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  • JineologyThe Kurdish Women’s Movement
  • Meral Düzgün (bio)

The thirty million Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Armenia are the largest ethnic group that has not gained its own permanent nation-state (BBC News 2014). Although statelessness generally renders women socioeconomically and politically vulnerable, susceptible to male oppression, gender prejudices, and inequality, the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK) includes one of the largest contingents of armed women militants in the world (Yildiz 2013).

Female combatants from the Women’s Protection Units (Kurdish, Yekîneyên Parastina Jinê; YPJ) and the women’s military wing of the PKK, Yekîneyên Jinên Azad ên Star (YJA-Star), have challenged traditional gender roles and contributed to the idea of “democratic confederalism,” a term the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan coined to highlight a move away from patriarchal nationalism. Kurdish women join the YPJ/YJA-Star ranks because they offer a possibility of achieving freedom and equality. In rejecting the idea of the state and taking up arms on behalf of their nation, the women of the YPJ/YJA-Star units are walking toward liberation. In her testimonial Bejan Ciyayi, a member of the YPJ, writes: “There are ideological, political and sociological reasons behind my desire to fight against ISIS. I have sworn to defend the Kurdish people against all evil” (Platt 2014). Is putting one’s life on the line worth the fight for women’s liberation? Or is Dilar Dirik (2014) right to argue that “wartime, uprisings, social unrest often provide women with space to assert themselves and to demand representation in ways that normal, civilian life would not permit”?

Many Kurdish women demand gender justice. A member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, founded in 2008, which mandates that 40 percent of [End Page 284] its representatives be women, writes, “When women have freedom to think then the Kurdish question will be solved” (Krajeski 2013). Abdullah Ocalan (2013, 57) reflects this belief:

The extent to which society can be thoroughly transformed is determined by the extent of the transformation attained by women. Similarly, the level of woman’s freedom and equality determines the freedom and equality of all sections of society. . . . For a democratic nation, woman’s freedom is of great importance too, as liberated woman constitutes liberated society. Liberated society in turn constitutes democratic nation. Moreover, the need to reverse the role of man is of revolutionary importance.

With its Marxist-Leninist political roots, the PKK abjures capitalism. A combatant of the YPJ/YJA-Star units identified as Desine expresses such a view: “I fight for the enslaved woman, and help her liberation from oppression. I believe capitalism enslaves women. In capitalism men dominate while women are the underdogs. . . . Capitalism first oppressed European women.... I want to ask why many European women are still oppressed?” (Ahmad 2014). The women of the YPJ/YJA-Star units who do not require male permission to act in war wonder why European women tolerate their subordination in capitalist systems.

The PKK regards gender inequality as something that must be addressed in the party’s “Women’s Liberation Ideology” (Nurhak 2014). The party promotes the term jineology: “a fundamental scientific term in order to fill the gaps that the current social sciences are incapable of doing. Jineology is built on the principle that without the freedom of women within society and without a real consciousness surrounding women no society can call itself free” (ibid.). Zîlan Diyar (2014) writes:

The whole world is talking about us, Kurdish women. It has become a common phenomenon to come across news about women fighters in magazines, papers, and news outlets. . . . To them, our rooted tradition is a reality that they only recently started to know. They are impressed with everything. The women’s laughter, naturalness, long braids, and the details of their young lives feel like hands extending to those struggling in the waters of despair.

Diyar critiques the Western media’s focus on the physical appearance of the Kurdish female fighters that trivializes women’s roles in war and distracts “from the fact that the vast majority of Kurdish women join the struggle out of conviction, out of a desire...