Jihan Ibrahim, Kurdish Women of Rojava
I am delighted to be here and participate in this event but dismayed to have to share with you the suffering of Rojava’s Kurdish women in Syria.
The use of rape and other forms of sexual violence in armed conflicts is one of the most brutal war crimes, inflicting severe suffering on victims, and destroying individuals, families and communities.
The dictatorial and chauvinist regimes around the world are using rape and other forms of sexual violence as political means of brutal oppression, destroying the expression of the free will of its people and preventing real democracy and peace. Since the Baathist Assad regime took power in Syria by a military coup in 1963, it has implemented the racist and gender discriminatory policies to eradicate the existence of the Kurdish ethnicity and community. These policies had a severe impact on Kurdish women who are deprived of all basic human rights. Kurdish women have been prevented from educating themselves and their children in their mother language and from participating in social and political developments and were threatened by sexual violence if they participated. Kurdish women were not allowed to obtain marriage certificates, to register their children or send them to school. This regime has used sexual violence as a political tool to prevent Kurdish women from participating in the struggle against social and political oppression and injustice. Nazilye Kajal, a women’s rights and political activist was arrested in 2004 by the Assad regime in Damascus and since then her fate is unknown, despite campaigns from Amnesty International and other human rights organisations.
Since the militarisation of the Syrian pro-democracy and freedom uprising and the destruction of its objectives, the Syrian people have been suffering from sectarian civil war in which extremist armed jihadists such the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISISI) and Jabah Al-Nusra which are affiliated to Al-Qaeda took control and are brutally attacking all efforts of building democracy and peace in Syria. In Al-Raqqa governorate, which ISIS declared an Islamic state, the Syrian people and particularly women are facing the most barbaric oppression from those jihadists who are forcing women and girls to cover their heads and wear Islamic clothes and stop them from going out without any male adult relative accompanying them. A woman or girl can be persecuted or arrested and threatened with prison if she is not following ISIS rules. In June 2013 ISIS and other armed jihadist groups declared publicly that the Kurdish people were infidels and according to sharia law Kurdish women and property are allowed to be raped and kidnapped. Later ISIS announced a fatwa encouraging local women and girls to allow jihadists to have sex with them (jihad nikah) as jihadists left their wives behind and have come for jihad. Many girls and women from North African countries joined jihadists and were consequently gang raped.
Despite this brutal civil war in Syria and its gender oppressive authoritarian regime and the reactionary attitude of the opposition towards women in Syria and the Middle East, we, Kurdish and other non-Kurdish women – who are all peacefully living together in Rojava – jointly organised ourselves and are actively helping to protect our families and communities and managing to keep away from this brutal war. We continue to struggle with determination to consolidate the democratic values of building a just, equal and democratic society where free women are leading the struggle for progress and create the conditions that allow women to be able to make and defend their own choices. We Rojava women enjoy full equality with men by participating in and establishing the regional democratic self-governing institutions and organisations and we have formed women’s autonomous training and educational institutions.
In Syria in general and ROJAVA in particular, we have established 26 women’s training and educational centres called Mala Jiyane (life home), where women will be able to, for example, produce sewing workshops, organise teaching courses and receive training for child and health care and undertake social activities. In this way women will become productive, self- reliant and supported both spiritually and financially. In Rojava, there are thousands of women who lost their husbands and children in the fight against both the regime and the jihadist armed groups. These survivors have organised themselves and formed a “families of martyrs society” which receives support from volunteers and charities. In addition there are tens of hundreds who were separated from their husbands and families as a result of the civil war, and who are now refugees.
Rojava has become a safe haven for more than 1.2 million internally displaced people. Most are women and children from all over the Syrian cities and are all different ethnicities: Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, and Christians who have fled this brutal war. Those vulnerable IDP victims are assisted by the very limited resources of Rojava. They are in urgent need for humanitarian aid.
To end the sexual violence and support those widows who are victims in Rojava and Syria, we would recommend the following:
- Support women’s educational centres and those widows who are victims of sexual violence to enable them to be productive and self- reliant, and able to manage their affairs freely.
- Provide medical and psychological support and assistance for trauma counselling and expert treatment.
- Call for urgent humanitarian aid to be sent to those victims and to people in need in Rojava.
- Provide financial support to those victims to be able to manage themselves to prevent conflict and violence.
- Seek justice and hold the perpetrators accountable for their war crimes.
Rojava Women Society