Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Sat, Jan 16th, 2016

Women’s war in Kobani

Three years have passed since the war started in Syria, but the fall of 2014 was a special period in this war. A period which is marked by the name of Kobani, and the heroic fighting of women there. News about fighter women who picked up the gun and refused to get victimized filled my heart with hopes for women’s freedom and emancipation. 

When in November 2014 Kobani and its neighbor cantons, Efrin and Jazire which are controlled by PYD – the Syrian branch of PKK – passed a bill for the protection of women, I eagerly started reading every single article of the bill. I was excited to know whether the struggle of my sisters in Kobani was yielding results, and if they were getting free from patriarchal traditions, laws and those relations which put women in the Middle East in chains, or if this battle was not won, and this new law simply another page in the old story of women’s subjugation.

Why do we study a law bill?

The laws in any society are representing the relation between different class and stratums. For instance the laws in a feudalist society is different from a bourgeois society. Once slavery and apartheid was legal protected by government and police forces. But when the relation between different class and groups has changed the following laws have to adopt as well. That is why we can study a bill or body of laws as a scanner showing the power relations in a society or showing the way the lawmakers want these relations turn to.

A look at the women’s protection bill

In an explanatory line before the articles of the bill, the authors share their arguments for the importance of women’s freedom. They refer to the role of women in family, and later on the role of family in the formation of the society of the Kurdish nation. The authors avoid mentioning even a word about women as individuals constituting half the population of human society, and instead describe them only in terms of family, viewing the importance of women’s emancipation as based on their role in family.

With the belief in the importance of the role of women in family which is the footstone for the formation of society, women’s freedom is a basic condition for having a free and democratic society.

This view was to be seen in several different articles of the bill. Articles dealing with family, like marriage, divorce and custody, are more restrained and express more limitations than articles like those dealing with the right to testify in court. The point is that the freedom of women is not fully desired; it is only desired up to a point where it does not go against traditional family and its values: possessive relations between men and women, considering the man as the head of the family, and motherhood as women’s main duty.


Article 14 says:

Both parties must be in agreement for divorce and divorce cannot come to action if only one party wishes it.

This article may sound progressive and protecting, giving women the right to agree or disagree to a divorce, but the reality is different. Considering the patriarchal structure of Kobani’s society and the really inferior situation of women in that society, such a law would not offer women so much help. If the lawmaker wanted to guarantee women freedom and equality not only in words but in reality, some changes are needed so that if a woman initiates a divorce, her wish is enough to actuate it, but if man is the initiator then both parties must agree to it. Only with a positive discriminatory law could women get free from their historical oppression, or at least be put on the road to towards such freedom.


Article 18 protects traditional family from any relations outside of marriage:

Severe punishment is considered for adultery regardless of gender.

Only by considering the importance the lawmakers attach to saving the traditional family can we understand why adultery is considered as a crime and why it must be penalized with severe punishment.

Article 25 limits maternal custody until children turn 15 years old. Does the father getting custody of the child after age 15 not point to the role of the father as the ultimate head of family?

Let us look at an article that discusses social life. The article says:

Women have the right to form their own political, cultural, civil, economic, and protection-of-rights organizations, provided it is not against the social obligations.


What the social obligations are and what could be against them is left open for interpretation, which in reality could lead to limiting women’s organizations.

To summarize, though this bill has some positive aspects – such as illegalizing polygamy and establishing the equal right of men and women to testify in court – which are ahead of other Muslim countries like Iran, this bill is not emancipatory and will not set the women of Kobani free from their historical oppression. The reason behind this is that this bill, like any other law, cannot go beyond the ideological borders of the society that produced it. In Kobani this is the ideology of Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, whose books thoroughly argue for motherhood as the main role of women and the importance of traditional family as the keystone of the nation.


In the next note I will discuss Öcalan’s ideas about women, referring to his book ”Jineolojî” or “Women’s Studies”.

This bill is originally published in Arabic and Kurdish. For this text I used the Persian translation published in :





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