RISING FOR YAZIDI WOMEN AND GIRLS
The Yazidi Discussion Circle
February 24, 2017
VIVO Media Arts Centre
The discussion circle opened with a First Nations territorial acknowledgement given by Lianne Payne, a member of ROSE. Lianne gave thanks as the event was held in Coast Salish Territories, on the traditional, ancestral, unceded lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.
MC Rona Amiri introduced herself as the Violence Prevention Coordinator at Battered Women’s Support Services.
Rona drew attention to the Child Care provided and the location of the Quiet Room if someone was in need of a place to ground themselves for a while. Organizers of the discussion were thanked, including ROSE members Lianne, Mo, Krista, Kim, Karen, Lindsay, Elinor, Peg, Kim and Leslie.
Rona lit a candle for Yazidi women and children and introduced the discussion circle.
“It’s important for us to learn today what has happened and is happening to the Yazidi people in order to make useful suggestions.”
ROSE, Remember Our Sisters Everywhere
Chris McDowell described the emotional journey of moderating the ROSE website, and reading of the horrific violence against the Yazidi people, the genocide and sexual enslavement of women and children by Daesh/ISIS Islamic fanatics. After becoming depressed and unable to respond, Chris received a call to action in 2016 from One Billion Rising, a group of international activists. Chris met with Senator Mobina Jaffer and together they found a way to act in support of at least some of the women and girls who are suffering such horrors.
MP Jenny Kwan is the New Democrat Party Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. Kwan sent a video statement she recorded for the discussion circle. In the video she noted that refugee target numbers already established for Syrians are being used by the federal government to include the Yazidis it recently pledged to bring to Canada. Instead, Kwan recommends the vulnerable Yazidis be counted under a separate program, saying that Canada is a rich country that can welcome more refugees and provide the necessary funds to support them.
Watch Jenny Kwan's February 23, 2017 video statement:
Senator Mobina Jaffer was present, and she spoke to us about the history of the Yazidi genocide and the enslavement of women and girls that started in August 3, 2014, when the Yazidi were victims of a surprise attack by Daesh/ISIS. Many thousands were massacred and many thousands more enslaved. Forty thousand fled up Mount Sinjar Mountain without adequate food or water, desperate to escape the massacre. Jaffer described her haunting memory of a photo that went around the world of a Yazidi woman elder escaping by using a walker to climb the mountain terrain. She asked, was it really a surprise attack? Given the drones in the area owned and operated by various armies, how could the armies that had been protecting the Yazidi not know?
Watch Jaffer's speech on the Yazidi genocide from August 3, 2016:
BREAK for *Welcome* Cake in honour of Yazidis arriving in Canada.
MC Rona Amiri introduced the subjects for the discussion tables. Themes included Trauma Care/Housing, Education, Health Care, Arts and Culture, and Language. Questions that had been prepared in advance helped guide the discussions as participants broke into groups and worked together with a heartfelt seriousness and enthusiasm.
Participants later came back together as a whole group to share their ideas and recommendations. The results were inspiring and their suggestions are captured below.
Themes/suggestions below were transcribed by participants at each table, thank you!
(Discussion photographs by Moira Simpson)
Yazidi discussion circle theme
Trauma Care/ Housing
1. Can the German model be replicated in Canada?
Dr. Jan Kizilhan, a psychologist and expert in transcultural psychiatry and traumatology, interviewed Yazidi women and girls in refugee camps and advised the Germans, and has worked as a therapist with some of the women in Germany.
In the German model, it’s understood the Yazidi are suffering from three kinds of trauma
1) personal (rape, enslavement, etc.)
2) historical (persecution of Yazidis over time)
3) current collective (present-day genocide)
2. What do we want from the government?
Yazidi discussion circle theme
Introduction: These notes summarize the discussion that took place at a circle organized by Remembering Our Sisters Everywhere on behalf of Yazidi women and children refugees.
References for cultural safety:
Anderson, J., Perry, J., Blue, C., Browne, C., Henderson, A., Khan, K., et al. (2003).“Rewriting” cultural safety within the postcolonial and postnational feminist project: Toward new epistemologies of healing. Advances in Nursing Science, 26 (3), 196–214.
Dion Stout, M., & Downey, B. (2006). Nursing, Indigenous peoples and cultural safety: So what? Now what? Contemporary Nurse, 22, 327–332.
Yazidi discussion circle theme
Culture, Arts, Media and Sports
Set up community gardening and growing opportunities (potentially through university horticulture programs).
Organize outings to zoos and farms or to connect with agriculture and animals - this community is largely a growing/farming one.
Outings to visit different local ethnic communities - to see how they live and are able to keep their culture while integrating into Canadian life. These can include Indigenous communities the local Chinese community, etc. They may find common ground in their beliefs and views of nature via First Nations groups.
