The Kurdistan Women’s Liberation Movement for a Universal Women’s Struggle
Today, all the answers to the problems of humanity are embedded in freedom and democracy. The most secretive and basic problem of freedom and democracy of human history is related to the organization of relations between genders. In other words, the question of women’s liberation is the most basic question of liberation and democracy in today’s world. Generally speaking, the liberation of women is the key to the solution of many problems – from the problems of war and peace to realization of a new life in freedom and democracy.
Kurdish women, who believe that democracy, justice and equality should first of all be internally created, have established their first and comprehensive organization on this basis. The principle of the Kurdish popular leader Abdullah Öcalan as to the fact that the `liberation of women is the liberation of the Kurdish society` brought the participation of women throughout the 30 years history of struggle of the Kurdistan Workers Party PKK. On the one hand, thousands of women, who came to the mountains in waves, participated in the armed struggle for the purpose of protecting the identity and freedom of the Kurdish people against the multi-dimensional assaults of the Turkish army and its support of NATO. On the other hand, Kurdish women have been fighting for the liberation of women as a gender by creating their own organization with a consciousness and perspective to oppose five thousand years of patriarchal domination and sexism. This struggle is based on the perspective of the Kurdish popular leader Abdullah Öcalan’s theory of revolution, stating that the liberation of society is based on the liberation of women, which should be realized during the process of revolution. Establishing the historical and philosophical basis of their struggle for liberation on this basis, Kurdish women have been engaged in a dual struggle as a gender as well as struggling for the liberation of Kurdish people since the foundation of the PKK.
Short History of the Kurdistan Women’s Liberation Movement
Abdullah Öcalan, who has played a leading role for the establishment and the revolutionary direction of the Kurdish liberation movement, started his first analysis by saying “no revolution can take place while women are slaves”. He subsequently developed his critique analysis and perspectives on the means of struggle on issues of women, family and gender liberation.
As a result of the socialization of PKK’s ideas in relation to liberation, popular rebellions started in the Kurdish town Nusaybin for the first time under the leadership of women. The impact of Abdullah Öcalan’s analysis with regard to women’s liberation, the role of family and society on Kurdish women, led to the fact that more and more women joined the armed struggle of the PKK.
The social pressure and sexism of feudal-tribal structure, as well as the Turkish state’s national and class oppression against the Kurdish people in the 1990ies increased the intensity of women’s participation. Main factors that contributed to women’s participation to the liberation struggle were anger and resistance of Kurdish women against cruel torture, arrests, and the prohibition of anything in relation to Kurds and Kurdistan as well as their search for freedom – as women and as a nation. While the participation of women in guerrilla forces was increasing rapidly, there was also an increasing engagement of Kurdish women in political activities and actions in almost every area of Kurdistan and Europe where Kurds live in exile. The first Kurdish women’s organization was founded in Hannover, Germany in 1987 under the name of YJWK (Yêkitîya Jinên Welatparêzên Kurdistanê – Union of Patriotic Women from Kurdistan). Due to the attacks, the denial and bans of the Turkish state this first Kurdish women’s organization was primarily founded and announced in Exile, not in Kurdistan. Hereby Kurdish women specifically aimed at developing their self-organization and struggle for women’s liberation.
The establishment of the Free Women’s Army
Women’s participation in guerrilla has qualitatively and quantitatively increased in the 1990s. As thousands of women joined this struggle, a new type of organization amongst women within the guerrilla in Kurdistan was required. This development was followed by the first establishment of women’s guerrilla units in 1993 toward the establishment of a women’s army. During the stage of establishment, women’s traditional characteristics, the impact of feudal society created difficulties in women’s organization due to lack of self-confidence.
However, the faith in freedom, their own strength and self-organization that Kurdish women gained by their practical experiences in the freedom struggle contributed to a quick progress of their ideological, military, political and social organization. Women gained their self-confidence thanks to their successful march into many areas of struggle which traditionally were regarded as “belonging to men”. Hereby women have changed the mentality and structures of male domination and thus the mentality of the Kurdish society, life, social organization, liberation and democracy as part of the qualitative change in revolution. This also led to a serious change in the traditional, ruling perception and mentality of men towards women.
