The Kurdish Women’s Freedom Movement is auniversal women’s struggle in its essence
Today, the answers to humanity’s problems can be found in freedom and democracy. The most hidden and fundamental issue related to freedom and democracy faced by humanity is the relationship between genders. In general, women’s freedom is the key to the solution of many problems, from war and peace to the pursuit of a free-democratic life.
Kurdish women, who believe democracy, justice and equality must be created within our political movements before it is created on a wider scale, based their first comprehensive mobilisations on this axis. The Kurdish people’s leader Abdullah Öcalan’s principled approach is that Kurdish society will not be free until women are free. This has been fundamental to women’s participation throughout the PKK’s 40-year history of struggle. The thousands of women who have swarmed to the mountains have on the one hand been fighting an armed struggle for the Kurdish people’s national identity and freedom, against the NATO-supported colonial Turkish army’s attacks of annihilation against the Kurdish people. On the other hand, they have been struggling against five-thousand-years of male domination, for the liberation of women as a gender — based on self-awareness, self-organization and a perspective of struggle — by creating their own autonomous organisation. This practice of struggle includes the essence of the revolutionary theory of Kurdish People’s Leader Abdullah Öcalan; it is based on the perspective that the freedom of society will only be achieved through women’s freedom, and that this should be done primarily in the process of revolution.
Kurdish women’s struggle for freedom is founded on this historical and philosophical perspective. This struggle has two dimensions: the struggle for freedom as women, and the Kurdish people’s freedom struggle as a nation, which has continued since the foundation of the PKK.
A Brief History of the Kurdistan Women’s Freedom Movement
Reber Abdullah Öcalan started the solution to the problem of women’s freedom by saying, “there will be no revolution with an enslaved woman”. Since then, the criticism, analysis and perspectives on the methods of struggle have gradually deepened, encompassing the scale of issues of gender liberation from the family to the movement and to wider society.
During the 1990s, as a result of the socialization of the PKK’s ideas of freedom, the first public uprisings in Kurdistan began in 1989 in the city of Nusaybin. These uprisings were led by women. The effects of Reber Abdullah Öcalan’s analyses of women’s freedom created a flow to the ranks of the PKK.
Throughout the 1990s, the participation of Kurdish women in the guerrilla struggle increased due to the sexist pressures on women, based on feudal-tribal structures, as well as the intensified national-class oppression of the Kurdish people by the Turkish state.
The anger caused by arrests of activists, torture in prisons, and the prohibition of any expression of Kurdishness combined with the search for gender and national freedom. These are the main factors driving the participation of Kurdish women in the struggle. While women’s participation in the PKK has focused intensely on the guerrilla involvement, there has also been an increase in participation in political work and actions in almost every region of Kurdistan and places where Kurdish people live in exile, like Europe. Due to the destructive and prohibitive mentality of the Turkish state, the first women’s organizing experience developed under the name of YJWK (Kurdistan Patriotic Women’s Union) in Hannover, Germany, in 1987, not in Kurdistan. The aim was the autonomous organization and freedom struggle of the Kurdish women living in exile.
The Free Women’s Army
Throughout the 1990s, the participation of thousands of women in the guerrilla ranks created a quantitative and qualitative change in the demographic of struggle. This development made it necessary for Kurdish women to reorganize, especially in the guerrilla ranks in Kurdistan.
In 1993, the first autonomous women’s units within the guerrilla forces were established, introducing a women’s army.
The traditional position of women in feudal society and the characteristics it encouraged in women’s personalities caused difficulties in women’s self-organization and struggle during the first army phase. However, Kurdish women’s belief in freedom and self-determination, and the trust created by organising autonomously, rapidly led to the development of ideological, military, political and social organisation. The successful advancement of Kurdish women in many areas of struggle that were previously assumed to belong to men gave women a profound level of confidence.
In the mentality and social structure of male-led society — and therefore of Kurdish society — this revolution within a revolution transformed the process of liberation and democratisation. A significant change resulted in the age-old dominant mentality of men against women.
The political and social work carried out in society by guerrilla women encouraged Kurdish women in villages and cities to organise. As a result of this development, a wider social aim was developed, which combined the work of the women’s army with targeted political mobilisations in the social field.
On this basis, at the 1st Kurdistan Women’s Freedom Congress in 1995, a reorganisation was established under the name of YAJK — Yekitiya Azadiya Jinen Kurdistan (Kurdistan Free Women’s Union).
YAJK came out of the experiences of the women’s army. The process of becoming an autonomous organisation had been an important step for women in the movement, in developing a political and social perspective based on women’s organisation, rather than resembling men’s organising or functioning as a back-up force for the men’s military units.
The formation of YAJK began a search for alliances with other women’s movements fighting for women’s freedom in the international arena. The aim was to share the autonomous practices of Kurdish women with other women around the world, and to form powerful women-led organising on a global scale. In 1995, YAJK participated in the UN Women conferences and events held in Beijing.
