Syria's All-Women Militia Has Been Crushing ISIS And Building Equality

"What they are doing is one of the most far-reaching experiments in women's equality," says Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, author of "The Daughters of Kobani."
Posted at 3:50 PM, Mar 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-24 17:50:00-04

In northern Syria, east of the Euphrates River, a women’s militia has been battling ISIS -- and battling the odds.

"We just want peace. We just want women to live safe," says Lana.

She is a 32-year-old YPJ fighter -- no spouse, no children. She says she’s one of 35,000 mainly Kurdish women who’ve joined the cause. 

"It's like to be one soul in, in many bodies," she tells Newsy.

The militia started in 2013, as a way of protecting neighborhoods during the civil war. Then they started fighting ISIS terrorists who captured, sold and enslaved women and girls. In the strife came opportunity for women to rewrite the rules governing their lives.

"What they are doing is one of the most far-reaching experiments in women's equality, any place in the world. Every town they took from ISIS has a male and a female head of the civil council. There's a women's council in every town. There are women judges trying cases," says Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.

She spent time with the fighters for her new book, "The Daughters of Kobani." She says their courage knew no bounds.

"As one of them told me, you know, ‘We had a lot of people and a small number of weapons. And so we would share them and try to really learn basic tactics.'"

Another fighter told her that over time, ISIS learned to fear them.

"She said at the beginning, they would say, ‘Hey, make sure you kill as many of the women fighters as you can.' And then a couple of weeks into the battle for Kobani, at a moment when ISIS had had not one battlefield defeat, she hears ISIS fighters on the radio to one another saying, 'Hey, make sure you stay away from the women snipers because they're very clever.'"

The women went on to play a leading role in retaking the cities of Kobani and Raqqa from ISIS.  

They have attracted foreign fighters from Western countries, like Germany and England. And according to Lana, some 700 women have died. 

Now, the question of what comes next: ISIS is still in the region. Bashar al-Assad still reigns. And Turkish-backed forces occupy towns in the wake of U.S. troop withdrawal under President Trump. How much support the women and their male counterparts receive will be up to the Biden administration. 

"I do think there's a moment for the U.S. diplomatic muscle to make a difference," says Tzemach Lemmon.

The White House referred Newsy to a recent statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, which commended the bravery of local forces and said the U.S. continues to work beside them to destroy the remnants of ISIS.

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