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Suicide in Kurdistan: Why Are So Many Kurdish Women Setting Themselves on Fire?

Health & Wellness  (tags: Mental Health, Physical Health, Helplessness, Hopelessness, Domestic Violence and Abuse )

- 1824 days ago -
Self-immolation as a dramatic and deadly form of protest by women is known across the Middle East, from Egypt to Pakistan. But it has become alarmingly common in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. By some estimates self-burning has claimed the lives of


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Alexandra G (250)
Monday March 24, 2014, 7:52 am
very sad ...

Beth S (330)
Monday March 24, 2014, 7:59 am
Mar 18th 2014, 17:10 by M.G and J.H.Y. | SULAYMANIYAH

ON MARCH 8th, while the world celebrated International Women’s Day to recognise progress in women’s rights, two women in Iraqi Kurdistan set themselves on fire. Self-immolation as a dramatic and deadly form of protest by women is known across the Middle East, from Egypt to Pakistan. But it has become alarmingly common in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. By some estimates self-burning has claimed the lives of as many as 10,000 women, including girls as young as 13, since the region gained autonomy in 1991.

“I can say it has happened in every family,” says Falah Muradkan-Shaker of the Kurdish NGO WADI, which tries to tackle violence against women in all its forms. The phenomenon can only be understood in the wider context of women’s rights in Kurdistan, he says. Survivors of self-burning often explain that they felt trapped in traditional, arranged marriages, which in some cases means they were betrothed at birth to cousins or tribal kinsmen. A majority have also faced some form of domestic violence whether by fathers, husbands, or in-laws.

Honour killings by male family members are still common in Kurdistan, despite laws aimed to protect women. Mr Muradkan-Shaker says this leads many Kurdish women to view their families not as protectors but as “people who might attack you at any minute.” Unable to leave abusive marriages for fear of being killed by their partners or families, and without government support for vulnerable women, victims turn to suicide. “She feels she is dead,” Mr Muradkan-Shaker explains. “So she says, ‘I’m already dead; let’s make the process faster.’”

Nearly all of female suicides in Kurdistan happen in the home, where both ease of access to flammable liquids, such as kerosene, and the notoriety of the method as a public declaration of suffering have led to self-burning accounting for more than half of all suicide attempts among Kurdish women.

Lana Chalak, one of only two local lawyers working with women who have attempted self-immolation, says that many who have tried but failed to kill themselves will try again within four or five days. Ms Chalak works with the women during this critical window in an effort to talk them out of a second attempt. “When I talk to women I try to be as simple as possible. I don’t tell them I’m a lawyer, I don’t wear a suit. I talk to them, touch their hands, tell them they’re completely in their right and that I’ll be there whenever they need me,” she says. Explaining that there are other ways out is crucial.

While Kurdistan does have laws against honour killings and domestic violence, the framework for care and provision of assistance to affected women is minimal. Mr Muradkan-Shaker says the region’s two lone women’s shelters are not enough, and the lack of proper training for government services, including the police force, means that women are rarely directed to these safe spaces. Until there is more public discussion of women’s rights, more awareness as to the assistance women can receive and more government prosecution of honour crimes and domestic violence cases, it is likely that the stubbornly high rate of self-immolation in Kurdistan will remain.

Sue H (7)
Monday March 24, 2014, 8:24 am
Horrific to think that there is no other choice.

Past Member (0)
Monday March 24, 2014, 9:07 am
Horrible. But there's gotta be a better ways than setting yourself ablaze. Wish we could fly all the women-children+animals outta these hell holes. Thx Beth

Beth S (330)
Monday March 24, 2014, 10:54 am
I agree, Sue and Natasha. It's not the way I would choose to go (God forbid). But I guess like men throwing acid at women, it's a venue of a common culture, a horrible one.

The women, children and animals really don't deserve to live these lives. Theirs is daily abuse and torture. I would not submit to having children to perpetuate this culture. Of course, I doubt if these women have any choice.

Helen Porter (39)
Monday March 24, 2014, 12:46 pm
How many women in America will kill themselves as the Last Days progress?

Caroline S (78)
Monday March 24, 2014, 1:52 pm
Epouvantable }:*-(

Past Member (0)
Monday March 24, 2014, 2:13 pm
I imagine it's so horrible living there, they just want out, but what a horrible way to go, too bad they can't be " rescued" .

