From Boudica of the British Celts to Corporal Klinger, few things unsettle the male mind like a lady in arms. The Kurds of Northern Iraq have long recognized this principle and incorporated it into their quest to build a Kurdish homeland in the overlap between Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Fighting alongside their male comrades in a region not exactly known for its progressive stance on women's rights, the female Peshmerga guerillas, al-Khansaa' Brigade, Al-Nusra Front's women brigade, Syriac Christian women's brigade, The Female Protection Forces of the Land Between Two Rivers brigade, Yazidi fighters brigade, Turkish women brigade, Al Mouminin Aisha Brigade, Al-Tawhid Brigade, Um Riyan brigade, Lionesses for National Defence Brigade, Christian Female Commando Battalion, and The Women's Security Forces (Asayish) in Rojava built a reputation for themselves as demure diaboliques with deadly poise.
Female Peshmergas on their base at the border between Syria and Iraq. These female fighters are motivated by the words of Abdullah Ocalan, head of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), who promotes Marxist thought and empowerment of women. Source: Newsha Tavakolian/TIME
Some reports say that to an ISIS militant, one of the worst things that could transpire in combat is not just being killed, but being killed by a woman. If this happens, ISIS members believe that they will go directly to hell. If hell exists, rest assured that they have been sent there by a number of Kurdish women.
The truth is that ISIS' approach to women is much more complicated — and troubling — than Western stereotypes about Islamists would suggest. ISIS has its own female brigades, and the group uses them to enforce its deeply misogynistic ideology.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) created the al-Khansaa' Brigade, an all-female unit
Three British schoolgirls have taken it upon themselves to not only saddle up with the IS terrorists in Syria, they’ve decided to throw in their lot with the largest and arguably most vicious women-only sub-groups, dubbed by the typically understated British press as a “fearsome group”. Correctly titled the al-Khansaa Brigade (Khansaa, Arabic for Gazelles), the sanguine reputation of the group precedes the latest news report.
Many women have joined ISIS, forming the all-female al Khansaa Brigade.
The al-Khansaa' Brigade.
The al-Khansaa' Brigade.
The Khansa brigade consists of women members of the IS. They are armed and have the right to stop and search any woman in the street"
A member of jihadist group Al-Nusra Front's women brigade stands in a street of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on January 11, 2014.
In August 2014, ISIS moved to the Sinjar area of Iraq and began to persecute, capture and kill its minority Yazidi population–an ancient, mainly Kurdish people. Female Kurdish soldiers were instrumental in the Kurdish counteroffensive, rescuing thousands of Yazidis trapped by ISIS on Mount Sinjar. The women have since extended their fight against radical militants to Kobani, Syria.
Christian fighter Ormia loads her weapon during training exercises
Syriac Christian women's brigade in Hasakeh province are also fighting ISIS. Babylonia belongs to a small, recently created battalion. They are following in the footsteps of Syria's other main female force battling the jihadists -- the women of the YPJ, the female counterpart to the Kurdish People's Protection Units or YPG.
Syriac Christians belong to the eastern Christian tradition and pray in Aramaic. They include both Orthodox and Catholic branches, and constitute around 15 percent of Syria's 1.2 million Christians.
Some Syriac women cited what is known as the Sayfo ('Sword') massacres in 1915 of Syriac, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians as reasons for joining the unit.
‘The Female Protection Forces of the Land Between Two Rivers’ is a small battalion of about 50 women graduating from its training camp in the north-eastern town of Al-Qahtaniyeh in Syria.
It is made up of Christian women from different backgrounds who want to prove they don't simply exist in the home. More
Syriac Christian women, members of the battalion called the "Female Protection Forces of the Land Between the Two Rivers" fighting the Islamic State group, take part in a training on December 1, 2015 at their camp in the town of al-Qahtaniyah, near the Syrian-Turkish border (aka Kabre Hyore in Syriac, and Tirbespi in Kurdish).(AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN / AFP / DELIL SOULEIMAN)
Syriac Christian Lucia, member of the battalion called the “Female Protection Forces of the Land Between the Two Rivers” fighting the Islamic State group, poses during a training on December 1, 2015 at their camp in the town of al-Qahtaniyah, near the Syrian-Turkish border (aka Kabre Hyore in Syriac, and Tirbespi in Kurdish). (AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN / AFP / DELIL SOULEIMAN)
Zekia Karhan, 26, right, and Felice Budak, 24, middle, speak with a journalist in Makhmur, Iraq, Aug. 23, 2014. Karhan and Budak are guerrillas in the Kurdistan Workers' Party.
