Reuters photographer Asmaa Waguih spent time with women fighters at a Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) military base on Mount Sinjar in northwest Iraq.

kurdish women fighting Isis
A female Kurdistan Workers Party fighter stands guard at a PKK base on Mount Sinjar in northwest IraqAsmaa Waguih /Reuters

Islamic State (Isis) militants overpowered Kurdish forces in the Sinjar area of Iraq last August and proceeded to purge its Yazidi population – an ancient, predominantly Kurdish people who follow their own religion – killing hundreds and taking thousands captive.

Ever since the Islamic State took over Mount Sinjar and declared its cross-border caliphate last year, many Yazidis have joined forces with PKK fighters and Kurdish peshmerga fighters from Iraq to fight Islamic State and free the rest of Sinjar.

Male and women fighters work together, side by side, though they live separately. Most are aged between 18 and 25. Relationships are forbidden; male and females alike choose to sacrifice their personal lives for the cause they believe in.

kurdish women fighting Isis
A female fighter waits for a drone to land at the PKK base in Sinjar, after it had gone to check enemy positions near a site that had been hit by two Islamic State car bombsAsmaa Waguih /Reuters
kurdish women fighting Isis
Female PKK fighters discuss how to reach a position that had been hit by Islamic State car bombs in SinjarAsmaa Waguih /Reuters
kurdish women fighting Isis
PKK fighters adjust a machine gun as they prepare to join others near a position which had been hit by Islamic State car bombs in SinjarAsmaa Waguih /Reuters
kurdish women fighting Isis
Kurdistan Workers Party fighters prepare to join others near a position that was hit by Islamic State car bombs in SinjarAsmaa Waguih /Reuters
kurdish women fighting Isis
Kurdistan Workers Party fighters look towards a position that was hit by Islamic State car bombs in SinjarAsmaa Waguih /Reuters

Photographer Asmaa Waguih says: "Many women I met were from families who were staunch supporters of the PKK, often with other members joining up. The fighters were willing to give up having a family of their own to defend their land, dying in the process if necessary.

"Some of the women had cut links with home. The fighters came from different parts of Kurdistan but spoke a common dialect of Kurdish so they could understand each other. They addressed each other as "comrade" and it was clear that they supported each other in whatever challenge they faced.

"It makes me feel that being a Kurd is something very unique. You always have another language and country that are part of your identity, while dreaming of a land of your own: an ideal that you'll defend, come what may."

kurdish women fighting Isis
Female Kurdistan Workers Party fighters pose for a picture with a displaced Yazidi woman (R) who lives near the base in SinjarAsmaa Waguih /Reuters
kurdish women fighting Isis
A female Kurdish fighter takes a photo of others visiting from another baseAsmaa Waguih/Reuters
kurdish women fighting Isis
Female PKK fighters chat around a heater at a base in SinjarAsmaa Waguih /Reuters
kurdish women fighting Isis
Haval Raperin, a leader of a group of Kurdistan Workers Party fighters, combs her hair at a base in SinjarAsmaa Waguih /Reuters
kurdish women fighting Isis
Kurdish women fighters sit with a Yazidi family, including a member of YBS, a Yazidi militant group who are also fighting against Islamic StateAsmaa Waguih /Reuters

Women fighters are thought to make up around one-third of all Kurdish resistance.

In the political doctrine of the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, women and men play an equal role in society and no society can be free without the freedom of women.

kurdish women fighting Isis
A female PKK fighter carries a picture of jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan at their base in SinjarAsmaa Waguih /Reuters
kurdish women fighting Isis
A displaced Yazidi woman sleeps in a room at a base for female PKK fighters in Sinjar, under pictures of jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, a Yazidi shrine and PKK fighters who died in comatAsmaa Waguih /Reuters
kurdish women fighting Isis
A female PKK fighter works on her laptop while watching a Kurdish TV station at a base in the Sinjar mountainsAsmaa Waguih /Reuters
kurdish women fighting Isis
A female Kurdish fighter writes notes as she sits at a checkpoint near a base in SinjarAsmaa Waguih /Reuters
kurdish women fighting Isis
The mother of a Yazidi fighter killed during fighting with Islamic State militants mourns with relatives over his body during a funeral ceremony at a cemetery in SinjarAsmaa Waguih /Reuters

The female Kurdish fighters are feared by Islamic State militants, who believe that they'll go straight to hell if they are killed by a woman.