These communities witness women leading armed forces, commanding, taking active role in protecting their people and lands has inevitably played a role in transforming their views and perception of women.
Interview by Begüm Acar
Founded in 2004, Roj Women[i] is a women’s organisation situated in London, working for mostly Kurdish and Turkish women’s rights. It has members from both Europe and four parts of Kurdistan. We interviewed one of the members, Ayşe Tekağaç, about the lately published report of Roj Women[ii] in last September.
You interviewed people, mostly Ezidis living in Newroz Camp (North Syria) which was established in August. What did you aim in this report?
The main aim of the research was to document the situation and the needs of the Ezidi people who sought refuge in Rojava, who were attacked and forced to flee their homes by ISIS. Straight after the attacks in August Roj Women made contacts with the women’s organisations in Rojava, who particularly highlighted the lack of research and evidence documenting the situation of the Ezidi’s in Rojava. We are well aware that women especially become vulnerable in war torn, conflict areas, Roj Women took on this fact-finding mission and conducted a gender based field research.
How many people have been displaced since the beginning of the conflict in 2014?
There are no concrete figures, and it is impossible to establish precisely how many, the numbers fluctuate constantly, and families are often on the move. The official figures which were declared back in September 2014 is estimated around 500,000 displaced people settling in camps in South Kurdistan (KRG region) and tens of thousands more in refugees crossing the border into Rojava, Syria, the self-administered region of North East Syria.
Whom did you talk to and which method you preferred to use?
The report contains two parts, part one is about the perceived needs of the Ezidi women and men who were interviewed, we used the HESPER method, and this is a needs assessment which identified the perceived needs of the people living in Newroz camp. After establishing 110 tents through a random selection, we visited each one and spoke to the respondents face to face. The fieldwork team completed 101 interviews. The second part is a situational analysis of the Rojava women’s organisations and institutions we visited, for which we examined their activities and capabilities on addressing gender based violence. The second part aimed to address the main gender based violence issues that might arise for the new refugees in Rojava and record the existing activities and supports for the migrant and displaced women. We also conducted 4 in-depth interviews with Ezidi people from the camp in relation to the attacks they had experienced.
“Rescued women risk suicide and social isolation”
What are the main problems of the displaced women? What do they think about Rojava, under protection of YPG/ YPJ?
The members of the women’s organisations raised serious concerns for the displaced Ezidi women. It was indicated that honour-based traditions and religious rules regarding virginity and marriage are practiced; and women rescued from the attacks/ kidnapping, risk suicide, and societal isolation when they return. For example, it would not be generally acceptable for women/ girls to travel away from their families and due to this, women’s organisations had plans to bring training within the campsites. A large majority of the Ezidi community said safety was not a problem where they are now under the protection of YPG/YPJ.
Are there any women joining Women‘s Protection Unit/ YPJ after the attack?
We were told that some young Ezidi women have joined the ranks of YPJ after the attacks and these numbers have increased since. Some Ezidi women and girls have chosen to remain with YPJ -Women’s Protection Unit, and had called their families to say to ‘forget’ them and that they have joined armed resistance.
What is the situation about kidnapped women? What do people tell you about them? What happens if they are rescued?
In the interviews this was one of the most mentioned serious problems, which led us to carry out in-depth interview with 4 respondents. The respondents underlined that one of the main reasons to flee their homes is related to women’s honour, and those kidnapped women was taken as a prize of war. When we asked about the return of the kidnapped women and how the Ezidi community would treat this, they said the Ezidi community want the women to be returned; however it would not be possible for those women to marry and have a family, and they were worried about the women victims who may commit suicide and mentioned that it is likely that those women would face societal isolation. When we spoke to a member of the women’s organisations she said most if not all of the established women’s organisations in Roajava had the kidnapped women on their agenda. The women movement in Rojava refuse to adhere to society’s rigid rules of womanhood. So, with this in mind, those women who return as well as the refugee Ezidi women in Rojava, they will carry out trainings, activities and educational approaches to tackle the prevalent patriarchal systems within communities and in the region.
