Women have played a prominent role in Northeast Syria since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, starting from cities like Hasakah, Qamishli, Afrin, Kobani, and extending to Raqqa, Tabqa, Manbij, and Deir ez-Zor. They have actively participated in various sectors, including military, social, political, economic, and others.
Women played a significant role in shaping the structure of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) in 2014, actively contributing to the establishment of organizations and institutions dedicated to women’s affairs.
Furthermore, specific laws were enacted to ensure gender equality, and these provisions were incorporated into the social contract.
The Co-chair of Executive Council of the AANES, Berivan Khaled, told North Press that “Since the Rojava [Northeast Syria] Revolution, women have played prominent roles in leading the revolution in all aspects.”
She further explained that women’s role became evident in the communes and local councils at the onset of the Rojava Revolution. Since the establishment of the AANES, they have continued to play pioneering roles across all institutions and sectors.
According to Jian Hussein, a member of the Women’s Council Coordination in North and East Syria, women have been assuming leadership roles since the early days of the Syrian crisis. They led the Rojava Revolution and their influence extended to all aspects of social, cultural, diplomatic, political, and economic life.”
Hussein noted that women played an active role in dismantling the most dangerous terrorist organizations and contributed to the liberation of Syrian cities from the Islamic State (ISIS) through their participation in the Women’s Protection Units. Their efforts were instrumental in combatting terrorism.
In an interview with North Press, Hussein highlights that women in Northeast Syria have become a global model, particularly Kurdish women who have influenced women from various communities in the region, including Arab, Syriac, Assyrian, Armenian, Circassian, and Turkmen.
Social Contract empower women
The initial edition of the Social Contract, marking the announcement of the AANES in Hasakah governorate in 2014, included a crucial provision mandating the participation of women in both the legislative and executive councils.
Following the declaration of the AANES in all regions of Northeast Syria in 2018, the Social Contract underwent a significant amendment. It stipulated that women should hold 50 percent representation across all institutions and councils, starting from the commune level and extending to regional councils and decision-making positions.
Furthermore, the recently ratified Social Contract in December 2023 includes articles and clauses that safeguard the freedom and rights of women in both society and the AANES. It also strongly advocates for gender equality.
Khaled further explained that in 2016, the system of joint co-presidency was introduced in all institutions of the AANES to strengthen the role of women in managing institutions, from communes to councils and other bodies.
Hussein added that the laws pertaining to women and their participation in formulating the Social Contract and other general laws are a significant step forward.
She further explained that “Women did not have rights enshrined in the successive laws and constitutions in Syria, and their role in society and the family was often marginalized.”
Khaled also highlighted that in 2018, the AANES issued an administrative decree that mandated women’s presence and participation in all meetings and discussions. Additionally, any decision or directive issued by any institution must bear the joint signatures of the co-presidents; otherwise, it is considered invalid.
The Social Contract, as defined by the AANES, refers to a set of theoretical and practical principles, laws, and regulatory rules that are established to define the relationship between the governing authority and the people. It outlines the rights and responsibilities of individuals and officials within the society.
The co-chair of the Executive Council addressed the proposed amendment of the Women’s Law and its renaming to the Family Law. She emphasized that the new Family Law would play a vital role in safeguarding the rights of women, family members, and children alike.
When the AANES was established, the Legislative Council approved the “Women’s Law” issued by the Women’s Board in 2014. This law included provisions that criminalized practices and violations against women, emphasizing equality and justice between genders.
During its inaugural conference on June 11, 2021, the Women’s Council in North and East Syria renamed the law to Family Law and approved its 26 fundamental principles, which cover various aspects related to the rights of women.
Hussein firmly believes that the Family Law serves as the cornerstone for protecting women’s rights in society. She particularly emphasizes its crucial role in combatting deeply entrenched practices such as polygamy and child marriage, which have unfortunately become prevalent in certain Arab-majority and tribal regions.
The Family Law, approved by the Legislative Council on Nov. 10, 2022, governs family relationships and defines the rights and responsibilities within families. It establishes a legal framework to ensure fairness, equality, and the protection of individuals’ rights within their families, promoting a more just and harmonious society.
Challenges in applying Family Law
Hussein shed light on the implementation challenges faced by the Family Law in regions like Tabqa, Raqqa, Manbij, and Deir ez-Zor, which have predominantly Arab populations. These difficulties can be attributed to the persistence of a male-centric mindset and deeply entrenched societal norms that have long existed in these areas.
She emphasized that the implementation of laws related to women requires time. She stressed that true change cannot be accomplished through mere slogans and laws alone—promoting gender awareness is essential for fostering a comprehensive understanding of the rights and responsibilities of both men and women.
Furthermore, she highlighted the significance of ensuring that this change does not unfairly disadvantage men for the benefit of women, as it requires considering the rights and interests of all individuals involved.
Hussein noted that women’s councils play an active role in organizing awareness campaigns to promote women’s rights. Additionally, they provide explanations about the content and objectives of laws pertaining to women.
These efforts have been well-received by the communities in these regions. In fact, there is a strong demand for the swift activation and implementation of these laws, according to Hussein.
Hussein said that despite the progress made with the Family Law, violations against women persist. She emphasized that women continue to face ongoing violations, attacks, and encroachments on their rights. Additionally, there is resistance to organizing women’s work in certain areas and institutions.
Implementing the law, particularly concerning issues like polygamy and child marriage, presents challenges. However, Hussein believes that despite these challenges, the law has contributed to a certain extent in reducing these violations.
On the other hand, Khaled emphasizes the efforts of the AANES to extend the coverage of the Family Law to all regions. This extension aims to protect women’s rights within society and the AANES as a whole.
In a statement to North Press, Khaled said “We are aware that changing deep-rooted societal concepts takes time and cannot be achieved directly.”
Khaled further emphasized that the AANES has established the Women’s Coordination of North and East Syria as an organizational body dedicated to addressing women’s issues in all areas under its administration. The primary aim of this body is to empower women at all levels.
The Women’s Coordination aims to organize women’s work and strengthen their role in institutions and decision-making positions within the AANES system. It strives to become a comprehensive organizational entity for all issues related to women, surpassing mere symbolic representation, according to Khaled.
The co-chair of the executive council stressed that the Women’s Coordination is dedicated to organizing women, enhancing their rights, education, and developing their skills and expertise across all areas.
Women’s Social Contract
At its annual meeting on Jan.8, the Women’s Coordination discussed the formulation of a social contract specifically tailored to women.
Regarding this matter, Khaled emphasized that the contract would serve as legislation to strengthen women’s rights within the AANES and would be integrated into the general Social Contract.
Hussein describes it as ‘a significant step towards solidifying women’s rights and their distinctiveness within the broader legal framework.
She noted that efforts will be made to draft a social contract specifically for women after the upcoming elections scheduled to take place in the regions of Northeast Syria.
Hussein emphasized the necessity of involving all relevant organizations and institutions concerning women in Northeast Syria, as well as their different communities, under the auspices of the Women’s Coordination, in formulating the social contract tailored to women.
She concluded that “the contract will safeguard women’s privacy and decision-making processes concerning them, as they have actively organized themselves and established their own institutions since the inception of the AANES.”