For many Westerners, Middle Eastern woman are thought of as marginalised, male-dominated, and oppressed, yet this does not seem to be the case in the Kurdish regions of Syria. A Kurdish People’s Defence unit, made up of 35 women, train and live together. These women are taking up arms against the Islamist fighters and Bashar al-Assad. In this unit women are taught military tactic, for example how to ambush an enemy fighter. As ‘ordinary’ girls they would have had no value and would have been subject to their husbands wishes, yet as fighters they are respected. A male member of the Syria army stated that the sex of a soldier doesn’t matter, they would both fight side by side.
A sobering aspect of these women’s choice of becoming a soldier is that they are consciously choosing a life without a husband, children, or family. Once they become a soldier they are a member for life. As a consequence of their family’s death, some women have joined the People’s Defence unit to redress the wrongs done to them.
Yet Kurdish women have long been taking up arms in conflicts in the Middle East, in the 90s women soldiers were known for their zeal in launching suicide bombings. Despite being an integral part of the current rebellion women soldiers are still seen as an anomaly in Syria’s male dominated rebellion.
Of the Kurdish soldiers in the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, 20% of them are women. Kurdish women are breaking from their Arab counterparts in taking prominent roles in security and police task units and in guarding checkpoints and strategic buildings from jihadists and radical Islamists.
An interesting concept of freedom is repeated in some of the articles that I read, as two of the articles quoted women describing the fighting as ‘liberty for women’ and a ‘liberating experience’ yet one can’t help but wonder; is it fighting for a greater good, that is liberating or being treated as an “equal”, just another soldier, in a male dominate rebellion?