The legislative council in PYD-controlled Kobani passed a series of new laws in late August intended to cement “equality between men and women in all areas of life” within the de facto autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria.
The new laws, based on the Swiss legal code, ban polygamy and child marriage. The legislation stipulates that honor crimes be tried with the same severity as ordinary murders, and promise equal rights in work and education.
Reaction to the new laws was mixed: While some criticized the timing as out of touch with the war raging around Kobani, others praised the measure as a solid step forward for Kurdish society.
“The way the law was written will guarantee women's rights without a doubt,” Sulein Abdul Qader, a host for a local Kurdish television station, tells Syria Direct's Nisreen A-Nasser.
“I support the implementation of laws like this, because they return to women rights that have been stolen from them.”
Q: What's your opinion, as a woman, of this new law? How do other women see it?
I support the implementation of laws like this, because they return to women rights that have been stolen from them.
Q: When you refer to women's rights “that have been stolen from them,” what do you mean? And can this law really secure those rights?
Yes, the way the law was written will guarantee women's rights without a doubt. There are still societies that don't find women to be suitable for anything except work as housewives and mothers with no decision-making power.
The PYD thinks that it will prove the opposite by passing this law—that women have the right to make decisions. It will fully secure her right to an education, to work, and to nominate herself to serve as president of the cantons.
Photo courtesy of YPJ Womens Defense Units.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced as a working woman?
In general everything is hard for women in a patriarchal society. When I started working in Kurdistan I encountered difficulty in that women are not accepted as working members [of society].
But there are women who face other difficulties, such as being married off at a young age without their families even taking their opinion into consideration.
Q: Is this law a part of other measures intended to strengthen women's rights inside the semi-autonomous regions in general?
The Kurdistan region's laws are taken from the Swiss legal code, which affirms the value of women. There is total agreement [among the Kurds] over these laws.
The new law in the semi-autonomous region stipulates: “It is not permissible for any man to take a second wife, except in rare cases, such as when the first wife is infertile and the husband secures her agreement [to marry a second time], and the man must be of good financial means, and able to act justly between his two wives.” The law also stipulates punishing men who violate the law with a year's imprisonment and a year's worth of monetary fines.
Q: Are there other reasons behind passing the new law, such as pushing women to join up on the fronts?
No, there are no other reasons. The idea of women joining the active fronts is a part of equality between men and women, and it is done on a volunteer basis.
Q: How have Arab and Kurdish Muslims responded to the new law, and especially those items that contradict sharia law?
Kurdish society is open-minded and not terribly complicated [by old customs]. I won't go so far as to call it a secular society, but it is open-minded and respects the value of women. Forbidding polygamy is a concept we've held on to since before Islam; for more than 2,600 years.
It's a rare case [that Kurdish laws contradict Islamic shariah law], and it is not a religious matter. This new law is close to shariah law, as the Holy Quran focused on “Justice and Equality” between the sexes.
We're moving backwards because of religious extremism. Kurds detest bad customs which end up damaging society, and greatly respect their women.