Provide opportunities for this community to visit local natural sites such as beaches, mountains and waterfalls. Culturally nature is important to them (as it is via their faith), so weekly family picnics and the ability to visit the mountains similar to ones left behind would be enjoyable. Their new year is celebrated at the turn of spring, and April is holy month.
Create a site that provides visitors with concrete, tangible steps to help this community and organized by the amount of time they have as a resource (if you only have a day, a week, a month, long-term etc. - longer term volunteers are better suited to have contact with the refugees as a stable buddy, while those with less time can help with admin work, advocacy, etc.)
Organize help to navigate the health system/appointments. (see above)
Provide a space for artistic exploration - maybe even an exhibit of their art as a therapeutic exercise? Set up a social enterprise type of system where their art/crafts are sold and the funds are returned to them as a commerce and confidence building initiative. In addition, take members of this community to artistic spaces like music shows and galleries. Healing through art and expression is possible without any language barriers.
Provide a space and access to sewing supplies - many women form this community may feel at home sewing or creating art this way.
Reach out to local Kurdish community/Persians for social events, resources and help.
Set up a letter writing/advocacy network - need support in this to access more help for this community.
Create and offer media and digital technology workshops - for this interested/younger member of this community to learn how to properly use them and more importantly, the dangers of social media/bullying and the internet.
Supports needed and key points:
- Mosaic - access government programs to provide transportation for nominal fee?
- Recognize the desire to not be recognized, identified publicly or potentially photographed. This is due to a variety of reasons including the need to protect those with family as well as the need to protect other relatives and friends still in captivity or immediate danger. Photographing them at the airport the way Syrian refugees were welcomed would be further trauma and danger to this persecuted community. As survivors of trauma, the refugees' desire for privacy and confidentiality would also be understandable. Refugees have the same right to privacy and confidentiality about their health as any resident of Canada has.
- Also recognize the need to not always be identified as a victim and provide a rest from re-telling stories connected to their trauma identity.
- After being targeted by Islamic extremists for their religion, members of this community will be highly suspicious of even subtle attempts at being converted (or perceptions of such) and must feel their own faith is respected.
- Volunteers should always have a clear sense of the time asked of them and what is involved.
- Recognize that members of this community are afraid and may be highly traumatized.
Yazidi discussion circle theme
Recommended Existing Refugee Resources:
Yazidi discussion circle theme
The Mozuud Freedom Foundation is an organization in Toronto that started in 2015 to help unite people around the world to speak with one powerful voice on important issues, local, regional, national or international. They have a specific campaign right now for Yazidi people.
Yazidi discussion circle theme
Comprehensive English Language Acquisition
Outline of Discussion Points
Are programs relevant? Need to be practical.
‘Grassroots’ programs through schools, Immigrant Services (SUCCESS, etc.)
Language for Trades credentialing (some courses may require a language certificate for registration)
$ for ESL from federal government. Where does it go?
At least two of the participants at our table were quite familiar with a range of specific ESL programmes available and offered in Vancouver and were able to speak about these - including the strengths and weaknesses of existing programmes. Others mentioned on-line resources and dictionaries that might be helpful for these young women trying to learn English. It seems that resources are abundant, but the question, for us, was how well existing resources would actually serve the particular needs of these young Yazidi women.
There followed a more general discussion of how language programs that are currently available might be re-structured in a way that might make them more easily accessible for these young women. There was discussion about the need to think about how programs might be modified and tailored to fit the needs of young, traumatized women - many of whom will be arriving as single parents with young children in a country where almost everything is unfamiliar.
Location was an issue: there were suggestions that Neighbourhood Houses, some of which have day care programs, might be more appropriate locations for language classes than conventional classrooms. Others suggested that partnerships with churches, for example, or with schools or libraries might be less intimidating than classrooms. The need for child care in association with language programs was of concern. There were suggestions that mentors might be involved as a bridge between the trained language instructors and the everyday experiences these young women will face in their daily lives.
The concept of what Yazidi women could teach and instructors could learn in these sessions - creating some balance - was discussed. There were suggestions that certain themes might be useful focal points for language training where the young women might be able to teach the language instructors: for example, in a setting that involves cooking and food - where Yazidi women might be able to demonstrate and teach about the kinds of food they might have prepared in the homes where they grew up.
My sense was that our group agreed that the (technical) resources exist, and skilled instructors are available, but that the greater challenge is to create spaces that might feel safe and where the women might have their children close by.
Trauma Care/Housing, Education, Health Care, Arts and Culture, General Support, and Language
To draw on people's knowledge and expertise participants were asked:
"If you are comfortable, can people here who have any experience with these themes or areas please raise your hands and introduce yourself? We invite you to help support the discussion at your table."
