In November 2020 the International League of People’s Struggles Women’s Commission and the International Women’s Alliance held a two part webinar on women in the Kurdish Liberation movement. On the 25th November, International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women, the Jineolojî academy gave a contribution on the history of the struggle, our continued power and need for unity, and in honour of those who have fallen.
Today, all over North and East Syria women have been gathering and marching; saying: No to femicide, no to genocide and occupation – together we defend women and life!
With this spirit we send our greetings of Solidarity from the Jineolojî Academy in Rojava to all our struggling comrades in the Philippines and everywhere in the world! Especially to our sisters of Gabriela and all IWA members!
Our struggle today continues by commemorating all women who gave their live in the struggle for freedom and justice: like the Mirabel sisters in the Dominican Republic; women leaders like Gabriela Silang and Lorena Barros in the Philippines or Sakine Cansiz and Leyla Agirî in Kurdistan.
Just one year ago, we saw that brave women like Hevrin Xelef, Eqide Osman, Amara Renas and hundreds more of our dear friends gave their lives to resist against the Turkish occupation attacks on Rojava. Again, only 5 months ago, on 23 June 2020 again, leading members of our women’s movement Kongra Star were targeted by Turkish drones with NATO technology in Kobane: Zehra Berkel, Hebûn Mela Xelil and Emine Weysi were cruelly assassinated. Just on the doorstep of Emine’s house while her daughter was preparing tea for them.
So, discussing about the role of women in the revolution in Rojava means for us to remember all of these women. We remember the challenges of women from 4 generations and their ancestors who have been dedicating their lives to create a future for their children, in which they can in live together in dignity and justice – with their own language and culture.
The journey of the Kurdish women’s freedom struggle in Rojava started in the early 1980s. Since then Kurdish women – grandmothers, mothers, their daughters and granddaughters – have taken any risk to organise their communities – sometimes clandestinely and sometimes loud and openly. They have resisted against both the chauvinist repression of the Syrian regime and colonialism, as well as patriarchal structures and violence in families and society. Women were expected to marry at an early age, not to have an own opinion or will. They have been perceived as the honour of the family, owned by their father, their uncles, brothers and husbands. Women’s duty has been to obey, to serve their husbands and families, to give birth to children – especially boys as successors for the family of their husbands. Beside this everything was seen as shameful or dishonouring.
The struggle for national liberation lead by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party PKK, the resistance of women leaders like Sakine Cansiz in the Turkish prisons or of women guerilla fighters in the mountains inspired and encouraged women of all ages. Thousands of women from Rojava followed in their footsteps. Especially the analysis of Abdullah Ocalan about the connection of the liberation of Kurdistan and women’s liberation – that one cannot work without the other – became a source of self-empowerment for Kurdish women: From the 1990’s until today thousands of young women from Rojava – as well as from all other parts of Kurdistan – jointed the guerilla struggle in the mountains of North Kurdistan. At the same time ten thousands of women have been organising, educating and mobilising the society in Rojava.
They supported the guerilla struggle mentally and spiritually as well as materially:
By organising collective harvest days, working and singing together on the fields to send the outcome of their labour as support for the guerilla struggle in the mountains;
by working as courier in between different regions to maintain organisational structures and communication;
by organising secretly classes in the neighbourhoods to teach women reading and writing in Kurdish language or to discuss about political developments and the struggle;
by organising and collecting support for poor families
by embracing women with solidarity who were subjected to violence and pressure within their families and clans
by reinterpreting ancient Kurdish songs and lyrics about with revolutionary content…
In 2005 the Women’s Movement in Rojava, today known as Kongra Star, was formally established. All of these efforts have build up the basis for Kurdish women playing a leading role in the Rojava Revolution.
In 2011 along with the rise of people’s resistances and uprisings against dictatorships in the Middle East and North Africa, also the Kurdish people in Syria – with women in many places at the forefront – started to mobilise and articulate their political demands. But they did not only demand legitimate rights. At the same time a process was started to build up the system of Democratic Autonomy – of people’s democratic self-administration – as an alternative to oppressive state structures. For women and the women’s movement Kongra Star this meant to establish within this context also an autonomous system of women’s self-organising and self-governance.
The women’s system is based on women’s communes, councils, cooperatives and academies in all regions of Rojava and North and East Syria after they were liberated by the SDF, YPJ and YPG forces from the bloody rule of ISIS.
It covers all fields of life: Education and science, social life, politics, democratic relations and alliances, communal economy, justice as the women’s justice council, culture and arts, self-defence, health, press and media as well as the autonomous organisation of young women and women of different national and religious communities.