. (0)
Monday March 24, 2014, 2:14 pm
As Sue said, it's more than tragic to think death is their only answer.

Gloria H (88)
Monday March 24, 2014, 4:15 pm
At least the dead ones are now in peace. I can only imagine that those who survived are in a living hell from pain. Probably no surgery to correct the results or painkillers...burned off hands etc, least of all facial scars.
Had the women murdered/left the husband, they would face slow death by stoning.
In suicide, at least the woman has some control (yeah--"control ") over her fate/choice of death

marie C (163)
Monday March 24, 2014, 5:11 pm
Nice idea Natasha but fly them where
UK and it appears USA can not even look after their own people and no Arab country would accept them
NHS service in UK is really suffering Social housing is in chaos
Sadly by helping more people than we can afford more British people start to suffer especially our elderly
UK has to get real and concentrate on our own and the many iimmigrants we have taken responsibility to help.who are already here

Stan B (123)
Monday March 24, 2014, 5:52 pm
There is absolutely no good news from any Muslim country.

Leanne B (46)
Monday March 24, 2014, 6:46 pm
beyond sad.

Colleen L (3)
Monday March 24, 2014, 8:20 pm
So sad. Thanks Beth

Shawna S (45)
Monday March 24, 2014, 9:35 pm
So sad that any human being fear their future and have such low self worth.

Debra G (0)
Tuesday March 25, 2014, 12:06 am
Only two women's shelters in the whole country? And the final sentence gives little hope: Until there is more public discussion of women’s rights, more awareness as to the assistance women can receive and more government prosecution of honour crimes and domestic violence cases, it is likely that the stubbornly high rate of self-immolation in Kurdistan will remain.

Dogan Ozkan (5)
Tuesday March 25, 2014, 12:29 am

Winn A (179)
Tuesday March 25, 2014, 7:42 am
Beyond comprehension - so sad

Sarah Baker (61)
Tuesday March 25, 2014, 8:06 am
So sad. I hope things turn around soon.

Lindsay K (6)
Tuesday March 25, 2014, 10:15 am
Absolutely heart-breaking!

Past Member (0)
Tuesday March 25, 2014, 12:14 pm
I cant understand this

Debra Van Way (12)
Tuesday March 25, 2014, 2:04 pm
I might set something on fire but it wouldn't be me in that situation. What they need is a way to make their abusers vanish. It isn't that hard to do so long as you have competent help and a darn good alibi-like taking a gift or food to an In law and visiting while the problem is whisked away and can fake bereavement convincingly. Enough creeps vanishing might make the abusers think twice. Perhaps Allah is angry.....

Birgit W (160)
Tuesday March 25, 2014, 3:20 pm

Carol Dreeszen (346)
Tuesday March 25, 2014, 4:27 pm
Those poor women!! It is good to hear that they do have at least 2 places where women can get help though and I hope they can get more women involved in saving others from such a dreadful decision. Desperation though knows no bounds!

Hartson Doak (39)
Tuesday March 25, 2014, 10:06 pm
'Abdu'l-Bahá on the Equality of Women and Men
And among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is the equality of women and men. The world of humanity has two wings -- one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be.1

Know thou, O handmaid, that in the sight of Baha, women are accounted the same as men, and God hath created all humankind in His own image, and after His own likeness. That is, men and women alike are the revealers of His names and attributes, and from the spiritual viewpoint there is no difference between them. Whosoever draweth nearer to God, that one is the most favoured, whether man or woman. How many a handmaid, ardent and devoted, hath, within the sheltering shade of Baha, proved superior to the men, and surpassed the famous of the earth.2

Marie W (67)
Tuesday March 25, 2014, 11:53 pm
The Middle East patriarchy stems from a fundamentalist religious outlook in which women are regarded as secondary creations. Indeed, the one thing that all traditional religions have in common is their treatment of women as inferior, and in theocratic states this inferiority is enshrined in legislation and social custom. Abusers like rapist, animal beaters, wife beaters, all just walk free, because violence is not seen as an abhorrent to be removed in our chauvinistic society; rather, something to be encouraged.


. (0)
Wednesday March 26, 2014, 6:14 am
Noted & posted.

Past Member (0)
Wednesday March 26, 2014, 8:09 am
Sadly noted.

