[News] Women up in arms: Zapatistas and Rojava Kurds embrace a new gender politics
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 26 14:00:02 EDT 2015
Women up in arms: Zapatistas and Rojava Kurds embrace a new gender
Charlotte Maria Sáenz
2015-03-25, Issue 719 <http://www.pambazuka.org/en/issue/719>
Resistance and strength manifest like weeds through cracks in Chiapas,
Mexico, and transnational Kurdistan where the respective Zapatista and
Kurdish resistance movements are creating new gender relations as a
primary part of their struggle and process for building a better world.
In both places, women’s participation in the armed forces has been an
entry-point for a new social construction of gender relations based on
While the Kurds have been fighting for their survival against ISIS in
the Syrian/Turkish border town of Kobane, the Zapatistas put down their
arms over 20 years ago and have maintained a non-violent struggle since.
In both cases, women have fought alongside men against their own
collective obliteration while making radical changes in their gender
relations. Working towards more equity makes possible more direct
democracy in building greater autonomy from the state. In both
efforts, there is also a deep connection to land that regards the
value of women and the environment as essential to life itself.
In both resistances, women took up arms to fight alongside their male
counterparts showing both willingness and capacity to fight as soldiers.
However their principal objective in the mountains is not military.
Rather, their most important task is to form new persons: men and women
in a more equitable relationship to each other--a relationship that is
“Above everything, we want for our militancy to create a new
personality, one that is in complete contradiction to capitalism,” says
a representative of the Kurdish Committee of Jineology (a committee of
and for women founded by the transnational PKK (Partiya Karkerên
Kurdistanê), the Kurdish Workers Party. Theirs is a commitment to
building democracy, socialism, ecology and feminism.
The Zapatistas made a similar commitment to more equitable gender
relations. One of the first things to come out of their armed uprising
in 1994 was the Revolutionary Law of Women. This law spelled out 10 new
rules giving women unprecedented power over their lives, including
choosing whether and whom to marry, the right to serve on governing
councils, and the right to bear arms as milicianas, militia fighters, in
the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN in Spanish). Zapatista
women also asked for the law to include a prohibition of drugs and
alcohol, in order to address one of the main causes of domestic
violence. After the ceasefire only twelve days after the uprising, many
women soldiers transitioned to a non-military political life taking
unprecedented positions of governance, education, administration, and
decision-making—another way of taking up in arms, this time with each
other and with men.
For the last 21 years, both men and women have been in a process of
unlearning old gender norms, relearning how to be and relate to each
other anew, sharing both domestic and public duties. Although the
construction of gender equity is still in progress, these new relations
between men and women have been a fundamental component of the
construction of Zapatista autonomy itself.
These radical changes in gender relations are occurring in contexts of
tremendous violence and war of both high and low intensity. In Kobane,
near the Turkish border, Kurds have been upholding a heroic resistance
to the ravages of ISIS on the one hand, and the racist and repressive
manipulations of the Turkish State on the other. In Chiapas, the
Zapatistas have been building their autonomy within the increasing
violence of a narco-state that dominates much of the nation, where it is
hard to discern the difference between government and drug traffickers.
In nearby Guerrero--a southwestern state in Mexico also known for its
rich natural resources, intense drug trafficking, resistance movements
and community policing--women have also joined the armed ranks of the
policia comunitaria. These armed patrols have risen to fill the vacuum
left by corrupt police on the narco-payroll, and are on the rise in
various other communities across the country. Men and women are fighting
together on these different frontlines, sometimes crossing state and
national borders to join in combat, like the many young anarchist women
from Turkey who crossed in busses into Syria to help the Kurds in Kobane
resist ISIS in the past months.
Certain parts of the 30 year-old Kurdish resistance have also taken on
the project of forging more equal relations between men and women as a
crucial part of their political project. With Kurds spread across
Turkey, Syria and Iraq, the geopolitical concept of Kurdistan has been
expanded trans-nationally into what some are describing as a “Democratic
Confederalism” that transcends nation-state borders. This is an
aspiration as of yet, not a fully developed reality, nor one embraced by
all Kurds. These ideas are mainly derived from the evolving writings of
the leader of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, who has
been imprisoned in Turkey since 1999. His “Democratic Confederalism”
aims to build a new system that works towards the just distribution of
resources as well as the conservation of the environment. It seeks to
create a society free of sexism, replacing traditional patriarchal
societies, religious interpretations, and capitalist merchandising of
women. The movement has undertaken an intense societal and educational
labor to combat the patriarchal mentalities implanted in women, as a
form of submission, and in men, in form of domination.
Zapatista and Kurdish resistances have taken on a radical paradigm shift
that changes everything. In the Zapatista autonomous municipal
administration center called “Caracol de Oventic”, there is an “Office
for Women’s Dignity” where women gather to discuss the successes and
failures of the Revolutionary Law of Women. Similarly, the PKK’s
“Jineology Committee” studies women’s histories to understand the
construction of hierarchies and nation-states that erode women’s power
in society. Both communities come from intense patriarchal histories and
contexts, so there is still a long way to go in both movements. Yet in a
short time they have made extraordinary gains. Women are increasingly
represented on governing councils and active in their armed ranks, but
the real revolution is seen within the domestic sphere, where caring for
children, health and home are shared labor between men and women. Both
Kurds and Zapatistas offer a living example of what is not only
possible, but of what is already being practiced and grown.
Working towards what the Zapatistas would call an “Other” way of
relating to each other, men and women traverse spaces of war as well as
of pastoral, agricultural and domestic care--learning with and from each
other whether in the battlefields or making food. It is in these
everyday practices of building autonomy that we begin to unearth the
possibility of another kind of life, of another way of knowing, being
with and relating to each other that can create and nourish better ways
of living. It starts with making patriarchal habits visible.
Constructing more equitable relations means a daily practice of better,
kinder ways of relating between men and women. This is the learning for
all of us to put into practice within our own places and with our own
people, not only up in arms, but also arm in arm…abrazándonos, embracing
* Charlotte Maria Sáenz is Media and Education Coordinator for Other
Worlds and teaches at the California Institute for Integral Studies in
For example, Mesoamerican asambleas or the first Sumerians and the
decentralized organizations of clan and tribal configurations as
described in “El confederalismo democrático: propuesta libertaria del
pueblo kurdo.” ALB Noticias en Mar, 17 septiembre 2013.
 “Land and Liberty” has been the rallying cry of the Zapatistas, both
then and now, while “Land or Death” the slogan heard in the Botan
district today as reported by Heysam Mislim in “Kobane Diary: 4 Days
Inside the City Fighting an Unprecedented Resistance Against ISIS,”
Newsweek, October 15, 2014.
 Committee of Jineology as quoted by Jorge Ricardo Ottino, writing
for Resumen Latinoamericano from mountains of Xinêre, areas of media
defense, South Kurdistan, Republic of Iraq, 3rd July 2014.
 “El confederalismo democrático: propuesta libertaria del pueblo
kurdo.” ALB Noticias en Mar, 17 septiembre 2013.
 For a more in-depth description of the Kurdish Women’s movement see
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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