Kurdish women fighters have a proud history having fought against many regimes that sought to oppress them: in Iran; Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; Turkey and in Syria. Recently the world has once again turned it’s attention to their struggle and bravery as Kurdish forces face a new foe threatening their territories and their very existence: ISIL, The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. Women soldiers and combat units can be found on the frontlines of this ruthless and urgent conflict.

​What drew me to this subject two years ago was the role of women within the Kurdish military forces and guerrilla factions, where they fight shoulder to shoulder with men. Their battle, I believe, is harder than that of their male counterparts,​ as they are not only fighting for their basic rights as Kurds, but also as women, in societies that are heavily male-dominated. I wanted to know more about the part women played in progressive political parties like the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, The Komala Party or the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan – aka PJAK. I also wanted to see what motivated them, what pushed these women to leave their homes and join often remote and dangerous units. What were their hopes and what were the difficulties they had had to overcome – not just politically but also personally and culturally: Early age marriage; domestic violence; female circumcision; and access to education.

I have traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan numerous times between late 2012 and 2014, photographing and interviewing many Peshmerga women. During my last trip in June 2014 I met the Kurdish female Peshmergas of the 2nd Battalion who comprise the sole official female unit in the Kurdish National Army. The situation on the ground has changed in response to the threat posed by ISIL and I witnessed the forces in action alongside their male Peshmerga counterparts, deployed in the fight against this grave, new threat.

Maryam Ashrafi

Audio recorded in Peshmerga military bases, 2014.