In the fourth of our five-part series exploring what life was like for women living under the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, a nurse describes working in an ISIL-controlled hospital in Raqqa.
My name is Yasmine. I was a maternity nurse during the time of ISIL.
They said they were now in charge of the public hospital and told us that we had to show up for work. They had a list of our addresses so they forced us to come – whether we liked it or not.
They handicapped us with their restrictions on clothing. I could not work properly. We could not move normally. I could not administer an IV to a baby. Imagine, putting an IV into a baby’s vein with fully-covered eyes. I could not see a thing.
Their instructions had to be followed to the letter. Makeup was forbidden. Our handbags had to be black. Our shoes had to be black, our socks black. Everything black. To be honest, we looked like rubbish bags. Black on black.
One day, when I was nine months pregnant with my daughter, I went out to shop. They arrested me. They told me to get on the bus so they could take me to the religious police. They charged me 3,500 Syrian pounds ($7) for an abaya. Even though I was already wearing a long and wide one. They did not like the material. They were the exclusive suppliers. We were supposed to buy only from them. They even banned the sale of niqabs (veils) in regular shops so that they could only be bought from them.
We could not even go to the stores any more. Several times, the salesmen refused to serve me. They would say: “No, sister, please don’t come in. If the Hisbah [religious police] sees you alone, we’ll both be arrested.”
And if you were with your husband, they would look for all kinds of excuses to trap him: “Your beard is too short. Your tunic is too long. Something is wrong with your haircut.”
They noted every detail. So we avoided shopping, even when we needed to. We did not go out any more.
They had surveillance cameras installed everywhere. And they knew everything that was going on at the hospital ... Sometimes, the religious police even waited for us after work for surprise inspections.
One day, I went downstairs to order food and I ran into my first cousin from my father’s side. I asked him what he was doing at the hospital. He told me he came to visit a friend who was having surgery. I talked to him for a few seconds while waiting for the food. And of course, the religious police stopped me. “Who is he?” they asked.
I said: “He’s my cousin.”
“He’s not your brother or husband. Why are you standing with him?”
Because I was working at the hospital, they let me go but they arrested my cousin and held him for 10 days. They flogged and tortured him just because he talked to me.
One day, I went out on the balcony to look for something. I was in prayer clothes. A member of ISIL saw me. He entered the building and started knocking on my door. I was home alone.
He said to me: “Open the door, you wicked woman, you’re an infidel. Why are you going out on the balcony with your face uncovered? Repent or I’ll call the Hisbah. Where’s your husband?”
He knocked for a long time. I told him I could not open the door because I was home alone. I swore I would never do it again. And I explained that I did not realise my face was uncovered.
They had surveillance cameras installed everywhere. And they knew everything that was going on at the hospital. They placed their own women in every department. Informants.
In my department, her name was Um Tala, from Idlib. She reported the slightest mistake to the emir of the hospital. And the religious police came to get us. And if they had the slightest suspicion, they would conduct surveillance after working hours. It was like that all the time. Sometimes, the religious police even waited for us after work for surprise inspections.
The hospital was a public hospital so before it was free for everyone. But under ISIL, civilians had to pay. It was only free for the fighters.
Civilian women living under ISIL had no life. ISIL women, on the other hand, had a different standard of living. They had a lot of money. They were always at the shops and the restaurants. Everywhere they went, they received preferential treatment. They lived well.
Honestly, I am still afraid of them. You never know if they have sleeper cells in Raqqa. Anything can happen. And to be completely honest, since ISIL, I no longer trust anyone.
This account was gathered for the documentary ‘Women of ISIL’ by filmmaker Thomas Dandois. It has been edited for clarity and brevity.