Trump's abrupt decision to pull troops out of Syria puts brave Kurdish women warriors in peril

The Kurdish women fighters have just not set high military examples but also influenced the gender discourse of the Kurdish society. Leaving them unguarded against Turkish forces and IS could leave a debilitating effect on the ethnic group's social dynamics.


                            Trump's abrupt decision to pull troops out of Syria puts brave Kurdish women warriors in peril

After President Donald Trump made his sudden announcement of pulling troops out of Syria on Sunday, October 6, the Kurds have been left deeply worried. They have served the Americans in many key battles over the years -- be it against former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein or against terror groups like Al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) -- but Trump’s decision to quit Syria has put one of the world's largest ethnic community without a country in danger. The American president had made a similar move last December but backtracked later but this time, it seems he has lost to regional competitors like Turkey, which considers Kurds as separatists and terrorists and has reportedly started airstrikes on the Syrian border as Washington began its withdrawal. 

America’s withdrawal puts the future of the women Kurd fighters in uncertainty. The Kurds face a threat to their survival not only from the powerful Turkish military but also from the Islamic State (IS) which they had successfully dealt with in the past. The womenfolk have always played a big role in the Kurds’ military mission and it is estimated that up to 40 percent of the Kurdish fighters spread across the Middle East are women. They are on the ground ever since the Syrian civil war started in 2011 and have hogged the limelight for all kinds of reasons -- valour, gender inequality, feminism and sensationalization. 

Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG's women fighters pose as they stand in a check point with their AK-47 at the outskirts of the destroyed Syrian town of Kobani, also known as Ain al-Arab, Syria. June 20, 2015. Kurdish fighters with the YPG took full control of Kobane and strategic city of Tal Abyad, dealing a major blow to the Islamic State group's ability to wage war in Syria.

In 2015, the women fighters hit back at the IS

To speak about their valour, the women Kurd fighters have succeeded in hitting the IS not just physically but psychologically. For an IS militant, getting killed in the hands of a woman is something insulting as the terror group believes that losing life to a woman fighter sends one to hell. The women Kurd fighters showcased their iron will in August 2014 when they rescued thousands of minority Yazidis from the clutches of the IS militants on Mount Sinjar. They later fought the extremists in Kobani, northern Syria, and in January 2015, members of YPJ (the female armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party) helped liberate Kobani

Injuries, fatigue, family objections haven't discouraged them

These women fighters have remained on the frontline for years during the fight and despite the injuries, fatigue, and objection from their families (some have the support though), they refuse to leave the battleground. They age faster even after joining the war as teenagers because of the high stress they endure. Even these extreme challenges failed to unnerve these women because of more than one reason. One, they know that if they are not at their combative best, they will be crushed by the ruthless IS. Besides, the war is also a means for the Kurdish women fighters to challenge the patriarchal structures of their society. Despite their comparatively better freedom compared to other parts of Middle East, the Kurdish society still sees gender inequality and by showcasing their zero-fear self with arms and ammunition for a bigger cause, the women feel they have succeeded in extracting some respect from the male members of the society.

The Kurdish women fighters are also influenced by the preachings of the jailed founder of the nationalist PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), Abdullah Ocalan, about reinstating gender equality which makes women’s liberation an important part of its ideal. They also came up with the idea of broadening their area of operations in the Arab world with an aim to recruit more women to take on the IS.

Both Turkey and IS will now target the helpless Kurds

The brave women soldiers of Kurdistan are now facing a tough challenge for survival. Turkey, which doesn’t differentiate much between the PKK and IS as terrorist bodies, will leave no stone unturned to ensure that its territorial integrity is secured by eliminating the Kurd nationalism. Territorially, the IS will not let the women fighters off the hook if they find the turf to their advantage as dark tales of exploitation of women at their camps have left a petrifying impact.

A Kurdish Syrian woman holds an AK-47 in the Turkish side of the Syrian border after the refugees and Turkish protestors pull down a part of the Turkish-Syrian border fence, near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province September 26, 2014. 

The conservative Kurdish society itself faces a challenge 

Exposing the women fighters of Kurdistan to powerful foes along with their male counterparts is not something confined to only arms and physical impacts. It puts into danger the idea of women empowerment in a conservative society and also endangers inspiring stories that these women with arms present to the world and sets up a new discourse in gender equality. The Kurdish women are still presented in contradictory ways in popular media. While some feel they grossly hate men, others feel they represent far too an oppressed tribe in a backward culture who are seeking to escape. 

Feminists fear that they are going to lose a precious chapter in women’s studies after the US has lifted its support from behind the Kurds, leaving their society and its layers unguarded. 

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