Article by Meghan Bodette in Medium on 16 August, 2020, published by The Solidarity Economy Association

Exerpts of the article:

While the applicability of the Kurdish movement’s feminist principles to non-Kurdish communities in Syria has been debated by analysts and observers, few serious attempts to understand how women from these communities view these principles in practice have been made.

The case of Manbij, liberated from ISIS by the Syrian Democratic Forces in August 2016, shows how women in a multi-ethnic Syrian city used AANES [the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria] frameworks to build institutions, take on leadership roles, and organize in their communities to change discriminatory attitudes.

The success of women’s political and military structures in Manbij over time suggests that the AANES system can be a true model for women’s empowerment across Syria.

Military Institutions

By 2016, women in North and East Syria had been fighting on the front lines for several years. Images of civilians embracing YPJ fighters were shared in international media coverage of the liberation of Manbij, becoming symbolic of the broader fight against ISIS.

By the end of the operation, local women had already begun to join the Manbij Military Council (MMC), which was set up in April 2016 before the SDF effort to take the city. In February 2017, a first women’s military academy was established in the region.

Political Institutions and Civil Society

The role of women in civilian institutions in the AANES is no less important. These institutions have been largely responsible for the day-to-day efforts to change discriminatory social attitudes and empower Syrian women in their communities.

Manbij was one of the first places where AANES political structures and social policies were implemented in an area without a Kurdish demographic majority. Yekitiya Star, the confederation of women’s organizations in North and East Syria, was active in Manbij as early as 2013, establishing a Women’s Knowledge and Education Center there in March of that year.

Since its liberation from ISIS, women from all of the different ethnic and religious groups in the region have participated actively in women’s political institutions and civil society organizations.

Women in the Democratic Civil Administration

In 2017, when the Manbij Democratic Civil Administration was formally created, it was established with a co-chair system and the 40% quota for women’s representation that is mandatory across North and East Syria.

Women’s Houses

The first women’s institution established in liberated Manbij was a mala jin, or women’s house, which was opened in the city in November 2016.

Women’s houses are unique institutions in North and East Syria that protect victims of gender-based violence, resolve domestic disputes, and intervene to prevent women from being exploited and oppressed. … Several others followed.

In total, by 2019, women’s houses in Manbij had taken on over 3,000 cases. Less than 10% of these cases had been referred to the formal legal system, while the majority had either been resolved by the houses or referred to the social justice and reconciliation committees for resolution.

One notable aspect of the work of women’s houses in Manbij was their role in helping women who had suffered from gender-based violence and other oppression under ISIS. Some of the early work carried out by the region’s first women’s house included the formation of a Research Committee, which documented the testimonies of women who were harmed by the terror group.

Women’s Assemblies

Under the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, women’s assemblies are supposed to exist in parallel to mixed-gender institutions at every level of governance. This policy reinforces women’s influence in government, in addition to the quotas and co-chairs systems that ensure their representation in mixed institutions.

The Women’s Assembly in Manbij was established in March 2017. The Assembly has coordinated with local women to create smaller women’s assemblies and communes in villages and towns across the region. By May 2019, they had helped establish 43 of these assemblies.

Women’s Economic Empowerment

In June 2017, women from Manbij participated in the first Women’s Economy Conference in North and East Syria,

Multiple women’s co-operatives exist in Manbij, providing women with quality employment and working to meet local economic needs.

The Women’s Laws in Manbij

Due to conservative attitudes among some segments of the population, the AANES Women’s Laws, adopted in Kobane, Jazira, and Afrin Cantons in 2014, are not applied in full there.

However, women’s institutions do campaign to enforce many of the protections that these laws provide elsewhere.Members of women’s organizations in Manbij also meet directly with women in their homes and villages in order to make them aware of their rights and educate them about social problems. In October 2018, the Manbij Women’s Assembly claimed to have met with more than 3,000 women to discuss these issues.

Jineoloji in Manbij

A jineoloji research center was opened in Manbij on January 2nd, 2018. Jineoloji is the Kurdish women’s movement’s “science of women”, a controversial issue among some conservative populations in North and East Syria.

Read the complete article here.