Women’s Liberation Ideology
To build on the experience and political perspectives gained through women’s autonomous organising, and to deepen the struggle against the male-dominated system and its enforcement of the slave-woman role, Reber Abdullah Öcalan responded with the theory of rupture. This refers to the mental, spiritual and cultural split of women from the dominant system. Women have gained consciousness and courage in understanding and fighting against the dominant system. Women gained experience in organising by participating in all areas where they were previously kept away, and became competent in managing and directing themselves in revolutionary struggle. In parallel to the theory of rupture, lots of work was developed for the liberation and self-transformation of men.
On 8 March 1998, the Kurdish Women’s Movement presented the basic principles of social revolution: patriotism, participation in society with free thinking and women’s willpower, women’s organization, struggle and aesthetics. The Kurdistan Women’s Workers’ Party (PJKK) was established a year later to put into practice this ideology of women’s liberation.
The first women’s party marked the beginning of gaining a new perspective in questioning the male-dominated system and all its forms and practices. In line with the development of the women’s struggle in the early days of the PJKK, the party changed its name and based its perspective on expanding its organization and struggle.
Accordingly, in 2000, the Kurdistan Women’s Freedom Movement assumed universal responsibility with the establishment of the Women’s Freedom Party (PJA), and made a point of sharing Kurdish women’s experiences with women around the world.
In the early 2000s, PJA prepared the women’s social contract and presented it to women from organisations across the world. PJA participated in the World Women’s Constitutional debate with a draft of the women’s social contract. PJA has particularly been in contact with revolutionary women’s movements and women’s organisations that have been working towards human rights, peace and democracy. In 2004, the organisation of the women’s party was further expanded, with the establishment of PAJK – Partiya Azadiya Jin a Kurdistan (Kurdistan Women’s Freedom Party) and assumed the role of an umbrella party of various areas of the Kurdish Freedom Movement.
However, the development of women’s struggle and the deepening of women’s organisation revealed the need for a more flexible and comprehensive, confederal women’s organization. For this reason, in April 2005, the Supreme Women’s Community (KJB) – an umbrella organisation was formed, consisting of women of four parts of Kurdistan and abroad.
Kurdish women significantly contributed to the social revolution in Kurdistan by playing the role of being the leading force of social transformation in society. With the KJB, Kurdish women have gained a more courageous and offensive social role with ideological, theoretical, political and strategic achievements.
Berivan (Bınevş Egal) led the search for freedom for thousands of women, bravely standing out as a pioneer in the public uprisings of the people against the attacks of the Turkish military and police. In guerrilla warfare and the women’s army, thousands of leading women such as Beritan (Gülnaz Karataş), Zilan (Zeynep Kınacı), Şilan (Meysa Baki), Viyan (Leyla Muhammed) and Ronahi (Şirin Elamohoyi) created a magnificent tradition of struggle in terms of global women’s struggle, as much as the Kurdistan Women’s Movement.
The role of YJWK, YAJK, PJKK, PJA, PAJK and KJB in the social, cultural and mental revolution the Kurdistan Women’s Freedom Movement has carried out guaranteed the freedom of society by reversing women’s oppression in Kurdistan.
The democratisation of Kurdish society has been reached to a great extent — very serious steps have been taken in the struggle to achieve a free society, with women’s freedom at its heart.
KJB, established as an umbrella organization on 20 April 2005, is the leading core organisation in the Women’s Freedom Movement. It has enabled substantial women’s organization in all parts of Kurdistan and abroad.
However, in 2014, to solve the insufficiency of the KJB as an umbrella organisation to systematise changes in ideological, organisational and defence areas, the Kurdish women’s movement established the KJK – Komalên Jinên Kurdistan (Kurdistan Women’s Community). The KJK opens up a new level of women’s mobilisation in communities.
The purpose of KJK is to develop women’s confederal organisation and build democratic confederalism with the leadership of women. The goal is a democratic, ecological and gender liberated society.
The KJK is based on overcoming the patriarchal-state social system and developing free women’s identity in every area of life through struggling against sexist societal mentality and structures.
As a confederal organisation of women, the KJK forms the necessary organisation for coordinating this revolutionary work: to develop women’s struggle in ideological, social, political and legitimate defence fields, on the basis of women-led social democracy.
The KJK is based on the model of the democratic confederal system of women. It aims to develop and liberate women’s organisation as local-to-universal, base-to-top autonomous organisation models. It is in an effort to develop institutions and theories based on free women and free society, against the state-oriented institutions and theories that produce exploitation and domination.
No institution develops independently of theory. For this reason, the KJK focuses on the work of social construction, based on the paradigm of democracy, ecology and women’s freedom. The work of social construction does not mean a denial and rejection of the creations and productions of society — rather it contributes to revealing and developing the essence of a liberated society.