I first of all would like to say that I am indeed very happy to be here amongst you all in discussing the freedom struggle of women in general but specifically the Kurdish women’s struggle especially during such times. I personally never thought that I would go through such history making moments in my own life time. We are indeed witnessing the making of history in Kobani, West Kurdistan. I thank the organizers for such an opportunity.
I suppose beginnings are very important for everything and everyone but especially for political movements. The moral values and political principles that form the basis of any given movement gives it the ability to transform and transcend itself. One can put the Kurdish freedom movement and its main strategist and leader Abdullah Öcalan in this category. Indeed PKK came to life just after the tremendous revolutionizing effects of 1968. Early group formation began in the early 70’s and finally PKK was founded in 1978. Thus it did not end up being an organization that can totally be considered within the old-left category nor in the new-left category.
However it had striking uniqueness about it. The founders of the PKK came from different walks of life; different beliefs, ethnicities and women ever since the early core group. This combination of rural and urban youth most of whom were students gave a tremendous dynamism to this young movement. Such a combination also did not allow for dogmatism. Thus feudalism, chauvinism, nationalism, male domination in general was rejected even from the onset and gave the movement a good base upon which to develop itself.
It would be unfair to claim that the depth of understanding and analysis of the women’s question was as profound back then. We would give a magical attribute to what happened over the 40 years. On the contrary; although there was a solid beginning the view on women’s enslavement and thus freedom developed into such a depth as a result of participation of women in larger numbers and due to the dialectical approach of Abdullah Öcalan as the main strategist of the movement. Another important factor is the complexity of the Kurdish question itself. There was no easy answer or solution to the Kurdish question and the status quo formed around it did not give way to an easy solution. The Yalta agreement between the Soviet Union and the US exasperated the already terrible situation of their denial and policies of elimination. Thus there was no room for deception; all forms of dominant ideologies or even venues that assimilated movements in to the system were shut down before the PKK. This, I believe led to the true freedom quest and to see the disguise over different movements and ideologies.
However there was a military coup in 1980 and the freedom movement was still very young and yet not fully organized when we consider that the PKK was founded in 1978. It was one of the harshest military coups of all times. Many were killed. Thousands of people were arrested, thrown into prisons and put through horrendous tortures. Many more hundreds of thousands of people were gathered in schools, sports stadiums and tortured. Soon the renewed obedience of the society was re-installed – so they thought.
The resistance and struggle of the PKK members in the notorious Diyarbakir prison; amidst them the resistance of women and especially that of the founding member of the PKK Sakine Cansiz soon became almost a mythological narrative. The freedom aspirations of Kurdish people but especially that of Kurdish women but more specifically Sakina Cansiz’s relentless struggle and her resistance in the face of the horrendous torture she was subjected to, paved the way for woman to play a huge role in the days to come.
Thus although at the beginning the women’s struggle within the PKK did not transcend the borders of the old left it could not be contained by it either. Öcalan’s role here is important both as a strategist and as the political leader of the Kurdish movement. He did not ignore the enslavement of women nor their desire and struggle for freedom. He, despite negative reactions from some male members of the organization, opened political, social, cultural, ideological, organizational space for women. He stood strongly by this.
Women joined the guerrilla forces from the beginning because of the sexism they faced based on feudal tribal structures as well as the fury they felt in the face of increasing colonialist and exploitative oppression of the Turkish state against the Kurds. People from all walks of life came to wage a common struggle. The very first problem was encountered already. Coming and joining a revolutionary movement was not enough on its own to overcome the characteristics obtained structured in the colonialist and feudal structures. Problems began to emerge especially in the approach to women; there was an attempt at regenerating traditional roles amongst the guerilla forces and party structures. There were those women who accepted the regeneration of these roles and there were also women who rejected them. Thus the organization soon realized the severity of the problem faced and established YJWK (Kurdistan Patriotic Women’s Union) in 1987. The foundation of this union was the very first declaration of intention to target a unique and separate women’s organization.
In the 1990s there was a huge influx of women to the guerilla forces. This compelled the formation of a new organization with the guerilla forces. In 1993 for the very first time unique women units were formed. This meant that they would not be under the direct command of the male guerrillas and would be able to make their own decisions plans and thus implementation of those plans. The consequent development of women in self-defence gave the women self-confidence. This led to enormous ideological, political, social transformations. This was the second break through after the heroic resistance of women in Turkish prisons. Indeed it led to revolutionary changes in how women were perceived within the Kurdish society and by the male.
Thus later in 1995 YAJK (Union of Free Women of Kurdistan) was formed. From then on political and societal work was also taken up amongst not only the women in the organization but also in the society. At the same time work for international solidarity also began. It is during these years that Öcalan began talking about a new concept: killing the dominant men.
