A young Kurdish girl, Maryam Nebil, 14, is being treated for sever burning injuries after she set her-self on fire, June 1, 2013. Photo courtesy of BBC UK.
By Pshtiwan Jamal
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region— A new Rudaw survey of hospitals in Kurdistan’s three main provinces shows that 386 women were admitted to local clinics for burn injuries in just the first quarter of this year.
A total of 57 women have died because of the severity of the burns during the same period, according to documents obtained from hospitals and clinics in Kurdistan.
The survey was conducted in the three provinces of Sulaimani, Erbil and Dohuk, and local emergency centers provided detailed information about female patients who had been admitted to hospitals for burn injuries during that period.
The real number could be even higher, and probably is, as the survey only addressed official data recorded at the local hospitals in the more populated city centers, while countryside cases have not been accounted for.
According to the review, Dohuk province had the highest number of burn cases with 195 between January and March, including 25 fatal cases, while Sulaimani had the lowest.
“It’s a tremendously high percentage for Dohuk when we consider the fact that Dohuk province is also the smallest province in terms of population,” said Dr Ari Habib, a researcher in Dohuk’s health office.
“In the majority of the cases, we are faced with women who set themselves on fire for reasons known only to relatives and family members,” Habib said.
Erbil’s Health Office in the same period recorded 140 cases with 22 fatalities.
Fakhir Kirmanji, who is in charge of the office, said there are two different types of burn cases: those of the urban and rural areas.
“In the villages and rural areas there has been an increase in self-burning cases,” Kirmanji said. “But the predominant cases come from urban areas where burning is conducted by others.”
Kirmanji said that in both cases mounting social and mental pressure on women is the leading factor behind the tragedies.
The survey also showed 51 cases of female burning in Erbil province, of which 10 led to the death of the patients.
“Most women, if they survive, would not disclose what really happened and refrain from implicating male family members,” Dr Shakhawan Saeb of the Sulaimani Emergency Hospital said.
“The hospital has to find out based on its examinations if a perpetrator was involved or not, but in most cases what the patient says is what counts for the courts,” Saeb said.
Female death due to burning has been a major concern for officials and social workers in the Kurdistan Region. Despite economic prosperity—which has brought large numbers of women into the labor market—and tough parliament legislation against domestic violence, female burning is a lingering social challenge in the country. By some unofficial estimates, nearly 10,000 women have lost their live since 1991 due to self-burning.
“There are mostly economic reasons behind such tragedies,” said Laila Abdulla, a social scientist who has studied female self-immolation in the Kurdistan Region.
“I think financial difficulties and the fact that many young women at a very young age are forced into marriage leaves them no option other than suicide,” Laila said.
Official numbers provided by Kurdish women’s rights organizations, however, differ from the Rudaw results obtained by the survey and hospital records.
The Office of Countering Violence Against Women, a governmental organization, reported only 92 women were the victims of burning cases, of which 34 were self-burning and 58 were burned by other means between January and March this year.