Meet the Female Peshmerga Fighters Battling ISIS

In a time when ISIS has Kurdistan's people up against a wall, traditional gender roles are falling by the wayside

“I would be very happy to kill ISIS,” says Col. Rangeen Majeed, her hair tied back in a neat bun. The 32-year-old sniper is just one of the women who make up an all-female unit of the Kurdish Peshmerga army fighting alongside men on the front lines against ISIS in northern Iraq. “The other day in Kirkuk,” she says, “I begged them for the sniper rifle so that I could kill some of them.”

After the Islamic State, often called ISIS, conquered a vast swathe of Kurdish territories, the locals abandoned gender exclusivity when it came to defending their homeland. Even though the Peshmerga has fought back hard against ISIS—even reclaiming some control over of the still-contested Mosul Dam—the Kurdish army is hurting for soldiers and looking for recruits in non-traditional sources, including the local female population.

Although the women of the Peshmerga’s all-female units remain segregated from their male counterparts, they still undergo the intensive training. They’re taught how to properly defend themselves, use AK-47s and wield rocket-propelled grenades. As part of our collaboration with MSNBC, Vocativ visited a Peshmerga training camp to speak to some of these women warriors.

“I’m not afraid of ISIS,” says Chelan Shakwan, a 24-year-old who carries out assault rifle missions. “I’m ready to sacrifice myself and my brothers for my country.” Shakwan’s sentiments are shared by her colleagues, some of whom also describe themselves as housewives and mothers.

Higher-ups in the Peshmerga are beginning to note and appreciate women’s fierce attitudes. Says Lt. Ismael Hameed Muhamed, the managing director of the brigade who will be taking the women into battle, “Women are tougher than the men sometimes.”

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