Amid Death and Despair, A Feminist Revolution Is Happening In Syria

Source: Refinery 29

Ever wondered what it might be like to live through a revolution? A revolution which puts women and young people at the leading edge of change? When society as you know it and all its institutions are turned upside down, virtually overnight, in the pursuit of ideals such as women’s equality or true democracy or environmental protection? Ideals which you may be passionate about but which constantly crash into walls erected by a society which puts profit before people and planet.

There is a revolution going on right now. A feminist revolution, led by women, in Syria of all places – a country of death, destruction, dust and despair, if we are to believe what we see on our TV screens. When I visited Rojava (now the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria) in 2016, all the journalists were heading to the front line. Among the forces that drove ISIS out of Raqqa – a battle of huge significance to the West – were a number of Kurdish women but you would have had to be extremely attentive to the news to notice them fighting alongside the men.

Influenced by the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdish freedom struggle, currently imprisoned in Turkey, who believed that “A country can’t be free unless the women are free,” the women of Rojava set about building a society on the principles of democratic confederalism. With President Assad distracted by the rebel uprising in the south of Syria, the Kurds in this northern strip of land, an oppressed minority, were able to proceed with an almost bloodless revolution.

Neighbourhoods were formed into communes co-led by a man and a woman, which had committees to deal with local issues like health, conflict resolution and education, which had a guaranteed 40% quota for each sex. Representatives were elected by the local people and this structure was replicated all the way up to city level.

Alongside this structure was an unprecedented, women-only governance structure which had the right to veto any policies affecting women’s rights. Shortly after the women’s ministry was set up in 2014, a huge number of women-friendly laws were introduced; polygamy, child marriage and forced marriage were banned. Sharia courts which flourished under Assad and ISIS were disbanded.

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