Women. Life. Freedom. Female fighters of Kurdistan

Updated 1506 GMT (2306 HKT) January 28, 2019

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Gulan, 19, Zerya, 18, and Zilan, 17, Sinjar, Iraqi Kurdistan.

(CNN)While there is no official count, it is believed that 30% to 40% of combatants in Kurdistan are women.

After the Syrian war began in 2011, Berlin-based photographer Sonja Hamad saw many images of Kurdish female fighters -- but felt they did not do the women justice. "The images were very sensational," she says. "The women were depicted in the same way as men -- always holding weapons. The pictures didn't say anything about the women as individuals."
Born to Kurdish Yazidi parents in Damascus, Syria, in 1986, Hamad was 3 years old when her family moved to a small town in Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia state.
Growing up, Hamad struggled to talk openly about her background with friends, and says she finds it easier to communicate through a visual medium -- especially photography.
Between March 2015 and December 2016, Hamad made three trips to Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurdish-controlled region of Rojava in northern Syria to meet -- and photograph -- the women behind the guns.