Kurdish women have always been at the forefront of the resistance against gender inequality, polygamy, femicide, sexual harassment and forced child marriages.

The rights in the new society have been developed and fought for over the past 20 years based on the writings of Abdullah Öcalan.

Women’s emancipation is at the forefront of all Rojavan structures politically and socially. Women have the right to equality with men, and specifically and importantly in the area of the world they live they have:

  • equal status in property law
  • nanned forced and underage marriages
  • quotas for women and ethnic groups to ensure representation at all levels of politics
  • a system of co-chairs in all committees to ensures gender parity is built into the highest levels of decision making

“Woman’s success is the success of society and the individual at all levels. The twenty-first century must be the era of liberated, emancipated woman.This is more important than class or national liberation. The era of democratic civilisation shall be the one when woman rises and succeeds fully.”

Abdullah Öcalan, Era of Woman’s Revolution, 2015

The YPJ: The women’s protection units

In the face of the barbarism and woman-hating onslaught of ISIS in Syria, the women of the Kurdish northern areas took up arms to defend themselves, their communities, their rights and their way of life.

The women’s protection units of the YPJ were instrumental in the battles for Kobani and Manbij, which resulted in the defeat of ISIS just as it was on the doorstep of Europe. The YPJ have become figureheads for feminism and all those who oppose the fascism of ISIS. Many women have flocked to join them from Europe and beyond to fight at their side.

Many women, such as the Yazidis, fled to the relative peace of the Kurdish cantons of northern Syria to escape the slavery and rape of their ISIS captors. Unfortunately, just as it looked like ISIS were on the retreat, the Turkish state illegally invaded the peaceful canton of Afrin, embarking on ethnic cleansing.

This major escalation of President Erdogan’s war against the Kurds once again leaves many women facing slavery and rape.

In the Middle East, an area of the world where women’s rights are systematically trampled on and patriarchal governing structures ensure the repression of women across all levels of society, the new society of Rojava is remarkable.

Rojava’s first ambition is to protect and emancipate all women – Arab, Kurds and Yazidi alike. The democratic confederalism of Rojava rejects the governing systems of the west and the Middle East and instead embraces a grassroots democracy with women at its centre.

Anna Campbell: YPJ international fighter, feminist and trade unionist

The selfless bravery of the women fighters of Rojava is epitomised by 26-year old Anna Campbell, the first British-born female volunteer to be killed. Anna died in a Turkish airstrike as she helped to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Afrin.

“It was almost as if she was searching for the perfect way of expressing all the values she held closest – humanitarian, ecological, feminist and equal political representation,”

Anna’s father Dirk told the media. “Those were the issues she came to dedicate her life to, and she came to the conclusion that Rojava was where she had to go.”

Anna wore the arm patch of the Republic from the Spanish Civil War and saw herself in the tradition of the International Brigades.

Anna Campbell died defending Afrin from Turkish invasion. Anna’s family are still campaigning to bring her body home.

The global war on women

The ideas which inspire the YPJ fighters go far beyond taking up arms.

One of the central ideologies of Rojava is known as Jineology – the science of women. It is an historical and sociological study of revolution, which places women’s self-liberation as essential for any successful movement.

The Jineology academies of Rojava’s cantons not only provide women with access to the education denied to them by ISIS; they explore the root of feminism in the ancient history of the Middle East.

The Kurdish feminist movement is an internationalist movement, seeing the battlegrounds of Afrin as the frontline in a global war for women’s self-liberation.

There’s no doubt that their enemies – jihadist militias backed by the Turkish state – see the battle in those terms as well. This is exposed by the war crimes these groups commit against female fighters which they publish on social media.

The #WomenRiseUpForAfrin campaign was launched as an international solidarity movement to support and spread the values and ideas the YPJ are fighting to defend.