home in northern Iraq during a brutal campaign of murder, kidnap and rape by ISIS that began in 2014 and targeted Yazidis, a predominantly Kurdish religious minority. Distinct by their faith rather than ethnicity or language, the Yazidis have been subject to as many as 74 attempted genocides over 800 years. About 1,200 Yazidis have come to Canada since the ISIS assault began, living mainly in Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and London, Ont. But as Canada tries to create a safe space for survivors, cases like Jihan’s raise questions about how prepared our health-care system is to treat them.

Since arriving from Iraq after 18 months in captivity and another 11 months in a refugee camp, Jihan has been seen regularly by doctors in Calgary who have likened her condition to an extreme form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Her formal diagnosis is conversion disorder with pseudoseizures, or psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES). It’s considered rare, but the disturbingly high incidence among Yazidi refugees has caused concern among Canadian medical and resettlement staff. PNES usually occurs in about 2 to 33 per 100,000 people a year. But in Calgary, for example, 6 out of 300 Yazidis have been diagnosed with the disorder.

And the condition is proving perplexingly difficult to treat. Recommended approaches such as psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) haven’t been effective with Jihan or many other patients. Antidepressants, sleep aids and anti-anxiety medications haven’t decreased the frequency of her seizures. Staff at other medical and resettlement centres have begun experimenting with non-traditional therapies for patients like Jihan, but so far, with limited success. Some have even ended up seeking counselling themselves to cope with vicarious trauma, brought on by the horrifying stories they hear in the process of caring for Yazidi refugees.

In the evening, Jihan and her sister Munifa practise the English alphabet.

Jihan’s care team is now wondering what else they can do to help, and have identified what they believe is a critical component to her future success: The reunification of her broken family. Jihan, who grew up in a seven-member family, arrived in Canada with only one sister. A federal government policy that only allows for spouses and dependents to join successful refugee claimants in Canada means that her second sister must apply separately and hope to be chosen. But without access to more of her family, Jihan may never thrive, say members of her care team who argue that many other Yazidi refugees face the same plight – and should be given special treatment by Canadian immigration officials.

Annalee Coakley, medical director for Calgary’s Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic, describes the Yazidis as “very different from other refugee communities.” Describing her first meeting with a Yazidi family, she says, “I’ve never seen families in acute distress like that. They were having trouble breathing, they were crying, they reported all these horrors. The children were very, very fearful – you couldn’t get close to them to do a physical exam.”

The treatment they need extends beyond medical and therapeutic intervention, says Dr. Coakley, who is asking the federal government to allow more of Jihan’s family to enter Canada. Meanwhile, Jihan’s pseudoseizures are getting worse. She suffers them at school, on the train, on the bus. She’s embarrassed by these attacks, which can last for hours, and fears leaving her house, worried an episode might happen in public. In recent months, she has rarely made it through a week without experiencing one.

Jihan believes she’s safe in Canada, living in a secure clean house in southwest Calgary with year-round Christmas decorations and three Canadian flags on the walls. In the living room, on side tables on either end of a couch, two large frames hold a collage of photos depicting more than a dozen family members, all of whom are missing. Jihan hopes someday some of them will make it to Canada. The staff who support her in Calgary hope this will happen too – indeed, some believe that reuniting her broken family might be the best way they can help her and other Yazidi refugees.

Jihan puts on some lotion in front of the mirror before she leaves the house for school. On the way out the door, she impatiently tries one more time to connect with her youngest sister, Hudda, who is now stuck in a camp in Iraq. 'When I'm eating breakfast, Hudda is eating dinner. When I go to sleep, Hudda is waking up to the sunrise,' she says, dialing her sister's WhatsApp number.

Jihan sits through her English class, where all of her classmates are fellow Yazidis who have arrived in Canada as refugees. The sisters socialize with the other students between classes.


It’s late afternoon on a smokey-sky summer day in Calgary when Jihan comes home from English school and pushes open the screen door of the duplex she shares with her sister, Munifa, 26. She plunks down her backpack, plugs her phone into a charger, and greets Munifa and the translator, Kheriya Khidir, with a nod.

On her wrist, she wears a silver medic alert bracelet with the words “conversion disorder with pseudoseizures,” and her Alberta Health Services patient-identification number, which paramedics can use to quickly access information about her case. Some details: This is not an epileptic seizure. Do not restrain. Do not hold her down. These actions can mimic the physical brutality of an assaulter. Make sure she is safe. Put a pillow under her head. Do not admit to hospital unless her seizure lasts longer than 30 minutes or is causing her physical harm.