With the beginning of the revolution joint organisational platforms have been established like Women’s Council of North & East Syria or the Syrian Women’s Council: Here, Women from the Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, Armenian, Chechen, Turkmen and all other national communities including women of different religions like Ezdî, Christian and Muslim come together with the aim to develop a common agenda, politics and struggle for women’s liberation, genuine peace, democracy and justice in Syria.
Women of different communities who have been living next to each other, for the first time really got to know each other, each other’s history, cultures and challenges in their lives.
What does this revolution mean in women’s lives?
And what changes did women create in their lives and society?
Why do we talk about a women’s revolution?
This we can learn by giving the examples of some women community leaders. They represent the lives and experiences of hundred of thousands women in Rojava, today.
• Gulê Selmo – Organising Community, Social life and a Women’s Justice System:
Gulê Selmo became the first martyr of Kongra Star as well as of the Rojava Revolution in general: Gulê Selmo grew up in the 1960s in a village in the Efrîn region. Already in the 1980s, her family, as well as other families from her village, sympathised with the Kurdish freedom struggle and the PKK’s desire to establish an independent, united Kurdistan. After her marriage Gule moved with her husband to Aleppo, where in a quarter where about 200,000 Kurds lived, most of them had been forced into poverty. The state land ousted them from their lands. So they had to go to Aleppo to find work.
Since Gulê Selmo did not have any children, she was repeatedly confronted with patriarchal social pressure, even in her own family environment. However, for Gulê Selmo all heval, all comrades of the Liberation Movement and the children of her neighbourhood were like her own children. She cared for each them. She became like a mother for all of them. For more than 20 years, she played a leading role in organising and mobilising the population in Aleppo, in the Şehba and Efrîn region.
When the Women’s Movement was founded 2005, Gulê Selmo also became a member. At first she secretly organised meetings and educational events for women in her neighbourhood. She took part in many actions and protests despite attacks by the Syrian state. She organised campaigns to free the political prisoners. When in 2011-2012 the democratic self-governing structures were also organised in Aleppo, Gulê Selmo was elected as a delegate of Kongra Star to the people’s council in her district. She became a member of the People’s Justice Commission. Day and night she was busy with organising demonstrations and meetings, with solving problems and disputes, with ensuring the safety and provision of supplies for the population in her district. There were daily attacks and arrests of young people by the Baath regime. On 10 March 2012, when clashes broke out between members of an Arab tribe that was collaborating with the regime and Kurdish youth, Gulê Selmo intervened again. She tried to settle the matter peacefully and to prevent bloodshed. However, the provocateurs of the Ba’ath regime started shooting at the Kurdish youth. Hereby Gulê Selmo was shot in her head. 3 days later she died at the age of 50 in the hospital. The anger over this assassination triggered the first uprisings of the Kurdish people at the beginning of the Rojava Revolution. The uprisings lasted for several days, state institutions were burned down and the last remaining regime forces were driven out of the district. Women led the funeral march to the cemetery, which was attended by over 150,000 people. Friends of Gulê Selmo said that she had a strong personality, was loved and respected by all people, young and old, man and woman. The mass demonstration on the occasion of her funeral not only set an example against the regime’s attacks. Many people became aware that the feudal-patriarchal understanding that a woman could only gain social prestige through giving birth to many children was not valid anymore. It became clear that women now have gained even greater attention and respect in society through their political struggle and social commitment, through their sense of justice and responsibility. “Mother Gulê” has become immortal as the first martyr of the Rojava Revolution.
• Hevrin Xelef – from Young Women’s Organising and Communal Economy to Politics, creating Democratic Relations and Alliances:
Hevrîn Xelef, was born in 1984 in Dêrik. As a child she grew up in a socially and politically committed family. 4 of her brothers and Hevrîn’s sister Zozan joined the liberation struggle of the guerilla. They all lost their lives while fighting against Turkish occupation forces.
Their mother took part in many popular assemblies and also met with Abdullah Öcalan. What she learned from these assemblies also had a great influence on Hevrîn’s education and personal development. After Hevrîn completed her school education in Dêrik, she studied agricultural sciences in Aleppo. Afterwards she returned to Dêrik. With the beginning of the revolution in Rojava, Hevrîn participated to works of the youth movement. With the proclamation of the Democratic Autonomy Administration, she became co-chair of the Economical Committee of Democratic Self-Government in Cizîre Canton. In this work she paid special attention to the economic needs of women and the development of women’s economy and cooperatives.
