At the end of a long road in the western part of El-Derbasiah district in the Rojava region of northern Syria, close to the historical Kabas hill, stands Jinwar: a women-only ecological village. Jinwar, which roughly translates as "women's land" in Kurdish, was officially inaugurated on the 25th of November, 2018, a date that marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Construction of the village, located in the de facto autonomous region of northern Syria, was begun in 2017 by 5 local women’s groups with a variety of names: Natural Medicine, Kongreya Star, the Genealogy Committee, Women of the Municipalities, and Weqfa Jena Azad.
In an interview with 7Dnews, Romet Mardeen, a member of the committee that supervised the construction work, said, "Our objective was to build a village where women can enjoy independence and self-reliance in a natural environment. Today, our vision is coming true by the inauguration of Jinwar, a democratic community free of the constraints of the oppressive power structures of patriarchy and capitalism which reduced human beings to machines. It's an inspiring example that will spread emancipation of women and democracy to other cities and towns."
Mardeen, aka Hafal Romet, said that the village is a model of "the communal life that is based on cooperation and solidarity", adding that the village is governed by a constitution and well-defined rules and regulations which all residents must abide by. "There is no room for men here, it's built by women and for women," Romet said, noting that women sustain themselves by cultivating crops, breeding animals and making handicrafts.
As for the funding of the project, Romet said: "the construction of the village was financed by the Democratic Federation of northern Syria, along with donations made by volunteers and charity groups. We do not deal with international organisations because they usually try to impose their own way of thinking on the villages they build."
Jinwar, built on an area of 3 hectares (30,000 sq m), encompasses 30 houses made of mud brick. The houses differ in their areas according to the number of rooms. A small garden is attached to each house, regardless of its area. "The village has a park, a coffee shop, a hospital, a school, a women’s academy where female heroism throughout history is being taught, and an alternative medicine centre. Out of firm belief in the importance of swimming to the health, two swimming pools were built, one for women, the other for children. The village also has a museum which houses historical and folkloric artefacts related to women," Romet said.
"Vast areas have been allocated for cultivation of vegetables and fruits to ensure self-sufficiency. Women plant tomato, cucumber, green pepper, olive, courgette, and fruits like apricot and promenade. In addition to cultivation, women produce handicrafts and there are sewing workshops that can provide women with regular income and pay for the village's utilities," Romet added.
According to Romet, the village is open to any woman who is ready to abide by the rules stated in a contract she will sign. Under this contract, women are not allowed to marry in the village and they are not entitled to housing or rent allowances. Widows, martyrs' mothers, abused wives and women recovering from war traumas can find a refuge in this village.
"Women of Arab and Assyrian origins have eagerly joined this women-only community," Romet said citing a number of women who have moved to Jinwar. "Sabah, a mother of 11 children, has come to live in Jinwar with her children and grandchildren. She's even brought along her pet animals. Saadeya, a Kurdish mother of two, who had been exposed to abuse and violence by her husband, turned to this free, democratic village as she was not sure if she'd be welcome at her family's house or her in-law's. Nagah, a widow with 3 children, applied to live in Jinwar and later on, she was joined by her sister and we provided them with all needed facilities."
Back to Mother Nature
Romet said that women in this village try to prove to the world that they are able to do without men and to challenge traditional capitalist social structure that reduces human beings to nonstop machines. "We work to sustain ourselves in this simple, unsophisticated environment that makes us achieve our full potential and reclaim our inherent freedom."
Taha Khalil, a journalist and poet, told 7Dnews that the idea behind establishing a women-only village was derived from writings by the Kurdish Labour Party Leader Abdallah Ocalan who wrote a number of books, mostly about the return to nature and the simpler human lifestyle adopted in the neolithic age. "In that epoch, people led a communal life governed by social rules and regulations. Women have always been the cornerstone of any society, hence the idea of this women-dominated village."
"It's hard to think of a single-gender society." Khalil said. "However, those who are enthusiastic about this idea assert that such a village is possible to flourish as long as women can provide for themselves. The village is founded on the principles of self-sustainability and aims to give women the opportunity to provide for their own basic needs, away from the manipulating capitalist system. Men are banned from living in this village until they give up their patriarchal attitude and frame of mind, according to which, women are mere commodities or bodies created for pleasure."
Jinwar is in part inspired by the women's village Umoja, in Kenya. Umoja, meaning unity, is an all-female village that was founded after World War II by female victims who suffered from war and oppression. Umoja completely bans men from entering this matriarchal village. Similarly, in India, there are two female-only villages that were built by poor women.
Although a single-gender village appears to be an unrealistic idea that is hard to put into effect, women’s rights activists have another opinion.
A historic achievement
Hanan Othman, a Lebanese women’s rights activist, sees that dedicating a village solely to women is "one of the many historic accomplishments achieved by Kurdish women at all domains." Othman considered it a daring experience based on historical facts. "In the past, some ethnic societies were run by women according to social rules, values and principles of equity and justice. They applied the communal system that defied the manipulating capitalist system which has recently penetrated all societies."
Othman told 7Dnews that this village is an attempt to revive women's role in arts, sciences, management and medicine. "It also promotes the ecological lifestyle to protect the nature that has long been mistreated.”
"This village embraces women who were abused or isolated in a patriarchal society, or simply widows who lost their husbands in wars and do not want to marry again, yet suffer from unneeded interference in their lives. In this village, they can enjoy economic, intellectual and emotional independence," Othman added.
The women’s rights activist considers that this project is not built in defiance of men, but rather is one that stands up to their domineering patriarchal ideologies, which have dangerous repercussions on women. "This experience empowers women who are the foundation stone of any liberal society."
She pointed out the importance of establishing intellectual academies to raise awareness against any acts of gender discrimination and inequality in order to build societies where both men and women work together on an equal footing.
"Banning men from living in the village is not out of dogmatic or extremist beliefs affected by ancient mythologies such as that of the Amazon women, whose main concern in life was enslaving men in a brutal way," Othman said. "It is neither derived from the monasteries of Mount Athos, aka the Holy Mountain, north of Greece, which is solely inhabited by men who prohibit the presence of any female creature, even animals. Jinwar, is a totally different thing. It's a model village that is meant to change the patriarchal convictions and empower women without bearing any grudge against men.”