Self-immolations on the rise among Iraqi Kurdish women

March 15, 2017

A woman walks amid a pile of clothes next to an outdoor charity wall marked as “the generous wall,” in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. (photo by GETTY/Safin Hamed)

Female Kurdish fighters, who represent less than 1% of the roughly 200,000 peshmerga forces, have become “the bankable icon” of the fight against the Islamic State. But beyond the illusions of a land that supports women’s rights, the reality in Iraqi Kurdistan is much less glamorous.

According to nongovernmental organization Wadi, 57% of Iraqi Kurds between 14 and 19 years old underwent an excision of the clitoris. Honor killings by male family members are still common in Kurdistan, and many other women face forced and underage marriage, domestic violence or polygamy issues. Worse still, since the early 1990s, several thousand Iraqi Kurds died of self-immolation. In 2015, the Kurdistan Regional Government listed 125 deaths by self-immolation. In most cases, deaths are concealed behind the excuse of a random home accident, but Bahar Munzir, a popular activist for the rights of Kurdish women, told Al-Monitor that 500 such deaths occur each year.