Brave women fought ISIS, as the men ran away to Europe

Kurdish fighters in Tal Hamis, Syria, after it was freed from Islamic State control

Four years ago the Islamic State attacked the Yazidis, a Kurdish religious minority who live around Sinjar Mountain in Iraq.

The militants came down on unprotected villages taking away thousands of women and children to be sold as sex slaves, as their men ran away.

Any Yazidis who could escape fled higher into the mountains without food, water, clothing or even, in some cases, shoes.

There they remained, trapped for days in harsh conditions and with almost no international support.

The men who had originally promised to protect them, the Pesh Merga soldiers of Masoud Barzani’s political party in Iraqi Kurdistan, ran away in their hour of need.

And so it was Kurdish guerrillas from Syria and Turkey who eventually fought their way over the mountain and through Islamic State territory to reach them.

They opened a corridor to take the Yazidi survivors to safety in the self-declared autonomous area of Syria called Rojava, the Kurdish word for West.

Many of these guerrilla fighters were themselves women. A basic principle of the decades-long Kurdish liberation movement is that women cannot wait for others to defend them, but must themselves fight to be free.

And it is a good job they do, because their men are close to useless – obviously.

Indeed, some of these women say that they fought for other women, because they knew what horrors awaited those captured by the Islamic State.

Yazidis fleeing the Islamic State near Sinjar, Iraq, in August, 2014. – CreditRodi Said/Reuters

In Rojava’s war against the Islamic State, women could be found not only in the ranks but also in command of guerrilla units.

After their rescue from Mount Sinjar, some Yazidi women decided to follow this example, and started their own militia, the Women’s Protection Unit-Shengal (another name for Sinjar).

Similarly, in Iraqi Kurdistan, Yazidi women rescued from sexual slavery have formed their own brigade.

Meanwhile millions of their men were already queuing up at the gates of Europe to pretend they were being persecuted in their own countries.

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The women didn’t run away. They stood and fought.

The Kurdish liberation movement’s approach centred on self-defence in both military and social terms. Female guerrillas demonstrate that female leadership is crucial in every sphere of that society.

The result is that now, in Rojava’s system of autonomous democracy (the area is within Syria’s borders), there are strong mandates for the participation of women in governance.

And all organizations are now led by both a man and a woman. Committees of Muslim women now have real authority over problems like forced marriage and domestic violence in these areas.

This will come as something of a shock to their men when they are booted out of Europe only to return home and find themselves without power or influence. In fact, many will simply be surplus to requirements.

This notion will be something of a surprise to the Muslim male of that region. A culture shock, even.

The female warrior now offers a powerful counter-image to that of the raped and dishonoured victim who is considered a source of shame to her family and community.

Ancient, patriarchal ideas have made rape and sexual slavery a central strategy in genocidal conflicts, meant to destroy the very identity of the enemy.

Women like the Yazidis who had been subjected to sexual violence on such a terrible scale could not easily be reintegrated into old social patterns.

Nor could they thrive if they were seen, and saw themselves, as shamed victims. But the men who once would have done the seeing and the shaming were no longer there.

And so they have been able to rehabilitate without much of the stigma survivors usually faced. And they are now much tougher for it too.

Meanwhile their run-a-way men appear to be free, for the time being, to continue with their misogynistic behaviour as they bully, spit on, rape and humiliate Western women all across Europe.

I would love to see the look on their faces when they are finally sent home to find things have changed a little around those parts.


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