Dossier : Jin, Jiyan, Azadî ("Woman, Life, Freedom")

, by  Brune Béal

In September 2022, the Kurdish slogan Jin, Jiyan, Azadî (translated into English as "Woman, Life, Freedom") set fire to the streets of many cities in Iran and Rojhelat (Eastern Kurdistan or "Iranian Kurdistan"), during the revolutionary uprising triggered after the murder of young Jina Mahsa Amini by the Islamic Republic’s vice police. The rallying cry quickly transcended borders and was taken up by feminist mobilizations in South America, Europe and elsewhere, chanted in every language. The energy coming from Iran gives strength to "women all over the world, [and] is a very precious revolutionary step" (Kedistan). From a slogan, the Kurdish motto has become a movement.

Jin, Jiyan, Azadî is not just a cry of protest by Iranian women against the compulsory wearing of the hijab. It must not be reduced to a vague desire for emancipation, which is commonly associated with feminist struggles, in order to summarize their ambitions in general terms that have no other effect than to depoliticize their struggle. Here, the hijab symbolizes the pillar of patriarchal domination in the Islamic Republic since the 1979 Revolution (Collectif 98). The Iranian revolutionary uprising led by Jin Jiyan Azadî "aims to put an end to 44 years of sexual apartheid, patriarchy, military dictatorship, neoliberalism, nationalism and Islamist theocracy" (Kurdistan au féminin). Herein lies the meaning of their message, which can in no way be translated into a rejection of the Muslim religion.

To understand the political project behind these three words, we need to look at the history of Kurdish militancy, and in particular the thinking of - but not limited to - PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan on the three pillars of democratic confederalism: communes, women, ecology. But behind Jin Jiyan Azadî lie above all the actions thought out and carried out by Kurdish women for over 40 years, through the science of jineolojî: "a critique of andro-centric, positivist and euro-centric knowledge [which] calls for a decentering of science. Knowledge is enmeshed in political and social structures and reflects the hegemonic power that oppresses women." (Ritimo).
By placing feminist imperatives at the heart of struggles against all other forms of domination and inequality inherent in the prevailing patriarchal and capitalist systems, the thinking of the Kurdish women’s movement defends the need for a real convergence of struggles, understood as interdependent, while promoting the centrality of feminism as an indispensable mode of action and reflection for the liberation of all. "Women’s liberation is at the heart of a struggle for the liberation of all humanity from the most perfidious and insidious forms of oppression and domination" (Serhildan). In other words, an intersectional vision before it appeared in Western discourse.
The movement’s ability to link feminist issues with anti-fascist, anti-capitalist and decolonial struggles in a single political project undoubtedly helped to reinforce the place of feminist imperatives as an integral component of internationalism. "Revolutionary women’s struggles - as opposed to contemporary liberal appropriations of feminist language - have always embodied the spirit of internationalism in their fights by taking the lead against fascism and nationalism" (Dilar Dirik).

Far from being exhaustive, this dossier presents ten texts by voices, mainly women, who invite us to reflect on the political demands made by the Jin Jiyan Azadî movement, and their relevance to a global internationalist reflection capable of embracing feminist struggles with those against all other forms of domination. For the richness of its politico-militant history and the courage of Iran’s revolutionary movements since September 2022, this dossier gives pride of place to the words of Iranian and Kurdish women who embody and claim Jin, Jiyan, Azadî. Nevertheless, we clearly intend to link these struggles to those being waged elsewhere by women and collectives involved in building and putting into action women’s liberation everywhere on Earth.
The words relayed in this dossier do not claim to speak on behalf of all women, nor are they the ambassadors of a single way of thinking about Kurdish women. This is one perspective among many, a political reflection in the midst of a plurality. While some feminist movements may share common foundations, not all are united behind the same ideas. The diversity of their approaches, of the people who make them up, and of their history, must not only be respected, but also nurtured, as it contributes to the progress and enrichment of everyone’s thinking.

Finally, while the interdependence of the consequences engendered by capitalist and patriarchal systems (social, economic and gender inequalities; intensification of racist and security policies; ecological impact...) no longer needs to be proven, women’s participation in internationalist movements advocating the convergence of struggles remains minor. Despite some progress in general discourse, their space for expression remains limited, as is that of racialized people. Yet it is "women’s conscious political actions and their intersectional struggles against capital and the state, the symbol of patriarchy" (Kurdistan au féminin) that have enabled the demands made by Jin, Jiyan, Azadî to go beyond the circles of militant leaders and cross borders.

