Amid ongoing regional strife, Kurdish women battle for equal rights at home

The University of Rojava in northern Syria this year launched a women’s studies program that seeks to educate its students on how to cope with everyday sexism

A student at Rojava University's women's studies program. (Channel 12 screenshot)
A student at Rojava University's women's studies program. (Channel 12 screenshot)

Despite their well-known achievements on the battlefield, and in the midst of ongoing conflict in the region, Kurdish women are engaged in a fight for equal rights in their homeland.

The University of Rojava, in the city of Qamishli in northern Syria, this year launched its first women’s studies program, according to a Sunday report from Channel 12 news.

The program’s motto is: “We don’t get our rights, we take them.”

The curriculum seeks to educate women on how to cope with sexism in their society and struggle for equal rights, within the family and elsewhere.

“Our society doesn’t know the problems women run into,” said Leela Achmai, director of the university’s women’s studies faculty. “We understood that it’s necessary to fix that.”

Leela Achmai, director of the Rojava University’s women’s studies faculty. (Channel 12 screenshot)

“For example, in a family dispute a woman is not allowed to express herself or take part in discussions. Women think that’s normal. In our school we teach them how to cope and take care of problems like this,” Achmai told Channel 12. “Things are forced on me and I’m just expected to accept the situation as normal. So what we’re doing here in the faculty for women’s studies is to teach these women how to cope with these issues.”

The classroom walls are decorated with posters bearing images of feminist icons, including Lisa Meitner and Simone de Beauvoir, but the students and faculty shy away from the word feminism, worrying that it could irk men and conservatives.

They hope to win support from these groups and next year open the program to male students.

Zina Mar, one of the students, said: “We chose to study women’s studies before we read the program’s curriculum, without knowing the field beforehand, and despite that, immediately when the faculty got here it connected with us, to talk about women’s rights, about issues connected to women.”

Zina Mar, a student at Rojava University’s women’s studies program. (Channel 12 screenshot)

“It’s important to develop my character and to learn things that I can pass onto other women, and also to young men,” Mar said.

Her family did not oppose her decision to join the program, although some of her friends questioned the move, she said.

Stateless and marginalized for decades, Syria’s Kurds managed to establish a fragile autonomous region in northern Syria after its civil war broke out in 2011. Kurdish forces, including many women, were the key partners on the ground for the US-led effort to defeat the Islamic State group since 2014.

US President Donald Trump pulled US forces from Syria this week, opening the way for a Turkish invasion of Kurdish territory, leaving the Kurds to fight for themselves.

The invasion has killed dozens of civilians and combatants since its launch on Wednesday and forced tens of thousands to flee the violence.

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