Women take up arms for survival, liberation

From Kurdistan to Tigray and Afghanistan

Women are believed to make up 30% to 40% of all Kurdish fighters. They are essential to the national liberation struggle. This photo was taken at a training camp in the mid-2010s. PHOTO: Kurdishstruggle / Flickr
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In those parts of the world where women are the most under the gun, they are responding in kind. It cannot be otherwise. This state of affairs is just the most extreme form of the global battle now raging against patriarchy — the enforced second-class status of women in society.

The oldest form of oppression, patriarchy is the result of the development of private property several thousand years ago, which gradually replaced egalitarian, communal ownership.

In its most extreme form, patriarchy grants women no rights whatsoever and threatens their very lives. In war-ravaged places like Kurdistan, Tigray, and Afghanistan, they are primary targets. This is why they are defending themselves with arms in hand.

They are showing the world that the most oppressed in society find in themselves the courage to lead the fight for their and their peoples’ liberation. They are a central part of a historical drive now in progress that can only be successful through a worldwide socialist transformation. This continuous battle is known by Marxist followers of the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky as permanent revolution.

Women with guns. Kurdistan is a region which includes parts of Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. Kurds have been waging a protracted struggle for national independence, which in recent years has become intertwined with the fight against right-wing Islamic fundamentalism. Kurdish women are leaders in their people’s struggle for freedom.

In one famous example, armed Kurdish women in the small Syrian town of Kobani in 2014 led the residents in battle against the Islamic State (ISIS). The fiercely patriarchal ISIS had a history of raping, buying and selling women. But they suffered defeat at the hands of armed women leaders.

One of the female commanders was quoted as saying, “Know what they think of you, show them what you can do, show them that women have value, that women cannot be enslaved, that this is not what is going to stand.”

Another conflict zone is Ethiopia. In early 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed canceled national elections in an effort to consolidate his power. The longstanding national aspirations of the Tigray people of the north stood in his way. In November, armed clashes erupted.

Neighboring Eritrea joined Ethiopia in a brutal war against the Tigray people. Rape of women and children by invading forces was a deliberate weapon. Perpetrated to instill widespread fear, it was also part of a strategy to biologically eradicate Tigray lineages. The use of rape as a weapon of war convinced thousands of Tigray women to take up arms.

“I came here because I saw girls like me being raped,” 16-year-old Meron Mezgeb told the Associated Press. German TV told of a 15-year-old rape survivor who joined the armed resistance to prevent other young girls from being brutalized.

In Afghanistan, just weeks before the victory of the viciously misogynist Taliban, armed women demonstrated in towns across the north and central regions of the country. For example, hundreds rallied in Firoz Koh, the capital city of the central province of Ghor, with weapons in hand.

“Our brave women will no longer be silent or tolerate the Taliban’s atrocities,” said Zahra Watandost, a resident of Firoz Koh.

Another Firoz Koh resident, Anisa Ghayour, said, “The Taliban have always undermined the important role of the Afghan women in society, and if they regain power, they will definitely confine women inside their homes and close down girls’ schools.” This prediction soon came true.

Fighting patriarchy and imperialism. The advanced capitalist countries that rule the world imperialist system have not merely tolerated patriarchal regimes everywhere, but aided and abetted them.

In Afghanistan, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan pointed out about the U.S. occupation, “It is a joke to say values like ‘women’s rights,’ ‘democracy,’ ‘nation-building,’ etc. were part of the US/NATO aims in Afghanistan!”

Those aims were really military and political domination in this strategic part of the world. That’s why, back in the 1980s, the U.S. provided $20 billion worth of weapons and support to the misogynist and reactionary mujahideen who were fighting the Russians — and later morphed into the Taliban, ISIS and other Islamic extremists.

In both Iraq and Syria, the U.S. first formed alliances with Kurdish forces, then abandoned them when its strategic goals changed.

And in Tigray, rich countries have done little to avert famine conditions that threaten 350,000 people. They have stood by while the conflict displaced 2 million and killed 50,000 people.

Leading a multifaceted struggle. Patriarchy serves capitalism. It lowers the price of women’s labor power, allowing bosses to get away with paying them less than men. Alongside their exploitation as workers, women are held down on the basis of their gender, similar to the injustice people face based on race, nationality, sexuality, etc. These two things — economic exploitation of all and special oppression of specific groups — are basic features of capitalist society which the rulers need in order to maximally steal the wealth created by working people.

So the struggle against patriarchy is simultaneously a struggle against the class system within which it lives and thrives. Misogyny cannot be defeated without also putting down capitalism and replacing it with socialism. This would be a communally owned and democratically run society with no reason to oppress and exploit.

Just as crucially, the fight against capitalism cannot succeed without defeating male supremacy. In many countries, women are spearheading mass movements for reproductive rights and against femicide and repressive governments.

The women of Kurdistan, Tigray, and Afghanistan have been forced to take up arms for similar aims. All are essential leaders of liberation movements. They are an integral part of the global drive for freedom, the permanent revolution, that cannot stop short of victory.

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