How ISIS Is Using Women To Police Other Women

July 13, 2015
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by Priyanka Boghani Digital Reporter

“It’s compulsory to wear a burqa, no heels, all black, no colors.”

That is how Umm Abaid describes the strict dress code enforced by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in its de facto capital — the Syrian city of Raqqa. She was once a member of the group’s all-female police force, the Al-Khansaa Brigade, which is responsible for policing women’s attire.

If a woman is found in violation of the dress code, “The first thing we’d do is take her and whip her,” Abaid says in the video below. “Then we’d take her clothes and replace them with clothes required by Sharia law. Then we’d take her husband’s money to pay for the clothes.”

But the ordeal doesn’t end there. The last step she describes is whipping the woman’s husband as well.

Women who live in territory held by ISIS aren’t allowed to move around freely. According to its rules, women must always be accompanied by a male chaperone in public. They must also make sure they are covered head-to-toe by a black burqa, without their eyes showing. They can’t wear make-up, and even their purses must be black.

Yet despite the harsh restrictions it imposes on women, some now actively fight for the militant group, helping to enforce its vision for an Islamic State.

“We have established the brigade to raise awareness of our religion among women, and to punish women who do not abide by the law,” Abu Ahmad, an ISIS official in Raqqa, told the website Syria Deeply last year. “Jihad is not a man-only duty. Women must do their part as well.”

“I felt women were doing wrong, so I had to enforce the law,” Abaid says. She left Syria after her husband carried out a suicide attack.

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When ISIS seized large swathes of territory in Iraq last year, the United Nations reported that the group “attacked and killed female doctors, lawyers, among other professionals.” Women doctors who weren’t killed were told to abide by the strict dress code while working, and were threatened with the destruction of their homes when they went on strike. The U.N. also received reports of female politicians and community leaders subjected to abduction, torture and murder.

While all women have faced restrictions under the group’s rules, ISIS has saved some of its most brutal treatment for women from the Yazidi minority sect, many of whom were abducted in August 2014 when ISIS moved into their homeland in the north of Iraq.

Women who managed to escape from ISIS’ hands told the United Nations that many were forcibly married to ISIS fighters or sold at auctions as slaves, Others were subjected to sexual violence and rape. The U.N. also received reports of ISIS moving captured Yazidi families to Syria after they were forced to convert to Islam.

Two such women recount their ordeals in a U.N. report from February 2015:

“One woman described how she was raped in Mosul and that she heard the screams of girls who had been taken from the main hall where she and other women were being kept, to a small adjacent room. She recounted how she saw an ISIL man point a gun at a young girl who had been resisting. After Mosul, they were taken to a school in Tal Afar where there were reportedly more than 100 small children.

“The second girl said she was raped in a hall where she was being detained with other women in Mosul after her abduction by ISIL. She said the guards raped her three times a day for three days. According to her account, she also saw an eight or nine-year old girl being raped openly in the hall. ISIL then moved her and other women and girls to an abandoned school in Tal Afar.”

Some of the Yazidi women who managed to flee share their harrowing experiences on FRONTLINE tomorrow night in Escaping ISIS. Their accounts have helped document ISIS’ atrocities, and have also helped an underground network guide other women — still trapped inside ISIS territory –to find a way out.

The documentary premieres tomorrow, July 14, at 10 p.m. EST both on-air (check local listings) or here on the FRONTLINE website.

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