Rhonda B (99)
Wednesday March 26, 2014, 3:16 pm
sadly noted.

Christine Stewart (134)
Wednesday March 26, 2014, 3:17 pm
So sad for these women.

Sheri Schongold (7)
Wednesday March 26, 2014, 5:54 pm
This is a tragedy that shouldn't be happening. I feel for these girls/women and can only pray the future holds better things in life for them and not make them think that suicide is the only way out.

James merritt jr (144)
Wednesday March 26, 2014, 6:17 pm

. (0)
Wednesday March 26, 2014, 7:36 pm

Charlene Rush (79)
Wednesday March 26, 2014, 8:25 pm
A person commits suicide when living appears more painful than dying.

Why haven't ALL people, especially the so-called religious, figured out that men use religion to keep women subservient?
Pick any one you want, and the goal is the same.
God is always a male, males make the rules, and males enforce the rules.
We see it today, primarily with the Teapublicans.

So many American men are scared to death of women and the independence they have and /or may achieve. Regardless of their fears, they aren't taking us back, NEVER EVER.
The majority of men on this site comprehend what I'm talking about. They show respect to women, have intelligence, are strong in their convictions, and will have much greater happiness in their lives, than these control freaks.

Beth S (330)
Wednesday March 26, 2014, 9:55 pm
I agree with much of what you are saying. Yes, there is a masculine way of the world and religion.

However, one has to look at the extent to which this taken. Conservative Christianity is going to look like a model of leftist liberalism compared to Islam.

. (0)
Wednesday March 26, 2014, 11:53 pm
So horrible..

Danuta W (1251)
Thursday March 27, 2014, 3:49 am

Past Member (0)
Thursday March 27, 2014, 5:50 am
a profound act to make a profound statement, thanks

Klaus Peters (14)
Thursday March 27, 2014, 9:03 am
I think the Kurdish people have been cheated and abandoned by all powers, why? I guess the allies, especially Great Britain and also France dismantled Kurdistan after WW1 to assert power in the Middle East only to divide them and please the surrounding countries by giving them a piece of it: the USSR, Syria, Iraq, Iran and especially Turkey. The Kurds are stateless or refugees and have no place to go. Now, this was all created by colonialism and will bite the world in the bum. GB & France naturally cry: innocent!

Beth S (330)
Thursday March 27, 2014, 10:13 am

I have read similar information to what you say. Whatever the case may be in any given country where there is a significant Kurdish population, the Kurds get cheated and abandoned.

However, while the phenomenon of Kurdish women setting themselves on fire might to a small extent be exacerbated by the political state of Kurds in general, the problem of Muslim women self-immolating (Kurds are Sunni Muslims) greatly surpasses the ethnic and geographic borders of Kurdish women alone.

Self-immolation of Muslim women includes women from the "Middle East, from Egypt to Pakistan."

This would indicate that female self-immolation is more of an Islamic problem. What do the women who choose to self-immolate have in common:

1) These populations are Sunni Muslim

2) These populations have a higher rate of Islamically-motivated clitoral removal and consequent feelings of powerlessness to defend oneself against this most private of scourges.

3) These populations live in more fundamentalist cultures that are less educated, exposed to the outside world. (In many cases Kurds are shunned by other Sunni Muslims from other ethnicities.)

4) Islam allows for virtual enslavement, sexual, mental and physical abuse of the wife by the husband, including "honor killings". There is no penalty for the men for these human rights violations, because they are in Islamic countries, and the Qur'an allows, and in some cases even urges men to beat, etc., their wives.

5) Women have no way to escape the sense of helplessness and violation. These ugly violations are reinforced by the communities in which they live. Women who do not conform and choose to stand up for themselves are stoned to death.

Dot A (179)
Thursday March 27, 2014, 10:17 am

their only voice is the anguish of their own flesh burned with the flames of inequity and unnecessary suffering

Our world is in transition, and with great HOPE, do we proceed, - as compassion is the only wisdom that saves this world.

Melania P (123)
Thursday March 27, 2014, 3:09 pm
Set rapers on fire!

Rhonda B (99)
Thursday March 27, 2014, 3:45 pm
Very sad.

