‘They Burn Themselves’

From The Village Voice:Ali

Erbil, Iraq There’s an AK-47 leaning next to the couch at ZEEN women’s center and radio station in this capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan. Layla Ali, 30, ZEEN program director and fitness instructor, sits with one of her hosts on a couch just inches from the rifle and never bats an eye. “Here in Kurdistan, there is a lot of violence against Kurdish women,” Ali says in delicate English. She’s an Iranian Kurd by birth, a swimmer by training, and superbly educated by Iraqi standards, lending a quiet confidence to her words. Asked who is perpetrating this violence, she doesn’t hesitate: “Men, of course. Husbands, brothers, fathers, managers. All men.”

Abuse drives many Kurdish women to suicide, says Ali. “Here in Kurdistan, most women, when they want to kill themselves, they burn themselves. I don’t know why.” “We try to find solutions,” Ali says of ZEEN, an eight-hour-a-day operation that broadcasts call-in programs, news, and music—all for and by Kurdish women—to this 10,000-year-old city of 1.2 million and its surrounding villages. “When a lady burns herself, on the radio we talk about why, about what must we do to solve this problem.”

Ali pauses. Her wide, dark eyes are sad. When she speaks, it’s in a pillow-soft tone. “We want to teach girls to not kill themselves.”

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