The news that the Taliban are gaining strength and regaining power has once again attracted attention. So has the repression against women. All this has generated anger and alarm, of course! And so it should. But given what is happening in the region, and in Afghanistan in particular, it is perhaps not enough.
It is twenty years since the Taliban lost power in Afghanistan, but it should not be forgotten that they were organised and encouraged by the United States to be fought when they could not control them, as they did with the other misogynist authoritarians Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The Taliban emerged as a consequence of US moves to control the Soviets in 1992 and the collapse of the USSR. The attack on the Twin Towers was perpetrated in 2001 by Al-Qaeda. The US government then realised that these jihadists were in Afghanistan because of the Taliban, and launched the so-called “war on terror” against the both groups. In November the Taliban left Kabul. They were to reappear in 2006.
A representative of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) has explained that Taliban’s rules and impositions against women did not completely end, despite the fact that Afghanistan was under NATO control, as many of the Taliban authorities remained in power. RAWA explains that they have remained active over the years, but underground.
So where have we been so far? Where was NATO and its governments to guarantee women’s rights?
Moreover, the situation of Afghan women is dramatic, but it is also dramatic in other countries that are “acceptable” and approved by Western governments, including “ours”. Qatar, for example, is involved in European companies and activities (energy activities, travel and tourism or football teams) and will host a world football championship next year, but they are governed by the Male Guardianship law. In Saudi Arabia, women are still stoned to death; their rights to work or drive are curtailed (see Women To Drive Movement1) and their situation is denounced year after year by Amnesty International22. Of course, the oppression of women’s rights is not limited to these countries: this drama has an international dimension.
But not far away, in Syria, other women suffered a similar threat. There too, the imperialist forces established the same strategy of instability and territorial control to ensure access and transport of resources: as in Afghanistan, they instigated and/or created the most reactionary sectors. The war that began in Syria in 2011 was used by ISIS to expand. As ISIS advanced, their dark stories of misogyny spread: they imposed punishments against women, by throwing acid in their faces, flogging or stoning3, or the notorious subjugation of women in sexual slavery4. Knowing this attitude of ISIS towards women, the women of the Democratic Federation of Rojava and Northern Syria (DFNS) decided to take up arms against them to defend their gains.
In fact, in its advance through Bashur (South Kurdistan, northern Iraq) in 2014, ISIS targeted the Kurdish population and Kurdish women in particular, especially those from the Yazidi community. As Anja Flach argues in the book “Revolution in Rojava – Women’s Liberation and Communalism” (together with Ercan Ayboga and Michael Knapp) it is the “multiple oppression” of Kurdish women that forced Kurdish women to organise themselves as YPJ (Yekîneyên Parastina Jin or Women’s Defence Units). In the case of Kurdish Yazidi women, it was their status, the prosecution of this ancient, pre-Islamic (2,000 BC) religion, Yazidism, that added to this “multiple oppression” as they were considered infidels, heretics, and targets of ISIS intransigents’ wrath. Within this bloodthirsty and misogynist advance of ISIS in Bashur (southern Kurdistan, KRG under Iraqi administration) thousands of people fled as refugees, the heaviest blow being the Sinjar massacre of 10 August 2014, in which an estimated 5,000 people were killed and as far as 6,000 women were imprisoned as sex slaves5. It was also here that the YPJ, together with the YPG (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel or People’s Protection Units) and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), managed to open a humanitarian corridor for Yazidi refugees.
Conversations on the situation
One of the most significant interviews on the situation of women in Afghanistan and, above all, on women who have tried and are trying to change their situation, was conducted by the Kurdish Women’s Movement itself with the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan (RAWA) (published by Komun Academy6 and later translated by Revista Crisis (Argentina)7. It is precisely in this dialogue that we find confirmation of this parallelism.
Samia Walid says that the Rojavan and north-eastern Syrian women are “lionesses of Kurdistan” and adds: “They have been a source of inspiration and strength. The fight against ISIS and other savage criminals has taught us tremendous lessons”. In fact, she explains, they proved that ISIS is not invincible.
However, despite the similarities, the circumstances of the two are very different, for in Afghanistan, despite the supposed democracy that was achieved after the Taliban’s defeat in December 2001, their structures and machismo largely survived, with many leaders relocated in the power structure. Meanwhile, in Rojava and north-eastern Syria, a new revolutionary model, with active and equal participation of women, succeeded in overcoming oppressive structures. This does not mean that machism has been totally eradicated, of course.