She tells her story in Kurmanji, a Kurdish language spoken by most Yazidi people. It’s a sad and graphic account, one not unusual among Yazidi refugees. Jihan grew up in the northern Iraqi village of Kojo, where she lived with her parents, two brothers and two younger sisters. Munifa describes it as a poor and difficult life; their father died in a car accident and their mother developed a mental illness.

On Aug. 15, 2014, ISIS arrived in Kojo. The fighters split unmarried women and girls from their families, making it the last time the three daughters saw their mother and brothers, and the last time Jihan saw her fiancé, a local man named Thsen.

Today, the sisters recount what happened without hesitation. Jihan talks so animatedly that it’s clear from her gesticulations, before the translator explains, that their captors ripped the earrings from girls’ ears. Everyone in the room knows that telling this story can trigger a pseudoseizure in Jihan, but she insists on telling it in detail.

“We want the world to know what happened,” Jihan says, pausing only for the interpreter to summarize her words before starting again.

Like many Yazidis from northern Iraq, the sisters only speak Kurmanji. Ms. Khidir, one of only two Kurmanji speakers who resided in Calgary prior to 2017, translated their answers, and the medical details of their stories were confirmed through their physicians with the sisters’ permission.

A photo of Jihan and Munifa's older brother Jihad and his wife, Waheda, remains pasted on one of the many Canadian flags in their living room.

ISIS transported them to a building in Syria, where men arrived daily to select women and girls from what essentially became a market for human beings. After several days, the three sisters – Jihan, Munifa and Hudda, the youngest – were carried to the basement of a house. When three men came for Munifa the next day, the girls screamed and tried to hang onto each other as the men pulled her away. She was held captive in another house, where she was raped and forced to study the Koran and follow Muslim prayers, she says.

Another man came for Jihan soon after, and, in 2015, Hudda was reunited with Munifa for several months before she, too, was sold. Neither Jihan, nor Munifa has seen Hudda in person since. She was 16.
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Munifa keeps these photos of younger sister Hudda in her wallet.

Over the next year and a half, Jihan was bought and sold to men who sexually and physically assaulted her, breaking her leg and beating her until she bled. For weeks, she was imprisoned in a room where her captor would arrive with bloodied clothes for her to wash, then sexually assault her. Sometimes, he forced her to watch the rapes of girls, not yet teenagers.

She believes her first pseudoseizure occurred about three months into captivity, but she is not certain of the timing. She doesn’t know what happened during her pseudoseizures while she was enslaved.

She does know this: she feigned conversion to Islam, was granted some freedoms in trade, then escaped. She ended up in a refugee camp in Kurdistan, where she was joined by Munifa two months later, when she too broke free of her captors.

The translator intentionally avoids interpreting questions for Jihan about Hudda’s whereabouts. “I do not want her to fall down,” she says. “I know when she is going to fall down. I can see now that she will fall.”


PNES is an ancient medical conundrum, dating as far back as 400 BC when Hippocrates differentiated between epileptic seizures and what were later known as hysterical seizures. For centuries, these episodes fell under the catch-all descriptor of hysteria, considered a madness specific to women, a sign of a “wandering uterus” according to the ancient Greeks. Attempts to treat the condition – whose symptoms included crying, screaming, extreme fatigue and, in its most dramatic form, non-epileptic seizures – tended to be gendered, bizarre and cruel. Hundreds of innocent people were burnt at the stake for fears of witchcraft and diabolic possession, and, later, a Dutch physician seared sufferers with a hot iron to distinguish between hysteria and epilepsy. In the late 1800s, French doctor Jean-Martin Charcot began studying hysterical patients closely and argued vehemently against the popular prejudice that hysteria was rarely found in men.

Much of what we know about modern conversion disorders comes from the First World War when shell-shocked men suffered symptoms ranging from deafness to shaking, hallucinations to flashbacks. They were often taken out of combat and admitted to psychiatric hospitals – creating large studies of people with conversion reactions. Physicians learned that these symptoms weren’t isolated to those who’d experienced the concussive effects of an explosion. They often appeared in soldiers who’d witnessed terrifying scenes, and that symptoms became chronic even months after the trauma. One critical discovery: sufferers often re-enacted part of their trauma during a conversion reaction, and these responses, including pseudoseizures, were more likely to occur in people with lower social class and less education owing, perhaps, to a poorer understanding of mental health and its effect on the rest of the body. Perhaps most importantly, soldiers with shell-shock showed the world that conversion disorder episodes represent genuine physical responses to overwhelming psychological anguish.

