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Self-immolations on the rise among Iraqi Kurdish women

Despite the colorful image painted to the outside world of female peshmerga forces contributing to the fight in Iraqi Kurdistan, some women in the region are facing extensive oppression and violence.
TOPSHOT - A woman walks amid a pile of clothes next to an outdoor charity wall marked as "the generous wall", an initiative encouraging people to donate clothes to those in need and open for people to collect items they need to keep warm, in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on February 27, 2016. / AFP / SAFIN HAMED        (Photo credit should read SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

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 female 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.

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