From this date on the women’s freedom struggle became more radicalised. They began talking about breaking away from the dominant modernity mentally, psychologically and culturally. But they also talked about a project to transform the male in parallel. To this end education to men was given by women.
As 1998 approached the women laid down the principles of the ideology of women’s liberation and in order to implement them they formed the PJKK (Kurdistan Women’s Workers Party). In 2000 they widened their organizational and struggle perspective the women founded PJA – Free Women’s Party. One of the most important achievement of this era is the declaration of Women’s Social Contract.
However all these attempts did not totally overcome the limits and framework of patriarchy. Not only the women’s movement but the whole organization was in searching for an alternative. Although the PKK was no longer the old-left it was also unable to come up with a solution that completely broke away from real socialism and thus capitalist modernity. One can define the period between 1993 to 2003 the transition period and trying to establish an alternative to capitalist modernity. The available theoretical material, past experiences of various other movements, feminism, and the very experience of PKK itself led the movement to conclude that women’s enslavement constituted the very basis of all subsequent enslavements as well as all social problems. Thus it began to differ from classical Marxist-Leninists. It also differed in the way it began to view the state apparatus; an instrument of power and exploitation that is not necessary for the continuation of human and natural life. Thirdly its perception of revolutionary violence also changed; and finally framed as self-defence.
Öcalan determined that women’s slavery had been perpetuated on three levels throughout the five thousand years: First, there is the construction of ideological slavery; then there is the use of force; lastly, there is seizure of the economy from her. He was as a result quick to make the connection between the depth of woman’s enslavement and the intentional masking of this fact and the rise of hierarchical and statist power within the society. As women are habituated to slavery the path to the enslavement of the other sections of the society is paved. The enslavement of men comes after the enslavement of women. However women’s enslavement is different in some ways to class and nation enslavement. Its legitimisation is attained through refined and intense repression combined with lies that play on emotions. Woman’s biological difference is used as justification for her enslavement. All the work she does is taken for granted and called unworthy “woman’s work”.
Without analysing the process through which woman was socially overcome, not only can one not properly understand the fundamental characteristics of the consequent male-dominant social culture but also what to build in its place. Without understanding how masculinity was socially formed, one cannot analyse the institution of state and therefore will not be able to accurately define the war and power culture related to statehood. This is something we need to emphasize because this is what paved the way for feminicide and the colonization and exploitation of peoples. The social subjugation of woman was the vilest counter-revolution ever carried out. Öcalan points out that ‘the sword of war wielded in state and the hand of the man within the family, are symbols of hegemony. The entire classed society, from its upper layers to its lower layers, is clamped between the sword and the hand.’
Capitalism and the nation-state are analysed to represent the dominant male in its most institutionalised form. Capitalist society is the continuation and culmination of all the old exploitative societies. It is indeed a continuous warfare against society and woman. To put it succinctly, capitalism and nation-state are the monopolism of the tyrannical and exploitative male. It is enough to look at all around the world to see a renewed increase in the violence, exploitation and re-suppression of women. This is not happening only in the so-called third world countries but all over the world.
A main objective of capitalist modernity’s ideological hegemony is to obliterate the historic and social facts concerning its conception and its essence. This is because the capitalist economic and societal form is not a social and historical necessity; it is a construct, forged through a complex process. Religion and philosophy have been transformed into nationalism, the divinity of the nation-state. The ultimate goal of its ideological warfare is to ensure its monopoly on thought. Its main weapons to accomplish this are religionism, gender discrimination and scientism as a positivist religion. Without ideological hegemony, with political and military oppression alone, maintaining modernity will be impossible. While capitalism uses religionism to control society’s cognisance, it uses nationalism to control classes and citizenship, a phenomenon that has risen around capitalism. The objective of gender discrimination is to deny women any hope of change. The most effective way for sexist ideology to function, is by entrapping the male in power relations and by rendering woman impotent through constant rape. Through positivist scientism, capitalism neutralises the academic world and the youth. It convinces them that they have no choice but to integrate with the system, and in return for concessions this integration is assured.
But unambiguously clarifying the status of women is only one aspect of this issue. Far more important is the question of liberation; in other words, the resolution to the problem exceeds the importance of revealing and analysing it. During the last quarter of the twentieth century feminism managed to a certain extent to disclose the truth about women. But the Kurdish freedom movement and Abdullah Öcalan take a step further and base their analysis of the society on the ‘moral and political society’. They draw a relationship between freedom and morals and freedom and politics. In order to develop structures that expand our area of freedom, morals is defined to be the collective conscience of the society and politics defined to be its common wisdom. But how do we now work towards this.
