Theorising women and war in Kurdistan: A feminist and critical perspective
In this introductory article to the special issue Women and War in Kurdistan, we connect our topic to feminist theory, to anthropological theory on war and conflict and their long-term consequences, and to theory on gender, nation and (visual) representation.
Please visit the webpage for the full article.
Theorising women and war in
Kurdistan: A feminist and critical
Wendelmoet Hamelink §
Nerina Weiss ¥
In this introductory article to the special issue Women and War in Kurdistan, we connect our
topic to feminist theory, to anthropological theory on war and conflict and their long-term
consequences, and to theory on gender, nation and (visual) representation. We investigate
Kurdish women’s victimisation and marginalisation, but also their resistance and agency as female
combatants and women activists, their portrayal by media and scholars, and their selfrepresentation.
We offer herewith a critical perspective on militarisation, women’s liberation, and
women’s experiences in times of war and peace. We also introduce the five articles in this issue
and discuss how they contribute to the study of women and war in two main areas: the widereaching effects of war on women’s lives, and the gendered representation and images of war in
Keywords: Agency; feminist theory; female combatants; gender and nation; representation;
sexual violence; women’s rights movements.
ABSTRACT IN KURMANJI
Bîrdoza jin û şer li Kurdistanê. Perspektîveke femînîst û rexnegirî
Di vê nivîsara danasîner a hejmara taybet a li ser Jin û Şer li Kurdistanê de, em mijarê behsê bi
bîrdoza femînîst, bîrdoza mirovnasiyê ya şer û pevçûnan û encamên wan yên demdirêj, û bîrdoza
zayend, netewe û nîşane (ya ditinî) ve girêdidin. Em li ser vederkirin û mexdûrkirina jinên kurd
lêkolînê dikin, her wekî meseleya berxwedan û îradeya şervanên jin û çalakvanên mafên jinan, û
pirsên ku çawa medya û lêkolîner qala wan dikin û çawa ew jî xwe didin nîşan. Em her weha
perspektîveke li ser leşkerîkirin, azadkirina jinan û tecrubeyên jinan di heyamên şer û aştiyê de
pêşberî xwendevanan dikin. Di ber re, em danasîna her pênc nivîsarên vê hejmarê jî dikin û
girîngiya wan a ji bo lêkolînên jin û şerî di du warên sereke de guftûgo dikin: encamên berfireh
yên şer li ser jiyana jinan, û nîşane û dimenên zayendî yên şer li Kurdistanê.
Dr Nazand Begikhani, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Gender and Violence Research, University of Bristol, 8 Priory Road, Bristol, BS8 1TZ, UK. Email: email@example.com.
§ Dr Wendelmoet Hamelink, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Gender Research, University of Oslo,
Gaustadalleen 30D, 0315 Oslo, Norway. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
¥ Dr Nerina Weiss, Senior Researcher, FAFO Research Foundation, Borggata 2B, 0607 Oslo, Norway. E-mail: email@example.com.
ABSTRACT IN SORANI
Be Tiyorîkirdinî rewşî jinan û ceng le Kurdistan: Goşenîgayekî fêmînîstî w
rexnegirane Lem çend wutare da, ke melefêkî taybete be jinan û ceng le Kurdistan, hewlman dawe ke kogîrîyek bikeyn le ruwangey fêmînîstî w tiyorîy antropolojî leser ceng û milmilanê w akame
dirêjxayenekanyan le layek û herweha tiyorîy regez, netewe w têruwanînî nwênerêtîkirdin le layekî dîke.
Ême xwêndineweman kirdûwe bo kêşey bequrbanîbûn û perawêzxistinî jinan. Le heman
kat da mijarî berxodan û xorêxistinî jinan wek cengawer û çalakanî mafî jinan û wêney ewan le
rageyandin û lenêw lêkolînewe zanistiyekan û têruwanînî xoşyan da. Ême herweha têruwanînî
rexnegiraneman leser mijarî çekdarî, azadîy jinan û ezmûnî jinan le katî ceng û aştî da xistote rû.
Lem melefe taybete da, pênc wutarman pêşkêş kirdûwe w eweman nîşan dawe keçon le dû layenî
giringewe tîşk xirawete ser mijareke: karîgerîy firawanî ceng le ser jiyanî jinan, herweha nuwandin
û wêney regezî jinan le ceng le Kurdistan da.
This special issue contributes to critical and empirical-based analyses of the
present realities of Kurdish women in all parts of Kurdistan and explores the
multiple effects and affects of war on women in the Kurdish regions. In doing
so, we follow feminist and intersectional approaches to the study of violence
and war. Readers might need to be reminded that Kurdistan is not a geographical entity with defined borders and Kurds are straddling the present
state boundaries of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran (Dahlman, 2002). This issue covers
all parts of Kurdistan, although, as the articles demonstrate, there are more
empirical and theoretical works on Iraqi and Turkish Kurdistan, to a lesser
degree on Iranian, and very few on Syrian Kurdistan.1 Hence, Iraqi and Turkish
Kurdistan have been covered more extensively in this introduction and, in order
to avoid confusion, we have carefully indicated which part of Kurdistan is being
In 2009, Al-Ali and Pratt published Women and War in the Middle East,
offering “a critical examination of the nature of the relationship between gender
and transnationalism in the context of war, peace-building and post-conflict
reconstruction” (2009: 3). Their focus on Western interventions in the Middle
East, international security agendas, transnational women’s solidarity, and the
consequences of these developments for women’s lives and women’s
movements, has become more relevant after the increase of violent conflict and
the involvement of a range of foreign states in the region. In the decade since
this book came out, the field of Kurdish studies has grown considerably, both
in the number of empirical studies as well as in theoretical analysis (for example:
Begikhani et al., 2010 & 2015; Hardi, 2011). At the same time, since the Arab
Spring and the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Kurdish
regions, notably Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurdistan, became once more the battlefield of a range of conflicts between local and international actors.
1 Recently, Syrian Kurdistan has become an important focus of attention of scholars, who mainly focus on the developments in three regions in north Syria that became semi-independent in 2012, after the beginning of the Syrian war. They are often referred to as Rojava (Western Kurdistan), or the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS). In this article we use Syrian Kurdistan or Rojava when referring to this part of Kurdistan.
This has made the need for a more specific focus on Kurdistan, and a genderoriented
turn in Kurdish studies, even more pressing, in order to offer new
understandings of the ways in which women and men are different actors in,
and are affected differently by, war and post-war realities.
