In the mess which is the Middle East, Syria is currently perhaps the biggest mess of all. I’m not going to get into the politics, but for the purpose of this article, what you need to know is that the north and north-eastern sections of Syria are largely populated by Kurds. For decades, this ethnic group have been fighting for an independent Kurdistan, composing sections of what are currently Turkey, Iraq and Iran, as well as Syria. There has been varying degrees of success in their struggle, but in Syria, they have seized the opportunity presented by the recent chaos elsewhere in the country, and declared themselves semi-autonomous.
During the civil war, the Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (or YPG, Kurdish for Popular Protection Units) were created under the administration of the Kurdish Supreme Committee, to control the Kurdish inhabited areas in Syria. They have taken a defensive position, fighting against any group that has the intention of bringing the Syrian civil war to Kurdish inhabited areas. While mostly Kurds, they have been joined by Arabs opposed to hardline Islamic groups, and have collaborated with the Free Syrian Army in operations against the likes of ISIS. But of particular relevance here is the YPG’s use of women fighters, in units known as the Yekîneyên Parastina Jin (YPJ, Women Protection Units), which some estimates have making up more than one-third of the YPG’s overall strength.
Many are not happy at the increasing threat of radicalization groups such as ISIS pose, with their strict application of sharia religious law, which has been applied to prevent women from working, going to school or even leaving their homes.Of course, it’s also worth mentioning that ISIS have female battalions of their own, though these appear more involved in security work, such as searching women at checkpoints and enforcing sharia, rather than active fighting. In the video below, some of the members of the YPJ tell their stories, their experiences, why they joined and what they fight for in this women-only militia amid the civil war in Syria.