The latest battle in the Islamic State's sweeping campaign of northern Syria and Iraq is over the key town of Kobane, where they have funneled around 9,000 extremist fighters armed with tanks and heavy weaponry. Standing in their way are about 2,000 Kurdish fighters, including an all-female brigade.
Female Kurdish resistance fighters are nothing new. Women make up about one-third of all Kurdish resistance fighters, members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, (PKK) and its Syrian affiliate People's Protection Unit (YPG)—the women's wing of the YPG is called the YPJ—and fight side by side with men against the Islamic extremists. The PKK is responsible for helping thousands of Yazidis trapped in the Sinjar Mountains escape. Just last week, a female Kurdish commander Arin Mirkan carried out a suicide bomb attack, killing an unknown number of ISIS jihadists.
While these women are receiving encouragement and support, the state of women in Kurdish society is not as encouraging. Via the New York Times:
"For many women in Kurdistan, life is anything but honorable," write Johanna Higgs and Liga Rudzite for PassBlue — an independent digital publication covering the United Nations. "Women cannot have a boyfriend, but it's an honor for a man to have a girlfriend. A divorced woman is like a disease, whereas a divorced man is just a man. A free woman is a bad woman, but a free man is a righteous man. Though there are new laws in Kurdistan promoting women's rights, they are not accepted generally."
Though women have been included in politics and hold government positions, it seems their representation is largely symbolic and that the patriarchal systems in place will continue to function as it always has. But the female Kurdish fighters, who must be literate to join the resistance, may oversee a real shift in Kurdish society.
Image via AP.