JOSHUA L. DEMOTTS/STARS AND STRIPES
Female fighter of the Women's Protection Units (YPJ) looks on at a training camp in al-Qahtaniyah, near the Syrian-Turkish border.
This photo of a female Kurdish fighter was retweeted thousands of times. The woman is believed to have been killed by ISIS.
20-year-old Narlene wraps a scarf around her face near Raabia, Syria. Source: Erin Trieb
A survivalist coalition ... Yazidi fighters at their lookout point in Sinjar, Iraq, only two kilometres from the Isis frontline. All photographs: Alfred Yaghobzadeh
Islamic State sees all Yazidis as pagan infidels. In August 2014, Isis attacked Yazidi villages in the Sinjar region of Iraq, driving locals into the mountains. They bulldozed villages, captured thousands of women as sex slaves and slaughtered everyone in their path, transforming the area into a terrorised war zone.
Bahar, 27, was captured and raped by Isis in Iraq and Syria
In May 2015, a brigade of female Yazidi fighters was formed. These young women now fight on the front, with the men, "because we must only ever rely on ourselves, and we must defend ourselves to regain our honor." More
Gulan, Yazidi, 15, was beaten and raped in months of captivity by Isis in Iraq
The Sinjar's local military, which is now run by women.
Three Turkish women, Raparin, Roza and Deijly, formed an armed all-female fighting unit and killed up to 10 ISIS jihadis a day to stop the Yazidi genocide on embattled Mount Sinjar. The women took the extraordinary decision to leave behind their lives in Turkey and travel to Kurdistan, northern Iraq, to end the bloodshed of Yazidis being slaughtered there.
Peshmerga fighter discussing how to gain access to space hit by ISIS car bombs in Sinjar. Source: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters
Other Peshmerga soldiers prepare to enter ISIS-hit territory. Source: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters
In the Salahaldin neighborhood of Aleppo, young women are taking to the streets as one of the few full female fighting units, calling themselves the "Al Mouminin Aisha", named after the wife of the Prophet Mohammed.
The women, many of whom are teenagers or mothers of young children, fight under the banner of the Al-Tawhid Brigade, a 13-strong unit of the Free Syria Army in Syria's largest city. More
The fear ISIS has of the female Kurd fighters was demonstrated when ISIS claimed to have beheaded the poster girl of the Kurdish militia’s battle for freedom in Syria in October.
In the dry and desolate land along Syria’s northeastern border, thousands of young Kurdish women have taken up arms to protect their people against attacks from Bashar Assad’s government, ISIS militants and the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.
Some 7,000 Peshmerga volunteer soldiers have joined the Women’s Protection Unit, or YPJ, which grew out of the wider Kurdish resistance movement. The group is strongly associated with the PKK, an organization fighting for the rights of Kurds in neighboring Turkey that has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department. Alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces, the YPJ has been battling against Islamic militants who have seized large areas of Iraq and Syria and declared a cross-border caliphate.
According to reports linked to Syria’s foreign-backed opposition forces, militants from al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) set up a second brigade, ‘Um Riyan’ brigade in Syria’s Raqqa, one of the group’s main bases located in north central part of the country. More
They are mainly used for inspecting women in Raqqa, where the group has been imposing its own version of law marked with extremist religious beliefs for months now.
At least 110 women have travelled from Germany to Syria in order to marry Islamic State militants, media have counted. Many are accompanied by their children, which brings an estimated number of the under-age taken out of the country to 36. More
A British woman who ran off to join ISIS in Syria is feared to have returned to the UK with two jihadis in tow. Sally Jones signed up for the extremist group in 2013 with her husband Junaid Hussain, who together have been dubbed 'Mr and Mrs Terror'.
But reports suggest she may have been seen in Birmingham this week with two other people, both said to be aged around 20. More
Peshmerga soldier Shavin Bachouk sleeps early in the morning at an abandoned Iraqi Army post on the outskirts of Raabia, Syria.
25 year-old U.S. Army veteran woman and purported mother of three small children has left everything to fight the Islamic State.