Identical abandonment and hypocrisy has been suffered too by one of the most historic struggles that women have led on this planet, that of the women of north-eastern Syria. This struggle has been ignored, despite its political, democratic, sovereignty and feminist achievements, in the most unfavourable conditions, and with the people themselves, and especially women, as its main protagonists, in the face of professional, well-armed armies that have also proved to be heartless. We understand that ignoring those efforts, as well as those of Afghanistan for 20 years (like so many other peoples on the planet) must be taken into account in order to rectify attitudes, but above all to reject alleged solutions that are proposed. And above all, to reject those alleged solutions by those whom demonstrate continually that they are motivated by their own interests, because, as both experiences show, they will only bring about the perpetuation of this problem.
Women from DFNS
The solution, as also demonstrated by the women of north-eastern Syria/Rojava, is for women to be the masters of their own destiny, and to be the ones who decide and have the capacity to implement those decisions. This also requires a society and a political model in which women are considered as equals and in which they have a voice and a vote on an equal footing with men. The consolidation of this model is the result of years of political activity, especially by the PKK in both Turkish- and Syrian-administered Kurdistan.
Precisely this fact and the resistance that many women have been doing since then is ignored here, even in a large part of the social movement. These women organised, fought and in many cases died to stop ISIS, which from Iraq was trying to build a Caliphate or Islamic State, in line with authoritarianism and above all with chilling machismo. In the end, they (YPJ) and the members of the YPG, which together form the Syrian Democratic Forces, together with the International Coallition (led by the US) succeeded in overthrowing ISIS.
These are momentous events, all the more so, as we say, when they are self-managed forces and not aligned with any power (although they participated in operations together with the US). Transcendental in the consolidation of democracy and revolution, because these zones liberated from terror are also replaced by the TEV-DEM (Movement for a Democratic Society) that promulgates and practices participatory, assembly democracy, which cannot be any other way than guaranteeing the participation of women and parity. But above all because it replaces all that terror towards women with respect. All this has been ignored in the media and in the propaganda of the alleged War on Terrorism.
But obviously, it becomes even more momentous when we see a very opposite reality now in Afghanistan, especially for women. The 20 years of NATO control meant the continuity of many of the Taliban leaders still in power, but especially many of their rules and impositions against women. In fact, organisations such as RAWA have continued to operate underground. From the publication of magazines and articles, reports of “killings, rapes, looting, extortion and other crimes of these warlords” to mobilisations or educational and political activities, health or the creation of orphanages8. All of this was carried out clandestinely. It is unacceptable that in so many years of democracy, women who, as here, denounce patriarchal terrorism are forced to do so in hiding.
The DFNS war is not over
All this becomes even more shameful when, in addition, in the case of DFNS north-eastern Syria, the current situation is still very risky for women, but above all because the war is not over. That war is also ignored.
The war was also not limited to ISIS but also to the official Syrian army (mainly in Aleppo), but mainly to the Turkish army. The Turkish army’s attacks intensified when in October 2019 Trump ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Syria after the victory over ISIS8. This left the DFNS forces alone at the mercy of two antagonistic forces,9 as Turkey shares a border with north-eastern Syria.
At the same time, Turkey has been engaged in a decades-long war against the Kurdish people, which can be considered as a genocide. The formation of the DNFS posed a threat to Turkey, which does not want the consolidation of the Kurdish people, let alone a “state”. Also because the area is home to oil fields, hydroelectric plants and was the breadbasket of Syria. Thus since 2016 Turkey has used the Syrian civil war to invade DNFS (Afrin) and the central region (Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî10), for what it calls the Security Belt in north-eastern Syria.11 Lately, Turkey has also been attacking the Kurds in Bashur, Northern Iraq (bombings, chemical weapons), where there are also oil fields12.
Turkey also belongs to NATO, which did not prevent it from supporting ISIS, making them easier to cross the border into Syria, or supporting them in the occupation of north-eastern Syria, or freeing its members who re-established themselves in the area.13 This offensive and invasion meant that the Turkish government was able to take control of the area. This offensive and invasion led to NATO tension.14 This was criticised by US officials, and the US ended up imposing economic sanctions on Turkey.15
But it is clear that they were neither sufficient nor effective, because these attacks have not ceased to this day.16 This is confirmed by the HPG (Hêzên Parastina Gel/People’s Defence Forces)17 which thwarted the Turkish army’s advance on Girê. Likewise, in the last days alone, the Turkish army has bombed civilians in several Kurdish villages18 by land and air (planes, helicopters and drones), in some cases setting them on fire. In its communiqué HPG also reports on the use of chemical weapons by the Turkish army.19
The situation for the Kurdish people in Turkish-occupied areas is comparable to what they suffered under ISIS. Another unresolved issue is the thousands of displaced people, now joined by thousands more as a result of the Turkish invasion. For example, Turkey’s 3.5-year invasion of Afrin20 led to the departure and relocation of some 300,000 people, mostly Kurds, with the rest of the population at the mercy of the invader.