“Most of the camp administration consists of female staff”
What are the examples of male violence in the camp? Is there any specific work carried out against this violence?
The HESPER interviews include a question on safety and protection of women from violence a large majority stated that violence for women is not a serious problem. Most did mention that in their former lives before the attacks that this was a serious problem. This research was conducted on the first few weeks of the Newroz camp being formed, and a second visit to further this research would provide more information on the subject. Also, the camp administration includes women members from Kurdish women movement and Asayiş (local women security forces) members, and most of the camp administration consists of female staff. The majority of women we spoke to, when asked about security, were aware of whom and where to go to should they have any issue.
What is the population rate of women in the camp? What kind of gender-based services are needed?
According to UNHCR, total number of female count in the camp is 1782, the population figures are fluctuating and at the time of our visit 20 families were placed into homes in nearby towns. Newroz camp was newly established in August 2014 and had very limited capacity for addressing gender based violence issues at the time of our visit. However, the local women’s organisations indicated that they will provide gender based violence prevention services.
Are there any women‘s organizations from Rojava to provide psychological & social support for women in the camp?
We were only able to visit 7 out of the 27 established women’s organisations in Rojava, the Women’s Foundation was one of those and it is one of the leading organisation for providing psychosocial services; they have a 24 hour line on call service. They provide supportive counselling and case management of survivor. They advocate for the needs of survivor to family members and other agencies. They were one of the organisations that provided immediate support to the camp and made campsite visits at the beginning of the camp construction. During our interview they mentioned that they are extending their services to the women in the camps.
In the report, you also talk about women‘s organizations established in Rojava since the revolution. What are the main fields they work in? What are the changes in the society as a result of women‘s struggle?
The system of women’s organisations has been established since the start of the revolution and is under constant revision. These organisations are funded and run by volunteer member who may share the cost of communal spaces/ offices in order to carry out their work. The organisations provide a variety of services including gender based violence assessment and support, family mediation, legal support, safe houses for women and children, support for the wives and families of martyrs, personal economic and social empowerment programmes.
Some women’s organisation members also mentioned that the fact that these communities witness women leading armed forces, commanding, taking active role in protecting their people and lands has inevitably played a role in transforming their views and perception of women. When we asked the respondents about violence against women within the camp, most of the response we received which were with little hesitation was that it was not an issue since arriving into Rojava, one woman commented she was now more able to talk about the issues women face.
What is the recent situation in the camp under winter conditions? What about international solidarity? What is the way to send anything needed?
Support and solidarity from all over the world is being received; however, resources are limited by the economic conditions of the self-administered areas and the lack of recognition of the self-administered government under international law. Funds and aid is often delivered through organisations from Kurdish regions of Turkey. However, there is a need for a stronger international activism and solidarity across different sectors of women’s organisations, civil society’s, NGO’s and governments, this is particularly vital for the missing Ezidi women.
Individuals and women’s organisations can do whatever they can in their power to support the people in Rojava, different campaigns are taking place to mention a few:
Kurdish Red Crescent (Heyva Sor a Kurdistane)
The UN predicts that many vulnerable people may not survive the winter unless more aid money can be raised. Heyva Sor a Kurdistane, formed in 1993, is the main charity supporting Kurdish refugees, where UN and other agencies have no presence. The temperature is already below freezing and more suitable tents, sheltering containers and heaters are urgently needed, along with more food and medical supplies. Heyva Sor needs donations from the international community to help these refugees and those still stuck in Kobane survive winter.
Donate using Paypal at: http://www.heyvasor.org.uk
Or donate using JustGiving: http://www.justgiving.com/heyvasor
Or donate using sms: to donate £5, text KURD78 £5 to 70070 to donate £10, text KURD50 £10 to 70070
-Roj Women is currently re-constructing its website http://www.rojwomen.org to include a donation page where funds will be dedicated to the women’s organisations in Rojava, this will become live by 15 February and contain further details on how funds will reach the organisations and how it is to be used.