Angela J (61)
Thursday March 27, 2014, 5:02 pm

Kay M (347)
Thursday March 27, 2014, 8:30 pm

fly bird (26)
Friday March 28, 2014, 12:24 am
Beth: "Conservative Christianity is going to look like a model of leftist liberalism compared to Islam. "

You should stick to talking about your opinions on Judaism, perhaps. You have repeatedly shown that you are not knowledgeable, or unprejudiced, on both Christianity and Islam, the religions.

It is not interesting, but obvious why someone would spend time copy/pasting from sites like Jihadwatch, and professing intimate knowledge of other religions different in history and culture from Jewish tradition.

Anyone, who is anti-Muslim, anti-Islam, and does not believe in freedom of religion, except one's own, or those that seemingly pose little or no threat, must see one's own dogma as superior. There have been many genocides over the course of history... infanticide, abuse of women of children and women.

Stonings, strangulations (Jewish laws set forth over thousands of years), etc., other laws, including the prescribed discriminatory and racist treatment of so called 'gentiles' (the perceived simple/stupid) are amply recorded in Jewish writings. Perhaps there are 'conservative' Jews, orthodox...

There is no such thing as 'conservative Christianity'..

Such lack of spiritual awareness, and attempts to "instruct" others, assumed to be ignorant or gullible, or willing to accept posts at face value, is ironic.
Condemnation of the deaths of Palestinian children at the hands of Israeli forces ARE PASSED OVER, while other posts are selected, with the main purpose to demonize Islam and Muslims, not on an individual basis, but in totality... as Nazis repulsed and rejected the entire Jewish community.

The soft hearted, or the hard of heart might fail to see this. Fortunately, most people fall somewhere in between.

There is no such thing as 'conservative Christianity'. Clearly, knowledge of Christianity, is vague and unfamiliar...perhaps, from someone, who may erroneously believe that worshiping Israel and worshiping God are synonymous..

Christianity has nothing in common with the hundreds of Jewish laws and traditions. With Jesus, the old was scrapped. No more threats of punishment or promises of rewards for obeying 'laws.' Christianity is not about making or using laws or people for profit, or for the survival or continuation of any select group of people.

Why are so many Kurdish women experiencing inequality, brutality or famine?
Why are so many not??

In ancient times, why were so many animals sacrificed, people sacrificed, slaves bought and sold?
The answers are the same. Superstition, control and abuse is nothing new.
Evil is not exclusive to any group.

Bigotry and discrimination of women, by women, and the demonizing of religions one fears and/or hates is nothing new. O.T. idolatry perhaps never disappeared.

Fear mongering and hate, under the guise of caring, are not one and the same.
Without the spirit of love, there is no love.

Using women and exploiting such conditions, in any shape or form, for self serving gratification is obscene.

Arlene C (28)
Friday March 28, 2014, 3:01 am
d'une tristesse

Beth S (330)
Friday March 28, 2014, 5:08 am
Self-immolation among Afghan women rises as UN pushes country to take action against violent crimes

A recent United Nations report details how crimes against women in Afghanistan are dramatically underreported, including rape, beating and forced marriage. Some women who see no other solution are resorting to self-immolation.

By Rheana Murray, New York Daily News, Thursday, December 13, 2012

An alarming number of desperate Afghan women are setting themselves on fire to escape an agonizing lifetime of abuse, human rights experts say.

Some want to die. Others simply hope their faces and bodies are so badly disfigured that their worth will plummet, and families and husbands who view them as commodities won’t care enough to beat them any longer.

Many resort to self-immolation the night before they’re forced into a marriage, hoping the wedding will be called off, ABC's "20/20" reported.

Nearly as many are forced to lie about it when or if they’re brought to a hospital.

“I was in the kitchen cooking meat in a pressure cooker,” 16-year-old Taranna told "20/20," white bandages covering her burnt skin from head to toe. “Suddenly it exploded.”

From her bedside at the hospital in Herat, Afghanistan, Taranna’s mother-in-law jumps in.

“She was told not to cook meat, but she did,” she told "20/20."

Doctor’s records prove the teen wasn’t burned by a gas explosion, but by flame — likely, self-inflicted.

Another woman told "20/20" she lit herself on fire because she couldn’t handle any more abuse.

“My brother-in-law, mother-in-law, and my father, they were all beating me,” 21-year-old Wahida said from her hospital bed. “They wouldn’t let me go outside.”

