SOME women from the northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan have taken on more responsibility than their family and work life.
Female soldiers with the Peshmerga [the armed forces] in northern Iraq also play a part in educating communities about arms and mine risks, thanks to advice from MAG.
At the female-only barracks in Sulaymaniyah, armed women train daily and maintain security.
Deputy general Rahed Nassren Hamalaw sits at her desk in her military uniform with her hair dyed, nails painted and gold jewellery around her neck and hands. It is striking that some female fighters at the barracks, senior as well as junior, dress like this as it is a rare sight in Iraq where many still cover up with a hijab or head scarf.
“There’s no difference between men and women [in the army]. The only difference is we’re not trained to use heavy weaponry,” she says.
Female citizens had supported their husbands in the mountains during the Kurdistan uprising against Hussein and central Iraq in 1991. By 2003, the first female Peshemerga unit was set up, training under US forces in the second Gulf War.
Deputy General Hamalaw, now a grandmother of six, was injured during armed clashes in 2003 when shrapnel pierced her head and knee.
“Kurdish troops supported the US and we guarded hospitals and banks against Saddam’s troops when there was no control in the cities.”
Clutching her Kalashnikov outside at the barrack gates, a junior female soldier explains the difficulty in balancing personal life and her job in the military.
Team leader Chnor Sabir Karim, 30, explains: “Some men have asked for my hand and then they find out I’m in the army and don’t want to marry. But I’m not going to give up my work.”
Female soldiers are disappointed and anxious about the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Sitting over tea, one female general adds: “There are some terrorists from Iran and Turkey but security will remain good.”
* This series was carried out with the help of the Simon Cumbers Media Challenge Fund, supported by Irish Aid