The role of women in war, peace and revolution has long been portrayed in manifold, often contradictory ways. Images of women as victims, pacifist peace makers, protestors, and home makers have dominated literature. Opposed to these images we find that the male figure is represented as a fighter, the ones who take part in war and defend the motherland against the enemy. The homeland is thus a female body a passive and defenceless geography which requires brave men to defend and protect her. It could be argued that history is written by men; therefore they narrate it in a manner that suits the usual gender stereotypes.
The Middle East, North Africa and their female populations in particular have been represented, portrayed and stereotyped in different ways, at different times and in different contexts. Take a look at the media coverage of the recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa region. News of the sexual harassment of women in the « Arab uprising », brutal attacks, imprisonments and virginity tests of female protestors dominated the screens. Yet women played a significant role in these events. For them, the uprising was part of a long history of resistance to suppression and a lack of freedom in their countries. The fact is that women were fighting and have proved their existence despite the counter revolutionary and anti-women treatment that they were receiving.
Today this portrayal is reversed. We now see photos, video footage, reports, documentaries and writing about the Kurdish female freedom fighters in Kurdistan. Kobanê a predominantly Kurdish city in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) on the Syrian-Turkish border is dominating our thoughts, our understanding and perception of the role of women in society and revolution.
If women are suppressed, and hanged in public or stoned to death in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia, then Kurdish female fighters are up in arms against such a fate at the hands of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They are not only taking part in a fierce fight against ISIS, they have taken a leading role in this fight against Islamists as military commanders of both women and men.
Through the interviews, statements and the role played by these women, they are showing extraordinary courage, consciousness and a rejection of traditional gender roles and relations. They refuse to be assigned with a particular gender role i.e. to be care givers, or logistics providers to male fighters, or only take part in protests and later go home to their families and kids. In fact, at the same time as fighting ISIS they are fighting for gender equality.
To those who wish to see women return to their stereotypical roles as peace brokers and peace makers, I would ask exactly who are they supposed to be making peace with? With ISIS, who are one of the most brutal terrorist organisations on the face of the planet; who have as their main mission to drag society back into the dark ages; who force female children and women into Jihad Alnikah, who rape and sell them in slave markets under their own control?
I believe this new model of women occupying the highest positions in politics and as freedom fighters on the front line against ISIS poses important challenges to feminist peace theorising. We need to examine the political context, and the outcome of conflicts on women and their futures. In the case of Kurdish women, taking up arms and fighting on the front line is perhaps their best option. To refuse to become slaves, to be raped, killed or ruled by Islamic Sharia Law under ISIS is only viable through armed resistance. We still do not know about the fate of hundreds of Yezidi women who were captured by ISIS when they invaded Shengal in Iraqi Kurdistan.
This new figure, the female freedom fighter in the heart of a revolutionary culture, provides hope. Most of the time we hear them repeat that they don’t want to remain in traditional family relations or just bring up kids; they want to live freely, and to be independent. These statements are extremely important in terms of rejecting marriage as a form of domesticating women and relegating them to second class citizens in traditional societies. They are well aware that these ambitions cannot be obtained if they are still under threat from ISIS. Therefore, they armed themselves and occupied important positions in politics and social life. They have won the trust, admiration and respect of people not only in Kurdistan but worldwide. The fact is they are up in arms against the most reactionary, misogynist and sexist mind-set of the Islamic terror group ISIS.
The reality is that their struggle is a universal one; they are fighting ISIS on behalf of all of us.
Despite the threats from ISIS, Assad’s regime and Turkey – who are allied with ISIS – people in Kobanê are determined to defeat ISIS. Kobanê and people in Rojava are our only hope in defeating a new form of Islamo-fasicm that our region has been infected by for a long time. Ever since Islam came to existence the killing, rape, sex slavery and selling of women and exchanging them as well as capturing them as spoils of war has been a feature in this region. I would argue that there is no moderate Islam. There is one form of Islam using different masks and utilising ancient and modern techniques to maintain power. It is about time ordinary Muslims question their religion, and start to think how many more centuries they should endure religious oppression? This same religion and its Sharia law has confined women and relegated them to an inferior position in family and society.
One important and indeed glorious side of this struggle against political Islam is that it is women who are up in arms against its dictate. Kurdish female fighters are fighting on behalf of all women in the Middle East who have suffered for many centuries and continue to suffer under Islamic regimes and their Sharia Laws. I would say it is about time that women in Middle East, North Africa and the world over to show their solidarity, support and share their struggle. Political Islam’s genocide against women and men should be countered and fought against in Kobanê style. The role these brave Kurdish women are playing in defending their dignity, rights, freedoms and protecting their own cities from these brutal terrorists is only possible because they have taken up arms. No one wants war, but Kurdish women learnt that if they don’t fight them then as soon as they are captured they will be raped, taken as spoils of war, sold in slave markets or married of terrorists in Nikah-Jihad.
My only hope is that Kobanê, its brave women and men, can defeat political Islam symbolised in ISIS. Its people are fighting through their own will power and through an aspiration for freedom in a revolutionary manner. Kobanê will always be the land mark of one of the most extraordinary revolutionary fights of our time.