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Kurdish women have been a part of the fight against ISIL for years, so why are they only being recognised by Western media now? It all began with Pawan Duni, a photographer and blogger who tweeted a picture of a young woman dressed in camo gear with the caption “Rehana has killed more than 100 ISIS terrorists in #Kobane”. The image went viral and was covered by multiple media outlets such as the Daily Mail and New York Daily News. Rehana was named the poster child of the female Kurdish fighters. The articles applauded the women’s presence on the front line in both Iraq and Syria. However, most of these articles left out any mention of the politics guiding these women to partake in the war against ISIL, and the fact that many Kurdish women also fought in another war against terrorism—when Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq in 1979.
Women have long been a part of the revolution and by omitting the political context behind their participation in the Kurdish rising, media outlets are negating the political weight behind their choices—passing it off as click-bait with women dressed in militia gear posing with guns. In reality, women’s place on the frontlines of counter-terrorism is no new thing. When Saddam Hussein became the President of Iraq in 1979, hundreds of civilians took refuge in the mountains and lived as part of the Kurdistan Democratic Party while actively fighting off numerous oppositions. Kurdish women lived and fought alongside the male militia for ten years. When the Kurdistan Workers Party was formed in 1984 to fight for Kurdish independence from Turkey, women were once again embedded in the frontlines. Nowadays women still work from within the Kurdistan Workers Party in order to gain freedom for their state.
Kurdish women have joined their male counterparts in multiple revolutions in order to fight for a common goal: national autonomy. However, within this shared goal is another movement: the emancipation of women from the traditional family structure and societal expectations. These women don’t think twice about taking up arms to fight for their beliefs; in many cases their mothers and grandmothers have already done the same. Whether or not their ideologies are aligned with ours it is still a monumental thing to see women taking the future of their nation into their own hands.
When media outlets reduce the Kurdish fighters to headlines such as “ISIS militants tell different accounts of beauty’s fate”—relating to the young militant Rehana—they negate the political powers behind the revolution in Iraq and Syria. These women are not pretty faces who have chosen to pick up guns and fire them at random—these are determined activists who have been fighting an oppressive state for many years. They haven’t trudged quietly behind their male allies; they have often spearheaded the revolution.