Most Yazidi refugees brought to Canada were women. Like many Yazidis from northern Iraq, Jihan and Munifa speak only Kurmanji, a Kurdish language.

Conversion disorder tends to express differently across cultures. There are no studies of the condition in Yazidis, but research done in Turkey, not far from Sinjar province where Jihan is from, found that it also commonly presents as loss of consciousness. In other parts of the world, however, pseudoseizures can be a rarer symptom. Pakistani and Indian sufferers report sensations of heat inside their bodies, whereas Dutch people experience motor disturbances such as paralysis and coordination disorders.

In Canada, PNES has been documented among Yazidi refugees in Calgary and several other cities. These refugees have been exposed to nearly all risks for this condition. Conversion disorders occur more commonly among women, and most Yazidi refugees in Canada are women. And they lack education: Nearly two-thirds of female Yazidi refugees in Calgary have completed no formal schooling.

And conversion disorders are strongly tied to other chronic mental-health issues, which this population has in abundance: At least 40 per cent of Yazidi refugees who came from northern Iraq suffer mental-health conditions, and at least one in every four Yazidi women treated at Calgary’s Mosaic clinic suffers extreme PTSD, a condition with similar symptoms to conversion disorder, but is a frequent trigger for the disorder.

A study in Germany of nearly 300 Yazidi survivors of rape shows how deep the mental-health crisis goes in this population: Half suffer depression, 39 per cent anxiety and 28 per cent dissociation. Two-thirds of women experience somatic symptom disorder, a psychological state in which a person experiences physical symptoms that can not be explained by an underlying medical condition.

The severity of the mental illnesses suffered by Yazidi women mirrors the severity of the horrors these women endured in captivity. In a graphic finding, researchers discovered that PTSD increases incrementally with the frequency of rape: In women who endured rape less than 10 times, PTSD occurred in 39 per cent, less than 20 times was 41 per cent, and when it was more than 20 times, it reached 57 per cent. That a scale for “frequency of rape” exists should give the most impartial reader of statistics pause.

Over the past year, many Yazidi refugees in Canada have made progress, says Dr. Coakley. They’ve learned how to stabilize themselves in moments of high stress. They don’t hyperventilate and they stay calm. But many have also relapsed, often when they learn that a relative who was once in captivity is now up for sale, or has escaped, causing a new desperation to be reunited.

In Winnipeg, Nafiya Naso, a Yazidi woman who came to Canada nearly two decades ago and helps resettle refugees, has seen a similar pattern. In October, she watched a Yazidi woman have a pseudoseizure midway through describing how she’d contacted a smuggler to help free her grandchildren.

Jihan’s psychiatrist, Rita Watterson, describes pseudoseizures as a signal that something potentially life-threatening is happening to a person mentally. They are rudimentary indicators of massive stress, a more extreme version of the ways we see people respond to pressure all the time – things such as headaches, nail biting and foot tapping.

Scientists believe this happens because the amygdala, or emotional processing part of the brain, becomes overactivated, and that, in turn, affects a nearby area that helps us execute physical tasks we normally perform without too much thought.

Aaron Mackie, a neuropsychiatrist in Calgary and expert in conversion disorder, explains the process like this: When a person with a minor fear of heights travels to the top of the Calgary Tower and tries to step out onto the glass floor of the 190-metre high observation deck, they immediately struggle to put one foot in front of the other. “The fear area of your brain has fired up and it’s actually jamming the signal for how you take normal steps. That’s the phenomenon happening to individuals when their emotional processing area is so hot that it’s running interference in other circuits and preventing them from working the way they normally would work.”


During captivity, Jihan tattooed her upper body, hoping the markings, considered a sin by some in Islam, would make her undesirable to members of ISIS. Using a needle and ink made from a blend of ash and breast milk given to her by another prisoner, she poked several names into her chest and arms: Hudda, her mother, her brothers, her sister-in-law. Her fiancé’s name is spelled out above her heart, with Jihan’s beside it on the right. Her body has become permanent catalogue of all the people she cannot locate.

