Consequences of men's dominance over women's bodies in times of war

Throughout history, it has been clear that women's bodies belong to anyone but themselves.

In 2014, the Islamic State took control of Northern Iraq, separating families, killing the men, and kidnapping the women and girls, with the intention of “offering” them to jihad fighters on the slave market. “6,800 Yazidis are estimated to have been kidnapped. Further, at the time of the survey, 4,300 Yazidis were said to have escaped captivity, while an estimated 2,500 were still missing” (FIDH/KINYAT - IRAQ). Hawar, Our Banished Children (2023) is a Belgian/Swiss documentary by Pascale Bourgaux about the consequences of this event. The documentary follows “Ana”, the main character, who is a Yazidi mother-survivor and gave birth to Marya, a rape-conceived child. After a four-year separation, Ana decides to secretly cross Kurdistan to see her daughter again.

“War clearly shows that human actions can be more brutal than any other animal on Earth.” (Come and See, 1985). Individuals engage in conflict and violence for personal motives, yet it is crucial to distinguish that rape does not equate to warfare. Warfare is a societal phenomenon where organized groups target individuals from opposing groups with the intent to kill. What could be rape then? What is the ultimate purpose of rape in war? While we can debate the motivations, we cannot overlook the consequences.

In Hawar, Our Banished Children, Bourgaux illustrates to the viewers the inestimable implications of men's violations of women's bodies. Women who become mothers against their will, face the challenge of choosing between their freedom, coming back to their family and community, or staying as victims but keeping their children. The women who decided to rescue their children have to escape from their own families to not be punished. Their children are “The bastards of Daesh”, conceived from rape with no official records of their births, and their families decline to accept them. Marya is one of an undefined number of “the bastards of Daesh”.

Bourgaux portrays in a delicate but still heart-touching way all the pain lived by the separation of a mother and her child. Allowing the viewer and captivating them to see, from a close angle, sitting in the back of a car, her fight against the narrative not defined by her. She now lives the consequences of a war, where her body was successfully used in the “crossfire”, successfully because if the main goal of the Islamic State was to show dominance and power by raping women and getting them pregnant, “spreading” their blood and heritage over the Yazidis, they achieved that. These women are victims who have not only lost their control over their lives and bodies in the past, but also have no control on their future and motherhood.

“Rape in war, like rape in peace, is identified not as a crime of sexual passion but as a crime motivated by the desire of a man to exert dominance over a woman” (Gottschall, 2004). The women's bodies went through multiple crimes as they were kidnapped, sold, and repeatedly raped. After the release of these women, many upon returning to their communities and families found themselves forced to give up their children because the family would not accept a child born to the enemy. ”They are our enemies' children and we do not want to raise them. Their father are repulsive and we do not want their children to live with us” (19:40). A woman who had her body taken and used as property by a man has to become her own home. Since it no longer belongs to her. Their body was used as a weapon in a war, a weapon against other men, other religions, and communities.

Most of the women who are counted as “still missing” actually are part of the ones who decided to stay with their kids. The children's identity is not protected in the film, here “Ana” is the one who has to hide herself during all the scenes to protect her life. Ana had the objective to take her daughter out of the orphanage, and she ended up in an unbelievable situation giving custody to the paternal grandparents of her rapist. It is brutal to see the moment where Ana expresses gratitude toward her child's grandparents since they seem to be the only ones who are helping her instead of her own blood.

The violence committed against the Yazidi women by members of the Islamic State is of an incomparable scale and magnitude. Ana's testimony stands as a voice for countless Yazidi mothers, silently shedding tears. This documentary is an important historical record for the violated women and the voiceless and invisible children residing in orphanages, despite their mothers' love and longing for them.


*Ferguson, Brain R.: War is Not Part of Human Nature (September 1, 2018)
*Gottschall, Jonathan: “Explaining Wartime Rape.” The Journal of Sex Research. 41.2 (2004): 129-136. Journal of sex research 41.2 (2004): 129-136.
*FIDH/KINYAT - IRAQ Sexual and gender-based crimes against the Yazidi Community: the role of ISIL foreign fighters October 2018 / N° 723a


Kamila Sousa
ELTE BTK Film Studies