Samantha Jay joined Kurdish forces fighting the terror organization two weeks ago. Read more
A young German woman fighting alongside Kurdish forces in Syria was killed over the weekend in clashes with Islamic State fighters, Kurdish officials and a Turkey-based communist group said. More
Women in the Peshmerga undergo drill instruction at the Sulaymaniyah base. Source: Jacob Russell
A Canadian woman and soldier, Hanna Bohman, who has been fighting Isis in Syria has said they are "a thorn in the side" and a "knuckle-dragging pigs" in combat.
Hanna Bohman, who also goes by the name Tiger Sun, joined the female fighting battalion of a Kurdish nationalist force in Iraq in March last year. More
A Canadian-born woman, Gill Rosenberg, who served in the Israeli military has joined a Kurdish militia fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham, according to an Israeli media report. Rosenberg travelled to Iraq in November. The 31 year-old has served in the Israeli military and had previously worked as a pilot in Canada, it said.
The station said she spent time in a U.S prison for her part in a phone scam. Speaking in Hebrew to Israel Radio she said she contacted the fighters on Facebook. “I was with the guerrillas in the mountains for a few days and then I crossed the border,” she said.
This photos show her in Israeli army uniform in Jerusalem. More
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has recruited an army of women to guard checkpoints and carry out security checks in an attempt to plug the holes left by defections and casualties in his dwindling army. Up to 500 women have been drafted into the new paramilitary force known as the 'Lionesses for National Defence.' More
A Syrian National Defence force woman who has just finished training, holds a rifle at the training centre in Wadi al-Dahab in the Syrian city of Homs
Syrian girls and ladies fighters of the Women Special Commando Units: some of them preparing their weapons, ammunitions, or waiting for their moment to fight, on top of a tank, in the Damascus countryside.
Lionesses for National Defence getting inside an armed vehicle, heading to the front to fight the criminals gangs. TV-Novosti
The Center of Women's Security Forces (Asayish) is one of the institutions working for womens’ liberation and where womens’ rights are protected by Rojava’s revolution. In the city of Serêkaniyê the Asayish Center for Women was opened in December of 2012. Since that time the Asayish have demonstrated that they can protect the people in Rojava. Now they are working with the Women's Defense Units (YPJ) to protect their city and their rights. (More)
Female Asayish police officers. Photo courtesy of Rezan Shmu.
Helen, a Kurdish female fighter of the Women Asayish Forces guarding a public funeral of fallen YPG fighters in central Al-Qamishli, March 2014. © Rozh Ahmad, Your Middle East
Young Peshmerga recruits participate in dawn exercises and drills near Derek City, Syria. Erin Trieb / for NBC News
20-year old YPJ fighter Aijan Denis from Amuda, Syria: "Where I am now, men and women are equal and we all have the same thought, which is fighting for our ideology and the rights of women. My three sisters and I are all in YPJ. " Newsha Tavakolian for TIME I joined YPJ in 2011. One day when I was watching TV, they were showing pictures of women who had been killed. I was really impressed by that and decided to join the army myself. Where I am now, men and women are equal and we all have the same thought, which is fighting for our ideology and the rights of women. My three sisters and I are all in YPJ. They all operate RPGs. I wish to become so skilled that I will be allowed to do the same." Source: Newsha Tavakolian/TIME
Peshmerga women at the Sulaymaniyah base. Source: Jacob Russell
Female Kurdistan Workers Party fighters pose for a picture with a displaced Yazidi woman (R) who lives near the base in SinjarAsmaa Waguih /Reuters
29-year-old Peshmerga Nuhad Kocer sits at a military base in Til Kocer, Syria. The person in the framed photo is Azadi Ristem, a soldier killed by a sniper from the al-Nusra Front. Source: Erin Trieb.
Members of a Christian Female Commando Battalion sit atop of a tank in the government-controlled area of Jobar, a suburb of Damascus March 19, 2015.
A commander for the Women’s Protection Unit, a Kurdish female militia that is fighting Islamic State in Syria, takes a fighting position in Kobani. FREDERIC LAFARGUE
A female PKK fighter works on her laptop while watching a Kurdish TV station at a base in the Sinjar mountainsAsmaa Waguih /Reuters
Female soldiers carry the casket of Evrim in Derek City, Syria. Evrim was killed while combatting ISIS members.