In recent years, Kurdish women have become highly visible in international
media through different forms and representations. Images of female guerrilla
fighters, of women in leading positions, of women in captivity of ISIS, of
women as victims of state, family and community violence, escaping war and
arriving as refugees and asylum seekers in Western countries, have circulated
widely. We therefore believe that a new focus on the lived realities of women
in different parts of Kurdistan, which are caused by war situations, is extremely
relevant. Such a focus is necessary in order to gain new insights into the
involvement of women in war, their victimisation, their everyday life in conflict
zones and post-war realities, as well as their experiences of internal or
transnational displacement. This special issue of Kurdish Studies addresses these
lived experiences of women in different Kurdish regions, and pays attention to
the long-term consequences of wars and conflicts.
In this introductory article, we place the topic of women and war in
Kurdistan in the wider literature of feminist approaches towards women and
war, and of theorising the long-lasting effects of violence and its social and
gendered consequences. We also address how Kurdish women’s movements
were set up in different parts of Kurdistan, and how they were strongly shaped
by, and operated within, situations of war and conflict. Subsequently, we will
discuss in two sections how some central theoretical topics related to women
and war, namely women, agency, and victimhood and gender and nation have come up
in relation to the study of the consequences of war on women’s lives and will
investigate how these same themes emerge within the field of Kurdish studies.
Whenever relevant, we will connect these topics to the articles included in this
issue. Finally, in the last two sections, we present the main contribution that the
articles in this issue have to offer, according to two themes: the wide-reaching
effects of war and violence; and the gendered representation and images of war
Women and war: A feminist approach
Although there are certain regional and topical peculiarities, which will be
outlined later in this introduction, a thorough discussion on women and war in
different parts of Kurdistan and in the diaspora has to be embedded in the
wider feminist literature on women and war, and on gender and war. “Women
and war” has been a focal point of feminist thinkers and scholars throughout
the twentieth century and beyond. Classical feminist approaches to this topic
have been focused on two notions: women’s bodies and sexualities as violable
objects used as war strategies and women’s active role and participation in war
and militant organisations in defence of their communities, their nation and nationalist projects. The first notion is rooted in the traditional perception of
gender roles, assuming that men are active subjects, soldiers, warriors and
aggressors while women are passive agents of war, victims, weepers, mothers
and wives located in the home front and are vulnerable to rape, aggression and
slavery. The second notion adopts an approach which problematises these
concepts, considering women as active agents physically and psychologically
strong and able to participate in war and military activities. Both notions will be
discussed in the following paragraphs.
There is an emphasis in many classical feminist theories and women’s
writings on conceptualisations of war as a male enterprise, associating men with
war and women with peace (Elshtain, 1995). For example, Virgina Woolf, as
discussed by Carter, considers nation and nationalism as masculine enterprises
and male constructs (Carter, 1996). Woolf’s supporters describe armies as
‘bastions of patriarchal power’ (Poulos, 2008) and argue that women are pacifist
by nature and should stand against the concept of militarism and war, avoiding
their destructive consequences. This argument presumes that women should
put their hopes and aspirations in the hands of men to protect them against
military aggression and occupation. Elshtain (1995) criticises the idea of
“pacifist maternal feminism” that women, during the millennia of pre-industrial
cultural history, were family nurturers and subservient to men. Instead, she
argues that this position of women was the product of industrialisation and
bourgeois nation-state ideology.
New feminist theories often challenge the popular notion of gender roles,
the construction of a private/public sphere distinction, and the idea of a natural
division of labour between men and women (Patemen, 1983; Elshtain, 1995).
These feminist scholars have tended to conceptualise the social realities of men
and women by focusing on women’s agency; the partisans of this approach
consider the participation of women in war and militarism as part of
empowering and emancipatory projects. Their analyses counter essentialist
approaches to women and war, which focus on the essential differences
between men and women, advocating the pacifist and caretaking nature of
women compared to war-loving men (Ruddick, 1989).
Globalisation and new information and communication technologies have
challenged classical theoretical and analytical approaches, inviting feminist
thinkers to reflect upon the new developments and encompass historical,
national and cultural realities of women in relation to war and armed conflict
across different disciplines (Zarkov, 2006). Traditional questions about the
roles of women in war, militarism and armed struggle, and the impacts of wars
and conflict on women, have been developed to address new social power
relations in the globalised world and to relate the identity of female actors in
war and militarism to feminist knowledge and theories. These reflections have
led to new theoretical and political conceptualisations and marked a shift from
previous feminist theory of women and war to a more critical conceptualisation
of sexual victimisations and raped female victims on the one hand, and
women’s agency on the other (Zarkov, 2006).
Much recent feminist theory starts with conceptualising the geo-politics and
situated experiences of women in relation to war and militarism, but
additionally also looks at the relationship between gender and gender-based
violence, and different political and social positionings based on race, ethnicity,
class, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc. Gender is always intertwined with
other political and analytical categories (Butler, 1990) and studying the
intersection of these categories is necessary in order to contest violence as well
as subordination more effectively and construct subjectivity. The position and
status of women are multiple and intersected in ways that define their gender
identity and their (lack of) access to power. When it comes to war, from the
1990s onwards and based on the experiences of women in Bosnia, Rwanda, the
Gulf War, armed struggles and terrorism, feminist thinkers have started to
highlight the intersections of these different social identities and realities to
gender-based violence and sexual violence.
In Kurdish studies, some authors have argued for a special focus on Kurdish
women’s experiences during war and post-war situations, as women and men
have played different roles and were/are differently victimised and targeted in
war and conflict in Kurdistan (see for example Begikhani, forthcoming, 2003,
2015; Hamelink, 2016; Minoo, 2013; King, 2013; Weiss, 2012, 2010; Mojab
2001). Also, because women are generally much less situated in positions of
power, their relative powerlessness compared to men “leads to differences in
their ability to cope with risks and manage their lives” (Hardi, 2011: 4). The
many (internal and external) wars and conflicts that have been fought in
Kurdish regions make the study of the consequences of these conflicts crucial
to better understand present-day Kurdish society, and women’s positions
therein. This is highly important as women’s narratives and gender specific
experiences have not always been included in accounts of war (Hardi, 2011; see
also Enloe, 2010; Cockburn, 2004). Furthermore, a thorough focus on women’s
experiences of war also makes visible the long-lasting and wide-reaching effects
of war on the social fabric. In her exploration of women’s narratives of the
Anfal attack,2 Hardi, for example, does not only look at women’s experiences
during and immediately after the Anfal campaigns. She also investigates the
long-term consequences that the attacks had on women’s lives, such as a change
in status because of the loss of their husbands, which turned them into
breadwinners for their families, and exploitation by society and relatives when
working under deplorable conditions. Therewith she pays attention to the
intersectional dimensions of women’s experiences with war, as “women survivors of Anfal do not suffer merely in terms of their gender; they also suffer
in terms of belonging to the poor and uneducated lower class” (Hardi, 2011: 3).
