By Céline de Richoufftz
Social Connectedness Fellow 2018
In the north-eastern plains of the Syrian Hasakah Governorate, located between the dry agricultural lands and the Kabas Mountain (1), stands Jinwar: the free women’s ecological village. It is being built to offer war survivors a refuge, and permit them to thrive by living a communal life based on harmony with others and with nature. Jinwar is a fascinating example of how some women deal with the ravages of structural violence in recent times. Even though the war in Syria is not over and violent military clashes continue especially in the northern Kurdish region, the conflict is slowly being sidelined from global news and the states’ geopolitical agenda is turning in favor of reconstruction. Therefore, it is important to question how social stability can ever be reached in a region where women carry with them deep trauma and suffering. This blog post will explore the existence of Jinwar as a sanctuary where women can heal and recover from the traumas of a war that has devastated their lands and lives and continues to do so.
Jinwar: the rehabilitation of lands and lives
Jinwar is an initiative of some women from Rojava, the autonomous Kurdish region known as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. These women are pioneers of the “Women’s Revolution”, a growing feminist movement that emerged as a consequence of the war against the Islamic State (2). The conflict has pushed women to take on more political and leadership roles within communities. However, this gradual shift in gender hierarchies began long before the conflict and is emblematic of the Kurdish struggle. Recently, women’s fight against patriarchy was put into action when they decided to build a libertarian village where men are banned and women are welcome to live a communal life with their children. The free spaces of Jinwar give women the opportunity to recover from the traumas of war or to simply live alternative ways of life in which tradition, education, ecology, community and democracy are the watchwords. The village welcomes Rojavan women of all ethnicities and religions who will have an equal voice in the confederalist political system. Above all, the main idea behind Jinwar is to offer women a system “that will neither entail the marginalisation nor the sidelining of women in society” (3). Jinwar is a way for them to proclaim their active resistance, emancipation and freedom. As stated in the description of the project: “Jinwar represents the construction not only of a village or a settlement but of life” (4).
Supporting women in breaking their social isolation and recovering from the traumas of the war are the main objectives of Jinwar’s pioneer women. To that end , women’s daily activities are part of a broader pedagogical development of the community to which everyone can contribute. These include, for example, the construction of mud-brick houses, agricultural work, plant and crops harvest, the raising of animals and the production of yoghurt and cheese from their collected milk. They also include the perpetuation of Rojava’s social traditions and celebration of the legacy of women’s resistance. Consequently, education and wisdom are acquired through the deepening of the knowledge on education, art, production, ecology, economics, demography, health, history, ethics-aesthetics, and self-defense. However, as the village is still under construction, women in Jinwar also aim at “building a school, establishing a natural medicine center, developing a children’s park, improving the use of solar energy, building an animal farm, and establishing a sewing workshop, an arts center, or a show venue” (5).
Finding protection at home: an alternative to exile
When compared to situations of refugee women in exile, we may wonder if this local community approach may not be an alternative which benefits women more. Indeed, if women are often left with no other choice but to flee in the midst of conflict, returning to such communities when the region is stabilized could be salutary. Syrian and Kurdish refugees often find refuge in nearby refugee camps, such as in Lebanon and Jordan, or go on a much more dangerous journey to Europe. After volunteering at such camps, I can say that the situation of single women living in camps in Lebanon and Greece today is far worse than the one of women now living in Jinwar. Indeed, they live in makeshift shelters, often in cities’ outskirts, and are given very little potential to thrive. Their lives are in limbo, and they often struggle to find work to support their families and cope with rising prices, growing debts and crippling poverty (6). And when they finally get accepted in a “host” country, the challenges of integration are as painful as the ones of exile. Indeed, women are often isolated and marginalized because of a lack of social connectedness. In addition, the language barrier and the difficulty finding a job prevent them from fulfilling their potential, decrease their self-confidence and therefore, willingness to “belong”.
Jinwar is an inspiring example of female solidarity and struggle for freedom. It is a place of resistance, but most importantly a place of community and autonomy (7). Women who have lost all trust in men can find a refuge there, participate in community activities and thereby, reconnect with their personal ambitions and creativity. They believe that pain cannot be borne alone and they should “connect their struggles” (8). In addition, Jinwar is a place of social innovation in which women’s isolation is broken, oppression fought, values and traditions shared, and all efforts put into creating a new future. However, the project faces several obstacles which could hinder the potential of the village in the future: for example, the continuous political instability of the region and the question of whether the women’s male children can stay in the village when they become adults. It is hoped that this blog post will invite the reader to learn more about Jinwar and similar initiatives though the voice of the Rojava women themselves . I invite readers to connect with and support forcibly displaced women hosted in their local communities. Readers can also support organizations in Montreal helping refugee women, such as Rivo-Resilience and Promis .
1 Al Hurra. March 9, 2018. Female volunteers establish a village in northern Syria that caters only for women. Al Shahid News. Retrieved from: https://alshahidwitness.com/female-volunteers-syria-village/
2 Gamze Kafar, January 15, 2018. The unsung roots of Women’s Revolution in Rojava. The Region. Retrieved from: http://theregion.org/article/12482-the-unsung-roots-of-women-039-s-revolution-in-rojava
3 Gamze Kafar, January 15, 2018. The unsung roots of Women’s Revolution in Rojava. The Region. Retrieved from: http://theregion.org/article/12482-the-unsung-roots-of-women-039-s-revolution-in-rojava
4 JINWAR Construction Committee. n.d. Toward Free Women’s Spaces with JINWAR. Retrieved from: https://jinwar.org/
5 JINWAR Construction Committee. n.d. Toward Free Women’s Spaces with JINWAR. Retrieved from: https://jinwar.org/
6 Paula Dear. June 20, 2018. Syria war: Refugee women heading households in Jordan. BBC. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-44534217
7 Internationalist Commune. September 26, 2017. On autonomous spaces, the connection of struggles and women’s revolution in Rojava. Internationalist Commune. Retrieved from: https://internationalistcommune.com/jinwar/
8 JINWAR Construction Committee. n.d. Toward Free Women’s Spaces with JINWAR. Retrieved from: https://jinwar.org/