Several participants stood up and gave their names and related background.
The MC then organized everyone into smaller groups, but first explaining the workflow below.
DISCUSSION GROUP ROLES
Tables were assigned a theme with questions, flip chart paper and marking pens. "Questions can be altered or added to." Participants selected a theme and moved to that theme's table. Each team chose a facilitator, note-taker, and a presenter.
The MC guided the process:
On the paper provided capture everyone’s ideas.
Those who are comfortable, please volunteer to facilitate a discussion.
As the note-taker, be sure to reflect everyone’s ideas. (This is crucial.)
Groups of 4 to 6 people are recommended.
Each group is welcome to comment outside their theme.
SMALL DISCUSSION GROUPS
On the flip chart paper, each small group developed a list of suggestions. At the halfway point, the MC announced "If you haven’t already started the second question, please consider doing so now."
Everyone came back together in the larger group to share their ideas/work:
The flip-chart paper with suggestions was taped to the whiteboard.
The speaker(s) for each group presented their ideas to the whole gathering to learn from and respond to.
Everyone's suggestions were reviewed.
There was lively discussion, questions were asked, and further recommendations made.
ROSE announced that a follow-up Press Conference would be held on International Women's Day at 10am, March 8, 2017 at the Women's Monument in Thornton Park, Vancouver. Everyone welcome. We will gather with media representatives to discuss our recommendations.
ROSE will create a new online Forum, “Discussion Circle for Yazidi Women and Girls”, reflecting the suggestions of the discussion circle. The plan is for this to be done by March 8th. Please email email@example.com if you wish to offer further suggestions.
A meditation was read aloud by participants: “For those living and dead who have suffered from violence”.
One minute of silence.
On behalf of Remember Our Sisters Everywhere thank you to participants.
MC invited everyone to turn and acknowledge their neighbours.
The candle lit at the beginning of the event was now extinguished.
Yazidi Discussion Circle
ROSE, Remember Our Sisters Everywhere
This speech was given February 24, 2017
Hello Everyone and welcome!
Back in the 1990s, while working on the Women's Monument Project, we learned of many touching women's memorials coming into being, projects similar to ours'. Sometime after we unveiled Marker of Change, the Women's Monument, in 1997 - Remember Our Sisters Everywhere was conceived as a website community to bring together the memorial activism taking place across the country.
The idea to start the website community came from our need to provide mentoring on the creation of women’s memorials, as well as including the many other strategies to prevent violence against women and girls. ROSE later became a project of the Richmond Women's Resource Centre, which has helped keep ROSE alive.
I'm the moderator and one of the researchers for ROSE. I've been reading about the genocide against the Yazidi people and the torture of Yazidi women and girls since 2014. This has been a very difficult task and made me feel I have to stop moderating the website because I am not strong enough to face what is happening.
I remember asking for help at a Richmond Women's Resource Centre AGM. I explained that I was depressed and having difficulty and could anyone help? But no.
In July 2016, the international activist group One Billion Rising (founded by Eve Ensler, the writer of The Vagina Monologues) put out a call to RISE with Yazidi women and girls. What a relief for me. I was meeting with Senator Jaffer about a completely different matter when I showed her their poster "We Rise with Yazidi Women".
In response, we held a speak out at the Women's Monument in Vancouver on August 3rd, 2016 – the day when, two years prior, the genocide and the torture and enslavement began. I learned about Yazidi survivor Nadia Murad and her call to the Canadian parliament asking them to bring Yazidi women and girls here as refugees. The government was not focused on helping the Yazidi, ironically because their persecution was based on religion. There was a policy or a legal technicality that had to be changed at the federal level. ROSE wrote a letter asking the government to find way to help Yazidi women and girls. Everyone who came to the protest that day signed the letter.
Since that summer I’ve had the courage to read and collect news articles on what is being done to Yazidi women and girls and to keep these articles together in a forum on ROSE.
In the fall, a group of us got together and launched a letter writing campaign for the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. The days of activism are from November 25th, the anniversary of the day the Mirabel sisters were assassinated in the Dominican Republic, and continue to December 10th.
Letters asking the government to provide Yazidi women and girls with focused support gradually came in and were published on the ROSE website. Yazidi survivor and activist Nadia Murad has asked other countries to create trauma centres for women and children like those in Germany, and heartfelt requests for Canada to follow the German model are in these letters. Thank you to the letter writers and thank you to the government officials who received them.
This year, in 2017, ROSE put out a call inviting women’s groups and other groups and individuals, to hold feminist discussion circles about what supports do we want to see the government put into place for Yazidi women and girls refugees.
Today's discussion circle is the first and only one so far. We are grateful to everyone here today for showing up and being willing to address such a horrific, emotionally difficult reality.
March 8, 2017
The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6
Dear Minister Hussen:
Re: Resources for Yazidi women and children refugees in Canada
On International Women's Day in Vancouver, feminist activists, educators, advocates against gender violence and concerned citizens are celebrating the safe arrival of Yazidi refugees to Canada. We applaud the actions taken by the federal government in this humanitarian crisis of genocide and gender-based violence.
Given the extraordinary suffering of the Yazidi refugees, we’re writing to ask you to undertake the following further actions on their behalf:
1. Coordinate with all levels of government to provide the necessary financial and medical support, and effective psychological treatment for trauma recovery for the Yazidi refugees.
2. To be on a par with the successful German model, in which more than $130 million (CAD) has been committed to assist a similar number of Yazidi refugees as Canada has pledged to receive, provide additional funding over and above the $28 million you have announced.
3. As community-based refugee services and systems are already working beyond their capacities, ensure additional resources are committed, including the provision of enough translators.
4. As recent reports estimate more than 3,000 Yazidi women and girls remain captive, we ask you to publicly advocate for the freeing of Yazidi women and girls being enslaved and tortured by Daesh/ISIS as an immediate priority to send a message of hope and the possibility of justice to victims, refugees, and those vulnerable to conflict-related sexual violence.
We look forward to your announcements about actions you will take and the additional resources needed to ensure these courageous newcomers have the best chance of a new life.
Remember Our Sisters Everywhere
The Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Honorable Harjit Singh Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, Member of Parliament, Vancouver South, Harjit.Sajjan@parl.gc.ca
The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Status of Women, email@example.com
The Honourable Rona Ambrose, Leader of the Official Opposition firstname.lastname@example.org
The Honourable Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the New Democratic Party email@example.com
The Honourable Jenny Kwan, Member of Parliament, Vancouver East, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Honourable Michelle Rempel, Member of Parliament for Calgary Nose Hill Michelle.Rempel@parl.gc.ca
The Honourable Mobina Jaffer, Senator for British Columbia, email@example.com
Christie Clark, Premier of British Columbia, firstname.lastname@example.org
John Horgan, Leader, New Democratic Party of BC, email@example.com
Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver, Mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca
For immediate release – March 8, 2017
PRESS CONFERENCE: March 8, 2017
10am at The Women's Monument in Thornton Park, Main and Terminal, Vancouver
A celebration of the arrival of Yazidi women and children to Canada
Vancouver - On International Women's Day, feminist activists, educators, advocates against gender violence and concerned citizens celebrate the recent safe arrival of Yazidi refugees to Canada. In August 2014, the Yazidi community in Iraq suffered a horrific attack by Daesh/ISIS/ISIL.
Many of the men and boys were slaughtered outright along with “older” women. Young women and children were enslaved and tortured. In 2016, the UN reported that atrocities, including daily rapes, against thousands of Yazidi women and girls continue.[i] Recent reports estimate more than 3,000 Yazidi women and girls remain captive.[ii]
Yazidi survivor Nadia Murad brought the plight of Yazidi women and girls to the attention of the Canadian government. On October 25, 2016 parliament unanimously declared “ISIS persecution of Yazidis a genocide” and pledged “to bring refugees fleeing the violence to Canada within four months.”[iii] Last month the federal government announced it had successfully brought 400 refugees to Canada, primarily Yazidis, and plans to welcome a total of 1,200 by end of 2017.
In Vancouver, a community discussion circle was held to explore ways to ensure sufficient support is provided to the refugees. The primary messages coming out of our gathering are:
“We celebrate the arrival of Yazidi refugees to Canada and urge all levels of government to provide the financial and medical support, and psychological treatment for trauma recovery, so the refugees may settle and recover from their ordeals.”
“We urge the federal government to provide additional funding over and above the $28 million they have pledged for the Yazidis. In Germany, more than four times that amount has been set aside to assist a similar number of Yazidi refugees settling there.”
“Many Canadian refugee services and systems are already working beyond their capacities. Additional support is needed, including the provision of enough translators.”
“We recommend that the Canadian government publicly advocate for the freeing of Yazidi women and girls still held captive and tortured by Daesh/ISIS as an immediate priority to send a message of hope and the possibility of justice to victims, refugees, and those vulnerable to conflict-related sexual violence.”
We look forward to government announcements about how they will provide the necessary additional resources so these courageous newcomers have the best chance of a new life.
Remember Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE) is an online activist community that promotes the prevention of violence, and encourages local and international communities to remember and value the women and girls we have lost to violence.
Press contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] UN News Centre: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54247#.WCoJ3_krKF4
[ii] New York Post: http://nypost.com/2017/02/22/new-hope-for-yazidi-women-once-held-as...
[iii] CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/conservatives-yazidis-liberal-mccal...