Wahida is pregnant, but she doesn’t know it yet. Her doctors worry if they tell her, she’ll try to kill herself again.

In approximately the past decade, women have regained voting and education rights in Afghanistan, but abuse is still widespread.

The United Nations this week called for Afghan officials to enforce the 2009 Elimination of Violence against Women (EWAW) law.

The law criminalizes child marriage, forced marriage, buying and selling women, rape and beating.

Crimes against women are still dramatically underreported, according to a report released Tuesday by the UN’s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Kerrie G (116)
Friday March 28, 2014, 7:45 am
Very sad...

Gillian M (218)
Friday March 28, 2014, 10:45 am
It is interesting that the first thing jess says about the suffering of Kurdish women is to attack Beth and then Jews and Israel.

I have yet to see jess condemn the suffering of Israeli children after they have been blown to bits by a suicide bomber or one of the many rockets sent by Hamas and Hezbollah into Israel on a daily basis but I expect their suffering doesn't count. jess was also silent on the suffering of Jews in Europe such as those killed by a Muslim terrorist outside their school in France or the hundreds of white/Hindu girls groomed and raped in the UK, the Jewish girl assaulted by several Moroccan Muslims in Belgium, or those raped women in both Denmark and Sweden which the police confirmed.

As for Conservative Christians, please define which form of Christianity you are talking about. There are many forms but I suspect that Beth is talking about those who practice their version but do not let it dominate their lives. As for Judaism, what would you know about it? You obviously have no understanding of it yet continually condemn people because of their faith. In fact, you are anti-Semitic/racist in the extreme and refuse to understand what it is or the history behind it. So, when making your asinine statements, which you continually do showing clearly a lack of knowledge and understanding, your comments can have no value whatsoever except to show bigotry and ignorance.

In fact, you show no sympathy for Christians either, the suffering of the members of various churches across the Middle East or Africa. Their murders, rapes, forced conversions, forced to pay jizya (a tax for the right to live and they are still killed) and other abuses go straight over your head. You claim that the Palestinians are suffering but you need to look at the people causing it and it is their own people doing it. They are also killing and abusing any Christian living in their community and you are silent on that too.

For someone who claims to care, you really don't like to speak out on true suffering.


Gillian M (218)
Friday March 28, 2014, 10:49 am
Women’s rights in Iraqi Kurdistan: a few words

A week left till March 8th and International Women’s Day. But in Iraqi Kurdistan three women have been killed, one by 15 bullets while in bed and the other two were found dead in a pond and, of course – according to my knowledge and the nature of media outlets in that part of the world – it might be more! What’s more, this is not something new but is horribly an ongoing phenomenon. This issue brings up some points to consider.

First of all, the atrocity of a patriarchal society comes in mind and the way that society looks on women and their rights. This has been an ongoing struggle all over the world, but with different forms and levels, even when the women have been presented as being very free at governmental events, in commercial ads or by media outlets.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Kurdistan Region Presidency (KRP) and all the political parties are always emphasizing defending and promoting women’s rights. It is not very hard to prove that they are all lying: for instance, how many times have we seen Barzani’s wife accompany him around the world on his trips abroad, like other presidents’ wives do? At how many national anniversary ceremonies has he had his wife beside him? When the highest political figure hides his wife and does not let her appear in public, according to his dogmatic beliefs, is it rational to believe his words about supporting women’s rights? He is just one example among a big group of high-ranking political and governmental figures in Kurdistan.

Unfortunately the non-governmental (NGO) sector has been unable to be as effective as it should be and includes elements involved in sabotaging its work. In Iraqi Kurdistan the laws for protecting women’s rights have not been enforced because the judiciary has been manipulated all the time and this lack of law enforcement has empowered the tribes to back criminals. On the other hand, some of the women’s rights organizations get funds from political parties or figures, limiting them from speaking out as they are supposed to. Many times we see that a man is talking on women’s issues in society and even supervising female activists in this area of human rights. Another factor is that there is almost no safety in the shelters to reassure both the women taking refuge and the organizations running them that they are secure and nobody can hurt them, at least while they live there. Shelters have been attacked by tribes with armed men. And maybe a couple more elements ….