The political and social activities carried out by guerrilla women as part of the formation of women’s army, led women to organize in villages and cities. As a result of this, it has been decided to establish a more comprehensive women’s organization that includes women in the army as well a political and social organization. According to this the organization of unity has been initiated at the 1st Kurdistan Women’s Liberation Congress by the foundation of the Kurdistan Free Women’s Union YAJK (Yekitiya Azadiya Jinen Kurdistan) in 1995. The organization of YAJK has been realized upon the experienced gained during the formation of women’s army. This has been an important process for women to develop their own social and political perspective instead of copying male-like characteristics or assuming themselves as a back-up force.It was then intended to incorporate the experiences of Kurdish women gained through YAJK with the women’s movements struggling at international level. This led to the participation of YAJK in UN Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995.
Ideology of Women’s Liberation
In order to build on the consciousness and experience women gained in the freedom struggle, Abdullah Öcalan introduced his theory that involved a break-off with the system of patriarchal domination and characteristics of enslaved women. The theory of breaking-off is the expression of women’s mental, spiritual and cultural break-off with the ruling system. The theory helped Kurdish women to develop a deeper understanding and definition of the dominant system as well as to gain the consciousness, courage and stance to fight against it. By taking part in any domain where they were originally kept away from, women became more competent to organize and manage themselves. Parallel to the theory of breaking-off, women have carried out various activities for the liberation and self-reflection of men under the project of men’s transformation.
Basic principles of social revolution have been developed with the Ideology of Women’s Liberation on 8 March 1998. The basic principles of the Ideology of Women’s Liberation are patriotism; living on the basis of free thoughts and a free will; self-organization; the determination to struggle and aesthetics. The first party of women, called Kurdistan Working Women’s Party (PJKK), was established on 8 March 1999 in order to render the ideology of women’s struggle more practical. The foundation of this first women’s party was an important step in terms of gaining a new perception for challenging the patriarchal system of civilization, and all of its variations and methods.
The organization of the women’s party extended the forms and content of her fight in the course of the advancement of the liberation struggle constantly, interacting with the level of consciousness and enlightenment in society. Thus the PJKK widened the perspective of her organization and her struggle. Against this background she changed her name on the third congress of the women’s liberation movement in 2000.
As a result, the Women’s Liberation Party (PJA) was established with the decision to take universal responsibility and to incorporate the experiences of Kurdish women with that of women from other nations. In 2002 the PJA prepared a draft for a Women’s Social Contract and introduced it to other women and women organizations during different activities and conferences in order to strengthen the cooperation and dialogues with the women from all over the world. The PJA also joined the discussions on a World Women’s Constitution with the Draft Social Contract. Further the PJA has established relationships with different women’s organizations that carried out activities in terms of human rights, peace and democracy as well as revolutionary women’s organizations.
Further the women’s party expanded its organization with the establishment of the Kurdistan Women’s Liberation Party PAJK (Partiya Azadiya Jin a Kurdistan) in 2004. Then it became an umbrella organization bringing women in different areas of struggle under the Kurdish Liberation Movement together. However, in Kurdistan where a women’s renaissance took place, the need for a more flexible and comprehensive, confederative women’s organization was put forward. Towards the further development of a women’s confederation, the High Women’s Council KJB (Koma Jinên Bilind) was established in 2005 as a confederate umbrella organization with the participation of women and women organizations from four parts of Kurdistan and Kurdish women living abroad.
Kurdish women, who got to know themselves and their strength through the liberation struggle, playing the role of vanguard power of society, have ensured a significant progress in the social revolution in Kurdistan. With the establishment of the KJB, Kurdish women’s struggle gained even more courageous and active characteristics through its ideological, theoretical, and strategic achievements.