2 Anfal is an Arabic word taken from the Qur’an, Surah 8, literally meaning ‘spoils/booty of war’. The
Anfal campaign was the most notorious military operation conducted by the Iraqi army against the Kurdish
population. The operation took place in the spring and summer of 1988. The campaign included a series of military offensives conducted in six geographical locations in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
information on Anfal, see Begikhani et al. (2010); Middle East Watch (1993); Randal (1997).
Kurdish women’s activism in times of war and peace
Historically, Kurdish feminism was born and has been developed inside
Kurdish nationalist organisations. As such, national liberation appears to
traditionally have been the main aim of Kurdish feminist groups (Begikhani,
2003; Mojab, 2004). Because of the strong relationship between women’s
activism and the (armed) struggle for Kurdish rights and independence, this
section discusses how women’s activism has developed in different parts of
Kurdistan, and how women activists in the different regions have addressed
women’s conditions related to war and violence. A discussion of women’s
activism contributes to our topic for different reasons. First, war conditions
have tended to prevent the emergence of independent women’s rights
movements, as women activists were often forced to focus first and foremost
on the achievement of basic human rights, rather than women’s rights more
specifically (Alinia, 2013). Secondly, as we will argue in a later section,
continuing violence and insecurity are some of the long-term consequences of
war that deeply affect Kurdish women’s lives. Women’s activism has therefore
developed in the shadow, or as a direct consequence, of previous wars, and in
the context of a “continuum of violence” (Bourgois, 2004), “tracing violence
from peace-time to war-time and vice versa, and linking acute violence during
armed conflicts with sexualized and domestic violence” (Al-Ali and Tas, 2017:
3; Alhamid in this issue). Also, Kurdish women activists assisted women and
their families who were hit extremely hard by genocide, conflict and
displacement, or helped women fight legal battles with the state because of
missing and murdered relatives (Davidovic in this issue). And lastly, the
participation of female combatants in armed struggle in Kurdistan has created
a heroic imagination of the women activist, namely the armed Kurdish heroine,
defending her nation (Glastonbury in this issue). This image of the armed
heroine can be seen as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, female
combatants state that their participation in armed struggle is in itself an example
of their liberation from patriarchal control. On the other hand, their
participation is part of a problematic increase of the militarisation of Kurdish
society and of the “formation of a ‘tragic mind’ that perceives violence as the
surest provider of justice and hope” (Bozarslan, 2004: 15 in Alinia, 2013).
Due to the large socio-historical and political differences between Kurds
dispersed over different states, women’s organisations have quite distinct
histories in each state. Kurdish women’s activism in Iraq and Turkey is better
researched than in Iran and in Syria. The recent emergence of a strong focus
on women’s liberation, which was created as a direct consequence of the Syrian
war, has led to new attention among scholars for both female combatants and
women’s activism as organised within the framework of the political
organisation of Rojava (see below under Gender and nation).
Before discussing the developments of women’s movements in Iraq, Turkey and Iran, some
general remarks can be made. As Al-Ali and Pratt (2011) note, “due to the
stigmatization of feminism in the Middle East, the terms ‘feminist’ or
‘feminism’ are rarely used and women adopt a variety of labels to describe the
objectives of their activism” (2011: 340).3 Kurdish women’s activism had
emerged in the late nineteenth century among the urban Kurdish elite that
advocated for women’s rights as part of broader demands for Kurdish
emancipation within the Ottoman Empire (Klein, 2001). However, these
“urban Kurdish intellectuals and activists were forced to flee, persecuted and
dispersed after the establishment of the Turkish nation state” (Alinia, 2013: 26).
The loss of influence of the intellectual elite meant at the same time an increase
of power for the tribal elite that was patriarchal in organisation and had little
interest in women’s rights, nor in Kurdish nationalism (Alinia, 2013; see also
Hamelink and Baris, 2014).
When women’s activism grew again in scope at the end of the twentieth
century, the protection of women against male-inflicted violence related to
honour became one of its important aims (Begikhani, 2015). Kurdish women
in all regions began to be more vocal within political activism and became aware
of the need for liberation from patriarchal structures, in society as well as in the
political movement. They expressed the view that women’s rights and
emancipation had to be fought for side by side with, and on the same level as,
liberation of the Kurds as a nation (Begikhani, 2005). Female combatants often
attribute their participation in the armed struggle, at least in part, to an escape
from family control, and sometimes to fear of being killed by male relatives.
However, in Iraqi Kurdistan, where patriarchal structures and norms fashioned
political organisations, most importantly the Kurdistan Democratic Party
(Partiya Demokrata Kurdistanê, KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (Yeketî
Niştîmanî Kurdistan, PUK), women were for many years not allowed to
participate in combat, but were actively involved in underground activities,
nursing and in providing logistic support. In Iranian and Turkish Kurdistan,
and later in Syria’s Rojava, women have participated in politics and been actively
involved in combat since the 1980s. In Turkey in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê, PKK), and in Iran in The Society of Revolutionary
Toilers of Iranian Kurdistan (Komalay Şoreşgerrî Zahmatkeşanî Kurdistanî Îran,
Komala), the imagery of women and their participation in the political process
and combat was used as a project of integrating women as active agents of the
nation and the nation-building project.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, a recognisable women’s movement emerged after the
creation of the “safe haven”, which was established by the coalition powers in
1991 following the First Gulf War, when Kurds gained an important degree of
self-governance with some level of constitutional rights (Begikhani, 2005;
Alinia, 2013). Women’s activism was predominantly the domain of urban and
3 This is less valid for Turkey, where feminism was a term used by Turkish feminists who adopted much
of their ideas from Western feminists, see later in this section.
