Women’s Committee: Backbone of the Rojava Revolution (Excerpted)

Women’s Committee: Backbone of the Rojava Revolution (Excerpted)


In Rojava, power is decentralized to the point
where neighbors make most decisions that affect them in a body called a “commune”. This is nothing like a “commune” in the US;
it is essentially a neighborhood assembly made of 100-150 families or so, and instead
of politicians deciding what norms should govern their community, they all do through
directly democratic structures. Each person living within the commune can
represent themselves directly within the commune assembly. The commune is used on a principle that most
of us know intrinsically: nobody knows what you and your neighbors need better than you
and your neighbors yourselves. Communes are linked together through elected
and removable spokespersons (again one woman and one man) to form a neighborhood council,
and neighborhoods are linked to form city councils, and so on and so forth. This is a bottom-up or horizontal system of
organizing society; the larger the area of administration a council has, the less power
it has. For example, in the largest city in Jazira
Canton, Qamishlo, there is a neighborhood called Korniş. In Korniş, there are 58 communes. Of these communes, three are Assyrian and
Armenian, three Arabic and 52 Arabic and Kurdish mixed. These 58 communes form the Korniş neighborhood
assembly, but the heart of power remains in the individual communes themselves. Women and young people also can and do organize
their own communes separately. The commune is made up of committees which
residents can sign up for. To name a few: women’s committee, youth committee,
healthcare committee, economic committee, safety committee (neighborhood defense groups),
and peace committee (transformative justice as first line of defense). Let’s go through the committees one by one. WOMEN’S COMMITTEE The women’s revolution is the central pillar
of the democratic society being built in Rojava. While this is NOT the first time a revolution
has been launched primarily by the efforts of women, no other revolution has gone farther
to advance women’s freedom. Throughout 20th century revolutions, women’s
issues were always told to wait. Socialists said that communism must be achieved
before women can be free and pushed women to the back burner. Anarchists in Spain were challenged by Mujeres
Libres, an organization of anarchist women who refused to be forgotten or pushed aside,
despite the substanceless lip service of most anarchist men. These are two examples of very many. But, unlike other radical ideologies, democratic
confederalism has women at its very heart. Women were the first colony and all oppression
stems from the first oppression of women. If women aren’t free, society cannot be
free. These are central beliefs of democratic confederalists,
and sure enough, women have played the leading role in the first democratic confederalist
revolution. By now, most of us have seen the often fetishized
images on Western media of predominately Kurdish, but also Arab, Chaldean, and Yezidi women
taking up arms against the Islamic State. Many commentators miss the mark when they
claim these women are fighting for “freedoms” more like those in the West. In fact, the women fighting in the YPJ are
pushing much farther and adding groundbreaking additions to women’s liberation theory and
practice. I must mention that the YPJ is fully autonomous
from any male structures, and that female fighters are not subject to orders from male
commanders. But, there have been plenty of videos focusing
on the broad scale organization of the Women’s Protection Units, but very few focusing on
the women’s struggle at the communal level. Women in Rojava aren’t only fighting against
horrifically patriarchal militants like the Islamic State or the Salafist mercenaries
backed by the Turkish state. They are fighting against the patriarchal
mindset that has dominated the very societies in which they live for thousands of years
and which has even been infused into their own thought patterns. Democratic Confederalism, while centered in
Rojava, Northern Syria, is also being practiced in parts of Northern Iraq and Southern Turkey
and in all of these places, hegemonic patriarchal ideas have encouraged “honor” killings,
exclusion of women from the social sphere, forced marriages, child marriages, torture
and sexual violence against women. While Rojava as a whole banned all of these
things as soon as the revolution began, real change happens locally, village to village,
street to street, house to house. Women’s committees in the commune spend
much of their work going door to door and talking to women, hearing their complaints,
providing historical perspective and encouraging women to join the movement. Men are also encouraged to help in the struggle
for women’s freedom, to “kill the dominant male” inside of them by educating themselves,
listening to the women in their lives, and holding their friends accountable. As feminists were the first and most consistent
to point out, patriarchy harms men too, encouraging them to suppress their emotions and to try
to fit into an impossible mold of an “ideal man”. Men benefit from joining the fight against
patriarchy by becoming more fully human with all the complexities that entails: emotions
like affection, sadness, touch, fear and so on. Indeed, education is a massive part of daily
life in Rojava and Jineologî (a social science formulated by Kurdish women meaning the “science
of women and free life”) is institutionalized in all schools, militia academies, HPC training,
and youth groups. As I said before, the communes run on direct
democracy where any member of the commune who wants to come to a meeting can propose,
discuss, debate, and vote on the policies that govern them. Just like in every meeting in Rojava, in order
for a commune meeting to have quorum,, AT LEAST 40% of the attendees have to be women. Also, I mentioned earlier that elected and
recallable spokespersons are the mouthpieces of the decisions made by the commune in coordination
with other communes and societal groups. At every level of influence, one co-chair
has to be a woman and one has to be a man. According to Kongreya Star, the women’s
movement in Rojava, women now play an active role in public life, with participation rates
for women in the communes averaging between 50 and 70 percent and in some neighborhoods
reaching 100%. Even in the HPC, there is gender parity in
who the commune elects to serve them. But in addition to the HPC, there is also
the HPC-Jin, an autonomous women’s defense force also rising out of the communes but
accountable to the women’s committee and Kongra Star (The Women’s Movement). A woman in an institution in Rojava never
takes orders from a man. At the communal or municipal levels can often
be found the Mala Jin (or Women’s Houses). These are places where women can come to escape
domestic violence, to bring their spouses to mediation or accountability, to spread
information or learn about women’s health and to organize with other women. This is also where the women’s own autonomous
peace and consensus committee is often housed to handle cases dealing with violence against
women. Women also form their own independent cooperatives
and communes to increase their self-sufficiency and react to common problems and desires together. In Jazira, local women and some of their internationalist
friends have helped to build the first totally autonomous women’s village Jinwar. It is worth quoting from their construction
committee at length (https://jinwar.org/): “At JINWAR, a woman will improve her historical
and current wisdom in her own academy; she will carry out her healing methods and natural
medicines in her own healing houses; and she will educate her children in her own schools. She will reclaim knowledge and science as
a woman. With Jineoloji, the science of women, she
will develop social and scientific remediation methods and deepen her knowledge of education,
art, production, ecology, economics, demography, health, history, ethics-aesthetics, and self-defense. JINWAR, the free ecological women’s village,
an alternative living space to contemporary forms of society, will strengthen her sense
of freedom with this level of consciousness and wisdom. Today war and crime are ubiquitous. The war against democratic, libertarian forces
that favor humanity and a diversity of beliefs and ethnicities, are under attack by hegemonic
powers. This social demolition hurts women and children
the most. Against these policies of annihilation, it
is our most sacred duty to continue to construct JINWAR. Some women, victims of war, urgently need
these spaces to heal and recover; other women, who have alternative imaginations of free
women’s spaces, can join this work to achieve the life they desire in JINWAR. Young girls and women will take part in the
pedagogical development of the community. Using the wise methods of our mothers, who
are part of history, JINWAR women will plant and harvest crops; they will raise the animals
and make yoghurt and cheese from their milk. Projects that are suitable for the free women’s
village include building a school or an academy, establishing a natural medicine center, developing
a children’s park, improving the use of solar energy, building an animal farm, and
establishing a sewing workshop, an arts center, or a show venue. The village is open to anyone to carry them
out.”

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