With her resistance against Turkish army and police during the Kurdish uprisings in 1991 Berivan (Binevş Egal) gave a new direction for thousands of women’s search for liberation. With their lives, their personality and their struggle thousands of women such as Beritan (Gülnaz Karataş), Zilan (Zeynep Kınacı), Şilan (Meysa Baki), Viyan (Leyla Muhammed), Ronahi (Şirin Elamohoyi) have created a glorious tradition of resistance for Kurdistan Women’s Movement as well as for the global women’s liberation struggle. In the process of a social, cultural and mental revolution realised throughout the history of Kurdistan Women’s Liberation Movement with the experiences of YJWK, YAJK, PJKK, PJA, PAJK and lastly with the foundation of the KJB has succeeded in turning the history of the women into the opposite and became the guarantee for social transformation towards a free society. It has been largely possible to reach the phenomena of a free individual and a free society through the democratisation of the Kurdish society. This has played a very important role in taking serious and real steps in the struggle for building up a free and political society.
The High Women’s Council – KJB (Koma Jinên Bilind)
The KJB (Koma Jinên Bilind) has been established on 20 April 2005. Its name is rooted in the Kurdish term “Kom” which indicates the communal social organization in the Neolithic age. It expresses the reactivation of women-centred social life in the Neolithic age. It has inherited the historical, social values of Neolithic societies in Mesopotamia as well as the freedom struggles carried out by women and the peoples. Regarding the confederate organization as a requirement, the KJB wants to share the processes of its transformation in relation to patriarchal-statist contradictions as well as the resolution and expression of the contradictions within the chaos of capitalist system with everybody who is searching for freedom.
While the KJB analyses the need for a confederate model of organization and society, it pursues the aim to disclose the basic contradictions of the 5,000-year-old patriarchal state-system and all related contradictions which express themselves in the chaos of the capitalistic system. Hereby the KJB strives for including all people who are searching for freedom, in the elaboration and conversion of attempts for solution. The awareness which has arisen from the struggles for women’s and peoples’ liberation in the past and their recent requirements are constituents of the KJB’s perspective of struggle.
The purpose of KJB is to extend the confederative women’s organization and to play a leading role in building up a democratic confederation in order to establish a democratic, ecological society based on gender liberty. The fundament for this fight is the development of a free identity of women in all areas of life on the basis of the women’s liberation ideology. In this sense, the KJB fights against sexist mentality and structures with the aim to eliminate the patriarchal system with state and society. In order to achieve a women-centred social democratization, the KJB develops its struggle and activities in the fields of ideology, society, politics and legitimate self-defence. In this context, the KJB coordinates the share of tasks among women in the different areas of the struggle and its member organizations.
KJB is a Democratic Confederate Women’s Organization
There are extensive historical and contemporary resources of democratic social confederations in the Middle East and Kurdistan, where different cultures and faiths are located. The former relationships of people in this area were characterized as relationships between natural federations and confederations. For this reason, social problems have never been as intense as they became in the 20th century when the social structures were destroyed by the colonial imposition of the national state model. Nationalism and the central administration of the national state problems deteriorated the problems, from which people have suffered heavily. Women’s social exclusion was never as difficult as it has become under the conditions of the capitalist modernity. Therefore, the establishment of the democratic confederalizm is the most effective solution for the Middle East.
KJB argues that the level of freedom of society is connected to the level of women’s freedom. A sustainable democratization can only be ensured and guaranteed by women’s liberation. The patriarchal ideologies of domination that degrade women as objects and institutionalize the sexist mentality are the weakest points of the ruling systems. We cannot talk about real democracy, the establishment of a socialist and free life unless we fight against patriarchal ideologies and their comprehension of culture and moral. This is why it is important to place the gender liberation based approach in the centre of a revolutionary approach for social transformation. The area of Mesopotamia, where once natural and communal organization of life developed, has the potential for realizing a women’s renaissance lead by women.
A democracy that does not have an ecological awareness and does not target the elimination of exploitation of the nature by humans will remain weak and cannot meet the needs of society. The hierarchical and human-centred mentality that originates in the 5000 years of class-ruled civilizations and lead to a separation of human from the nature is the reason for the decline of humanity. Therefore, human do not assume themselves as an equal and free part of nature anymore. By re-adopting the idea of live and productive nature an ecological revolution needs to take place. This has to overcome the hierarchical perceptions which start with the exploitation of human by human and carry on with the exploitation of the nature.
