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Syrian women burned a burka after being freed from the Islamic State

Video footage from the city of Manbij in northern Syria shows a crowd cheering as a woman waves a swath of black fabric and sets it on fire.
Image via ANHA/YouTube

Women in the Syrian city of Manbij celebrated their liberation from the Islamic State by burning a burka, the full-body covering they had been forced to wear in public under the militant group's rule.

In a video released by the Syrian Kurdish news agency ANHA, a crowd cheers as a woman waves a swath of black fabric and sets it on fire.

The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) — a US-backed alliance comprised of the powerful Kurdish YPG militia and its Arab allies — seized control of more than 70 percent of the northern Syrian town over the weekend, following a months-long offensive.


Restrictive dress codes are strictly enforced in areas controlled by the Islamic State, and women have previously been seen celebrating their freedom when the group is forced to flee. In June, Reuters reported that Souad Hamidi, 19, tore off the face-covering veil she had been forced to wear since 2014 and replaced it with her red head scarf after her village in northern Syria was recaptured by the SDF.

"They would punish people who did not follow their rules, sometimes forcing them to stay in dug-out graves for days," Hamidi said. "Since they (SDF) took control, we are living a new life."

Related: Women in the Islamic State aren't just 'Jihadi Brides' — they're crucial for recruitment

Manbij, which is within the Aleppo governorate, fell to IS in 2014 and was strategically important to the group because of its proximity to the Turkish border, making it a crucial route for supplies and foreign fighters. It also became a hub for trafficking antiquities and artifacts looted from archaeological sites, such as the ancient city of Palmyra.

The UN and human rights groups have documented the systematic abuses, abduction and rapes suffered by women and girls under IS, particularly among the minority Yazidi community in northern Iraq. The group also relies on women to recruit foreign fighters by sharing propaganda online of life under the group. A manifesto published by IS in 2015 said girls could be married from the age of nine, and women should only leave the house when they absolutely have to, and even then they must remain hidden and veiled.

While plenty of devout Muslim women choose to wear the niqab, the Islamic State's heavy-handed policy on it has drawn resentment from moderate Muslims living under the group's rule.

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen