Nadia Murad dreamed of running her own beauty salon in Kojo, a small farming village in northern Iraq. “In my imagination, the salon was a safe space where women and girls could share ideas, learn things, and have something for themselves,” she says.

That dream was torn away when Islamic State fighters invaded her village in 2014, intent on destroying a Yazidi community they called infidels. Her mother, siblings, relatives, and friends were killed. Murad, then 21, was one of nearly 6,000 Yazidi women and children held captive and subjected to rape for nearly three months. She eventually escaped and resettled in Germany in 2015.

Today, the 30-year-old channels that trauma into advocacy for survivors of genocide and sexual violence. “When you survive a war and know so many people who didn’t make it, you feel responsible to do something for them,” she says.

As president and chairwoman of the nonprofit Nadia’s Initiative, Murad lobbies governments and international organizations on behalf of those in crisis, with a focus on policy reform and resources for community rebuilding. Her efforts have resonated with the world: her 2017 memoir became a New York Times best seller, and in 2018 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Murad, who often meets fellow survivors, says they all share a desire for “justice, and to see an end to this systematic use of violence against women and girls.”

In December, she emerged as lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed with some 400 Yazidi Americans against Lafarge, the French cement conglomerate that in 2022 pleaded guilty to paying millions to ISIS for a factory in Syria. Human-rights attorney Amal Clooney, a longtime associate and advocate for Murad, filed the suit under civil provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act. “Companies who support ISIS or other like-minded groups must be held accountable,” says Murad.

Alongside her advocacy, Murad will be the first in her family to graduate from college this year, with a sociology degree from American University. After that, she’s looking forward to small joys like “more hair and makeup,” she says, smiling. “I know I wasn’t able to open my salon, but I’m proud to say that at least I can help other women and girls in Iraq do it.”

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