“Woman, Life, Freedom”: Syrian Women Are Rising Up Against Patriarchy

“Girl, life, freedom” — the enduring slogan of Iran’s girls’s revolution — has traveled far and vast. First chanted by Kurdish girls on March 8, 2006, on the streets of Turkey, it got here out of the Kurdish freedom motion’s longstanding feminist commitment. The rallying cry then spilled over throughout the border into Syria to accompany the Kurdish girls’s heroic fight towards ISIS (often known as Daesh). Final September, voiced in defiance after the brutal homicide of the younger Kurdish girl Jina (Mahsa) Amini, the slogan reverberated past the Kurdish areas of Iran, finally reaching the entire world.

However Iran is just not the primary place the place “girl, life, freedom” traversed ethnic boundaries, revealing its common enchantment. Much less recognized — although not much less profound — has been the unfold of its philosophy in Syria, the place girls throughout the varied ethno-religious panorama have present in it an inspiring mannequin for radical transformation.

Ladies’s Revenge within the Former ISIS Capital

“When Raqqa was liberated from ISIS, we thought: If Kurdish girls can manage in [the northern Syrian region of] Jazeera, why can’t we do it right here?” stated Mayada Ahmed, one of many 4 Arab girls we met with on the Raqqa workplace of Zanobia, a girls’s umbrella group working throughout Arab majority areas of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). Paradoxically, somewhat than forcing girls into submission, three years of ISIS rule that noticed girls being purchased and offered on Raqqa’s streets fomented their resolve to place an finish to the area’s entrenched patriarchy.

Previously the capital of ISIS, Raqqa is now a part of a brand new political entity that emerged within the predominantly Kurdish northern Syria on the outbreak of the civil battle and has since expanded to include a significant Arab population because the multiethnic Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) ended ISIS management within the area. The AANES now operates as a confederation, offering a novel mannequin of interethnic and interreligious collaboration within the Center East. Along with pluralism, it seeks to place in apply participatory democracy, sustainable economy and gender equality, as half of what’s generally often called “the Rojava Revolution.” Regardless of governing one third of Syria and offering for about 5 million folks, the AANES lacks worldwide recognition and has been constantly threatened with annihilation by both Damascus and the Turkish state.

Raqqa’s girls didn’t have a simple life even earlier than ISIS. One of many Zanobia members we talked to was a sufferer of kid marriage whose training was reduce brief simply after major college. Any such stunted future is all too widespread in Raqqan society, the place a lot remains to be ruled by conventional spiritual and tribal codes.

Raqqa and different Arab-majority components of North and East Syria are a extra conservative terrain, our sources stated, in comparison with predominantly Kurdish north of the nation. That’s the reason sure adjustments just like the ban on polygamy that had been first launched in Kurdish-majority areas are being resisted by the Arab inhabitants of the AANES. The truth is, Kurdish girls have reached unprecedented beneficial properties: every establishment of AANES now has a co-chair system (a lady and a person in each place of authority), with a 50 % gender quota, and autonomous girls’s councils with veto energy over any selections regarding girls. But, these could also be much less a testomony to a extra enlightened society than a product of the four-decades-long combat that ladies have waged towards their recalcitrant comrades in wrestle and the conservative Kurdish society at giant — first in Turkey after which in Syria.

Whereas a number of the gender equality mechanisms pioneered by Kurdish girls have been launched within the Arab-majority areas, many oppressive practices seem like exhausting to root out. The try to ban polygamy, for one factor, has been firmly opposed in Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor and Manbij, and so the apply is allowed to proceed even because it has been outlawed in different components of the AANES. The brand new authorities is careful to not impose its most radical gender reforms from above — not solely out of respect for its founding precept of decentralization, but additionally as a result of it understands that this may solely result in extra resentment. Historic distrust between Syria’s Kurds and Arabs, produced by longstanding nationalist insurance policies within the area, makes the difficulty even more durable to strategy.

Within the meantime, Zanobia members have been quietly working towards larger transformations from under, crediting the AANES administration for the brand new alternatives. They, for instance, go to households of their properties, making an attempt to speak males out of marrying a number of girls. They negotiate household issues, comparable to divorce, with conservative tribal and spiritual leaders, the primary protectors of the patriarchal established order. Additionally they manage neighborhood conferences for girls by way of native communes — the lynchpin of the brand new political system — usually moving into standoffs with feminine ISIS supporters, who’re nonetheless simple to return by in Raqqa.

The problem, our sources defined, is just not males per se, however somewhat the so-called “ISIS mentality,” which persists in insidious methods amongst each genders even after ISIS’s territorial defeat. There are nonetheless many minds to win, and Zanobia members imagine that theirs is a mannequin that may be utilized all through Syria and past.

Armenian Ladies’s Double Battle

Three hours northeast of Raqqa, in ethnically combined Heseke, we visited the just lately opened Armenian Social Council to speak to its girls members. “Earlier than the revolution, there was no organizing by Armenian girls. We knew nothing about our id,” stated Losîn Ardemiyan, an Armenian language trainer on the council. Fashioned to enrich an already present Armenian self-defense battalion, the council works to get well the Armenian id, tradition and language among the many assimilated descendants of genocide survivors who had discovered refuge in Syria greater than a century in the past. When she joined the council two years earlier, Losîn didn’t know a single letter of the language that had been her household’s mom tongue for generations. Now she teaches it to her colleagues, most of whom, identical to her, need to be taught it from scratch.

