Self-Immolation Among Iraqi Kurdish Women

Rosh points out that if the suicide doesn’t succeed, the woman is likely to be punished by her family if they find out it was a suicide attempt. Going to the police is also generally not an option, as most of the women have had bad experiences with asking for help. That’s why the women hardly ever admit that the burns are self-inflicted.

Although the Kurdistan Regional Government has passed laws and tried to improve the rights of women for years, these cases still continue in large numbers because there is nothing to provide for the laws’ implementation. Nongovernmental organizations, for example, have asked the government for special departments and courts where domestic issues can be resolved.

Rosh says, “Sometimes it’s a cry for attention, because they don’t know what to do to change their bad situation. Mostly poor, young and uneducated women are affected by this."

He takes care of the burned women every day, sometimes for months, but even during this intensive treatment they refuse to tell him what really happened. “When they are brought to the emergency room, most of them are already dead. Others are close to dead and suffer from extreme pain; 65% die before we can even help them.’’

Nearly 3,000 cases of violence — including murder, suicide, self-immolation, beatings and sexual harassment — were recorded in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2012, the government reported, but women’s activists say the numbers are severely under-reported.

Burn injuries remain a major concern for health authorities in this region, where published data on the nature and size of the problem are scarce. But in 2011, around 150 women set themselves on fire in the Kurdish region, a hospital representative says.

In another room lies Mediya, 39. Her body is completely wrapped in white bandages. She doesn’t have much family left, because most of them died during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and the Iraq war in 2003. Her younger cousin provides food and drinks for her, just as Berma’s friend does.

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