Direct Democracy and Gender Equality in Action: Rojava.

A recent experiment in direct democracy on a larger and more permanent scale is The “Rojava Revolution” (“sunset) occurring in Kurdish regions (Kurds are mainly Muslim but some are Christian) along the Syrian and Turkish border that declared self-rule in 2012. They’re developing direct democracy, feminism and youth representation in three cantons. To implement decentralized decision-making, communes of 30 to 150 people govern their neighborhoods.[i] Some work in cooperatives such as farming or bakeries with the goal of creating a “community economy.” Despite most of its resources going to the military, everyone has their basic needs met. The communes have commissions on social issues including youth or the environment and provide educational forums on topics like women’s liberation local history. Every city has a council composed of representatives of the communes, women’s and youth’s councils, etc. The three leaders of each municipality must include a woman, a Kurd, an Arab and one Assyrian or Armenian Christian. All the councils and communes require a 40% quota for women and there are also parallel women’s councils.

The co-president of PYD (Democratic Union Party), Asya Abdullah explained that they learned from other revolutions that women’s rights can’t be put off after the revolution and they aim for permanent social revolution. Representatives of Yekitiya Star, the umbrella organization for women’s groups, explained that women are to this revolution what the proletariat was to the Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries.[ii] The barrier to women’s freedom is not patriarchy but the capitalist state. Women’s units are active fighters in the YPG (People’s Defense Forces). Solders are trained in Democratic Autonomy and motivated to fight for their ideas. One of the male soldiers said on a documentary,” “It’s 50/50, there’s no difference in female and male soldiers.” [iii] The Kurds say women are the best fighters because they’re more patient and women say they’re equal.

The new legal system is based on “peace and consensus committees.” Every commune elects the five to nine members of the committees and similar committees exist on the district level. Women’s-only committees such with crimes against woman such as forced or multiple marriages. Cases that can’t be solved through consensus move on to justice institutions on the city, regional and canton levels. Police are called civilian security forces rather than police who serve the state. Schools teach children to reject hierarchy, including teacher over student, and to “search for meaning” rather than memorize and to learn practical information.

The project is inspired by Turkey’s Worker’s Party (PKK) formed by Marxist students led by Abdullah Öcalan; he’s been jailed in a Turkish prison since 1999.[iv] His picture is frequently on display. Inspired by anarchist Murray Bookchin, the Mexican Zapatistas, and the autonomy of the Swiss canton model, the PKK aims to create “libertarian municipalism,” “Democratic Autonomy,” or “Democratic Confederalism” rather than a Kurdish state as the goal is to overcome the state. Some charge that Turkey’s government supports the so-called Islamic State as a way to weaken Kurdish autonomy, as by allowing them to cross the border unhindered. Rojava is embargoed from trading with Turkey, so it built new DIY oil refineries to power the area. Updates are available online.[v]

[i] Ulrike Flader, “On the ‘Rojava Revolution’ and the Fight Against the Islamic State,”, Ocober 4, 2014.

[ii] Janet Biehi, “Impressions of Rojava: A Report from the Revolution,” ROAR Magazine, December 16, 2014.


[iv] David Graeber, “Why is the World Ignoring the Revolutionary Kurds in Syria?”, The Guardian, October 8, 2014.



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