“With past experiences as a starting point, the revolutions of the 21st century are bound to repeat the errors and defeats of the previous two centuries as long as they do not take on the character of a women’s revolution.” writes Zozan Sima for Yeni Özgür Politika.
The Kurdistan revolution must develop within its inherent character of a women’s revolution. Long before the Rojava Revolution started to develop as a women’s revolution Leader Apo [the name preferred by most Kurds for Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK] stated that the Southern Kurdistan Revolution should evolve as a women’s revolution, and observed that “the revolutions of the 21st century are actually women’s revolutions.” Without a doubt efforts inspired by this statement have clearly determined the character of the Rojava Revolution.
The pioneers of the Kurdistan women’s freedom movement have carried out their work in the community here. Word of the resistance of Sakine Cansız [see note below] in prison and her letters from prison had already been circulating in the 1980s, and many babies were named Sara [an alias used by Sakine] or Sakine by their parents at the time. Ş. Binevş Agal used the alias Saliha during her work in many areas during the same period. Hozan Mizgîn, Hanım Yaverkaya, Suna Çiçek, Yıldız Durmuş and many others… Rûken, Fîdan, Dîcle and Şîlan were the first women cadres to join from Rojava (Western Kurdistan), following whom thousands of others joined the ranks. They have contributed to the revolution with heart and soul in activities ranging from militia-work to dispatch, from teaching Kurdish to financial support. The women’s commitees, organized long before the revolution, later formed the basis for Yekîtiya Star [Star Congress, founded in 2005, a confederation of women’s organizations in Rojava, Syria]. The Rojavan Women’s Revolution has not emerged by coincidence, but has developed gradually on this framework.
The Women’s Revolution is not limited to taking active part in the war. Historically, there are numerous cases in which women have joined the fight and fought bravely to defend their lands and stand against fascism. During the Second World War, more than one million women served in the Soviet army as infantry soldiers, medical workers, sharp shooters, intelligence agents, laundresses, surgeons, pilots or partisans. Yet, this did not lead the October Revolution to take on the character of a women’s revolution. In Svetlana Alexievich’s book titled “War’s Unwomanly Face”, we find traces of this in statements made by women who have taken part in the fighting: “War does not smell of women; it smells of men… It seems like I’ve lived two lives. The one of manhood, the other of womanhood… The officer enters the bunker: ‘Cut hers (hair) like a man’s’ he says. ‘But this is a woman.’ ‘No, she’s a soldier. She’ll be a woman again after the war.'”
It is often expressed in memoirs how everything becomes different as the war ends. They tell of the attitude of men and the whole society towards women, and express their disillusionment. This is the unfortunate destiny of women in many revolutions. They have been treated not as the pioneers and the main force of the revolution, rather as those who have made a contribution but at a certain point are expected to go back to their homes and to their former status.
A women’s revolution is also not limited to winning the rights to vote, divorce, inherit and have an abortion. These rights, attained around the world through women’s struggles, do not, sadly, lead to developments of the quality of a women’s revolution. Then there is the role female politicians from fascistic, fundamentalist or neoliberal parties play in the oppression of women… Neither the participation of women in the workforce for economic independence, nor the fulfillment of the demand for equal pay for equal work lead to developments of the quality of a women’s revolution. The neoliberal strategies of exploiting female employment and the female workforce have resulted in further impoverishment despite longer work hours. The “feminisation of poverty” is a consequence of such policies. The situation concerning legal equality, legal rights attained in the struggle against violence, and the international conventions expected to function as a solution agianst violence are equally gloomy. Examples of these are conventions that are cancelled overnight and laws that are suspended, and laws concerning rights that are not worth the paper they are written on.
With these experiences as a starting point, the revolutions of the 21st century are bound to repeat the errors and defeats of the previous two centuries as long as they do not take on the character of a women’s revolution. Perhaps this is the most significant education that may be derived from the Rojava Revolution. The Rojava Women’s Revolution offers a model for understanding what a women’s revolution is and how it may develop.
It can be said that the definition and objective of the women’s revolution is to turn women’s liberty to a culture and ethics. Women in Rojava act in accordance with the values of women’s liberty both at war and in the process of rebuilding. For this reason, the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) do not fight like an army of men, and the women do not return to their homes in disillusionment when the fighting is over.
However, it must not be concluded that this revolution has been completed or finished. As the revolution is about to reach its 10th anniversarywe must ensure that the women’s revolution has grown its roots deep in Kurdistan and Middle East. We must ensure that it is thriving; strong enough to resist attacks, in other words, firmly enough entrenched and in a position to establish universal ties. We still have a long and gruelling journey ahead to achieve this.
* Sakine Cansız, one of the co-founders of the Kurdistan Workers Pary (PKK), was imprisoned after the Turkish military coup in 1980, to be released in 1991. She went to Europe in the mid-1990s, and was granted political asylum by France in 1998. She was killed in Paris on 9 January 2013 along with two other female Kurdish politicians, Fidan Doğan and Leyla Şaylemez, by an assailant believed to be working as an assassin for the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MIT) and working undercover as a driver for Cansız.