« At the heart of internationalism historically lies the realization that beyond any existing order, people must be aware of the suffering of others, and see the oppression of one as the misery of all. » (Dilar Dirik)

Jin, Jiyan, Azadi !

Pirehelokan, CC BY-SA 4.0 <> , via Wikimedia Commons

Jin, Jiyan, Azadi (Woman, Life, Freedom): The Genealogy of a Slogan, Kurdistan au féminin, March 9, 2023

Informations about the text :

  • Article published on March 9, 2023, the day after March 8 (International Women’s Rights Day), written by Iranian Kurdish activist Somayeh Rostampour, exploring the origins and implications of the slogan Jin, Jiyan, Azadî that has become the rallying cry of the current uprising in Iran. Text published in French on Kurdistan au féminin, and in English on the Crimethlnc website.
  • Kurdistan au féminin : information site on Kurdistan through the eyes of women.
  • Crimethlnc : an international network that describes itself as a rebel alliance, a decentralized network that engages in anonymous collective action, wishing to reinvent the world according to the principles of self-determination and mutual aid.

Extract :
« The slogan “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” did not become the watchword of the uprising in Iran by accident. It did not fall from the sky; it emerged from a long history of social struggles. This slogan is the legacy of the Kurdish women’s movement in the part of Kurdistan that lies in Turkey, an area known to Kurds as “Bakur.” »

Jineolojî, a revolutionary science thought up by women, Ritimo, January 21, 2021

Informations about the text

  • Only in french
  • Article written by Gülan FIRAT and published on the Ritimo website, in the dossier "Beyond the nation-state: democratic confederalism, a political alternative for Kurds in the Middle East". This article looks back at the science of Jineolojî to decipher the political foundations of the Kurdish women’s revolutionary movement.
  • Jineolojî : in Kurdish, Jin means "woman", Jiyan "life", and Lojî evokes the idea of science in general. Jineolojî thus represents "women’s science". Term first used in Abdullah Öcalan’s Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization (Volume 3, Sociology of Freedom).

Women, let’s chant together: Jin Jiyan Azadî! Kedistan, November 9, 2022

Informations about the text

  • Only in french or in turkish
  • Article written by journalist Zehra Doğan, published on November 9, 2022, after the 2nd International Women’s Conference, held on November 5 and 6, 2022 under the slogan "Our Revolution: Liberating Life". At the call of the Kurdish women’s movement, women from all over the world had gathered in Berlin to unite their voices and fight together.
  • Kedistan: web magazine and collaborative platform covering news from the Middle East in general, Turkey in particular, and sub-Mediterranean culture.

Jin, jiyan, azadî and confederalist feminism, Kurdistan au féminin, December 2, 2022

Informations about the text :

  • Text published in December 2022 on the Kurdistan au féminin website. Written by Rojin Mukriyan, a researcher specializing in the Kurdish question, who looks at the political implications of the slogan Jin Jiyan Azadî, and returns to feminist democratic confederalism.
  • Kurdistan au féminin : information site on Kurdistan through the eyes of women.

Extracts :
« This slogan goes beyond the monolithic identity of the nation-state and breaks all the artificial divisions such as ethnic, linguistic, religious, class, and, more importantly, gender boundaries. […] For Öcalan, the 5,000-year-old history of civilization is first and foremost the history of the enslavement of women. […] It can be said that certain Kurdish women are leading a new wave of feminism under the banner of this slogan. This new wave of feminism could be called confederalist feminism, based at it is on Öcalan’s overall political project meant to overcome and replace civilization, democratic confederalism.»

Revolt in Iran - The Feminist Resurrection and the Beginning of the End for the Regime, Crimethlnc, September 28, 2022

Informations about the text

  • Article co-written by Collectif 98 and Crimthlnc in late September 2022, featuring testimonies from Iranian and Kurdish women, and looking back over the revolutionary mobilizations in Iran over the past 5 years.
  • Collectif 98 : anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian group covering struggles mainly in Iran.
  • Crimethlnc : an international network that describes itself as a rebel alliance, a decentralized network that engages in anonymous collective action, wishing to reinvent the world according to the principles of self-determination and mutual aid..

