Domestic violence is a global issue. But nowhere is it more prevalent than in societies where foundational values are still completely patriarchal. Broken Princess is the story of women in Iraqi Kurdistan who tried to escape – and protest – domestic violence by setting themselves on fire.
While suicide is far from an uncommon choice for women, the question of why Iraqi Kurdistan women would choose the pain and devastation of self-immolation is what compelled me to investigate the phenomenon. Fire has a historical and cultural meaning for Kurdish people: it means light, goodness and purification. Kurdish women express their love by saying “I burn myself for you!”; the ultimate indicator of dedication and loyalty. In suicide, fire becomes their own purifying vehicle.
Through fire, the women escape a life that traps them in an oppressive society with no economic or social independence. But not all of them succeed in killing themselves. Those who survive are left with terrible physical scars and possibly even more painful psychological ones: with little support or visibility, they find themselves in a place that is worse, in some ways, than before.
Kurdistan’s female militia, or women fighters, are portrayed across the media as a symbol of feminist progressiveness. But for those who are not on the frontline, keeping one’s freedoms can be very hard. Self-immolation has become so common that men who want to get rid of their wives are known to set fire to them, framing it as suicide. Since suicide brings shame to the family, many burnt corpses go unclaimed, and are buried without a name.
Comprising photography, video and text, Broken Princess explores these women’s lives, dreams, pain and memories, illuminated by factual evidence and context. The end result I hope for is that the work acts as a catalyst to provide better opportunities and conditions for women — which will require a joint effort from Kurdish society and international professionals. I have also started gathering key figures who can help train the survivors in new skills, and build a safe space for them to recover and regain hope.