Open Doors has teamed up with British artist, Hannah Rose Thomas, to hold an art exhibition in Westminster. This exhibition features moving self-portraits of Yezidi women who are dealing with immense trauma after escaping the self-proclaimed Islamic State, alongside Hannah’s exquisite portraits of the same women.
Running from 26-29 March, the exhibition – Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors – is hosted by Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP. It advocates on behalf of the Yezidi community and others who have experienced similar abuses, urging the UK government to act by supporting and empowering minorities in the Middle East to rebuild their lives. In particular, the exhibition presses the government to respond to the double-vulnerability faced by women in these communities who are targeted because of their minority faith and their gender.
Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors said, “Trauma care is a significant part of Open Doors’ work in Iraq. Through partners, Open Doors provides trauma therapy to Christian communities and has trained Yezidi trauma care providers to also support their community. We are honoured to be part of Hannah Rose Thomas’s exhibition, to remind politicians of the heinous violations faced by these Yezidi women and to highlight similar abuses experienced by Christians in the region. By giving voice to these atrocities, we can make sure that parliament is in no doubt about the urgent need for equality for all religions in the Middle East, including minorities such as Christians and Yezidis.”
The portraits in the exhibition were painted last summer when Hannah Rose Thomas and clinical psychologist Dr Sarah Whittaker-Howe travelled to northern Iraq. Hannah Rose Thomas said, “Art can be used as a powerful tool for advocacy and to give a voice to the voiceless. Teaching the Yezidi women to paint their self-portraits has enabled those, who have never been to school or learned to read and write, to share their stories with the rest of the world. Testimony is an important element of the recovery process post-torture and sexual violence. These paintings are a testament to the strength, dignity and unimaginable grief of the Yezidi women, many of whom still have children in ISIS captivity.”
Dame Caroline Spelman MP said, “In March 2016 I met with a delegation of Yezidi women in parliament, ever since hearing their traumatic accounts first hand I’ve been keen to advocate on their behalf and assist in giving them a platform to voice their stories. It’s critically important that we reach these women with further assistance, including greater targeted financial support. They, along with Christians and other minorities in the Middle East, continue to face daily discrimination and huge challenges as they seek to reintegrate back into their local communities.”
Open Doors works with some of the most vulnerable communities around the world, connecting its field experience, on-the-ground intelligence and needs assessment expertise with its advocacy work in the UK parliament to ensure it speaks up for those who are most in need and communicating growing and emerging trends to decision-makers.
Nowhere is this more pertinent than in the Middle East today. In partnership with Middle East Concern, Open Doors consulted with Christians in Iraq and Syria over a six-month period, asking what would give them a hope for a future in their countries. They responded with three priorities:
- Equal rights
- Dignified living conditions
- A central role in rebuilding and reconciling society.
Achieving these three recommendations would safeguard a future for Christians, Yezidis and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.
Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors is running from 26-29 March in the Upper Waiting Hall Exhibition Area of parliament, and is open to the public to attend.