Iraq News
Women's Rights

Kurdish women resist ISIL on Syria battlefronts

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut


Arin Jabal, a female fighter enlisted with al-Shahbaa branch of the Kurdish Women's Protection Units (YPJ), is battling the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' in upper Aleppo. [Photo courtesy of Arin Jabal]

The presence of Kurdish women on the battlefronts of Syria is a "pioneering step in the Arab region and the Middle East", Lebanese University history professor Mohammad Noureddine told Diyaruna.

"The Kurdish female fighter plays an important role in the fight against the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' (ISIL) and its close-minded and fanatic ideology and medieval treatment of women," he said.

Like the male fighter, he said, the Kurdish female fighter "dedicates her time to the party to which she belongs and her life to the cause for which she fights".

"Today, her participation in the fight against ISIL deserves a pause of respect for her in the Middle East," Noureddine said.

Women play an important role on the battlefield not only as they are fighting ISIL, he said, but also as they raise the profile of women in Syria.

Diyaruna recently spoke with two women fighting in the ranks of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) about their decision to take up arms and what it means to them and to their communities.

Defending women against violence

Kurdish fighter Arin Jabal, 25, told Diyaruna she is "defending women against the violence and displacement to which they are subjected".

Jabal is enlisted with al-Shahbaa branch of the Kurdish Women's Protection Units (YPJ), which is fighting under the auspices of the SDF, and has battled ISIL and other extremist groups on various fronts in Syria.

She is still serving on the front lines of the battle.

"In view of what we are subjected to as women, I had to do something to liberate women from all the restrictions imposed upon them so that they may obtain their full rights," she told Diyaruna.

"Our role as combatants is to stand side-by-side with men to protect our land, which we as women see as our honour and dignity," she said.

"I carry my rifle and move from battlefront to battlefront to liberate women from the slavery they are subjected to," she said, noting that the Syrian war has seen an erosion of women's rights and a deterioration in the way they are treated.

Extremist groups such as ISIL, Al-Nusra Front, now known as Fatah al-Sham Front, and others that share al-Qaeda's hard-line ideology are trying to subjugate women, she said.

Today, she said, her weapon "is directed at those groups to defend women and their existence, so that they may occupy their natural position" in society.

Jabal said she has been able to prove her ability to defeat ISIL on the battlefront, adding that she hopes to raise awareness about all forms of violence against women.

"We will remain a symbol of the steadfastness of women wherever they are in the world, and against all forms of violence," she said.

'I decided not to remain silent'

Avindar Shahbaa, 20, told Diyaruna she joined the al-Shahbaa branch of the YPJ a year ago and is fighting on the front lines with a group of women to "preserve our freedom".

She said she joined the fighting at the encouragement of her father, who is a fighter himself, and her relatives, "after I decided not to remain silent about what we were being subjected to at the hands of terrorist groups".

ISIL deprived women of their most basic rights and has even banned them from pursuing an education, she said.

Shahbaa said she has a stake in the battle and her morale is high, having fought on the front lines.

"I feel that through what I am doing, I am a free woman and I can defend myself and other women, just like the men with whom we fight side by side," she said.

The men in al-Shahbaa region encouraged women to take up arms after they witnessed ISIL’s oppressive and tyrannical actions against Kurdish women, she said.

"The men encourage us to fight, raise our morale and give us strength on the battlefronts, and this is what has given me courage and dispelled the fear I initially had," she said.

Avindar does not hide the fact that there are difficulties on the front lines.

"But with our strong will as al-Shahbaa women, we continue to fight to liberate our land from all terrorist groups and defend women, who have been oppressed for years by terrorists," she said.

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