In opposition to other systems, the system of the KJB aims at establishing a radical and profound democracy based on an ecological and gender-liberating revolution.
The Program of the KJB
KJB gives priority to the struggle for social transformation while ascribing strategic value to the establishment of a democratic system of women’s and peoples’ self-governance. The basic principles of its program are to support the liberation of society, to expand the scope of democratic live and politics, and to compel the state to respect the self-governance of the people. Revealing the will of society and supporting societies in becoming a self-reliant actors by organizing themselves, are the most basic principles of the KJB’s political mission. A top-down approach to rule over a patriarchal, state-owned society which has been detracted from the monopole of the former state would contradict with both, namely our definition of democracy as well as our understanding of social transformation.
A Contract, Not a Constitution
The KJB uses a contract to manage the function between the organizations under its umbrella which have a wide range of spectrum extending from the social society organizations to units in the area of legitimate self-defence. However, every constituent, each organization has a constitutional function in itself. For example, the organizations in the ideological area are very different from the organizations in the social and political areas. All organizations fulfil their duties under the umbrella of the KJB while protecting their special identities. In matters which concern the whole women’s movement common will and consensus decisions are essential. The KJB contract defines the inter-organizational rules and the basic principles of organization’s function. Every constituent, each organization is represented at the KJB’s Executive Council by elected representatives. At the same time it has the right to express its will and participated in decision-making in relation to any issue concerning Women’s Liberation Movement. The KJB contract also aims at developing direct democracy within the organization as well as in the grassroots structures in society.
The universal experiences of women’s organization in the whole world and the Middle East, developed on the purpose of social liberation, have been the main sources of inspiration for Kurdish women. It has been extremely important to use these experiences in accordance with the reality of the Kurds. To be a free woman, is the expression of women who are aware of their own universality and can implement the principles of democracy, freedom and equality in social contexts and their relationships.
Organizational Model of the KJB
Their organizational model consists of ideological organization, social and political mass organizations and organizations in the area of legitimate defence based on the strategy of democratic transformation. This involves the Kurdistan Women’s Liberation Party PAJK (Partîya Azadîya Jin a Kurdistan) in the ideological field, the Unions of Free Women YJA (Yekitiyên Jinên Azad) within the field of social and political organizing and the Free Women’s Units ‘Star’ YJA Star (Yeknîyên Jinên Azad Star) in the field of legitimate defence and the committee of young women in the field of young women’s organizing.
As women’s organization within the guerrilla forces the YJA Star adopts and supports the ideological and organizational perspective of the struggle, which is developed by the KJB and organizes itself in accordance with the heritage of the Kurdistan Women’s Liberation Movement. However, within the confederate organization of the KJB, the YJA Star remains self-contained and autonomous especially in terms of its independent military structure within the People’s Defence Forces. The relationships between the YJA Star and the KJB are ensured through representatives of the KJB in the Peoples’ Defence Committee.
Organizational Structure and Function
- Women’s Freedom Assembly
As an umbrella organization the KJB consists of individuals and organizations committing themselves to the implementation of the decisions and projects decided at the Women’s Freedom Assembly. The Women’s Freedom Assembly is the highest decision making organ of the KJB. The assembly takes place once a year. The KJB assembly convenes with the participation of at least two thirds of the delegates determined in accordance with the proportion of representation of every participating organization.
- Executive Council
Between two Women’s Freedom Assemblies the Executive Council is the organ that coordinates and implements the ideological – political decisions determined during the assembly. The KJB executive council consists of elected representatives of the member organizations. The executive council consists of 23 representatives among whom seven members are elected as the coordination of the KJB.
The KJB Executive Council publishes perspectives and general directives with regard to the politics of the women’s movement, while it collects the views and propositions of member organizations beforehand.
