The Kurdish Women’s Liberation Movement

solidarity with rojava

This article is an opinion piece written by NCAFC member Clémentine Boucher after a Kurdish human rights campaigner led a workshop on Women in the Kurdish Struggle at NCAFC Women and Non-Binary Conference this January. Do you want to respond, or write about another topic for Please get in touch via [email protected]

The Kurdish struggle for independence is crucial for the region, and for the world: not only is it part of the post-colonial struggle, it is also a feminist struggle and, in some areas, a fight for radical democracy.

The Kurds have been fighting for independence from Turkey since Turkey’s own independence in 1923. Guerrilla forces (mainly the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) have been organising themselves and fighting the Turkish government since 1984, seeking an alternative society to the nation-state, namely ‘democratic confederalism’, an autonomous, direct form of democracy closely resembling anarchist federations. This has already been installed in Rojava, the region of Kurdistan that overlaps Syrian territory, in Amed and Mêrdin.

In 1993 came the first guerrilla movement that was entirely and autonomously organised by women. This extended to everywhere in life, and was promoted by the founder of the PKK himself, Ocalan, as he claimed that “no revolution can take place while women are slaves”. Slavery here applies as much to Turkish domination of their territory as to the household: hence the YPG (the People’s Defence Unit) is a military as well as a social and political organisation. Indeed one of their martyrs, Sakine Cansiz, co-founder of the PKK, wished their military involvement to empower women in all cities, towns, and villages. And they are: women coordinate their own organisations, armies, and conferences themselves. They also have ‘women houses’, for instance, that are basically community and aid centres, that they can go to for mutual support.

Kurdish women are effectively, as Egyptian feminist Mona Elthahawy would put it, orchestrating ‘two revolutions’: one at the top, overthrowing political leaders, and one in our heads, destroying the Patriarchy. It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of such a movement, something that has never been seen, even in Western Europe. Because what we are witnessing is women, living in a heavily patriarchal region, making history by fighting for their own freedom and equality, whilst joining the anti-capitalist fight.

Another amazing thing is that the Kurdish forces aren’t just fighting the Turkish government; they’re also fighting IS, and are very effective at that. Their forces have managed to reclaim most of the Kurdish territory that was taken by IS, and have received a massive influx of soldiers in recent months to help them in further endeavours. The YPG has a further advantage, as they seem to scare the IS troops: indeed, their soldiers believe that they won’t go to heaven if they are killed by a woman.

Yet the Kurdish independence movement has been very heavily repressed by the Turkish government, which has a veritable war plan against the PKK (which, we should note, is listed as a terrorist organisation by the British government).

The government has been using horrendous tactics to suppress the rebellion: since 2014, more than 260 people have been killed, many parts of the region have been placed under curfew since November 2015, Turkey still denies them their language, and it is accused of having dropped two bombs on demonstrators during a peace process, killing many, in order to then blame IS for such crimes.

While there is pressure mounting asking for them to stop, Erdogan’s government is ready to go against its own people who support the end to the violence against Kurds. The problem is that Turkey is seen as a useful ally in the fight against Assad in Syria and IS (although that is very far from the truth, because there is evidence that Erdogan’s government facilitated the passage of IS troops across its own borders for several years, thereby contributing to their rise).

So now, more than ever, the Kurdish women fighting both oppression by the Turkish state and fighting IS need international solidarity in order to end this violence. NCAFC have called a student bloc for the national demonstration on March 6th, starting at 12:00 in front of Trafalgar Square, to support the Kurdish peoples and to force the British government to pay attention to the atrocities that are being committed against them, by putting pressure on their fake ally that is Turkey.

We demand:

  • the UK government stops supporting the Turkish government’s assault on the Kurds, takes action to force Turkey to stop it’s criminality, and stops arms deals to Turkey which are part of that repression
  • the de-criminalisation of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who are currently a major force in the Kurdish liberation movement

If you want to know more about this, here are some useful websites that can provide information:

Solidarity with the anti-fascist network, solidarity with migrants!


On September the 12th fascists – from up to 12 different groups – will once again impose themselves on the town of Dover. In January of this year they did the same, and the small turn out of extreme-far right and nationalists was disrupted and confronted at every opportunity by a robust counter-mobilisation by the Anti-Fascist network. The political climate, however, is, this time, distinctly different – with a crisis of unprecedented proportions unravelling across Europe and beyond as hundreds of thousands of migrants flee war, persecution, poverty and conflict, primarily from the Middle East and Africa, in search of refuge. The heavily fractured far right are exploiting this as an opportunity to unite and consolidate themselves and call for closed borders. Even more insidiously we see some of their rhetoric reflected in Government responses to the crisis, with David Cameron adamant that we can afford sanctuary to no more refugees, and only relenting under intense pressure from grassroots activists, resistance from migrants, the UN and the escalating emergency of the situation to nebulously pledge that the UK will take in 20,000 refugees ‘by 2020’.

