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Turkey’s attack on the Kurds is a feminist issue.

Just a quick one because I’m super busy today, but this is important. The attack by Turkey on the Kurdish region of northeastern Syria (Rojava) is not just an unjustified act of war, a humanitarian crisis, another blow to a people who have suffered more than enough already. It is all that, but it’s also something that should greatly concern everyone who cares about women’s rights. Because the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria – the autonomous entity serving as the de facto government of the region – has in place what is by far the most progressive administration in its neighbourhood, where women’s rights are concerned. In fact there are a lot of things about it that western governments could learn from; but certainly it’s well beyond any of the alternative regimes available to the women there.

And make no mistake about it; if this attack continues many of the women of Rojava are going to find themselves living under another form of rule. Turkey’s aim is not, as it claims, merely to create a “safe zone” to protect itself from Kurdish attacks; it is to completely repopulate the parts of Syria closest to its borders – replacing Syrian Kurds with Syrian Arabs. This is precisely what has happened in Afrin, which Turkey attacked a year and a half ago (to a deafening silence from most of the west), with the consequence of forcing the veil on women who wouldn’t have worn it voluntarily and annihilating the rights that women in the DFNS enjoy (such as freedom from forced marriage and protection against domestic abuse).

At the same time, the Syrian Democratic Forces which (currently) control the region are being forced to reduce their capacity to guard the prison camps in which ISIS fighters and loyalists are held. Needless to say, they will also be more poorly equipped to respond in the event of an ISIS resurgence along the Iraqi border. I really don’t think I need to say how utterly catastrophic this would be for women in the affected areas.

The final option would be for the DFNS to collapse and go back under Bashir Assad’s fold. From a feminist perspective this might be the least worst option, but don’t be under any illusions; despite the officially secular stance of Assad’s Syria, only this year have women been given some of the rights that Rojava guarantees – and unlike in Rojava, there is no ideological commitment to women’s rights. It is simply a pragmatic measure adopted in the interest of preserving a battered regime. And we all know how readily that can swing back the other way.

In simplest terms, the demise of Rojava would mean the end of an era of a form of government which is inseparable from the goal of women’s liberation. There is literally no alternative that isn’t worse for the women of Rojava – in some cases a lot lot worse. And while it would obviously be a disaster for them, the fallout from it would hurt the cause of all of us.

There are a number of demonstrations taking place tomorrow – in Ireland (Dublin, Belfast, Limerick, Galway) and elsewhere – to protest the Turkish attack. Please attend if you can. If you can’t, please share. This matters. It really does.

About Wendy Lyon

Fighting a lonely battle for evidence-based policy and the proper use of apostrophes.

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