The end of the 20th century saw an increased engagement of women in Kurdish nationalism, starting in the late 1970s with the beginnings of the modern Kurdish-Turkish conflict. More than 40 years later, Kurdish women have an active role in politics as a Kurdish Women’s Movement emerged and developed within the nationalist liberation struggle for an independent socialist Kurdistan and continues to drive this struggle towards an autonomous, democratic nation.
Underpinning the Kurdish Women’s Movement is jineology. Defined as ‘women’s science’, Abdullah Öcalan coined the term ‘jineology’ stemming from the word ‘jin’, meaning women, and derived from ‘jiyan’, meaning life. Jineology is neither a form of feminism nor is it an alternative to feminism. It is an epistemological process which centres women – this means it challenges knowledge and ways of ‘knowing’ as a patriarchal concept.
In his book Liberating Life: Woman’ Revolution (2013), Öcalan discusses a long view of history in the context of patriarchy and explains that there have been two major sexual ruptures – turning points in the history of the relationship between the sexes.
The first sexual rupture was the establishment of the patriarchy, which Öcalan asserts was the first social hierarchy. This assertion is important as it emphasises that patriarchy is not a natural order and has not always existed. Society was matricentric as a communal social order was constructed around women, which can be considered ‘primitive socialism’. There were no institutionalised hierarchies in matriarchal society, but they were slowly introduced through the emergence of patriarchy in the Neolithic period. History saw the first serious organisation of violence as male dominance took control of the family unit and seized the first economy – home economy.
A matrifocal family structure is one where mothers head families and fathers play a less important role in the home and in bringing up children.
Society under patriarchy shifted from a communal mentality to one that revolves around accumulation and ownership. Long-term, this radically altered the social roles of men and women. Öcalan argues that “a transition was made to a single dimensioned, extremely masculine social culture” that has made only negative contributions to the development of society and led to a poverty of life through excluding women and patriarchal domination.
Before the imposition of patriarchy, obedience to authority was partly voluntary, with commitment determined by society’s interests. The authority of women stemmed from fertility and productivity, thus strengthening social existence – unlike men’s authority which was based on surplus product. Patriarchal morality legitimises accumulation whereas communal morality condemns the accumulation of surplus as the source of all wrong-doing. In the primitive communal society, surplus product accumulation was seen as wrong and viewed as a threat to the community and its revered tradition of generosity. While patriarchy paves the way to a system of ownership, matriarchy encourages distribution.
The establishment of the patriarchy brought about the cultural requirement to treat women as inferior and men as superior. Monotheism fostered an environment where this was consolidated as the sacred command of God. The intensification of patriarchy through the move towards monotheistic religions resulted in the second major sexual rupture in history. Instead of being rooted in culture and mythology, patriarchy rooted itself in law and divine authority. Religion turned from a celebration of women into a tool to erase, vilify, and objectify them. This turning point shows how the original mythological narrative has been completely reversed – women transformed from life’s creator to men’s creation.
As we know today, men’s culture of accumulation and hierarchical authority triumphed, but Öcalan argues that this victory was by no means an unavoidable, historical necessity. Patriarchy subjugated women, youth, and members of other ethnicities before the development of the state. The way in which such subjugation was accomplished is crucial as the authority to do so was not attained through laws but through the new morals based on worldly needs instead of what is sacred. The matriarchal authority of the natural society with its myriad of goddesses resisted the development towards a single, abstract god reflecting patriarchal values. This conflict ended with the escalation of patriarchal power inside and outside the community. Through this process of conflict, the state-phase, the phase of institutionalised authority based on permanent force, was arrived at. The foundations for the violent, war-like society based on oppression and exploitation were established on that of women’s oppression and exploitation.