NCAFC would like to take a moment here to comment on the capricious media and political narratives around the crisis. We have witnessed a noticeable shift: most starkly this is emphasised in The Sun calling for us to act to alleviate the plight of refugees whilst just a few months ago it provided a platform to an article by Katie Hopkins branding migrants ‘cockroaches’. It was only with the widely disseminated picture of a drowned Syrian boy, testament to the often gruesome sensationalization of suffering inherent in the media, that the Government felt any obligation to act. It was only when Germany began to provide refuge to more migrants that the UK and other European Governments were compelled to respond, as if compassion is a functionality to emphasise the charitable credentials of ‘civilised’ Western states, as if the lives of migrants can be relegated to statistics around which imperialist states compete for supremacy. All the while those in Calais are suffering in destitution in makeshift campus, bludgeoned by police batons, forsaken by the British and French states. All the while migrants are systematically perishing in the Mediterranean Sea – and, in response, the rescue initiatives were cut by the Government as such projects might ‘encourage more migrants to come to Britain’. All the while migrants are imprisoned and subject to dehumanisation and sexual abuse in detention centres, violently deported and brutalized by abhorrent raids. All the while migrants are homogenized into the category of ‘refugees’, constructed as helpless victims of chance, rather than subjects of military intervention and imperialism, the violence of borders, oppressive foreign and domestic Government policy, social strife incubated by war and poverty, and intentionally constructed, racialized systems of subjugation which benefit economic and political elites.

Because this is not simply a humanitarian crisis: it is a distinctly political one. By the Government and media reframing it as the former, not only can they adjust public consciousness such that it is only motivated by such lurid depictions of suffering, they can also conceal their complicity in the so called ‘migrant crisis’ by voiding it of its political context. By remoulding narratives around the refugee/migrant dichotomy, they are assimilating into a logic which ranks life, which establishes hierarchies of worthiness demanding protection only for those who truly need it. In doing so they elude broader political questions of the causal link between relative prosperity in the West, especially for the very richest, and the deprivation of the Global South, and how that siphoning of wealth may inevitably draw migrants from poverty in the Middle East and Africa towards the UK. They can dismiss socio-economic questions about how this poverty is a form of structural violence, just as the West’s continual waging of war on the Global South, capitalist globalization, and the reverberating histories of colonialism are. They can essentially remould their actions not as a political duty in mitigating suffering they have significantly contributed to, but as an isolated gesture of generosity and charity which demonstrates their ‘progressiveness’ and ‘compassion’ as implicit ‘British values’. They can reframe themselves as bastions of ‘civilisation’ providing aid and protection to those bound in some arbitrary plight whilst raising no challenges or questions around their own structural violence and borders in fomenting and reproducing that plight. A once xenophobic media can convert from a rhetoric of ‘swarms’ of migrants leaching from our social security, to desperate refugees with no other options and in need of saving, as ‘unfortunates’ to showcase in their destitution and hardship. A Government which once called for ‘more fences and dogs’ to resolve the crisis, the imposition of more violence upon those fleeing violence, all for the preservation of artificial national divisions and the exclusivisation of its wealth, resources and communal and cultural ‘purity’, has now pledged to a pretence of kindness. But make no mistake: it did not heed appeals to conscience, not as it perpetrates state violence on people of colour and migrants every day, but only the prospect of its Europe-wide reputation and toxic ‘British values’ being sullied.

We must recognise the political intent of this crisis. We must recognise that it is not inevitable. It could have been prevented. We must, then, raise a political challenge to it, a combating of the logic which underpins this crisis, and NCAFC believes that part of this resides in the 12th of September. Not only do fascists pose a grave physical threat to migrants and refugees which must be resisted, this new surge of public awareness and a demand for the end of the crisis will have kindled the anger of the far right. They will seek to latch on to this political climate and band together in order to reinforce reactionary narratives, gain traction for their cause and amass as many numbers as possible to confront the call for 20,000 refugees to be afforded sanctuary in the UK. They must be stopped, as they seek to bolster their ranks through the suffering of the most dispossessed.

In our National Demo for Free Education on November the 4th we have called for ‘no borders’, and on the 17th of October we are coordinating an ‘Open Dover, Open Europe’ demo, demanding that the borders be opened and fortress Europe be dismantled. We believe that not only is community self-defence against fascists necessary, preventing them from gaining control over the streets, threatening the safety of the most marginalized and seeking to normalize their poisonous views, we must also create a broad-ranging, grassroots anti-racist movement capable of deconstructing broader racialized and structural violence. We express our solidarity with those sending material support to Calais in the form of convoys, in which students have participated. We express our solidarity with Movement for Justice, the women of Yarlswood, and all those protesting for the end to detention centres, deportations and borders. We express our solidarity with the migrants in Calais, who have exhibited incredible fortitude in protesting and resisting despite the adversity of their conditions.

We believe that all these struggles, together, contain within them the power to fundamentally transform a social order premised upon brutality and violence, and in generating an uncompromisingly political counter-narrative which demands more than isolated and superficial acts of Governmental aid, but an end to borders and capitalism and state violence. We believe that no human is illegal. We believe that all deserve dignity and protection. We believe that all deserve not simply free education, but freedom of movement, and freedom from violence, and the freedom to flourish. We believe all deserve safety and sustenance and unconditional compassion.

We believe that all deserve freedom, and that we must fight for it.

***September 12th***

***Open Dover, Open Europe – October 17th***!/events/417016075167947/?fref=ts