The revolution provided a gap not just for the revival of the Armenian id, we had been instructed, but additionally for Armenian girls’s skill to face up for his or her rights. Only a few weeks earlier than my go to, 150 representatives of assorted organizations gathered within the First Armenian Ladies’s Congress, a product of 80 conferences held throughout North and East Syria previous to the occasion. Whereas differing in ethnic id, Armenian girls’s expertise with male domination is kind of much like that of their Kurdish and Arab neighbors.

We got a protracted record of grievances: Ladies are prevented from going to highschool, can’t select the variety of kids to have, and typically usually are not even allowed to go away house on their very own — not to mention to occupy a place of authority. For the reason that starting of the revolution, issues have been altering; however even now, 10 years later, a few of these practices proceed. Only in the near past the Armenian social council organized a house go to along with different group organizations, together with the brand new interfaith Council of Religions, to dissuade a household from marrying their lady little one off.

Comparable issues are tackled with comparable instruments: Impressed by the Kurdish girls’s developments, Losîn and her comrades have adopted the autonomous girls’s committees and co-chair system as a part of all establishments. “The truth is, we’re in violation of the gender equality precept,” she stated, jokingly. “Our present co-chairs are each girls.” Now they’re planning to open a girls’s home — an establishment that has confirmed key for Kurdish girls’s self-organization and training. This one shall be for Armenian girls solely.

A Revolution of the Thoughts

Mala Jin (“girls’s home” in Kurdish) have proliferated since 2011 — the start of the revolution — when the primary one was based in Qamishlo, a Kurdish-majority metropolis on the Syria-Turkey border. Seasoned in twenty years of clandestine organizing beneath the Bashar al-Assad regime, its girls co-founders went on to arrange a girls’s home in each locality, together with Raqqa and different predominantly Arab provinces. “As quickly as an space could be liberated from ISIS, we might journey there and set up a girls’s home,” stated Bahya Murad, one of many co-founders of the establishment. There are 62 of those homes now, together with two run by Syriac girls — one other ethno-religious minority within the area — who adopted the Kurdish girls’s instance.

These areas for mediation of household issues — known as “divorce homes” by their opponents — defend and advocate for girls mistreated by their households or spouses, along with offering training to each men and women on the newly established girls’s rights. Throughout our go to in September 2022, we witnessed a lady usher in her former husband who, having discovered a youthful sweetheart, had unilaterally divorced his spouse within the Syrian authorities’s courtroom.

Whereas the autonomous administration has arrange its own justice system, this man opted for the regime’s courtroom to keep away from sharing little one custody and marital property along with his spouse. He knew this could not fly in autonomous courts, as they uphold the brand new women’s law with its varied protections for girls. Whereas this legislation — but to be applied within the Arab areas — has banned essentially the most egregious practices, from compelled marriage to honor killings, the ladies’s homes can hardly complain a few scarcity of instances to take care of. But, with the revolution beneath approach, girls now have a spot that advocates on their behalf to make sure enforcement of their newly gained but contested rights.

The ladies’s homes are a dwelling testimony of the persistence of patriarchal mentality and the sluggish tempo of social change. Again and again, we heard from girls that the liberty they combat for can’t be gained with a mere change of legal guidelines. Slightly, what’s wanted is a change in folks’s minds, and for that, 10 years of revolution have confirmed to be inadequate. It’s not only a query of fixing males — girls, too, fall sufferer to patriarchal mentality.

Regardless of the groundbreaking position that ladies’s homes have performed, some see even their emancipatory horizon as too restricted. Whereas older girls who often run these homes attempt to steadiness the purpose of ladies’s liberation with that of preserving marriage as an establishment — most of the time, advising girls towards divorce as an answer to a failing relationship — youthful girls we met really feel that this strategy doesn’t go far sufficient. A few of them reject marriage as the one socially acceptable type of a relationship; others try to radically redefine the phrases of their marriages, from labor division, to decision-making, to increasing their private autonomy.

Ladies’s Science

A whole lot of these new horizons are being actively explored within the discipline of jineoloji, a brand new “science of ladies and life” developed by the Kurdish girls’s motion. A compulsory topic at the highschool and faculty ranges, it is usually taught in any respect establishments of the AANES administration, together with its safety and navy models. “Free co-existence” (hevjiyana azad in Kurdish) is proposed instead to what’s known as a “hegemonic marriage” — one primarily based on domination and inequality.

Jineoloji college students be taught concerning the lengthy historical past of patriarchy, gender relations throughout totally different religions, and ladies’s struggles all through the world. Since some matters addressed in lessons are nonetheless taboo — notably sexuality — pushback to this new self-discipline could be discovered even in Kurdish-majority areas.

Certainly, the persisting resistance to educating girls’s science to broad swaths of the inhabitants is maybe the most effective proof of this concept’s radical nature. In Deir ez-Zor, Syria, reportedly essentially the most conservative of the AANES’ Arab-majority provinces, women and men took to the streets to protest the brand new curriculum that aimed to advertise gender equality, in addition to pluralism and secularism.

Whereas jineoloji is just not taught at faculties in Arab areas, Raqqa’s Al Sharq College, the most recent of the three autonomous universities at present working in North and East Syria, tries to introduce the subject step by step as a part of different topics, like sociology. Social sciences at the moment are a part of the core curriculum, which was not the case beneath the Assad regime, and are taught to encourage essential considering amongst each native college students and professors, for a lot of of whom faith and ladies’s freedom are nonetheless not open to debate.

Even with a feminist administration in energy, the revolution of the thoughts that has united girls from throughout Syria’s ethno-religious teams is much from being over. But, the ladies driving the revolution stay optimistic. As one of many Zanobia members instructed us, they’ve already come a good distance and at the moment are thirsty for extra.

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