Öcalan explains that the fundamental objective to solve all our social problems is to bring about the third major sexual rupture through what he calls ‘killing the dominant male’. Without a radical gender and sexual revolution to transform society, freedom and equality can never be achieved. Women are thought to be subject to oppression and subjugation by and through all social institutions like the state, the economy, the family, etcetera; women are also seen as the ‘oldest colonised group’. Essentially, Öcalan’s message is that all forms of oppression fundamentally rest upon the historical subjugation of women and ending the male domination of society is necessary to achieve an egalitarian, socialist society. As capitalism and the nation-state are anti-women, the gender revolution must be anti-capitalist and anti-statist as “a country can’t be free unless the women are free”. These problems cannot be addressed in isolated succession but must be approached as an integrated whole to provide adequate solutions. With this in mind, the women’s revolution should not be viewed as the only route but rather as a revolution within a wider revolution.
This is where jineology comes in. Jineology as a radical framework to analyse knowledge in the social sciences aims to free knowledge, as we understand it, from sexism. Political sociologist Dilar Dirik says that while western deconstructions of sex and gender roles have certainly made immense contributions to our understanding of sexism, jineology is still critical of the failure to build an alternative. Mainstream feminism is limited to the persisting order and thus is unable to achieve wider social change; these issues are addressed by intersectional feminists but the debates remain confined to academia. Jineology proposes itself as a method to explore these questions in a collectivist manner and can be seen as the living practice that evolved from the discussions of women all over Kurdistan.
This can be seen through organisations such as the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) where jineology is a fundamental tenet of their philosophy and so is central to the ideology of Rojava, an autonomous region in northeastern Syria with libertarian socialist ambitions. Women play an active role in Rojava, as seen through groups such as the all-female militia, YPJ, fighting Daesh, and thus women’s liberation remains a central point. Kongreya Star is an organisation in Rojava founded in 2005 focused on banding women together and raising their political consciousness. Kongreya Star is self-described as “a confederation for all women’s groups in Rojava. It organizes its ranks according to the ecological democratic paradigm that believes in women’s freedom. It seeks to develop a free Rojava, a democratic Syria, and a democratic Middle East by promoting women’s freedom and the concept of the democratic nation.” Students can also enrol in a jineology programme at the University of Rojava and it is taught in schools across the region.
On a wider scale, jineology research centres, seminars, and workshops have been organised internationally. The first jineology camp in the UK was set up and held in January 2019, and covered the historical and theoretical development of the Kurdish movement and jineology, among topics such as democratic confederalism, queer theory, feminist anti-fascism, and Kurdish cultural traditions. Necîbe Qeredaxî founded a jineology center in Brussels to promote research in the human and social sciences concerning women’s emancipation as well as reaching out to feminist movements.
Having outlined the theoretical underpinnings and practical outcomes of Jineology, an overview of its criticisms is necessary for a balanced judgement. Sarah Glynn, co-convenor of Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan, has commented on the dangers of regarding patriarchy as the fundamental source of inequality and oppression as a reductionist position. Dilar Dirik, despite advocating for jineology, admits there is a long way to go in terms of recognising queer struggles to due to minimal visibility of a LGBT+ community in Kurdistan – although there is significant progress already with trans inclusion in the YPJ, and the formation of The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army (TQILA). Additionally, while proponents of jineology and democratic confederalism aim for a democratic nation on socialist principles with ethnic diversity (Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, Armenians, etc.) rather than a sovereign nation-state, leftist critics may cite Lenin’s internationalist opposition to cultural-national autonomy as divisive, undemocratic, and reactionary. Another criticism is the inconsistency between jineology’s feminist and anti-authoritarian principles and the supposed authoritarian reality of Rojava being accused of abusing human rights by organisations such as Amnesty International. An understandable failure of jineology in practice is the participation in the systems it claims to criticise, such as US involvement in Rojava, but given the circumstances surrounding Rojava in the Syrian civil war this seems excusable.
Hopefully now you’ve learned a little more about the intersection of Kurdish nationalism and feminism through this introduction to jineology. This has only covered a rough overview of its social and political roots and contexts, as well as some theory and practice. I encourage you to research further into this topic if you’re interested in it.
Abdullah Öcalan – Liberating Life: Woman’s Revolution (2013)
Brecht Neven, Marlene Schafers – Jineology: from women’s struggles to social liberation (2017)
Sarah Glynn – Talking about Rojava (2017)
Artwork – Mehdi Farsi
Written by Ilyas Mizan