Unbowed – Why we must back the Kurds

From our latest issue on the Kurds, Dilar Dirik explains Turkey’s strategy for extinguishing a beacon of women’s liberation in northern Syria. But, she argues, the women of Rojava are not giving up.

Turkey is bent on extinguishing a beacon of women’s liberation in northern Syria. But the women of Rojava are not giving up, writes Dilar Dirik.

Early every day, Ilham, a Kurdish woman in her sixties, gets up to make her way to her Mala Jin – or Women’s House – in the Northern Syrian city of Qamishlo (aka Qamishli). There, with colleagues ranging from teenage girls to women her age, she tries to help resolve issues raised by women in her district.

Among these are domestic violence and so-called ‘honour killings’. The Mala Jin helps women to leave abusive partners, supports economic independence and organizes against sexism and violence in the community.

Ilham listens and follows up on individual cases by visiting the women who have confided in her. Since the establishment of the first Mala Jin in 2012, the women’s movement has spread them to villages and cities. They are considered among the most efficient institutions addressing women’s social issues and are one reason people refer to achievements in this region as ‘a women’s revolution’.

Women have almost disappeared from the public sphere
Long before the US-led coalition against ISIS was formed, Kurdish women were at the forefront of the war against ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates in Northern Syria – an area the Kurds call Rojava or Western Kurdistan.

In 2013, women formed the autonomous Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), which alongside their male counterpart, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and other units, would make up the Syrian Democratic Forces which in 2019 ended ISIS’s territorial control.

The women fighters have always been clear that they are the self-defence force of a wider emancipatory project, a social revolution with women’s liberation at the heart of the struggle for a free society.

Since July 2012, the Autonomous Administration of Northern and Eastern Syria has taken remarkable steps towards establishing women’s rights in all spheres of life. Its legal documents enshrine gender equality and tackling violence against women as core principles.

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