'We can't just rebuild homes, we have to rebuild people.'
30 Years of Activism
Behar Ali was born in a household where women's rights were so championed that the place felt like the headquarters of a women's rights organization. She grew up in family where politics and the struggle for human rights were part of their daily life. Growing up in Halabja in Kurdistan Iraq, in a city that, under the Saddam Hussein regime, was attacked with bombs, artillery fire, and chemical weapons, the last of which proved most devastating and had a massive impact on the rest of her life. It taught her how to fight for her country, human rights and justice in society. It made her the activist she is today.
As a women's rights activist with more than over 30 years of experience in the field Behar is now the Director of Emma Organization for Human Development: a women's rights organization registered in Kurdistan Iraq working for a peaceful, secure, developed, and modern Kurdistan Iraq; a society that guarantees the full and equal participation of women.She studied Translation at the University of Mosul, Gender Studies at the University of Nijmegen in The Netherlands where she lived between 1996 and 2010. She has also majored in law studies at the Gihan University of Erbil.
From August 2014 when IS controlled the area of Sinjar, a multi ethnic region, Behar committed her entire life to the Yazidi cause and has been advocating for Yazidi women's rights and the rebuilding of peace and co-existence in the area. Behar Ali currently lives in Erbil, Kurdistan Iraq.
'I wish for my son, his children and for future generations to have a stable life and to feel safe. Something I never had. I wish for my future generation to have this life, a dignified life.
I will never forget how in the 90s there were dozens of active radical Islamist movements in Kurdistan. They would throw rocks at me when I would wear trousers.
I decided that I had to wear trousers and should not surrender to them. I wish for my son and his children to be able to wear anything they want and to live like humans having a good free life.'
Emma Organization for Human Development
Emma (meaning ‘we' in Kurdish) is a women's organization, established in 2013 and based in Erbil, focusing on gender based violence and improving women's rights and health, especially in the rural areas of Iraqi Kurdistan.
August 2014: IS captures Sinjar city and district
On the morning of 3 August 2014, IS forces captured the city of Sinjar as well as the Sinjar district in the Nineveh province in Kurdistan Iraq. The Nineveh province is mainly inhabited by Yazidis. Between 3 and 6 August IS killed more than 700 men. Women had been raped, killed or abducted as ‘spoils of war' and sold into slavery. Emma started to help the displaced population since August 2014, with a specific focus on the Yazidi women who have been targeted by IS. Emma's programmes provide support to individuals and families helping them heal and rebuild their lives. They provide psycho-social services, life skills and classes, livelihood training, and social activities for children and adults. Emma recently opened its second rehabilitation centre in Duhok where they offer psycho-social care to victims of gender based violence.
Kurdish society, governments and civil society organizations lack competencies and capabilities to face the crisis in the country. That is why Emma cooperates with official government institutions and advocates for building the capacity of government institutions, social researchers, teachers as well as people who work in the health care sector to establish and improve mental and health care for victims of sexual violence.
'We are encouraging displaced groups to return to their homes, especially the areas of Nineveh and Sinjar which are rich of cultural and religious diversity. However, currently, this region is in danger. We are in need of support from the international community and international organizations to rebuild this region.
We don"t only need to rebuild homes, but we need help in rebuilding religious symbols. We need to rebuild the people in the region. We need to support people to reconcile. We need to encourage people to coexist.'
Lalesh Peace Conference
Emma organized the Lalesh Peace Conference in 2015.
During the conference, the group held both the central Iraqi and Kurdish Iraqi authorities to account for the protection of this marginalised community.
As a result, a plan for the rehabilitation of the Yazidi community and their living areas was drafted. A working committee, consisting of representatives of both governments, local authorities and civil society organizations, was set up in order to collaborate on the implementation of this plan.photo caption:
Lalesh temple: the holiest site of the Yazidis, situated in a valley in Nineveh Province.
The second conference they held, in April 2016, focused on the position of the Yazidi women remaining in IS' control, and an awareness campaign about these women was launched during the conference. In addition, the conference invited Gregory Stanton, head of the NGO Genocide Watch, to discuss how to deal with the massacres committed against the Iraqi Yazidis, and how to move the international community to recognizing this as a genocide.
This discussion was part of broader advocacy efforts to have the UN acknowledge the events as genocide. This happened on June 15, 2016, when the UN Human Rights Council published a report declaring IS' crimes against the yezidi minority as genocide and crimes against humanity.
January 2016 Emma launched a campaign towards restoring the pride of Yazidi women and guaranteeing their safe and honourable return to their homeland
- Harboring regional and international support for the cause of Yazidi women
- Helping rehabilitate Yazidi women survivors of IS atrocities
- Reviving the Yazidi women cause and shedding light on their current situation
- Supporting the safe return of Yazidi women to Sinjar
- Contributing to the efforts towards building the legal case against IS crimes against the Yazidi minority as
- Lobbying for the freeing of Yazidi hostages
'This is a huge humanitarian crisis and human tragedy. Not just for the region, but for humanity as a whole. We all feel humiliated. How can people treat women this way in the 21st century? To treat a minority group in such a savage way? They are stripped of all human values.
The Kurdish society is facing a big problem now:
How to deal with those women captured by IS?'