Heshw Mohammed tried to kill herself three times when her father would not let her marry the man she loved, swallowing tablets and surviving only because her stomach was pumped.
Beautiful, timid and abused, she exemplifies what campaigners and medics warn is a disturbing increase in women killing themselves — largely by self-immolation — in northern Iraq’s relatively peaceful Kurdish provinces.
“My father forced me to marry someone else. We were engaged just 15 days, during which I tried three times to commit suicide,” says Heshw, her eyes cast down, her fingers clenching and unclenching.
“My father would kill me if I went home. He killed my boyfriend. I don’t have any hope for the future. I’m just sitting here, waiting,” she says, refusing refreshment, her expressionless voice barely more than a whisper.
Women’s campaigners say Heshw’s story is all too common. What is unusual is that she took pills. Most Iraqi Kurdish women drench their bodies in cooking fuel from head to toe and set fire to themselves.
“Every year there has been an increase in killing. Saying it’s a cooking accident is just a lie. We must put pressure on the government to change the law,” says Aso Kamal, a 42-year-old British Kurdish Iraqi campaigner.
He quotes from newspaper reports that from 1991 to 2007, 12,500 women were murdered for reasons of “honour” or committed suicide in the three Kurdish provinces of Iraq; 350 in the first seven months of this year.
“We want to speak out about this. There is silence in Kurdistan. People say it’s a family matter. We want to change the patriarchal system in Kurdistan. Honour killing is against the law but the law is not being enforced,” he says.
As FPN notes, “women trying to flee the region are, in a word, screwed”, thanks to a national passport law that, as journalist Koral Tofiq reports, forces women to “first obtain the consent of their husband, father, uncle or brother” before they can get a passport.