Striking Portraits Of The Female Army Fighting ISIS

Photographed by Sebastian Backhaus.
Last February, soon after the Islamic State Group, also know as ISIS or ISIL, raided the Christian villages around Tel Tamer, Syria, it was clear to Seeham that it would be up to the women to lead the charge to take back their community.

"The men ran away, and many of us women were deported and enslaved...we felt so defenseless," said Seeham, the charismatic commander of a Syrian female militia. Seeham is her combat name, and for the past seven months, she has been preparing her unit of women to fight ISIS.

Women suffer disproportionally at the hands of ISIS fighters: many have been forced into sexual slavery by the group when their communities have been overrun. Women and girls who have escaped have recounted stories of horrific abuse. So some have decided to fight back. Seeham said she has already sent some of her sisters in arms off to the front.

"I founded this female unit so that we can defend ourselves and our children the next time around. What we want is to protect our territories, to prevent a second Mosul, a second Sinjar or Tel Tamer, from happening," she added, listing cities in Iraq and Syria that had been taken over by ISIS.

Organizing her fighters’ recruitment and instruction from the female unit’s headquarters in Hasaka, she uses a camp near Qamishli to train like-minded women. Her unit, affiliated with the Christian Sutoro militia, consists of 45 Catholic, Orthodox, and Aramean fighters. The Sutoro militia, in turn, is part of a new coalition called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a multi-part alliance supported not only by Christians and Kurds, but also by Arab forces.

In the battle against ISIS, female fighters have a strategic advantage: ISIS fighters believe that being killed by a woman will deny them access to paradise and their status as a martyr, as multiple reports have noted.

Ahead, the brave women who are taking on ISIS share their stories with Refinery29.

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