In 2018, Hevrîn participated in the process of building and founding the Future Party of Syria with the aim of promoting the interests of all population groups in Syria and a democratic renewal of Syria. On the founding Congress she was elected as General Secretary of the Party. In each of her speeches, Hevrîn stressed the importance of dialogue among the various Syrian political forces, national and religious communities in Syria. She insisted that the peoples together should determine their own future and shape their own political and social life. With her political struggle, Hevrîn called on all sections of society and political actors to participate in a democratic solution to the crisis in Syria.
On 12 October 2019 – on the 3rd day of Turkey’s occupation war last year – Havrin Xelef was assassinated in an ambush. Members of the Islamist National Syrian Army under Turkish command stopped at her car on the M4 motorway and shot at it. She was dragged out of her car and executed her. She was 35 years young.
• Zehra Berkel – Community Organising and Education in connection with Culture & Arts:
Zehra Berkel was born and grew up in Kobanê. She began early to look for ways of women’s liberation. She gave importance to the involvement of young women in arts and cultural works connecting them with actions to change the feudal-patriarchal mentality in society.
Already in her childhood she supported the family economy, which was very poor. Her father wanted to take her out of school, but she resisted because she wanted to learn.
At an early age she gathered old women together at home and gave them lessons in Arabic, reading and writing. Later she studied law, because she wanted to defend the rights of women. This was all before the revolution in Rojava.
With the revolution in Rojava Zehra started to work in the women’s movement. First she took part in building up the women centre Mala Jin. Finally she became a member of the coordination of Kongreya Star. She suggested that men should also see education by women to overcome patriarchal mentality and attitudes.
Zehra Berkel was murdered together with two other women activists by a targeted air-strike of a Turkish drone on 23 June 2020. Over and over again she told women in her surrounding: “We should never say ‘We are free.’ We still have a way to go before we are really free, until we can really breathe freely.”
• Malda Kosar – Jineoloji as a Science of Women and Life. Research and education for succeeding a women’s revolution and liberation of society!
Malda Kûsa was born in 1998 in Hesekê. She grew up with two languages, Kurmancî and Arabic, having friends and neighbours of Kurdish and Arbic communities. She took part in the Jineolojî works. She coordinated the works of the Jineolojî Research Centre of Hesekê Canton.
Everyone who gets to know the science of Jineolojî gets to know himself/herself and takes personal development steps. She gave education and carried out research. Her role was to fight against the patriarchal mentality and oppression by passing on knowledge. When she first went to the Defence Forces Training Centre to teach Jineoloji, she was very young herself and gave education to 300-400 men. She herself was very excited and said: ‘How can I teach them the science of woman and life? How can I advance the foundation for changing men?’
After having given the education she returned full of enthusiasm and joy. For she saw that men, approached her teaching and questions with respect and listened to her. With all her heart she said: ‘This is revolution. 400 men listening to a woman who is teaching them about history and the science of women. In this society where men were at the centre of the whole life, now it is possible that a women is educating them.’
Through Jineolojî she got to know all the history and personalities of oppressed and resisting women in many cultures and places. That’s why she said: ‘It is as if I open my eyes in a new life: life is so many-sided and rich.’ Her questions and search became deeper. With passion, a clear will and self-confidence she participated in all works. She could not bear injustice. Even when people met her with injustice, she met them with a smile and with her pure heart, so that she managed to make those with her injustice ashamed. The personality and attitude of Malda are an example for the development of Jineolojî works in Rojava. Malda just was 20 years young, when on 4 May 2019 she was killed on her way back home from works the Al Hol region by a road mine placed by the IS.
• Jinwar – Health, Communal Life and Economy to defend women’s lives and nature:
Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of all forms of violence against women the women’s village Jinwar celebrates its anniversary! 4 years ago this project was announced by planting the first trees on a plain of agricultural land. Two years later the women started to live together with their children in the village build up from clay houses. They organise their daily live – bread backing, gardening, farming, education, economy, celebrations and everything that is needed – communally. For each personal and collective problem they try to create a solution by learning from each other’s live experiences.
While due to Corona the health system collapsed everywhere in the World on 8 March 2020 women of Jinwar opened the natural health clinic ŞifaJin in order to raise women’s awareness on natural healing methods and provide healthcare assistance for women in the surrounding villages.
These are only some examples showing how women in Rojava are defending their land and society against occupation, genocide and femicide: Through organising women and educating society, by building up new forms of communal life and economy.
Jin – Jiyan – Azadî!