- Constituents of the KJB
PAJK (Partiya Azadiya Jin a Kurdistan) – Kurdistan Women’s Liberation Party
As an ideological party, PAJK is the initiating and path-breaking organization of the KJB. It is responsible for the realization of the ideology of women’s liberation in every organizational area as well as for the training of women cadres. For this reason, PAJK members contribute to the activities of all KJB constituents as path-breaking cadres. PAJK carries out systematic training activities in order to focus on ideological, philosophical, theoretical, academic, cultural and artistic development of women. It deepens free debates and attitudes among women and supports the development of free personalities. Therefore, PAJK improves and implements the function of educating women cadres and preparing them for their engagement in all working-fields of the KJB. With its activities, tasks and mission, PAJK is the leading ideological power of the Women’s Liberation Movement.
YJA (Yekitiyên Jinên Azad) – Unions of Free Women
The YJA are the revolutionary democratic women’s organizations and unions for action that fight against the hierarchical state-owned mentality and the liberation from its impact. Striving for mental transformation based on the ideology of women’s liberation, the mission of the YJA is the democratization of society by the autonomous organization of women.
The YJA are local and universal organizations of struggle unifying strength, hearts and actions of women from Kurdistan and the Middle East for the realization of their common goals. YJA carries the responsibility to develop and implement policies for the establishment of a democratic, political society and national unity in Kurdistan by taking the democratic-confederate organization of women as its fundament.
The Field of Legitimate Defence and YJA Star
The Free Women’s Units ‘Star’ – YJA Star regards itself as responsible for the development of the consciousness on legitimate defence and self-defence of women and people in Kurdistan. It is responsible for strengthening the women’s organizations of legitimate self-defence. The mission of YJA Star is to be the force of Kurdish Women’s self-defence with its organizational and struggle experiences as the Women’s Army in the guerrilla forces. It protects women and the Kurdish people against any kind of assaults and attacks. Based on the tradition of the formation of the Free Women’s Army in 1993, the YJA Star has a specifically autonomous structure today.
Living as a woman and a Kurd under the present conditions in Kurdistan and the Middle East means to be confronted with threats, attacks and violation of fundamental rights day-by-day. Even today, Kurdish women and the Kurdish society are still face to face with the danger of massacres and genocide. Therefore, the existence of the YJA Star is essential for the defence and the protection of women and the people in Kurdistan. The YJA Star describes itself as the defence forces for the protection of the KJB and all progressive values that have been gained through the freedom struggle. Against external assaults the YJA Star defends all ideological, political and social revolutionary values. At the same time it develops a consciousness, organization and struggle of self-defence in the society against all kind of oppression and violence against women.
Committee of Young Women
The section of society that is mostly targeted by capitalist modernity under the slogan “sex, sport and art” are the young people. Young people, especially young women need their own specific organizations as to be able to protect themselves against the broad range of ideological, political, psychological and physical assaults they are confronted with. For this reason, the KJB has organized the committee of young women within the context of the youth movement and the grassroots organisations in the society. The aim of organising young women through the committee of young women is to develop the organising, the consciousness and the strength of young women to fight on the basis of the women’s liberation ideology; to incorporate the dynamism of youth with the consciousness of women’s freedom for playing an active role in changing and transforming the society. This means also to take a historical responsibility for the continuity of women’s struggles from the perspective of the women’s movement. Young women fight against the social, cultural and economic suppression which they are exposed to by reactionary parts of the society and the system. At the same time they resist against the supremacy of the old people trying to use the transformative energy of the youngsters to for their own profits.
The main duties of young women’s committees include the fight against policies of the states that are dominating Kurdistan. Thus, it raises conscious and mobilizes young women against the spread of prostitution, drugs, trafficking of women and children, the recruitment of women and young people informants of intelligence services or their exploitation as cheap labour forces due to poverty and the destruction of social perspectives. At the same time the committee of the young women works towards the fact, that young generations take over responsibility for social liberation and the new construction of a free, democratic society.
The model of the KJB has asserted itself in Kurdistan as a new alternative and functioning women’s organizing system.One result of it is the strong and self-confident participation of women in politics and all areas of the society. Nowadays it has become a self-evident fact that women take part in all social processes in Kurdistan. Today the slogan „Jin, Jîyan, Azadî!“ („Women, life, freedom!“), which is present on all demonstrations and meetings, has evolved into a philosophy of social life in Kurdistan.
Koma Jinên Bilind – KJB