12 Theorising women and war in Kurdistan
middle-class women, who tried to improve the conditions of vulnerable women
of rural and working-class backgrounds (Hardi, 2013: 49; see also Al-Ali, 2011;
Fischer-Tahir, 2010; Mojab, 2009). One of the most important concerns of
women activists was the rise of honour-based violence and “honour” killings
(Begikhani, Gill and Hague, 2015; Alinia, 2013; Mojab, 2004). Although the safe
haven offered new possibilities for women to organise themselves, the political
leaders of the PUK and KDP tried to “incorporate tribal leaders, leading to the
emergence of ‘neo-tribalism’ in Iraqi Kurdistan after 1992” (Al-Ali and Pratt,
2011: 343). The 1994-1996 internal war between the PUK and PDK led to a
further politicisation and division of society. Subsequently, women’s activism
became divided along party lines, in spite of the women’s march in 1994
between Sulaymaniyah and Erbil “to demand peace and reconciliation between
the two parties” (Al-Ali and Pratt, 2011: 344). The continuing strong bonds that
persist today between women’s movements and political parties remains a point
of criticism and concern of women activists. What is more, it was difficult for
women’s organisations to unite for common causes, as there often existed
hardly any communication between them (Begikhani, 2010; Hardi, 2013).
Alhamid (in this issue) pays attention to how women often were forced into
marginalised positions because of external and internal conflicts and recurrent
upsurges of tribal ideology. She argues that women emerged as symbols of the
nation rather than as political agents (see also Mojab, 1998), and had difficulty
finding ways to enter male-dominated areas, such as literary genres, which
Alhamid’s article focuses on.
On the other hand, women’s activism has forged important changes since
1991, specifically in the legal and constitutional domains. Notably, these could
only be achieved because of the semi-independence of Iraqi Kurdistan and the
relatively stable conditions since 1999. Over the last decade, crucial
amendments have been made to the Iraqi Kurdistan Constitution concerning
the punishment of killings based on honour, restrictions in polygamy, female
genital mutilation, and child custody, although women activists are highly
critical of the lack of implementation of these laws. Hardi (2013) mentions three
overall achievements of Iraqi Kurdish women’s activism: “legislative reform,
participation in the public domain, and women’s position and image in the
media” (2013: 51; for an overview of the activities of women’s movements in
Iraqi Kurdistan and in the diaspora see Begikhani, Gill and Hague 2015). Iraqi
Kurdish women have expressed little interest in collaborating with women
activists in the rest of Iraq, due to the historical oppression of Kurds by Arabdominated
governments, and owing to a more secular rather than religious
4 In short, women’s activism in Iraqi Kurdistan has reached its
current form in direct relation to earlier and current wars and conflicts, and
4 “Kurdish Iraqi women activists tend to reject Islam as a frame for their demands and agendas, whereas
a large number of Arab Iraqi women are either members of one of the Islamist political parties or are merely
pious women [who] advocate women’s concerns through a framework of Islam” (Al-Ali and Pratt, 2011:
Begikhani, Hamelink, Weiss 13
Copyright @ 2018 KURDISH STUDIES © Transnational Press London
scholars in Kurdish studies have therefore paid attention to the “connection
between violence against women and socioeconomic marginalization, political
persecution and the militarization of Kurdish society in Iraq” (Alinia, 2013: 38;
see also Mojab, 2004; Begikhani, 2005).
In Turkish Kurdistan, Kurdish women activists were initially part of leftist
and Turkish political and women’s organisations. However, in the early 1990s
they began to organise separately from Turkish feminists and founded their
own associations and journals. Several authors explain this development as
being due to a feeling of alienation among Kurdish women towards Turkish
feminists and their ideas (Çaha, 2011; Yüksel, 2006). Kurdish women aligned
themselves with the black women’s move
14 Theorising women and war in Kurdistan
female guerrillas proved that women are capable of doing everything as men
(...). They gave us confidence and a legacy to build on” (Sahin-Mencutek, 2016:
Al-Ali and Taş (2017) found that in the most recent years, under the
influence of the crackdown of the Turkish government on dissidents, some
Turkish and Kurdish feminists have moved closer to each other. Because of the
increased number of victims of state violence, among them Kurds and Turks,
these women activists feel now connected in their struggle against state as well
as male power, which they directly relate to each other. Many Turkish feminists
have become more critical of the Kemalist foundation of Turkish feminism and
have shown increased understanding for the plight of women with other
backgrounds. Mutual understanding became a basis for combined calls for
peace, for example the Women’s Initiative for Peace (Al-Ali and Taş, 2017). In
short, we find that Kurdish women’s activism in Turkish Kurdistan developed
in direct relation to the waves of violent conflict in the country (see also
Davidovic, this issue), and that women activists had to operate within the often
limited space they found within Kurdish as well as Turkish political life. The
optimistic times of the 2000s and early 2010s created a space for legal activism
and increased participation therein by Kurdish women, whereas the recent
upsurge in violence and oppression in Turkey has again led to increased
militarisation, but also to cooperation between Kurdish and Turkish feminists.
In Iranian Kurdistan, women began organising themselves under the
Republic of Mahabad5 and founded the “Yaya Organisation”, aiming to
develop literacy and an attachment to national identity among women. With the
end of the Republic, the Yaya Organisation disappeared, although some women
continued to be active within the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (Hizbî
Dêmukratî Kurdistanî Êran, PDKI) (Mojab, 2001; Begikhani, 2003). During the
1979 revolution and after Khomeini came to power, Kurdish political activities
increased and a variety of organisations were formed that liberated some cities
such as Saqiz, Sinna and Mariwan. Women arranged themselves within these
organisations and formed groups, including the Sinna Women’s Committee,
the Mariwan Women’s Union, and the Saqiz Women’s Union (Begikhani,
2003). These groups were closely collaborating with their political male partners
to deal with the general political situation. With the establishment of the Islamic
Republic, Kurdish cities were attacked and Kurdish forces withdrew from the
cities, leading at the same time to the collapse of the women’s groups. The most
active role of Kurdish women in military activities in Iran starts with the
Marxist-Maoist Komala organisation, which was formally founded in the early
1980s (for an overview on the Komala, see Entessar, 2010). However, these
women were more concerned about the ideology of their party, that is, the
liberation of the working class and peasantry of Iran, than their own rights
5 The Mahabad Republic of Kurdistan was proclaimed in January 1946 and collapsed by December in
the same year. Its leader Qazi Muhammad was executed in 1947. In spite of its short existence, the republic,
which had pan-Kurdish aspirations, became a symbol of Kurdish efforts to strive for independence.