Back to the essence of the case and the violation of women’s rights, most of the time there are too many arguments between women’s rights activists and religious figures, such as clerics and religious-based political parties in Kurdistan. This argument is ongoing and has unfortunately resulted in much hatred since the clerics say that their religion stopped the killing of girls that happened in pre-Islamic Arab societies and explain how the prophet of Islam asked his followers to respect women; while the activists highlight the oppression experienced by women under Islam such as the hijab, deprival of equal rights, authorizing men to punish their wives, polygamy, and so on … The issue is again the patriarchal system with, not only Islam but also the other religions being formed in the same male-dominated framework.

Apparently, Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the most modern parts of the region compared to neighboring countries, according to many of the foreigners, including foreign governmental bureaus, organizations and even individual tourists. But these foreigners should become more involved in this matter and speak out about this dark, clandestine side of the reality and spread the truth to the international community; then maybe the Kurdish authorities and judiciary will take more serious steps to protect women’s rights because they depend a lot on the international community’s words and just want to show it that there is progress.

In the end, there is no end to women’s rights violations and women have been oppressed all the time for centuries, but the only hope is to see a diminution of this type of oppression.

Gillian M (218)
Friday March 28, 2014, 10:54 am
Self-Immolation Continues Among Iraqi Kurdish Women

Berma, 26, lies in a white hospital bed in the female burn unit in Erbil. Her body lies in an uncomfortable position — because her legs are not allowed to touch the bed — and her eyes show she’s in a lot of pain. Her husband and four children are nowhere to be found; only her best friend stays with her the whole time. The friend softly caresses Berman’s head, the only place on Berma’s body that has no burn marks.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is relatively safe, its economy is flourishing and it is regarded in the West as a liberal haven in an often conservative region. But since the fall of Saddam Hussein, there has been an alarming trend — more than 1,000 women have died after setting themselves on fire. Berma is one of the young women who probably burned herself, although she will never admit it.

“One day, the family of my husband came along for a picnic in the village. We ate a snack and drank some tea. It was a nice day. At home, I washed the cups and spoons in the kitchen. All of a sudden I got really cold," she whispers. “So that’s why I turned on the heating stove. When I put the kerosene in the stove, I forgot to cut off the electricity. The thing exploded and I caught fire. It was an accident."

In Iraqi Kurdistan, and Kurdish parts of Turkey, self-burning is known as the usual method of suicide attempt by Kurdish women. Often, it is a way out of abusive situations, like domestic violence or social injustice. Therefore, in Iraqi Kurdistan it is classified as violence committed against women.

When she is being asked if she is happy with her husband, Berma pauses for a brief second. “I was 16 when I married him. No, it was not a forced marriage. He was a friend of my cousin." She avoids the eyes of her friend.

Rosh, a male nurse in the female burn department, says the story about the stove is probably false. Lack of electricity means that every house has a plentiful supply of oil and while some cases may be accidents, the nature and scale of the injuries suggest that most major burn cases are deliberate. “It almost looks like a code: When a woman mentions the stove, we all know that it was self-inflicted. We cannot do anything about it, unfortunately."

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.

"My nylon dress caught fire because of the uncontrollable heating stove. It all went so fast, I can’t really remember it. The neighbor heard me screaming and ran upstairs to put me in the shower," she adds.

Mediya’s husband died during the last war, and after that she had to flee to another country. She is originally from Iran, but says she cannot be herself over there, and that’s why she’s always traveling back and forth. Like many other Kurdish women, she also denies that the burning incident was self-inflicted.

Silently she weeps. The tears are sliding down her cheeks, down to her neck, toward the bandages on her chest. Her cousin gives her a paper towel. “I didn’t pay enough attention. It was a mistake," Mediya continues.

In the police department of the hospital, the officer shows a few documents about burning cases that happened during the last couple of months. The files are all closed. Without the actual testimony of a victim, police officers are not allowed to start an investigation.

"These victims did not suspect that they would survive the suicide attempt. Now, they are really desperate and unhappy because they are still alive. Most likely they will try it again," the officer says, and points out a timetable showing the daily temperatures during the latest burn cases. When Berma and Mediya caught fire “because of the heating stove," it was between 28 and 32 degrees Celcius (92.4 to 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

“Hot spring days," he concludes.

