Conflict

Kurdish women take leading role in fight against ISIS in Syria

Syria

Kurdish women in the northern regions of Syria have taken a leading role in the fight against ISIS, especially through the Women's Protection Units (YPJ).

In northeastern Syria, Kurdish women belonging to the all-female Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) have been crucial in the fight against the onslaught of ISIS militants. Since 2015, Kurdish women in the YPJ, along with their (largely) male counterparts in the YPG, have formed a major component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have proved to be extremely effective in the battlefield against ISIS. The territory that the SDF gained control of following the defeat of ISIS was subsequently integrated into its de-facto state of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, also known as Rojava.

“Military life was a necessity because we did not accept injustice,” said Hayfeen, a Kurdish fighter. “It was our decision to defend ourselves in order to preserve our pride, our existence and our freedom.”

To Kurdish women, the fight against ISIS was not just about defending their own freedoms, but also about the emancipation of women who had already become trapped within ISIS-controlled territory. Kurdish women were determined to break the stereotypes that have held women back for so long and fight the group, which had been infamous for its barbaric and oppressive treatment of women.

“I saw the killing with my eyes and how they [ISIS] destroyed the lives of people, children and the elderly,” said Dalal, a fighter with the Kurdish forces. “When I saw all of this, I decided with hundreds of women to do everything I could to free women in order to join us [the YPJ].”

In addition to fighting against the threat of ISIS, the YPJ also hope to emancipate women across Syria from society’s traditional view on the role and status of women in society. More than 6,000 Kurdish women have lost their lives during the fight for freedom, but for every death of a colleague, the determination of the women to destroy the militant group has only grown stronger.