Begikhani, Hamelink, Weiss 15
Copyright @ 2018 KURDISH STUDIES © Transnational Press London
(Begikhani, 2003). Further research is needed to investigate more recent
developments. However, it is clear from this short description that also in
Iranian Kurdistan, women’s activism developed in close alignment with
Women, agency, and victimhood
As we saw in the first section, feminist literature on women’s involvement
in war has moved from an emphasis on how women are victimised during wars
to an agency-oriented approach. Attention is paid to the ways in which women
are not only victims, but also active agents and participants in war, and how war
situations can be transformative for women’s position in society also after war
has ended. Kurdish women’s political participation and their resistance during
war have often been presented as possible ways of empowerment and
emancipation (Çağlayan, 2007). Gökalp (2010) analyses the situation of Kurdish
women living in Diyarbakır, Turkey, during and after war and displacement.
She demonstrates how women use a democracy, rights and justice discourse
with which they voice their demands for compensation after having been
disowned and displaced by the state. “Paradoxically, [this] peculiar victim
psychology has the power to liberate women by relating their life conditions to
the state through rights discourses” (Gökalp, 2010: 565). Hamelink (2016)
argues that Kurdish female dengbêjs (singer-poets) were able to mobilise PKK
discourse about the “oppressed” status of Kurdish women’s lives, and the need
for women’s liberation, to change their own position and become more visible
and public as female performers. These examples show how many Kurdish
women have adopted and mobilised political discourses to attempt to improve
their position in their local environment, to make themselves heard, and to
convince male relatives of the justness of their demands. Following Gökalp
(2010), a political discourse of victimhood of women, inflicted on them by state
or male violence, can be liberating if women manage to mobilise such
discourses to further their demands. Schäfers (2018) shows, however, that
having a voice (as female dengbêjs) does not necessarily translate into agency;
visibility and audibility do not mean that women’s voices are understood and
heard in the way they intend.
When discussing women and war in Kurdistan, it is therefore important to
scrutinise the notion of agency in detail. How may agency be conceptualised in
settings that curtail and hinder action? How should agency be perceived when
talking about the spaces of opportunity that occur during war? How may agency
be understood in the context of Kurdish nationalist discourses that proclaim
the liberation of women? And what does agency mean when women become
victims of war violence, and are portrayed as such in local and international
media? It is important to separate emic, that is local, understandings of agency,
often presented in oppositional pairs such as the oppressed vs. the liberated,
the emancipated vs. the backward and finally the aggressor vs. the innocent,
from an analytic discussion of agency (Weiss, 2012). Agency in the emic
16 Theorising women and war in Kurdistan
interpretation is often understood as synonymous to resistance, and liberation
is then understood as “the capacity to realize one’s own interests against the
weight of custom, tradition, transcendental will or other obstacles” (Mahmood,
2001: 206). Such understanding draws on a feminist notion of human action,
which seeks to locate the political and moral autonomy of the subject in the
face of power. Resistance, whether organised or individual, is only one
particular form of human action. Although inherently linked to power and
domination, agency may not necessarily be focused on change but may as well
aim towards continuity and stability. Social and gender norms, as well as power
structures, are appropriated, negotiated and embraced as much as they are
openly resisted. In studying women in the context of war, we therefore propose
an understanding of agency that gives room to a much more complex and
ambiguous understanding of the term, that allows us to explore how people act
within and through social constraints, gendered norms and not least within the
context of war and violence.
Agency in relation to Kurdish women and war can then be understood as
the acknowledgement of people’s ability to actively engage with an everchanging
social and political field in which several, often contradicting
ideological discourses exist side by side (Weiss, 2010). In heroic victimhood
discourse, the victim has agency even when dead, such as the martyr (Weiss,
2014). In human rights discourse the victim is presented as void of agency and
in need of external intervention, and in feminist discourse, the victim becomes
the economically deprived woman, oppressed by patriarchal structures, who
contributes to her own oppression through what Kandiyoti (1988) has called
the patriarchal bargain (Weiss, 2012). Taking such a stance on agency enables
us to go beyond the nationalist presentation of women as either victims of state
violence or patriarchy on the one hand, or liberated women on the other. This
analysis points to the complexity in which women negotiate their positions, and
that their gendered positions are also constantly chang
Begikhani, Hamelink, Weiss 17
Copyright @ 2018 KURDISH STUDIES © Transnational Press London
Yezidi women and children for care and treatment after having being held in
captivity by ISIS. His article offers a critical perspective on the design of the
programme that operates along particular understandings of victimhood in
which women feature as the deserving victims, while men are far more
ambiguous and difficult to place within categories of victimhood. The
programme’s sole focus on women, and the exclusion of men, failed to address
some of the crucial wishes and interests of participants, and in this way hindered
their rehabilitation process.
Gender and nation
Images of women as heroic fighters, victims of wars, sex slaves and refugees
all bring to mind discussions on gender and nation, introduced by critical
feminist thinkers such as Najmabadi (1993; 1997), Yuval-Davis (1997; 1989),
Nagel (1998), Landes (2001) and others. Their main argument is that the social
position of women is perceived as an important benchmark for measuring the
development of a nation (see also Weiss, 2018a). In political ideology, the nation
has mostly been imagined as feminine, as the mother, the bride or the virgin,
all of which demand the fierce love and devotion of her (male) children. The
nation in the image of the mother, who cares, protects and mediates,
rearticulates “the notions of the children’s duties to their parents into those of
the duties of (male) citizens to the motherland” (Najmabadi, 1997: 460). The
nation in the image of the bride or virgin who is in danger of being transgressed
and raped and is in dire need of protection, becomes the object of male desire
(Landes, 2001) and exclusive love (Najmabadi, 1997). This erotic love
relationship is mostly unconsumed (Weiss, 2012); the nation is imagined as the
bride before the wedding night, who can never be attained, and the act of
fighting for Kurdistan, the symbolic bride, is sometimes described as a wedding
Such images of the feminine nation speak mostly to an understanding of its
people as male descendants. Although the lineage always consists of both men
and women, this gendered imaginary especially addresses the male descendants,
the “sons of Kurdistan” (Aktürk, 2016), who are to defend their nation from
exogenous threats, to sacrifice their lives for their homeland, and to defend
their freedom, their honour and their women (King, 2008). Although in some
parts of Kurdistan the idea that men are to protect the boundaries of the nation,
and that women and their bodies are the gatekeepers of these boundaries, seems
to be strongly present (King, 2008), Kurdish feminists have been highly critical
of such a depiction of gender roles in the region (Yüksel, 2006). The emergence
of the female guerrilla fighter has played a pivotal role in changing nationalist
gender discourse. At least in discourse, the femininity of the female guerrilla
fighters was set in opposition to the patriarchal oppression of their adversaries.
