To an ISIS militant, one of the worst things that could transpire in combat is not just being killed, but being killed by a woman. If this happens, ISIS members believe that they will go directly to hell. If hell exists, rest assured that they have been sent there by a number of Kurdish women.
Anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000 women form the all-female branch of the YPG–the YPJ–and are usually 18 to 25 years old. Influenced by the Marxist-Leninist thought of jailed PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish nationalist party demands that gender equality be re-instated, making women’s “liberation” a key component of the party’s nationalist project.
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Political and territorial gains by ISIS, which seeks to severely curtail the rights of women, thus represent not just an international security threat. To Kurdish nationalists, it sets the dream of an independent Kurdish state that much further in the distance.
This did not end up happening for a number of reasons, and millions of Kurds were left without a state of their own. Since then, members of the PKK–labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, NATO and the European Union, among others–have been engaged in a long-standing fight with Turkey, and are looking for ways to gain international support for their cause.
Beyond providing humanitarian support, one such way seems to be through pumping its female fighters to the West. According to Jacob Russell, a photojournalist who has lived in Kurdistan for nearly two years, both international media and Kurdish politicians see the PR potential of “girls with guns” and have objectified these women, presenting a false, vaguely glamorous reality to Western audiences clamoring to see ISIS’ downfall–and “empowered” women leading the fight.
To learn more about the Kurdish female fighters, be sure to check out these awesome documentaries:
Brave Kurdish Women Fighting ISIS (1)
A Documentary from the Australian TV Channel Nine Network’s 60 Minutes program on the Kurdish Female Fighters of YPJ (The Women’s Protection Units – Kurdish: Yekîneyên Parastina Jinê) fighting ISIS (Islamic State) on the Rojava of Kurdistan.