But for one: Hudda. After Jihan and Munifa arrived in Canada, they learned that Hudda, now 20, was still alive. She now lives in the Qadia Camp for internally displaced persons in Iraq.

Hudda speaks with her sisters by phone almost daily, sometimes crying and begging to join them in what seems to her like a life of luxury. These conversations leave Jihan rattled, and she’s had pseudoseizures after the calls.

Jihan and Munifa, shown above in their living room, spend countless hours on their phones. Munifa's phone, left, has two photos of her mother and a Calgary transit pass behind its plastic cover. Jihan's phone is on the right.

Then, this summer, Hudda’s application to join her sisters in Canada through a family reunification program was denied because she is an adult, therefore not a dependent of her sisters. She now waits to be chosen by the Canadian government from a list of tens of thousands of refugee applicants. In Jihan, the news set off a series of pseudoseizures more frequent and more severe than anything her physicians had witnessed during her first year in Canada, causing her to be hospitalized for several weeks.

She’s since been discharged, but her doctors remain worried. Her biggest stressor, according to Dr. Watterson, is the separation of her family. The psychiatrist points out that Jihan’s inability to focus on anything other than reuniting them is a barrier to treatment.

“She won’t break from this defence of ‘it’s my burden to carry my family, I will never stop worrying about them.’ ”

Now, Jihan’s medical team is asking the federal government to bring Hudda to Canada, arguing that family reunification is the crucial missing component to reducing her spells. Dr. Coakley has made similar requests for relatives of other Yazidi refugees in Calgary. “My belief is that if the community here is shored up, if they have more of their own here, specifically their family, that would help. If we reduce their external stressors, and their biggest stressor is this family separation, I think they would do better.”

Relatives in the refugee camps describe crowded environments, with restricted access to water, health care and education, and little safety. One woman in Calgary keeps a photo on her phone depicting the burned, blackened body of her father-in-law who died when a fire spread to his tent. Yazidi refugees in Calgary, London and Winnipeg have written to the Canadian government describing these grim conditions and appealing for family members still in camps to be brought here.

Among Dr. Coakley’s patients are several mothers who came to Canada with only some of their kids – the others were missing or captive – only to learn that their imprisoned children have been released and are living in Iraqi camps. Those under 18 will be able to join their mothers through the reunification program, but adult children are not eligible. Other women have fiancés or sisters who are still there.

Allison Henderson, a family physician at the Intercommunity Health in London, Ont. who works with Yazidi refugees, also believes their mental health will not improve without family reunification.

“There's only so far we're going to get in terms of medications and even therapy when you're looking at a people group that is systematically traumatized and for whom there is still so much ongoing trauma for the relatives who are missing or known to be in captivity."

Dr. Watterson explains that the Victims of Daesh program initially brought the most vulnerable Yazidis to Canada, who were often single women and many of whom have children. “But we didn’t look at how these women run their lives and what the major social determinants of health are for these women,” she says. “For us in Canada, in our individualistic society, maybe it would be okay to separate families because we have skills and education and we would be able to survive. Women who don’t have these things, who only have their family, it’s a detriment to separate them.”

Researchers in other Canadian cities, as well as around the world, are coming to the conclusion that family separation is severely affecting the Yazidis’ mental health. Their culture is collectivist; they come from large extended families, they bond through strong oral traditions, and many of the songs and stories used in their unique religion recount trauma they have experienced over generations. Psychologists who work with Yazidis report that their collective experience of terror and abuse has historically strengthened their resilience and helped them come to terms with individual trauma.

Nikki Marczak, a genocide scholar and advocate who works with Yazidi refugees in Australia, says that while the population has suffered severe transgenerational trauma, its members passed on that resilience through generations. “In some of my research in how Yazidi women survived and defied their perpetrators, a lot of the tactics that they used might be things that they learned from their own great-great grandmothers, things like protecting young girls by hiding or shaving their hair or covering their faces with ashes.”

In October, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan tabled a petition in the House of Commons, calling on the Liberal government to provide more psychological support for Yazidi refugees and to allow their extended family members to join them in Canada. Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, responded to the petition by saying the government is trying to facilitate family reunification as soon as possible.