These women were not the hyper-masculinised warriors, but the feminine
heroes, whose feminine essence has become their main weapon. A similar
representation of the female warrior can be found in recent imaginary of the
18 Theorising women and war in Kurdistan
“beautiful” and “heroic” female fighter against the “barbarous” and
“misogynous” fighters of ISIS in Western media. “While female combatants
are portrayed [in French and British media] as stepping outside their traditional
roles, the fact that their gender and ‘femininity’ are highlighted at the same time
leads the audience to see their participation as something not only heroic, but
as atypical behaviour for women” (Toivanen and Baser, 2016: 306). This
imaginary in Kurdish as well as Western media represents female fighters in
quite different ways than their male counterparts. When not depicted in active
combat, the women are often presented laughing, dancing, hugging and
enjoying the company of their fellow warriors. Their rifles, however, are always
close at hand and mostly quite visible in the image frame. “The war has become
female, and the formerly hyper-masculinized warriors have been vested with
inherent (and stereotypical) female notions” (Weiss, 2018a).
This neo-Orientalist and sensational presentation of the Kurdish female
fighters as “badass” women has been heavily criticised by Kurdish feminists.
“It is all too easy to fall into the media trap of fetishizing the female fighters of
the all-women Women’s Self-Defense Brigades (the YPJ) and the mixed-gender
General Self-Defense Brigades (the YPG) in Kurdistan without considering the
implications of women choosing to be fighters in a very patriarchal society […]
The YPJ are not only fighting against ISIS, they are fighting for feminism and
gender equality - and they’re doing it with ideas and bullets alike” (Dirik, 2015).
Dirik does not, however, offer a critical perspective on how the PKK, the
People´s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, YPG), the Women´s
Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Jin, YPJ)6
, and related groups themselves
mobilise the imaginary of heroic women for internal and external propaganda.
Although indeed many women seem to be able to use their position as female
fighters to advance their own emancipation and an increased level of gender
equality, the authoritarian organisation of these political groups may at the same
time enable (male or female) political leaders to “use women and their bodies
pragmatically to advance their own interests” (Gökalp, 2010: 563). Moreover,
gender emancipation within the ranks of the armed forces and the political
movement, even if aimed for by many of the (female) combatants, may not
necessarily result in increased gender equality in larger society, as the practices
within the movement are not a lived reality for people elsewhere. Another
critical point of concern is that women’s emancipation in the service of political
ideology may fail to strongly root in the society as a whole, as critics of the
dominant political movement may not want to align with its aims and policies.
A more thorough analysis is needed to investigate how the political ideology of
Democratic Confederalism, developed by PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan
influences political ideas about gender and nation among
activists, combatants, and larger Kurdish society in Syria and Turkey.
6 In the above quote Dirik uses a slightly different English translation of the YPG and YPJ. We use here
the translations that are currently most often used.
7 Öcalan was inspired by Murray Bookchin’s ideas on Libertarian Municipalism.
Begikhani, Hamelink, Weiss 19
Copyright @ 2018 KURDISH STUDIES © Transnational Press London
Democratic Confederalism proposes a political system of direct local rule, in
which local communes are directly involved in, and responsible for, their own
organisation (Jongerden and Akkaya, 2013). According to this political
ideology, nationalism is seen as a product of capitalist modernity and as
fundamentally undermining the equal rights of all citizens. The current semiautonomous
region of northern Syria and also the Kurdish-dominated
municipalities in Turkey8 are regarded as a testing ground for the practice of
Democratic Confederalism (Baris, 2017).9 They have introduced women’s
councils, educate people on the need for women’s liberation and on all levels
of party leadership, implement a “one man one woman co-chair policy”
(Knapp, Flach and Ayboga, 2016). Female combatants, through their bodies,
then represent a new personhood in which Democratic Confederalism is seen
as an example for the Middle East, and ultimately the whole world. Although
the Kurdish nation no longer plays the central role it used to have in PKK
ideology, and independence is not actively pursued by the Peoples’ Democratic
Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, HDP) in Turkey and the Democratic Union
Party (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, PYD) in Rojava, the female body may still
represent a specifically Kurdish bravery, heroism, and renewal, at least in the eyes
of much of their Kurdish following.
Through the music of the diaspora Kurdish singer Helly Luv, Glastonbury
(this issue) shows how in Iraqi Kurdistan, the image of the female fighter is
mobilised in a quite different context, and for different purposes, then in Iran,
Syria and Turkey; namely for its nation-branding project, in which Iraqi
Kurdistan is presented “as if it is a nation-state”. Branding the nation of the
Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR)10 is performed for Western audiences and aims
to show that the IKR is an exception in terms of liberty, democracy and
women’s rights in the Middle East. Tapping into neoconservative American
ideologies, brand Kurdistan offers a liberal, democratic alternative to the
barbarism of ISIS. Glastonbury demonstrates that present-day nation-branding
is not only a political project, but moreover an attempt to gain a place in the
global capitalist market, in which ethnicity, nationality, and civilisation are
turned into commodities. With her songs, Helly Luv manages to package this
message in the form of a “marketable asset” by using the imaginary of the liberal
female fighter destroying ISIS and fighting for peace in Kurdistan.
8 These initiatives were strongly curtailed by the oppressive and increasingly authoritarian regime of the
AK Party and its leader, Tayyip Erdoğan. In 2015 and 2016 these municipalities were shortly run by the proKurdish
Peoples’ Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, HDP), but then taken over by the state.
Since the urban war between the PKK and Turkey’s security forces in 2015, and the alleged military coup in
Summer 2016, many HDP leaders have been fired from their positions and were imprisoned (see also Protner
in this issue).
9 Praised for its liberal agenda by many, the movement is criticised by others. “The personality cult built
around their leader Ocalan, the hierarchical organization of the movement around one party, and their alleged
intolerance towards other political actors in Syrian and Turkish Kurdistan generates plenty of criticism” (Baris
10 Following the new Iraqi constitution, the region is officially referred to as the Iraqi Kurdistan Region
(IKR) but is more commonly known as KRI (Kurdistan Region of Iraq).