The Turkish army has also used the burning of forests and crops as a way of attacking the Kurdish population over the years, to deprive the population of food and wood in winter, which is also an ecological and climatic crime. On 27 August, 2,000 trees were chopped down in Afrin, adding to the more than 327,000 already cut down and the more than 17,000 burned in the city since the occupation began.21
But because of its border status, but also because it is the source of the main rivers that irrigate the Middle East, the Tigris, the Euphrates and their respective tributaries, Turkey uses water as a weapon against the Kurdish people in Syria and Iraq, and even internally within Turkey, against Bakur (northern Kurdistan). This decision is also causing a major environmental and human crisis in the already desertification-stricken region. These attacks include cutting off the flow of water from these rivers by means of dams. It is estimated that Turkey has the capacity to cut off the water of the Euphrates for three years completely. Just reducing the flow for a few weeks has a drastic effect on agriculture and the environment. Turkish army goes so far as shotting from the border at those who try to install canals or water-pumps.
The villages of Heseke and Tel Tamir (more than a million people) suffer from lack of supply because the area of Serekaniye (Ras-al-Ain) where the Allouk water station is located fell under Turkish control and has been cut off since 2019.22 This means that more than a million people have been without water for months. Or even polluting the rivers, as in the invaded areas of Serekaniye and Gire Spî, making the water undrinkable.23 It should be noted that many of these situations have occurred while at the same time suffering from the coronavirus pandemic.
Like RAWA, the Afghanistan Solidarity Party, also made up of women, has a similar stance. Its spokesperson, Selay Ghaffar, explained that “we join the worldwide defence of Rojava’s struggle and condemn Erdogan’s brutal invasion. We strongly believe that the people of Rojava will bravely uphold the banner of Hevrin Khalaf, as the brave women of Kobani demonstrated in the past against ISIS. They will continue their struggle for a free Kurdistan.” Hevrin Khalaf, as a woman, was secretary general of the Future of Syria Party, killed on 12 October 2019 during the Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria. Her four other brothers and sisters also fell for the Kurdish cause.
This continuation of the war is a direct attack on the achievements of the NDSF and its people, and therefore also on its women. But it is especially so, because it forces them to continue to defend these achievements and this model that understands them as equals, after all the effort and pain already caused. It is unbelievable that this situation of war, of invasion, should be carried out by a NATO member, an aspiring EU member and European ally such as Turkey, and that it should not make the headlines in our media. It is just as bad that the women of the DFNS find themselves in this situation, forced to continue fighting and burying their children and relatives, and that this anti-patriarchal model has to be defended in this way and is in danger of being erased while we do not know anything about it here.
As the Star Congress (Kongra Star), and the feminist movement in general, declares “An attack on one woman, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere, is an attack on all women, so their struggle is our struggle”.
We therefore stand in solidarity with the real feminist struggle in Afghanistan and Syria, demanding an end to the imperialism that sustains these reactionary and misogynistic forces, and with it, these puppet states that seek to satisfy the interests of a male elite. Real democracy with the participation of the people as a whole and without foreign or transnational interference or manipulation by power elites. Enough of imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal hypocrisy.
Jin Jiyan Azadî! (Women, life and freedom!)
• “Las luchas de las mujeres afganas en contra del patriarcado, el imperialismo y el capitalismo” Revista Crisis http://www.revistacrisis.com/debate-feminismos/las-luchas-de-las-mujeres-afganas-en-contra-del-patriarcado-el-imperialismo
• “No abandonemos a las mujeres de Afganistán” Por Ana de Blas
• Mensaje de solidaridad con las mujeres de Afganistán (por el Congreso de la Estrella) https://womendefendrojava.net/en/2021/07/09/solidarity-message-to-women-in-afghanistan/
• Asociación de Mujeres que Cuentan el Mundo (ACM)
• Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA): rawa.org
• Catab (Catalunya Abolicionista Plataforma Feminista),
• Komalên Jinên Kurdistan – KJK: http://www.kjk-online.org (no actualizada desde 2015)
Women’s Alliance for Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria: http://www.peaceinkurdistancampaign.com/womens-alliance-for-kurdistan-iraq-and-syria
Revolution in Rojava – Women’s Liberation and Communalism