In order to be able to stop the perpetuation of capital and power accumulation as well as reproduction of hierarchy there is a need to create structures for a democratic, ecological and gender-liberated society. To achieve this the dismantling of power and hierarchy is an absolute necessity. The social system of democratic modernity is Democratic Confederalism and Democratic Autonomy. This system is not alternative state formation but alternative to the state. Our present day democracies developed after the Roman democracy which is representative instead of being participatory. Thus majority rules and an elite decides on fundamental issues on our behalf. Democratic autonomy on the other hand is radical democracy with above all woman’s organized participation and decision making but as well as all sections of the society organizing and directly participating in decision making in order to be able to decide on matters that concern them directly and indirectly.
Thus the women’s freedom movement went through several restructuring periods. There was a need for a women’s organization that transcended party structures and was more flexible and comprehensive confederal women’s organization. Thus in 2005 KJB (Eminent Women’s Community) was founded. As a result action and organisational restructuring took place in order to implement the formation of the new paradigm based on a democracy, ecological and women’s freedom. KJB was established to become the coordination point between the self-defence forces, social organizations, women’s party PAJK and young women’s organization. In September of 2014 women’s organization went through another transformation and has in the mean time changed its name accordingly to KJK. This transformation was needed in order to equally and comprehensively deal with the needs of the society and the formation of required institutions, in order to continue with the transformation of the men, democratization of the society, to create the ethics and aesthetics of the free life. Women thus are organizing themselves from the local level to and in all forms of decision making structures. They take all decisions regarding themselves on their own and are represented from the local level to all different levels when taking decisions that concern the whole society. Other sections of the society the youth, elderly, professions, beliefs, craftsworkers are too organized so that power and hierarchic formations and structures can not be perpetuated and any attempt is stopped through such mechanisms.
If women’s slavery had been perpetuated on three levels: the construction of ideological slavery; then there is the use of force; lastly, there is seizure of the economy from her then these three areas must be dealt with simultaneously too.
Intellectual Duties and Education:
When we look at history we see how the enslavement of women and then the whole society developed. It was first ideological; indeed hierarchy means ‘rule by the priest’. Thus there is a need to expose the history of colonization of women. Together with this, women’s economic, social, political and intellectual colonization must also be revealed. This would mean the exposure of the history of humanity for the whole society. The more science and knowledge was tied down to capital and the monopoly of power the more it began to target moral and political society. Civilization established a monopoly on both science and knowledge thus detaching it from the society and especially from women profoundly. This in return meant their detachment from life and environment.
Economy, Industrialism, Ecology:
Economy is the third force after ideology and violence through which women and subsequently the entire society was entrapped and forced to accept dependence. Economy literally means ‘house holding’. In the woman’s order though, the accumulation was neither for the merchant nor for the market; it was for the family. Thus there is a true need to turn it into what it should be. But for capitalist economists only work that is productive and visible is measured in money terms. Thus the link between women’s invisible work and capital accumulation was found when what role housework plays in capitalism was looked into. Those who want to appropriate domestic work without establishing wage relations must do so by means of structural and direct violence. Indeed this structural and direct violence characterizes all exploitative relationships : between humans and nature, industry and peasants, capital cities and colonies. This is one of the reasons why Abdullah Öcalan consider the man-woman relationship to be colonial at its very core. And thus the woman to be the very first colony.
This is also an uttermost important issue. As violence combined with ideological and economical offensives against the women led to obtaining results. Today violence is under the monopoly of state. It has the exclusive right to it. Women over the five thousand years were not easy to oppress; it meant they were burnt as witches, or buried alive for being born a woman, beaten with or without excuses and the list can be go on and on. But the important thing is that they should no longer leave themselves at the mercy of others; no matter who they are.
In times of chaos, such as the one we are immediately going through the possibility of change is there more then ever. Capitalism is in a systemic crisis and is trying to overcome this by changing and transforming itself. This transformation does not necessarily mean that it will be necessarily be a progressive one. On the contrary reactionary forces all over the world in different forms and shapes are trying to impose a more right wing system on the world population and especially on women. The chaos has focused on the Middle East and in it on Kobani, Rojava in Kurdistan. The struggle there has a double meaning; for the Kurds and for the general struggle for freedom around the world as well as women. We need to see beyond the clouds. This also presents an opportunity for democratic forces to emerge as the big winners out of this chaos. Whatever has been constructed by the human hand, can be demolished by the human hand. Women’s enslavement is neither a law of nature nor is it destiny.
I would also like to take the opportunity commemorate the three revolutionary women who were murdered in Paris; moreover the brave young women who are as we speak are fighting in order to stop the spread of fascism. They can not be left alone. They are the Mujeres Libres of the 1937 Spain. Listen to them; they are singing a beautiful freedom song and make their voices be heard.
Spokesperson for the
International Initiative ‘Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan – Peace in Kurdistan’
8 October 2014