20 Theorising women and war in Kurdistan
The wide-reaching effects of war and violence
When writing about women and war, it is not enough to explore violent
experiences of actual warfare or its immediate aftermath. On the contrary, an
important contribution of this special issue to the study of war and violence is
its focus on the long-lasting and wide-reaching effects of war and violence that
permeate social relations, identities and political structures (Bourgois, 2004).
Studying women and war, we will therefore have to expand our focus
geographically, temporally and conceptually and explore several, interlinked
Dealing with gendered experiences of violence, Protner (this issue) reminds
us that war is not only fought on the “battlefield” or in the private spheres of
the invaded. Today’s wars are fought transnationally as well as in cyberspace.
Social media has become an integral part of warfare, as much as it has become
central for resistance and peace movements (Weiss, 2018b; Sheyholislami,
2011). Additionally, migration and diaspora experiences are important
dimensions of war situations, as political violence is part of the complex
entanglement between refugee displacement, government policies and media
imagery (Nolin, 2006). Diaspora populations can play important roles in
conflicts in the countries they originate from (Baser, 2015; Demir, 2012), and
often have more immediate access to information than their relatives back
home. Studying the gendered effects of war, authors have focused on the
emergence and negotiation of gender roles in exile (Hajo et al, 2004), explored
migration’s impact on family relations and social networks (Ang-Lygate, 1996;
Brettell, 2002; Olwig et al., 2012) and not least, highlighted the particular
gendered vulnerabilities during migration and in refugee camps (Buckley-Zistel
and Krause, 2017). The effects of war find their expression in specific migration
regimes that favour particular types of refugees over others. McGee (in this
issue), for example, explores how the female Yezidi survivor is cast as the ideal
refugee type, innocent and docile, thus easy to govern. In contrast, the male
refugee is often cast as the problematic and demonised migrant, as his
innocence during war is regarded as questionable. Thus, whilst the Yezidi
women in McGee’s article are offered protection and integration, their men are
not, leaving them with the option to stay separated from their wives and
daughters, or follow dangerous, illegal refugee routes to be united with them.
The impact of war is long-lasting and affects people long after the actual
fighting has ended. Memories of war are physically inscribed on the body and
soul of the survivor of violence and may find their expression in physical
impairment or trauma, hindering the survivor to move on. Experiences of
violence and conflict are, however, also engrained into the social fabric and can
impact several generations after the conflict took place (Hirsch, 2008).
Memories of violence are transmitted from one generation to the next not only
through public rituals and commemorations, but also through non-discursive,
unconscious social performative practices (Pichler, 2011). In her study of
Holocaust survivors, Kidron (2009) has shown how the suffering and trauma
Begikhani, Hamelink, Weiss 21
Copyright @ 2018 KURDISH STUDIES © Transnational Press London
of genocide victims are handed down to next generations as deep memories.
These are “nonverbal, intersubjective, embodied, and material traces of the past
in everyday life, forms of knowledge that resist articulation and collective
enlistment” (Kidron, 2009: 7). Violence and war create their own dynamic
temporalities, in which conflicts and trauma become frozen. The metaphor of
the frozen conflict is highlighted in relation to the disappeared (Green, 1999;
Tully, 1995) and at times also the prisoners and their relatives. Unable to mourn
the dead, unable to move on, the absence remains a constant reminder of the
violence. As the disappeared are not declared dead, their spouses are neither
married nor widowed, thus also inhabiting a liminal gendered space (Segal,
2016). The absence of a relative, either dead or alive, has often led to a
redefinition of traditional gender roles, and cast also women into politics
(Ramphele, 1997). Whereas only few Kurdish women have embraced the role
of political widow or wifehood, the mothers of the disappeared, prisoners and
dead, have gained an important political role (Aslan, 2007; Weiss, 2010;
Davidovic in this issue).
Additionally, anthropological research on conflict and violence has pointed
to the wide-reaching effects of war and its manifestations in more hidden, or
less obviously, connected forms of violence. Bourgois (2004) has argued that
violence can only be understood as a continuum, where economic deprivation,
limited access to health care and domestic violence should also be understood
as responses to war and conflict. To highlight the interconnectedness of
different forms of violence, and its effect, Kleinman et al. have coined the term
“social suffering”, which they define as the result of “what political, economic,
and institutional power does to people and, reciprocally, from how these forms
of power themselves influence responses to social problems” (1997: ix).
Alhamid (this issue) offers an important contribution to this topic. In her
analysis of an Iraqi Kurdish novel, she shows how a male author takes up the
topic of violence against women by describing a woman’s life and her
experiences with abuse and male violence in intimate as well as shocking detail.
She argues that Kurdish literature in Iraqi Kurdistan predominantly focused on
macro issues related to the Kurdish national cause, “at the cost of microaspects”
such as individual experiences of women and violence against women,
a theme that remained largely absent from literary discourses. However,
recently more (mainly male) authors have begun to “experiment with feminist
issues and themes.” Alhamid takes us through the different chapters of the
novel which describe the protagonist’s experiences with different men of
different social and ideological backgrounds. The novel relates the violence,
sexism and male dominance inflicted on her by these men, to the men’s
ideologies and violent histories that are covered up, supported or
institutionalised in a post-conflict society. The novel also shows how women
are silenced and victimised because of structural inequalities that make it very
difficult for women to speak up. The article supports the argument several
feminist writers have made, namely, that the increase of gender-based violence
22 Theorising women and war in Kurdistan
and domestic violence is a product of the violent history of Northern Iraq (AlAli,
2016; Lee-Koo, 2011; Begikhani, 2003, 2005).
Likewise, Davidovic’s article (this issue) is important in this respect through
its investigation of the gendered long-term consequences of war, and their legal
and international aspects. The disappearance cases of relatives she studies show
that the European Court of Human Rights often lacks gender sensitive
language, and lacks attention for the intersectional dimensions of women’s
victimisation. Gender justice should go beyond a narrow definition of gender
crimes as rape and sexual violence: “Enforced disappearance is a perfect
example of a violation that is often not perpetrated on a women’s body, yet (…)
leaves life-long traumatic consequences”. Women may also be
disproportionally burdened by factors such as social stigma, marginalisation,
lack of education, and other factors that have long-term effects on w
Begikhani, Hamelink, Weiss 23
Copyright @ 2018 KURDISH STUDIES © Transnational Press London
Historically, European accounts of Kurdish women have emphasised the
freedom and strength of Kurdish women (Begikhani, 1997). They provide:
an oleographic representation of the Kurdish woman often portrayed
as antithetic to the Arab, Persian and Turkish woman, and focus on
the high level of freedom enjoyed by the Kurdish woman. In these
accounts, one sees a woman who can choose her groom freely, enjoys
her family’s esteem, takes care of the home affairs, and even cleans her
husband’s weapons and his horse. She takes an active part in all
festivities and dances (Galletti, 2001: 209).
