“They kept bringing prospective buyers for us but luckily none of them took us because we are not beautiful and we were always crying and holding on to each other. We tried to kill ourselves and the man who was holding us promised not to separate us, but he was becoming more and more impatient. He wanted to get rid of us, to unload the responsibility for us on to someone else, and if we had not managed to escape it was only a matter of time before we would have ended up married by force or sold to some men, like many other girls.” – Yezidi teenager, escaped from ISIS captivity.
In August 2014, soon after news broke about the kidnapping of 3000 Yezidi Kurdish women and girls by ISIS fighters in the Sinjar (Shengal in Kurdish) province of Iraq, representatives from several women’s organisations gathered together in the Kurdish Community Centre in north London to take action for those young women. It was clear to everyone present that while the West geared up for another round of bombing in the Middle East, what was really needed in response was solidarity with the women of the region, an understanding of violence against women as a weapon of war, and to recognise the autonomy of the women of the region in defending and resisting violent patriarchy.
Militarism goes hand in hand with patriarchy. Violence in war is perpetrated largely by men and suffered disproportionately by women, and yet, the voice of women as both victims of gendered and sexualised violence or active agents of resistance to that violence is largely ignored. Our Alliance is an attempt to raise the voices of those women fighting on the ground, as armed members of the People’s Protection Units (YPJ) or as teachers, doctors, politicians, aid workers, and carers.
ABOUT THE ROJAVA REVOLUTION
For over three years, since the onset of conflict in Syria, the Kurdish people in the north of the country have been involved in a fierce battle against jihadist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. While the world turned away, these fighters were encouraged to take part in the overthrow of the Assad government and were given training, funding, logistical support and arms from various regional and international powers with vested interests in the region, including the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Indeed, ISIS owes its origins to US interventions in Iraq. Its fighters are openly entering Syria across the Turkish border.
We believe that self-determination and self-defence are key principles for the liberation of oppressed peoples from structures of imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy. Kurdish women in Rojava, the newly autonomous Kurdish region of northern Syria, are embodying this principle in their response to ISIS. However, strong resistance put up by Kurdish women didn’t appear from no-where: the Kurdish Women’s Movement has been developed over two decades amidst the Kurdish struggle for liberation in Turkey and Syria, and has pushed women to the forefront in the fight against oppression and discrimination. They make up 50% of the fighting forces and over 40% of elected representatives in the newly autonomous region of Rojava, and within all political parties across Syrian and Turkish Kurdistan. Jineology (the science of women) understands that the question of gender equality is a matter of democracy and freedom for all of society; that to overcome capitalism and statism, the liberation of women is essential. The social contract of Rojava, which is the regions constitutional document, “guarantees equality…in all walks of public and private life”; makes the co-chair system (to have one man and one woman as joint chairs of any political or civic organisation) legally binding; and prohibits polygamy, child marriage, forced marriage and bridal dowries.