Not everyone will agree that allowing more members of Yazidi refugees' families into Canada is fair. Government policy focuses on helping those who are most vulnerable, and family members living in camps in Iraq may not fit this category. But Dr. Coakley argues that the petition is a step in the right direction. “I do not feel like government is doing enough to address family reunification.” She says the government’s response – that it does not extend family reunification beyond spouses and dependants for other refugees – doesn’t make sense for Yazidi refugees and their understanding of family.

Some therapists working with Yazidi refugees advocate engaging with families in ways that conflict with traditional Western concepts of therapy, with a distant professional relationship between therapist and patient. Some approaches Ms. Marczak suggests: sitting down and sharing a meal before attempting any therapy, developing programs such as sewing groups, or creating cultural events that normalize the idea of therapy.

Ms. Marczak and several physicians point out that Yazidis rarely respond to personal queries about themselves with personal answers. If a patient is asked how she is, she’s likely to tell you how everybody in her circle is. If you ask about her personal experience before coming to Canada, she’ll often tell you about the experience of her village, what happened to everyone she knew.

Asked what she wants for her life – where she wants to live, what she wants do – Jihan speaks of her family. “If we are all together here, that is all,” she says. “Even if someone told me to go out and clean the roads, I would do it, happy, if I was together with my sisters.”

Yazidi activist, Congolese doctor win Nobel Peace Prize for combating sexual violence

CBC, Thomson Reuters · Posted: Oct 05, 2018

Norwegian Nobel committee received nominations for 216 individuals, 115 organizations Dr. Denis Mukwege of Congo and Nadia Murad, a Yazidi activist from Iraq, addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, separately, in 2014 and 2016, respectively.

On Friday, they were named as co-winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Christian Lutz/Associated Press) Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist treating victims of sexual violence in Congo, and Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist and survivor of sexual slavery by the ISIS, won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

The Norwegian Nobel committee said it had awarded them the prize for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. "Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and fighting, such war crimes," it said in its citation.

Mukwege, 63, heads the Panzi Hospital in the eastern city of Bukavu. Opened in 1999, the clinic receives thousands of women each year, many of them requiring surgery from sexual violence. Armed men tried to kill him in 2012, forcing him to temporarily leave the country.

"The importance of Dr. Mukwege's enduring, dedicated and selfless efforts in this field cannot be overstated. He has repeatedly condemned impunity for mass rape and criticized the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop the use of sexual violence against women as a strategy and weapon of war," the committee said in its citation.

Eastern Congo has seen more than two decades of conflict among armed groups that either sought to unseat presidents or simply grab control of a piece of the country's vast mineral wealth. Reached by phone on Friday, Mukwege said he was in surgery when he learned he had been named a Nobel laureate. "I can see in the faces of many women how they are happy to be recognized. This is really so touching."

Harrowing ordeal

Murad is an advocate for the Yazidi minority in Iraq and for refugee and women's rights in general. She is one of an estimated 3,000 Yazidi girls and women who were victims of rape and other abuses by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

"Each of them in their own way has helped to give greater visibility to wartime sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions," the committee said.

Murad was 21 years old in 2014 when ISIS militants attacked the village where she had grown up in northern Iraq. They killed those who refused to convert to Islam, including six of her brothers and her mother.

Murad, along with many of the other young women in her village, was taken into captivity by the militants and sold repeatedly for sex as part of ISIS's slave trade. She eventually escaped captivity with the help of a Sunni Muslim family in Mosul, the group's de facto capital in Iraq, and became an advocate for the rights of her community around the world.

At 23, she was named the UN's first goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking.

"It is unacceptable for a woman to be rescued from captivity from ISIS to come and not have a place to live, to be put in refugee camps," Murad told CBC's Nahlah Ayed in a 2016 interview.

"It is unacceptable for education, for people not to have education. We are a peaceful community that existed in Iraq for thousands of years and we deserve a better life."

Murad visited Canada in July 2016 and lobbied Ottawa to allow in more Yazidi refugees. In October 2016, MPs unanimously supported a motion to bring an unspecified number of Yazidi women and girls to Canada within 120 days.

In February 2017, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen announced the target would be 1,200 by the end of 2017.

Today, there are roughly 1,310 government-supported Yazidi refugees and 94 privately sponsored Yazidis in the country, the immigration minister's office told CBC News.

Watch as Murad speaks on Parliament Hill in July 2016: Yazidi activist makes plea to Parliamentary committee 02:27

Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a Yazidi, and Human Rights Activist, makes an impassioned presentation to the Federal Immigration Committee asking for Canada to start bringing in more Yazidi refugees. 2:27

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel, who sponsored the 2016 motion, said Friday she "can't think of anyone on the planet more deserving" of the award than Murad.