Gillian M (218)
Friday March 28, 2014, 11:07 am
Iran: Self-Immolation Of Kurdish Women Brings Concern

The Kurdistan Human Rights Organization is expressing concern over the self-immolation of Kurdish women in Iran's Western Azerbaijan Province. The organization has published the name of more than 150 Kurdish women who have committed suicide in the past nine months, the majority of them by setting themselves on fire. Observers and activists say self-immolation of women is also happening in some other Western provinces of Iran that have large Kurdish populations, such as Ilam, Kermanshah, and Kurdistan. Domestic violence, social injustice, and discrimination are cited as the main reasons for self-immolation among women.

PRAGUE, 8 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Nasrin Mohammadi is a member of a women's NGO in Marivan in Iran's western province of Kurdistan. She says the number of women who attempt to kill themselves through self-immolation is growing in her city.

One of the recent cases involves a woman who set herself on fire to protest her husband's decision to marry another woman.

"I know this woman who is illiterate; her husband became very rich in a very short time and he forced his wife to sign a letter of consent so he could marry another woman," she said. "She didn't know what she was signing. Since then she has attempted to commit suicide by self-immolation; 80 percent of her body is burned and considering her condition I think she will die [soon]."

Little Hope And A Grim Future

Mohammadi tells RFE/RL that due to conservative traditions and social restrictions, women in her region have little hope in life and often a grim future.

"Desperation is the main reason for the self-immolation [of women]," she continued. "Women face more pressure in a traditional society and in our region because of deprivations and the rule of [old] traditions this pressure has become much stronger. Women in our region are seen as 'second class' citizens. The economic situation of women is a main factor; they are totally dependent on men and also the laws of our country are such that the courts never protect women."

The Kurdistan Human Rights Organization has said that for many women in the region, burning oneself is an outcry against the "patriarchal system" that rules the society and also against the abuse of their basic rights.

Mohammad Sadegh Kabudvand says violence against women is one of the main reasons for suicide among Kurdish women.

Subjected To Violence

"It is certain that pressure and domestic violence and religious prejudice is causing this problem," he said. "In the Kurdish regions men have more [rights] at home and in the society and women are considered inferior."

Kabudvand told RFE/RL that all the documented cases of self-immolation of women in Iran's Western Azerbaijan Province involve young women -- between the ages of 14 to 30 years old -- with little education. He says his organization is planning to document cases of self-immolation in other provinces such as Ilam and Kermanshah where self-immolation is reportedly common.

Mohsen Janghorbani is a professor of epidemiology at Isfahan University of Medical Sciences who has done some research on attempted suicides in Ilam. He believes easy access to flammable materials such as petrol makes self-immolation the most common method of suicide in Ilam. Professor Janghorbani told RFE/RL that self-immolation is not just a way to end life, but also a way to send a message to their families and to the society.

"I think that women do not want to really commit suicide but they want, in fact, to make their cry for help to be heard and say that they are facing injustice," he said. "They use this means, [even though] it is the worst form of suicide. Most of them are young women who are suffering in forced marriages or have some other family-related problems."

Education Needed

He believes better protection of women's rights and economic development in the region could help tackle the problem. He adds that a woman's access to a better education would make them more aware of their rights and help them express their despair in other ways.

Nasrin Mohammadi from the Cultural Society of Marivan's Women agrees. "Laws should be changed in a way that they will protect women," she said. "[The mentality] of the families should change and also the culture of the society [should change]. It needs a long time. Currently we can't do much but we should at least boost the women's morale; we should give them some hope for the future so that they don't feel that they are totally alone and defenseless."

Experts believe the availability of family mental-health centers and psychological programs may reduce the rate of self- immolation in the region.

The Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan has called on media and NGOs to help raise people's awareness about women's issues in an effort to help change social and cultural patterns relating to men's behavior. The organization has also called on the Iranian government to join international agreements and conventions that guarantee equal rights for women such as the UN Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Violence Against Women.


Gillian M (218)
Friday March 28, 2014, 11:15 am
European Parliament Project: The Increase in Kurdish Women Committing Suicide

A very good article on why Kurdish women immolate themselves

Patrick Donovan (344)
Friday March 28, 2014, 12:40 pm
Great comments Gillian. Thank you for adding clarity to a very sad situation.