Also within Kurdish (nationalist) literature, the pivotal role of women, their
alleged former freedom and not least the importance of women in leading
positions has been central, and the best known female leading figures have
developed “into national symbols, exemplifying the moral superiority of the
Kurds over their neighbors” (Bruinessen, 2000). Examples of such women,
who also actively participated in (world) politics are Adela Khanim from
Halabja, Kara Fatima who commanded a Kurdish contingent in the Crimean
war, and Mayan Khatun, a powerful Yezidi leader (Bruinessen, 2000).
Begikhani, in her doctoral thesis on the image of Kurdish women in European
literatures (1997), relativises this orientalist representation of strong liberated
Kurdish women, arguing that the image is a “myth” and does not have the force
of the material reality (see also an interview with Begikhani on this subject in
The representation of the female warrior, beautiful and at times sexually
attractive, is also observed in more recent history. Allison (2001) explores how
pictures of women in peshmerga costume were very popular in the early 1990s
in Duhok and Erbil. However, as the author notes, these women were mostly
foreigners (Allison, 2001: 186). In Turkish Kurdistan, images of beautiful
guerrilla fighters have received wide attention, as discussed above. Kurdish
women were also often presented as victims of war, as struggling against
multiple oppressions stemming from state violence, patriarchy, and economic
deprivation, and as refugees. Investigating the recent circulation of images of
Yezidi women, Buffon and Allison (2016) demonstrate that “Sinjari Yezidis’
narratives and subjectivities since 2014 are silenced across media
representations in the West in favour of a ‘hyper-visibility’ (Baudrillard, 2005,
1990, 1982) of women’s ‘injured bodies’, which mobilises a specific narrative of
victimhood” (2016: 177). They argue that the media narrative and imaginary
presents Yezidi women as in need of saving (“white men saving brown women
from brown men”; Spivak, 1994: 93 in Buffon and Allison, 2016, see also
McGee, this issue). Furthermore, they show how some Western media, through
hyper-visibility of the plight of Yezidi women sold as sex slaves, “produce a
pornographic effect” (pp. 182), by leaving out the historical context, by erasing
the fate of Yezidi men, many of whom were killed and by denying Yezidis their
24 Theorising women and war in Kurdistan
own narrative of the destruction of whole communities. In this context, it is
important to mention recently published (auto-)biographies such as Murad and
Krajeski (2017), Baxter (2017), and Schürle (2016), in which Yezidi and Kurdish
women narrate in detail and on their own initiative their experiences of war,
captivity, displacement, loss, and the rebuilding of their lives. These are
examples of detailed accounts in which women give depth and meaning to their
life stories, contextualise and historicise them, and choose and own the
(re)presentation of their own histories.
Protner (in this issue) introduces another important dimension to the
gendered representation of war by focusing on the increased digitalisation of
war, and war “fought in cyberspace.” Behind this lies the question of what
images do, of how they obtain meaning, and how they function in times of war.
Whereas Sontag (2002) argues for the unmediated effect of war images that
“shock” and “haunt” us, Spyer and Steedly (2013) counter this by showing how
images are always mediated and understood within frames of reference. They
do, however, see a fundamental difference in the digital age when it is in the
overall “enhanced visibility”, in the fixture of the media on “violent imagery of
global crisis” (2013: 17), and in the “affective power” (Ibid.: 27) of images
because of the ways they enter our “skin” through the touch of our screens.
Additionally, Butler (2009) argues that interpretation of media and photographs
cannot be seen as a purely subjective act, “rather, interpretation takes place by
virtue of the structuring constraints of communicability and affect” (2009: 67).
Protner builds on these ideas when investigating images of “perpetrator
graffiti” made and circulated by Turkish Special Forces. During the 2015 urban
war between the PKK and the Turkish military, these “militarised nationalist
performances of masculinised domination and sexist graffiti” became widely
known through online “sharing”. Protner shows how such images affect people
in different ways, and that, because of the way we look at and touch them on
our screens, they are symbolic violence that is “intense and systematic as well
as intimate and personal”. She argues that feminising the enemy as well as sexual
assault and humiliation are rooted in the nation-building process of Turkey, as
the bodies of those not fitting into the state’s homogenising project are defined
as impure. The desecration, photographing and online circulation of the
enemy’s body and of the enemy’s invaded home, bring state violence as a
routine into everyday life and therefore have affective power: “The cybertouch
of the political violence is perceived, consciously and bodily, as a gendered
invasion” that may enrage and mobilise people, but may also cause “political
In this article, we have introduced the topic of “Women and War” by placing
it into the wider literature and theoretical gender-related approaches. We have
examined historical developments within different parts of Kurdistan in order
to explain how women organised themselves and became active during wars as
well as armed struggles, and how they have been represented and perceived in
the collective imagination. The articles in this issue reflect cross- and multidisciplinary
approaches which bring rich theoretical and analytical insights into
the topic ‘Women and War’, leading to new reflections on feminist theories.
They pave the way for how new feminist knowledge might incorporate the
problematic social and geopolitical realities and experiences of Kurdish
As the articles demonstrate, Kurdish women have played multiple and
diverse roles during wars and armed struggles with devastating consequences
as well as problematic gender relations and social positionings. The experiences
of Kurdish women in different parts of Kurdistan are characterised by activism,
resistance and pain and are intertwined with women’s multiple social identities
based on their racial, religious, class, rural and urban status. While reflecting
these experiences, the articles are a motivation for further studies that can
reflect on how war and militarisation affect the lives of women and shape
gender relations, structuring people’s status and realities. It is our hope that in
a time of an increased militarisation and willingness to engage in wars and
violence in the Middle East, attention to the horrific consequences of these
wars on the lives of millions of individuals may lead to a deeper realisation of
the need for peace and long-lasting structures of stability.
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Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others. American Anthropologist, 104(3),
Aktürk, A. S. (2016). Female Cousins and Wounded Masculinity: Kurdish Nationalist
Discourse in the Post-Ottoman Middle East. Middle Eastern Studies, 52(1), 46-59.
Al-Ali, N. (2016). Sexual Violence in Iraq: Challenges for Transnational Feminist
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