"This is a victory for her, this is a victory for her people, and it underscores the need for international action to prevent women's bodies being used as tools of war," Rempel said.

Hussam Abdullah, head of the Yazidi Organization for Documentation, using an Arabic word to refer to ISIS, said "this win represents the international recognition of the genocide that was committed by Daesh."

Asked whether the #MeToo movement against sexual violence was an inspiration for this year's prize, Nobel committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said:

"MeToo and war crimes are not quite the same. But they have in common that they see the suffering of women, the abuse of women, and that it is important that women leave the concept of shame behind and speak up."

The prize is worth 9 million Swedish kronor ($1.29 million Cdn). It will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.

Last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner was the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

(Photo by Reuters, "ISIS kill us because of our religion")

Dear Visitors,

Hello everyone, I am the moderator of ROSE. Recently, a group of women and I formed the Women Refugees Advocacy Project. We are united by a common concern for fair and equal treatment for women and girls around the world, and we have been urging the Canadian government to bring Yazidi survivors of enslavement and rape to Canada, and to provide them with safe housing and a program of trauma recovery.

Please sign our petition urging the Canadian government keep its promise to provide comprehensive trauma care for the Yazidi women and girl refugees to Canada.

Will you join us to insist the Canadian government keep its promise?

As part of a genocidal campaign against the Yazidi religious minority in Northern Iraq, ISIS fighters captured an estimated 6,800 Yazidi women and young girls to systematically enslave, serial and gang rape and, in many cases, murder. 

In response to these atrocities, our Minister of Immigration and Refugees, Ahmed Hussen, promised to bring Yazidi survivors to Canada and provide them with trauma recovery care. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that the Yazidi would receive “the support they need” in Canada. 

But recent investigative reports, including one in The New York Times, tell a different story. Testimony from refugees and community and health service workers in Canadian cities, describes how the Yazidi women are suffering severe post-traumatic stress symptoms, including daily re-living of rape trauma, without any therapeutic program of support. 

It doesn’t have to be like this. A parliamentary committee met with world-renowned psychologist, Dr. Jan Kizilhan, to learn about a specialized trauma recovery program he created for 1,100 Yazidi women and children refugees in Germany that is proving to be effective. 

Will you share this petition so brutality does not triumph and its victims are not abandoned?
Thank you for your consideration. We hope you will stand with us on this important issue. And, if you are part of a group, please consider asking your organization to become a co-petitioner.

Christine McDowell

for the Women Refugees Advocacy Project


“UN human rights panel concludes ISIL is committing genocide against Yazidis,” June 16, 2016 
Backgrounder, Helping vulnerable Yazidi women and children and other survivors of Daesh    
From: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 2017-02-21

“Canada will take in 1,200 primarily Yazidi refugees,” Terry Pedwell,, Feb 21, 2017: “As many [Yazidi] have experienced unimaginable trauma, both physical and emotional, many will have unique psychological and social needs such as trauma counselling,” Minister of Immigration and Refugees, Hussen said. 

“We’re taking steps to make sure Yazidi & other survivors of Daesh have the support they need when they get here.” #WelcomeToCanada   Justin Trudeau [Twitter]   4:11 PM - 21 Feb 2017 

Canada Struggles as It Opens Its Arms to Victims of ISIS, by Catherine Porter, March 16, 2018, The New York Times

‘Please Take Us Back to Iraq’: A Yazidi Family’s Traumatic First Days In Canada, by Naomi Buck   Dec 8, 2017, Chatelaine

“A Yazidi family’s traumatic first days in Canada: A refugee family from Iraq says they couldn’t have coped with the shock of their new lives without the support of a dedicated group of volunteers—raising questions about Canada’s ability to help”, by Naomi Buck, Dec 16, 2017, 

Presentation by Dr. Jan Kizilhan, Head, Department of Mental Health and Addiction, Cooperative State University and Dean of the Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychotraumatology, University of Dohuk, as an individual, to the Citizenship and Immigration Committee [parliament of Canada],  November 17, 2016  

Treating Yazidi rape survivors: A psychologist has brought more than 1,000 victims of Islamic State sexual violence to Europe to get medical and psychological treatment, by Rebecca A. Clay, September 2016, Vol 47, No. 8


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