Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Societal evaluations needed in light of increased self-immolation cases

The following piece was written by LCHR Fellow LaChelle Amos, who is currently supporting the Leadership Council’s initiatives on the ground in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Beyond a guarded gate, in a building separated from the others in the compound by a small grassy garden lay 7 women in bright, white linens, writhing in pain. This was my second day in Suleimaniyah, Kurdistan, Iraq, and I found myself slipping on special shoes, a hair net, and hospital gown in the specialized Burn Unit of the Emergency Hospital.

Never before had I seen such a sight. Not one of the women was less than 30 percent covered in burns, first, second and third degree. As we walked into the first room, female visitors were crying, male family members stood at the window, trying to see how their daughter/sister/wife was doing, before being rushed off to surgery. Her burns had become infected.

In the second room, a female family member standing next to the bed of a women 52 percent covered in burns explained that the woman burned herself making tea.

By the time we stepped into the last room – the room where the most critical patients are cared for – I noticed I was ever-so-slightly shaking. A 20-year-old woman lay in the bed 61 percent covered in second and third degree burns. She was 8 months pregnant when she burned herself – the baby had to be aborted upon arrival to the hospital. The young woman let out a barely audible, horrific scream as the nurse injected some antibiotics into her ankle.

Lying in the bed next to her another 20-year-old female, Nawal Latif, suffers from the second and third degree burns that cover 96 percent of her almost lifeless body. Othman Ahmed, from the X-Ray Department, translates Nawal's mother-in-law’s explanation of the cause: suicide attempt by petrol. As we leave the room, Othman explains to me that the young woman was married less than a week before – the marriage was forced.

Very few of the women who are admitted into the burn unit provide the real causes of the burns. The women and their families fear that an investigation would be launched if the true causes were revealed. Regardless of the specific causes, these Kurdish women feel they have no other out from their societal pressures. With the number of cases on the rise, according to the research of the Suleimaniyah’s Rewan Center, the time has come for officials in the area to seriously evaluate the societal pressures on women in their country.


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