Women Protection Unit Challenging Patriarchal Mentality in Sinjar
By Hanene Zbiss
“We are building a center for Yazidi women”, says Hezel. The 35-year-old member of the Women Protection Forces is responsible for the other women in the unit, and she overlooks the construction process.
Meanwhile, a group of enthusiastic and devoted women of different ages work hand in hand. They don’t seem troubled by the hard work. They have come from different camps with their children; most of them are Yazidi women that fled ISIS and took refuge in the mountains of Sinjar.
“The high council of the resistance forces took the decision to build a women’s center around a month ago”, says Hezel. “Women will undergo military training and ideology building. They are going to learn how to fend for themselves, especially that they were the most to be affected by what ISIS had done”, she continues.
Training women at the hand of Kurdish Workers Party started after ISIS’ attack on Sinjar. Yet an all-female Yazidi unit did not form till the 25th of January, 2015, and it basically consisted of an already existing resistance forces of Sinjar. Since then, the all-female unit has been active in arming and training women of the Yazidi sect before sending them to the frontline.
The training usually takes 40 to 60 days, and it consists of both: theory and practice. There, the women are taught Yazidi history, where the Yazidi women’s status and roles are incorporated. Additionally, awareness sessions on gender equality are given, and the principles of the leader Abdallah Ocalan – or “Apo” as they call him (meaning the uncle) – are taught. On the other hand, the military training comprises the usage of light weapons, such as the Kalashnikov and the RPG.
Those who have finished their training are later divided into units according to their abilities. Some are allocated to the battle ground, while others are given the duty of recruiting volunteers and spreading the ideology of the Workers Party.
Another group of women roam around with their military gears. Their age range is between 16 and 24, all of them Yazidi. “They had joined the unit after seeing all those courageous women stand up against ISIS to protect their lands and families”, explains Hadar, the 32-year-old chief of the group. According to Hadar, witnessing the atrocities committed by ISIS made them understand that they need to protect themselves.
Hadar does not hide her pride over the huge number of females joining the battle with the female protection unit in Sinjar. After ISIS took control, the Kurdish Workers Party had a difficult time getting women to fight due to the tribal costumes prevalent back then in Yazidi community. However, a shift in gender roles have taken place. Hadar assures that the turnout is huge, and that the families of the fighters are very welcoming and cooperative, but she refuses to give away any number.
“Joining this unit was a personal decision, especially after witnessing the injustices Yazidis women had to endure’’, says Kolan. After ISIS attack on Sinjar, the 17-year-old and her family were driven to the mountains.
Kolan was in middle school, but now she refuses to go back. She believes that what she had to learn while training in Sinjar is far more important than what they taught her at school. It was life changing. “As a woman, I know now that I have rights and responsibilities. I can play a role in protecting my people and myself’’, she explains.
Kolan works in the forces’ media department, where she films training sessions. Yet she never engaged in combat. She ensures that she will be ready any time if they needed her. Now she lives with her comrades in a small residence in the mountains. Aside from the duties imposed by their sections, these women perform their regular day to day house chores. They also get to watch news and political programs. They even listen to Abdallah Ocalan’s speeches and letters.
Rules in this house and others are very strict, and intimate relationships are completely prohibited. Hadar says that “whoever wants to be in love has to leave us and go back to her parent’s house’’. However abandoning these units is not allowed in the Workers Party’s conduct, and since Hadar and her people are working in their own lands, they can’t enforce the Party’s rules. “Any girl has the freedom to join or leave, but we do encourage them to remain and fend for our homeland’’, she continues.
Fighters belonging to the female protection unit in Sinjar believe that their role isn’t limited to taking on ISIS. “Social justice, gender equity and free society” is what they truly long for, explains Hezel.