The situation in Syrian Kurdistan, Rojava, is not just a local Middle-Eastern problem, it is a global one and concerns the future of human rights
In the Middle-East, there practically no equal rights
To quote the UNICEF report
In the Middle East and North Africa region, several legal systems are implemented. Some countries legal system is based solely on Islamic Shari’a law (Yemen, Iran, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia), while most countries maintain a hybrid legal system combining a version of French, British or Egyptian legal codes with Shari’a. The personal status law, or family code, regulates matters such as marriage, divorce and child custody and is governed in most countries by Shari’a. This means that in cases related to personal status in many countries a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s before a court. In countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Sudan, religious minorities are allowed to apply their own communities’ religious standards to some personal status matters. In other countries, they are obliged to follow Shari’a law. The courts are separated into Sunni and Shiite hearings in countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait and Lebanon. The legal system in every country in the MENA region contains provisions which could be considered discriminatory against women from a human rights perspective, in particular in relation to the personal status codes. In Saudi Arabia, no codified personal status law exists, which means that judges in courts rule based on their own interpretations of religious texts, which might lead to arbitrary decisions, while in Bahrain the personal status code is only applicable to Sunni Muslims
The exceptions are Israel and Turkey where gender equality is inscribed in both constitutions. In Israel, there are limitations (regarding mariage, for instance) because of the reference to religious Halachic law.
However in Turkey, this has been severely criticized as President Erdogan has on various occasions declared gender equality to be “against nature” and called for complementarity- a notion that inevitably implies inequality
The one extraordinary exception in the region is the egalitarian, secular social proposal put forward by Rojava in Syrian Kurdistan but also in the Kurdish region of Turkey. Whereas much has been said about the presence of female fighters, equality is to be seen in every other field. In any position of authority, there is a man and a woman- a president and co-president, a mayor and a co-mayor.
Bringing this into being in to a conservative society comparable to Pashtuns in Afghanistan where patriarchal rules of honour dominate (including honour killings and tribal law) is extremely difficult and a slow process. But it does and can work which is why thi is an example for the whole region, including Central Asia, where the cut-and-paste of the West simply does not work.
The theories behind this are anarchist Communalism, Murray Bookchin in particular whom incarcerated (since 1999) PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan has read, thereby completely revising his Marxist-Leninist violent credo odf earlier years.
Here we post a few selected articles for further research and understanding
The Kurdish issue is an extremely complex one and needs to be understood in its historical setting, namely the systematic repression of Kurdish minorities first in the Ottoman Empire and then in Kemalist Turkey. Despite the assurance of an autonomous Kurdistan at the Sevres Treaty in 1920 which also guaranteed an independent Armenia, international powers the newly formed Turkish republic refused this international treaty and these clauses were excluded in the Lausanne Conference of 1923.
This is the background for the conflicts and massacres that followed including the near-genocidal Dersim Massacre. The article here by Shakhawan Shorash is comprehensive and gives documented and contextualised information: The Dersim Massacre: Turkish Destruction of the Kurdish People
Scholarly texts are available on lines, on Goggle Books, for instance: Ramazan Aras:The Formation of Kurdishness in Turkey: Political Violence, Fear and Pain , London Routledge 2013.
Good background article on Turkey in French by historian Vincent Duclert: Un état de guerre civile en Turquie, Libération 20/9/15
The PKK and feminist issues
Hard to find objective articles in view of the fact that every freedom fighters is someone else’s terrorist. The following is fairly comprehensive and short A History pf the Turkish-Kurdish Conflict and has some good links, including ‘Kurdish Women’s radical Self-Defense: Armed and Political, by Dilar Dirik
A rare autobiographical text by Sakine Cansiz, female founding member of the PKK, assassinated in Paris in 2013, retraces the path of this unique revolutionary in the harsh Kurdish context: The Foundation of the PKK in the words of Sakine Cansiz
This unique text, in truth a manifesto, presents the concept of Jyneology, written by the Women’s Academy in Diyabakir (Kurdish Turkey) originally put forward by Abdullah Ocalan. This provides the conceptual basis for the unique egalitarian revolution which is taking place in Rojava. Certainly this approach to feminism will be taxed as essentialist by a number of scholars in the West but it needs to be understood in its geographical and cultural background. The point is that it is actually working for women living in Rojava, this unique autonomous province in Syria, and could/should be a model for the entire region ceviri-2 (1)(1)
Janet Biehl :Bookchin, Ocalan and the Dialectics of Democracy, New Compass, Feb 2012 (excellent starting point, read anything by Janet Biehl who was Bookchin’s companion)
Rafael Taylor: The new PKK: unleashing a social revolution in Kurdistan, ROAR magazine, 17/8/2014
Carne Ross: Power to the people: a Syrian experiment in democracy , Financial Times, 23/10/ 2015
Anything by Patrick Cockburn eg: Why Join the Islamic State LRB, 2/7/2015
Whose Side is Turkey on ? LRB, 6/11/14
Janet Biehl: The Women’s Revolution in Rojava, Toward Freedom, 28/8/2015
Ulrike Fladder: A Revolution under Attack, an alternative in midst the war in Syria, University of Manchester, blog.
In French, articles by Carol Mann in Mediapart including