Extracts :
« As a social relation, Hijab signifies a set of constitutive elements of the Islamic Republic. […] Let’s be clear: burning scarfs is not a right-wing gesture oriented towards a fascist Islamophobia. No one is challenging anyone’s religion. […] As a historically specific social relationship, capitalism has the capacity to employ “non-capitalist” social relations at the service of its own accumulation and reproduction. Religion, like patriarchy, is not a thing of the past; it is not an anachronistic residue that lies beneath the surface of modern society without social effectivity. In a capitalist society like Iran, class domination as a whole is mediated by and recoded via Islamic codes. »

From Rojava to Rojhilat, Iran and all over the world we will guarantee the Women’s Revolution, Kongra Star, September 15, 2022

Informations about the text :

  • Kongra Star press release for the 1 year of protests in Iran under the slogan Jin Jiyan Azadî.
  • Kongra Star: a confederal and democratic women’s organization founded in Rojava in 2005 with the aim of self-organizing and developing women’s political consciousness. The organization promotes women’s freedom and the democratic nation, working on democratic and ecological principles based on gender liberation.

Extract :
« From the beginning of the uprising, the world was once again shown the true face of Iran’s patriarchal, fascist and authoritarian system. […] The people of Iran and Eastern Kurdistan, especially the women, reject the Iranian system of rule and shake the foundations of the regime with the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom”. As the leader Abdullah Ocalan said, “Society will not be free until women are free,” with this realization, the people of Kurdistan and Iran have begun to demonstrate for the freedom of women and all peoples. »

Cf. "Women Defend Rojava" Campaign" :

  • The Women Defend Rojava campaign was launched in 2019 by the women’s movement in Rojava, including Kongra Star, to coordinate international resistance in solidarity with women in northern and eastern Syria against the Turkish state’s war of occupation.
  • "Women Defend Rojava is also a vehicle for the international solidarity of women in northeast Syria: support for Argentinian women fighting for abortion rights, for Mexican women fighting feminicide, for Afghan women resisting the Taliban regime, for indigenous women fighting for their rights and ecology in Colombia and Chile."

Women’s Internationalism against Global Patriarchy, Dilar Dirik, December 3, 2022

Informations about the text :

  • Text by academic and Kurdish women’s activist Dilar Dirik, originally published on the Roarmag website..
  • Roarmag is an independent online journal created in 2011, which offers a critical analysis of global politics and current events from the perspective of radical social movements. The journal claims to present grassroots perspectives from the front lines of the global struggle for real democracy.
  • Serhildan is an information site on the struggles in Kurdistan and an international solidarity network..

Extract :
« From the earliest rebellions in history to the first organized women’s strikes, protests and movements, struggling women have always acted in the consciousness that their resistance is linked to wider issues of injustice and oppression in society. Whether in the fight against colonialism, religious dogma, militarism, industrialism, state authority or capitalist modernity, historically women’s movements have mobilized the experience of different aspects of oppression and the need for a fight on multiple fronts. »

KJK calls for solidarity with Afghan women and peoples, Kurdistan Women’s Communities’ (KJK) press release, August 18, 2023

Informations about the text

  • Communiqué published in August 2021 by the KJK after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, calling on women the world over to mobilize in solidarity with Afghan women and peoples.
  • Kurdistan Women’s Communities (KJK) : confederal system, which includes all the social, political and self-defense organizations of the women’s movement in Kurdistan and the Kurdish diaspora.
  • Rojinfo : news website created in 2017 by independent journalists. The aim is to report on important events and stories, and shine a spotlight on lesser-known ones taking place in Kurdistan, the Middle East region and beyond.
  • AFN News (Firat News Agency) : Kurdish news agency based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, founded in 2005.

Extract :
« As the Kurdish people and women, we know very well that the only way to defend our existence and will against the imperialist and colonial policies of the global hegemonic powers is through organization. […] During the years of occupation and the Taliban regime, those who fought and resisted the most for real democracy, freedom and a dignified life were women. In the most difficult period, under the most difficult circumstances, the women of Afghanistan found ways to organize. »

Somayeh Rostampour: "In Iran, the wall of fear has come down"., Médiapart, April 2nd, 2023

Informations about the text :

  • Only in french.
  • Interview conducted in April 2023 by Médiapart with Kurdish researcher Somayeh Rostampour, a specialist in Kurdish feminism.

Silvia Federici : « State feminism serves capitalist development », Ballast, April 15, 2020

Informations about the text :

  • Only in french.
  • Meeting organized by the Uruguayan magazine Zur with Silvia Federici, relayed on the Ballast website.
  • Silvia Federici : Co-founder of the International Feminist Collective in the 1970s, figure of anti-capitalist feminism and critical reader of Marx.
  • Ballast : digital magazine created in November 2014, run by a collective of activist-volunteers from France and Belgium.

Chile: Feminism from the South, CADTM, September 6, 2018

Informations sur le texte :

  • Only in french and castilian.
  • Article published on Contre-Temps and relayed by CADTM in September 2018, written by Carolina Olmedo and Luis Thiellemann both historians, and dealing with Chilean anti-capitalist feminist movements.