Human Rights

Women tell of life under ISIS in Syria and their hopes for the future


Women who lived under ISIS occupation in the north of Syria were subject to stringent rules, from which they are now free.

With almost all of northern Syria liberated from ISIS, women in the region are hopeful of the future. Under ISIS, women were especially repressed and treated as second class citizens across their territories in Syria and Iraq. For ISIS, a woman’s role in society was childbearing while being subservient to fighters. Women’s freedoms were completely restricted including their freedom of movement and their freedom to dress how they wanted.

During ISIS’ nearly four years of occupation of the city of Raqqa as well as other cities in Syria, women were forced to dress in all black and could not leave their homes unless they received permission by the group. Any woman who did not adhere to these draconian rules was harassed by the group’s religious police known as the Hisba. This degrading treatment of women led many to risk their lives to escape the group’s oppressive rule.

Among the most notorious examples of ISIS’ utter cruelty was their enslavement of Yazidi as well as Christian women in Syria and, most notably, Iraq. The group kidnapped thousands of women and young girls, killing their husbands and relatives. These women were later sold into slavery to other fighters, who would routinely abuse them.

However, since large-scale campaign led by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to liberate northern Syria culminated in the liberation of Raqqa, Syrians are relieved to be able to put this horrific past behind them and rebuild their lives.

“Now we can eat, drink, and wear whatever we want, and we can go to the market freely. The situation is better than before. A lot of things have changed. Everything has changed,” remarked one woman from Syria.

This is not least the case for millions of women who previously lived under the group. As International Women’s Day approaches, these women are hopeful that they will be able to find their place in society once again.