News of the Islamic State’s egregious treatment of girls and women in Syria and Iraq has sent waves of horror across the globe. Stories from girls in captured communities, now living in sex servitude, have been leaked to reporters. A 17 year-old Yazidi girl who chose not to have her name revealed in fear of the shame she would bring her family, told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, “They treat us as if we are their slaves. The men hit us and threaten us when we try to resist. Often I wish that they would beat me so severely that I would die.” Once in custody, the women are presented with two options: convert to Islam and become the wife of an ISIL militant, or forever live in slavery. The Yazidi girl continued, “Our torturers do not even spare the women who have small children with them. Nor do they spare the girls—some in our group are not even 13 years-old. Some of them will no longer say a word.”
Not only do ISIL enslave, rape, and beat women, they’ve also reportedly stoned women to death in public places as punishment for adultery.
While for the most part, the Islamic State and the Levant targets non-Muslim women, reportedly they treat their own women like second class citizens forbidding them the rights of men, like leaving the house unaccompanied.
The unlikely heroes in this wicked nightmare are the Kurdish women who are fighting alongside men and other women in armed forces with the soul mission to protect their inhabited areas. However, ISIL’s inhumane brutality towards women has ignited the female fighters of the YPG or YPJ (People’s Protection Units) and the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) with even more purpose. Tekoshin, a 27 year-old woman who fights with the PKK to wrest Mount Makhmur in northern Iraq back from the Islamic State told the West Australian, “Our struggle against (ISIL) is to defend women from them and from that kind of thinking… It’s against women’s liberation.”
Ironically, the PKK has been listed as a terrorist group by countries including the US, but began peace talks in 2012. And just when we all thought that girls weren’t as strong as boys, Tekoshin, wearing traditional men’s Kurdish clothing, explains, “We usually organize ourselves in groups of four women, and I command one of the groups… But when it comes to fighting, we break up and we and the men deploy together on different fronts.”
What is particularly rewarding for these female warriors is the fear that overcomes an ISIL militant’s face when he discovers that it is a woman charging at him—ISIL militants believe that if their death comes at the hands of a woman, they wont go to heaven. (I highly doubt their chances of such elevation regardless!) A 19 year-old female KPG fighter, Diran, told BBC News, “They portray themselves as tough guys to the world. But when they see us with our guns they run away. They see a woman as just a small thing. But one of our women is worth a hundred of their men.” She continued, “Women are the bravest fighters… We’re not scared of anything. We’ll fight to the last. We’d rather blow ourselves up than be captured by IS.”
This energetic and robust movement of female fighters reflects the recent Kurdish emancipation from Syrian rule. Kurdish culture and language are being embraced with full aplomb, and so it would seem, the Kurds are well ahead of the game as far as feminism and equality are concerned. And while it is sad that these women are driven to rise to such bravery in the face of pure evil, Kurdish progressive attitudes towards women and embraced by women are in stark contrast to traditional attitudes in that region. In fact, these female warriors are like martyrs to the world.