Gillian M (218)
Friday March 28, 2014, 3:01 pm
Thanks Patrick. I get angry at the lack of understanding of those who blame Israel for everything and ignore the true suffering in the Middle East, the slaves, the Muslim women, the Muslim children and, especially, the Christians.


Rose Becke (141)
Friday March 28, 2014, 6:25 pm

Angelus S (120)
Saturday March 29, 2014, 6:52 am
On behalf of all men who truly love and cherish women, i apologize for the horrors my own kind inflict on women around the world

John van Nijnatten (6)
Saturday March 29, 2014, 10:34 am
Tragic. Thanks for sharing this story.

Bette-Ann Libin (0)
Saturday March 29, 2014, 1:17 pm
Gillian ROCKS...

Past Member (0)
Sunday March 30, 2014, 2:04 am
Thanks for sharing

Past Member (0)
Sunday March 30, 2014, 4:36 am
Thank you Gillian! So well put. I couldn't agree with you more. As for you Jess, be careful - you sound like a nazi. I'm sure you'd be oh so happy to see the Jews driven into the sea. And it seems you're anti Christian too. How sad. I'm Catholic and a devout follower of Christ and I find your comments inordinately insulting. Have you ever heard the term 'think it, don't say it'? Something to ponder perhaps. The last thing Care2 needs is nazi-like rants.

Gillian M (218)
Sunday March 30, 2014, 5:01 am
Thank you Natalie. I have many Catholic friends from many different countries and I have found them all to be warm and caring people.

Dayanna Hillier (21)
Sunday March 30, 2014, 1:42 pm
What I really want is IGNORANCE of manking to be ERADICATED - for it is man's Ignorance which is the root cause of all evil that instigates so much suffering.

For Every Soul out there that has to resort to such extremities I offer my deepest heartfelt prayers below

Prayer for Freedom From Suffering

May all beings everywhere plagued
with sufferings of body and mind
quickly be freed from their illnesses.
May those frightened cease to be afraid,
and may those bound be free.
May the powerless find power,
and may people think of befriending
one another.
May those who find themselves in trackless,
fearful wilderness--
the children, the aged, the unprotected--
be guarded by beneficent celestials,
and may they swiftly attain Buddhahood.

In the Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabhārāja Sūtra, the Medicine Buddha is described as having entered into a state of samadhi called "Eliminating All the Suffering and Afflictions of Sentient Beings." From this samadhi state he spoke the Medicine Buddha Dharani.[5]

namo bhagavate bhaiṣajyaguru
vaiḍūryaprabharājāya tathāgatāya
arhate samyaksambuddhāya tadyathā:
oṃ bhaiṣajye bhaiṣajye mahābhaiṣajya-samudgate svāhā.


Klaus Peters (14)
Sunday March 30, 2014, 7:04 pm
This is absolutely shocking and it reflects very badly on the medieval, barbaric Muslim religion. I feel rally sad for those women who have no rights and are slaves of a sick society.

Jenny Bone (2)
Monday March 31, 2014, 11:53 am
Words fail me, tragic, sickening and so so sad x

MmAway M (522)
Tuesday April 1, 2014, 2:50 am
Tears...Life s...ks
!When you are always attacked you ....

Gabriele Jefferson (147)
Tuesday April 1, 2014, 2:56 am
noted, shared on fb, twitter, google. Thx.

Panchali Yapa (26)
Tuesday April 1, 2014, 11:54 am
Thank you

Judith Hand (55)
Tuesday April 1, 2014, 2:14 pm
Noted, tweeted.

Mary Donnelly (47)
Tuesday April 1, 2014, 3:53 pm

Edgar Z (47)
Tuesday April 1, 2014, 4:22 pm
So sad.

Debra Tate (17)
Tuesday April 1, 2014, 6:30 pm
Sadly noted.

Frans B (582)
Thursday April 17, 2014, 7:02 am
this is beyond sad.....Shocking....I was not aware of something like this even existing.....

Beth S (330)
Thursday April 17, 2014, 10:03 pm
The sad thing is that it's not just in Kurdistan. It happens in other Islamic regions as well, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and countries in that region. Women are treated in humiliating ways in a misogynistic culture that devalues and severely restricts women's freedoms and rights, whose husbands beat them, who are the primary victims of a shame culture. This is the world going backwards. We cannot accept this treatment that they would want to end their lives in this way, or in any way at all.
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