How Kurdish women are approaching patriarchy under capitalism

by Elif Gun    


The Kurdish movement understands that for any successful revolution to take place, a revolutionary ethos must have an integrated understanding of women’s liberation. Women, in turn, cannot be liberated unless they are free from the capitalist systems of the world. If women are to be free, this can only be preconditioned with the existence of a stateless democracy, for it is the state that upholds class oppression and patriarchy.

The system in Rojava today demonstrates a living example of the attempt to overcome patriarchy, capitalism and the state. Capitalism is the key oppressor of all and the liberation of women from class oppression is key to a liberated society. The capitalist class has always made use of a policy of “divide and rule”, particularly on the grounds of gender. Capitalism invades all aspects of our lives, our social conditions, it installs hierarchy and maintains the hegemony of the ruling class over human society. Ultimately, capitalism often leaves women with the option of just accepting the sexist and patriarchal system which confronts them.

The existence of patriarchy preceded that of capitalism. But patriarchy was qualitatively transformed with the accumulation of capital across the world. For capitalism to pervade, it has had to make use of patriarchal oppression to ensure, often, that males go to work while women tend at home. It has also pervaded the cultural sphere, turning the bodies of women into commodities to be bought and sold. It is important, therefore, to understand that women’s oppression under capitalism is not only a form of class oppression but one of the most brutal. Then there is the cultural oppression of women in the current climate of capitalism, which is expressed in many ways, through the use of language, stereotypes, religion and global culture. For example, the use of words like “Hoe”, “Bitch”, “Slut” are all forms of verbal oppression. Stereotypes follow examples of for example what a “feminist” looks like, or what “lesbians” may look like, or for that matter, what an ideal mother should like etc. Religion too is another key factor in the oppression of women – historically, the interpretation of religions has led to the systematic oppression of women, starting with eve being made by Adam’s rib in the Christian Religion. With capitalism, the power of the (not solely) Abrahamic religions organised by states, and religious institutions spreading around the world demonstrates a synthesis of capitalism with religion in order to elevate the more oppressive interpretations as opposed to the more liberatory visions of religious communion based on the premises of gender equality.  

The capitalist system today does attempt to give women the false impression of gender equality. It tries to convince women that they ought to break the “glass ceiling” and not abolish the system itself.  Insofar as some women, a minority of women, are in high positions at companies, are paid a decent salary, are politicians, and govern the finances of the state, we are told that capitalism is either indifferent to women’s suffering, or challenges it. But capitalism only allows for a minority of women to share its spoils.  Why is it that globally of the 500 Fortune companies, only 4.3% of women held CEO positions? On average, women are paid 2.8% less than their male counterpart in all aspects of work life, from teaching to soliciting. On top of all this, only 23% of the world’s politicians are women, and in the UK out of 650 constituencies, only 208 of them are women, that is 32% following the General Election of 2017 in the UK. Thus, to be a feminist, is to become aware of this kind of underlying oppression that is not explicit, realising the false hope and gender equality sense Capitalism poses to the world, and actively working to break down the barriers they pose to women worldwide.

Ideally, since the mid-1990s the only answer to “What is a free Kurdistan?” has been: a free Kurdistan where women are liberated. This approach has been the fundamental drive behind the movement. Realising the discourse of Capitalism, the systematic oppression of women through class division, the Kurdish movement has fuelled the desire to assemble on the basis of gender equality, and towards a stateless democracy in Rojava. Unlike the oppression women see under the rule of capitalism in the West, Europe and the developing Middle East; in Rojava, Women, both international and Kurdish are at the heart of the fight against ISIS and its allies (Turkish State). The stateless democracy offers women a position in all verses of life, giving them the true definition of Gender Equality. Women’s Academies, defence units, Police units, as well as veto power in any decisions political or not which affect them is given to women, allowing them to have a say in all.

As Kurdish woman have argued in a call released on the 8th of March, we are currently in the ‘midst of a historic process’. At the end of this process, we will see the patriarchal and capitalist system succumbing to its ‘deep structural crisis’. This crisis will mostly offer us some great opportunities to guarantee women’s freedom; the kind of freedom that Capitalism has only sold to us as a dream.  The hollow pillars of Capitalism and liberal democracy, false freedom, is coming to a slow end. Yes, it is gradual, and has taken women all over the world centuries to rise up against, but the way will be paved for a free woman and towards a free life.

From this, I think it is important for us to come to the realisation, that no matter what sense of liberation we may feel living in the West or Europe, or anywhere around the world; we are very much oppressed as women. Young women are sexually objectified everywhere, sexism occurs in all aspects of capitalistic structures. It is a must. A liberation of society can only be conducted when the women are free. Liberated from the stereotypes, from the sexist language, from the cultural and religious oppression, we face every day.