A model of women’s economy is under construction in Rojava and northern and eastern Syria. Half of the agricultural land is now farmed by women’s cooperatives.
The revolution of Rojava is known worldwide as a revolution of women. While the images of fighters defeating the “Islamic State” (ISIS) went around the world, the women in Rojava also built up their autonomous structures in all areas of society and now play a leading role in northern and eastern Syria. This also applies to the development of a democratic economy. The economic self-organization of women is promoted by the Economy Council of Self-Government and the Economy Committee of the women’s movement Kongreya Star. About 60 autonomous women’s cooperatives are now producing within this framework.
Before the revolution, northern and eastern Syria were de facto colonies ruled by the Baath regime and exploited as a granary. Kurdish women in particular were excluded from economic life in all areas. Only Arab women with good connections to the regime were employed as civil servants by the state. In regions such as Raqqa and Tabqa, women worked in fields, but they had no form of production of their own. Except for a small number of Kurdish women who were exploited as cheap labor in the fields, almost all women were confined to their homes.
From 2011, as preparations for the Rojava Revolution increased, women began to participate more in political, social, military and economic life. The revolution then brought a breakthrough. Women were economically inexperienced and disadvantaged. For this reason, the autonomous administration’s approach of equal representation and affirmative action was urgently needed, especially in the field of economics. The Economy Committee was also established with equal representation of women and has worked on this basis since the beginning of the revolution. Half of the jobs created by the Economy Committee have also been filled by women.
Women take their place with equal representation in the General Economy Committee of Autonomous Administration and all committees connected to it. Of the twenty cooperatives established by the Economy Committee, 13 are women’s cooperatives, and women are also in the majority in the remaining seven cooperatives. The Autonomous Administration’s Economy Committee also supports women who want to establish their own business or start a cooperative by providing loans, jobs, land and equipment, and encouraging women to participate in production.
Kongra Star plays a leading role
Kongra Star, a women’s umbrella organization founded in 2003, pioneered the integration into economic life of women marginalized by the sexist and despotic Ba’athist regime. Kongra Star played an important role in building a social and administrative system that is sensitive to women’s liberation and democratic, and in democratizing relations between men and women. Through the policies of the umbrella organization, women took a leadership role in all fields, including the economy. They fought for equal representation of women in every structure of the Autonomous Administration and for the enforcement of affirmative action by legal right. Kongra Star, however, did not limit itself to ensuring that the economy in general is developed in a way that liberates women, but has been working since 2015 to build an autonomous women’s economy.
The construction of the autonomous women’s economy
Speaking to ANF, Dicle Amed, a member of the coordination of the Women’s Economy Committee of Kongra Star, said; “As a women’s movement, we are struggling to democratize the system in general, the relations between men and women in the system and in society. It is about bringing the relations between the sexes back to the basis of freedom and equality. However, and more importantly, we have the ideological approach of building an independent women’s system. Just as Kongra Star as a system organizes itself autonomously and independently, all sectors should also be structured autonomously. This is what is really relevant to us as a women’s Economy Committee. Our ideological and organizational orientation aims at securing ourselves without relying too much on the general system, thus organizing ourselves and guaranteeing our freedom in this way. We’re trying to bring out women’s skills, to employ women, and to make them once again a productive force independent of the outside.”
“Building and learning process in one”
Against the backdrop of the regime’s exclusion of women from the economic sector, it took years to make an impact among women as Kongra Star, said Dicle Amed, continuing, “A job that should be done in one year can sometimes take three or four years. Both teaching and learning are organized by women, and the structure of this process is completely autonomous. One has to start from a structure in Rojava in which women were completely enclosed in their homes and used as laborers for domestic work. In this sense, the integration of women into economic life is a revolution. It is a real but invisible revolution. Before the revolution, women were not involved in economic life; at most, only a certain number of women worked in agriculture at low wages. With the revolution, tens of thousands of women began to work in economic life both in the public sector, in the service sector, in agriculture, and in the industrial sector. In addition, an economy was built that was run only by women and in which only women worked. In this work we have learned and at the same time built the appropriate economic structures. Accordingly, our subcommittees also organized their weekly educational sessions. The first thing the committees had to do was learn how to work, so that they could then teach it to other women. We plan to build an academy for women’s economics. A large part of the courses at the academy will then be based on practice.”
“Sixty women’s cooperatives created”
The Committee for Women’s Organizations has subcommittees in all cantons and districts of the self-governing regions in northern and eastern Syria, including Şehba and Sheikh Maqsoud in Aleppo. With the help of these committees, women are encouraged to participate directly in economic life. The committees offer women advice on setting up businesses and help with financing, setting up production facilities and procuring means of production. The aim is to strengthen self-sufficiency and thus the independence of women and to expand communalism in the region. In this sense, the establishment of cooperatives is prioritized. There are 6,000 hectares of cultivated agricultural land in northern and eastern Syria. Of this, 3,000 hectares have been made available to women’s agricultural cooperatives. In northern and eastern Syria, 60 women’s cooperatives have now been established with the help of Kongreya Star alone.
30 women’s cooperatives cultivate 3,000 hectares of land
In accordance with the situation in the country, economic activity in northern and eastern Syria means operating an economy during war. This applies to the Autonomous Administration in general as well as to Kongra Star. Thus, the economy is based on ensuring the basic supply of food, clothing, etc. for the population. In this context, agriculture is of particular importance. Cooperatives are the model to develop and support community production. By supporting and promoting cooperatives in the areas where there are development opportunities for such, job opportunities are created even in areas where development is slow and the regions gain a strength from themselves. The largest area here is agriculture. About 1,000 women are members of the 30 women’s agricultural cooperatives that work about half of the cultivated agricultural land in north-eastern Syria. For this 3,000-hectare area, the women themselves are also working to build irrigation systems. Agriculture in all aspects here is done only by women. They carry out and manage all the work. In this way, the approximately 1,000 women in the cooperatives have their own income and continue to develop agriculture in the region.
The basis is self-sufficiency
The remaining 30 women’s cooperatives produce canned goods, run bakeries, raise livestock or work in the service sector. Twenty-six of the cooperatives produce bread and baked goods. Ninety women work in these. In Hesekê and Dirbêsiyê, sixty women have been working for four years in two cooperatives producing jam and preserves. Stores attached to the cooperatives have been opened to bring the products to market.
“Cooperatives beyond profit focus and monopolies”
Dicle Amed stated the following about the cooperatives: “Despite the current problems with the flour supply, the women’s bakeries are the cooperatives that function best. The society is also very happy with them. We want to gather three to five women in each village for cooperatives that do small-scale farming. In the leftist literature, this is called a needs economy. That’s how we see it as well. We are trying to develop a production format that is not directly money-oriented and not based on the development of large production monopolies, but meets the needs of society and provides self-sufficiency. That is what we are doing. We do not make profits with these cooperatives and we are not shareholders. People produce and sell themselves and share the proceeds. We try to help them by opening stores and helping the cooperatives find the capital they need to buy machinery and open stores.”