Nationalism typically has sprung from masculinized memory, masculinized humiliation and masculinized hope. – Cynthia Enloe, Bananas, Beaches and Bases

Contact Author


The radical remark by Cynthia Enloe calls into question the intricate relationship between nationalism and gender. It has often been argued that women are excluded from the making of masculine nation-states. The aim of this article is to question this hegemonic representation of nationalism by exploring the role of Kurdish women in defending their nation-state. 

Replacing the “Knight” in Shining Armour: Demasculinizing the Space of Soldiering  

There have been long debates on the exclusionary models of military and war-making politics. Feminist critics have ostensibly argued that the participation in armed conflicts, which is an “integral aspect of the normative definition of citizenship,” has been exclusively

male-centred. Cynthia Enloe has been a vocal critic of this “exclusionary matrix” of warfare and accuses the military of being a patriarchal institution where combat exclusion policies envisage “women as nurturers and men as warriors.” This essay seeks to show how the heroic struggle of thousands of YPJ women fighters against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in northern Syria exemplifies Ocalan’s model. Through their unwavering courage, they have strongly sowed the seeds of democratic confederalism by being the role models for an entire globe where fighting is still considered a male prerogative. Their historic win in 2013 against the ISIS jihadists and the creation of Rojava reflect the implementation of these grassroot democracies that decentralize power equally across society.

This compelling equality between both genders is a signifier that the strength to fight is not just limited to military equipment but is also a political consciousness that invites equal participation of both men and women in defending their community. Evin Ahmed, a 26-year-old fighter of the YPJ, validates the above claim by stating that the Kurdish women use their participation in war as a venture to mobilize their agency and advance their equality in society. Therefore, the combatant roles for these women become a potent tool in challenging the predominant war narrative where women occupy the private sphere as caregivers and spoils of war without active agency in the public sphere.

One War, Diverse Motives: Mapping the Different Causes of the YPJ Struggle  

After exploring the remaking of the gendered nature of warfare by YPJ soldiers, this section examines their role in waging an intersectional war against multiple centers of oppression. As I have discussed before, the formation of the YPJ was not restricted to wars fought on the battlefield, but it was a strategic attempt by Kurdish women to map out their spaces of subversion and resistance on multiple fronts. This section will discuss how these women destabilize the patriarchal structures of the society and aim for equality in all walks of life. Dilar Dirik, a conspicuous activist of the Kurdish women’s movement, quite radically links their armed struggle with other forms of social revolution that these women are struggling to bring about: “Carrying a gun is like carrying a pen—we do it to change people’s opinions about equality.” Her words here throw light on their multidimensional and intersectional approach to their struggles. In the patriarchal world, guns are used to kill and terrorize people, but here they are used in an altogether different manner by YPJ soldiers. They are using their guns as weapons to create a new blueprint of society where all women, irrespective of their

class, religion, and nationality will be given autonomy. Their fight is not limited to the fundamentalist regimes of the ISIS military but are resisting against any encroachment of homogenization, be it religious jingoism, Western colonization or neoliberal capitalism.


Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse
Figure 2. Kurdish women shout slogans during the funeral of a YPG fighter in the town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, on October 14, 2014. 

Mobilising the Grounds for Transversal Politics: A Practice of Peace Building

Political solidarity, as Chandra Talpade Mohanty defines it, is “the recognition of common interest” in order to fight against the symbolic violence of the repressive state. This section seeks to bring together the two different frameworks of transversal politics and political solidarity that YPJ soldiers have used in mobilizing their struggle for peace. After exploring their encounters against the blazing issues of military chauvinism, imperial colonization, and religious fundamentalism, it can be stated that the disposition of their politics is to shun asymmetrical power relations in order to bring peace back into a world that has been ravaged by war politics. 

This model of working can be further analyzed by viewing it through the lens of transversal politics. It is a term first used by Nira Yuval-Davis and was later utilized by Cynthia Cockburn in her works of pacifist feminism. Davis describes the term as “a mode of coalition politics” that recognizes the differential positionings of the individuals and uses an interventionist approach in realizing their mutual goals without falling into the trap of identity politics. After tracing their journey through the aspects of military rehabilitation and intersectional dialogue with themes of imperial power, historical essentialism, and religious orthodoxy, it is worth asserting that YPJ soldiers’ cry for peace is not a biological need but an action of their political consciousness. To put it more coherently, it is a campaign “for peace with justice, for international strategies of social and political inclusion and economic equity.” In realizing this common goal, they do not remain unilaterally situated but rather inhabit different positions. Some fight for the honour of their country, some battle for their honour as a female fighter, and others fight to “create a space where women can be effective without having to take up arms”. There is plurality in their spirit and intention. The war is raged to ensure peace, and this plurality is what marks the democratic grounds of their resistance.


After analysing the Kurdish women’s revolution from different facets, I would like to conclude by stating that this unique model of female militancy can be a model for the entire globe. The irresistible spirit of attaining freedom can act as a resolution for problems like gendered warfare, misogyny, neo-colonialism, and capitalism that we are grappling with the contemporary age. The only solutions that could be grasped from their revolution would be “resistance is life” and “after peace, for us women, the fight only begins.

Works Cited

Cockburn, Cynthia. “The Material of Male Power.” In: Lovell, T (ed.) British Feminist Thought: A Reader, 84–102. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990. 

Cockburn, Cynthia. The Space Between Us: Negotiating Gender and National Identities in Conflict. London: Zed, 1998. 

Cockburn, Cynthia. and Hunter, L. “Transversal politics and translating practices. Introduction to a thematic issue on ‘Transversal Politics,’” Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture 12 (1999): 88–93

Elshtain, Jean Bethke and Sheila Tobias. Women, Militarism and War. Savage, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1990.

Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Women and War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Enloe, Cynthia. Does Khaki Become You? Boston: Pluto Press, 1983.

Enloe, Cynthia The Curious Feminist. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Sjoberg, Laura. “Women Fighters and the ‘Beautiful Soul’ Narrative.” International Review of the Red Cross 92, no. 877 (March 2010): 53-68.

Sjoberg, Laura and Sandra Via, eds. Gender, War, and Militarism: Feminist Perspectives. New York: Praeger Security International, 2010.

Women’s Voices. “Kurdish women: No Way Back.” Medium, 2017. 

“YPJ: Kurdish Women’s Protection Units.” The Kurdish Project. 2016.