A real life Themyscira
Written by Vaishnavi Pallapothu
A war zone may neither be a suitable nor an obvious setting for a feminist civilization. And yet, a group of women in Syria have built a Utopic hamlet in a corner of a country ravaged by ongoing civil war. Jinwar, a real life Themyscira, is a village in Northern Syria where only women and children live. Women rule in this idyll, where men can visit but cannot stay. November 25, which marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, is an important date for Jinwar: constructions began on November 25, 2016 and the village was officially inaugurated on November 25, 2018.
Jinwar has been a vision in the making for many years now. It is supported by women’s organizations from around the world. Jinwar also collaborates with international and local women’s communes and organizations such as The Free Women’s Foundation of Rojava (WeqfaJina Azad a Rojava) and the Jineology Committee.
Jinwar is an amalgamation of two Kurdish words: ‘Jin’ meaning woman and ‘war’ meaning space,
land and home. This pioneering project is based on the fundamentals of a democratic confederalist paradigm: democracy, ecology and women’s liberation. In such a regime, the basic decision-making power rests with the local grass-roots institutions.
JINWAR aims to provide an alternative and peaceful place for the co-existence of women free of any and all forms of violence. The key goals preceding the founding of the village are the principles of self-sustainability and aims to give women the opportunity to provide for their own basic needs. Jinwar’s vision is wholesome: there will be gardens, orchards, livestock, lands, workshops, a school, and an art center. The entire settlement is built by women and for women and will remain a home for Rojavan women of all ethnicities and religions, and their children.
The social life of the village lies at the heart of it and this is reflected in Jinwar’s architecture. The center of the village is shaped by an assembly, a tea garden and more places to meet and work together – thus being organized as a communal living space. The communal garden not only creates a base of self-sufficiency for the village but also maintains a connection to the Earth. The women of Jinwar sell the harvest they cultivate and use the revenue for daily expenses. The houses are built from mud, as they are traditionally built in the region for generations. It is apparent that every part of the construction and establishment process is sustainable and some form of peaceful resistance. Growing an ecological garden is combatting a decades-old policy to industrialize agriculture. The garden will also change the territory and earth, revive the ground and cultivate land that can be sustained – giving life to the quasi-deserted area of Rojava where actions of Turkish warfare aim to cut of water supplies and dry it out.
Cultural preservation is a very crucial aspect for the Committee of Jinwar. The layout of the city is based on the ideas of a communal living zone, with a lot of space for assemblies, dining and just sitting together in groups. In the middle of the village circle, one can find a water place in the form of a star, the symbol of Ishtar – the Mesopotamian mother goddess of love, protection, wisdom and fertility. The star carries immense significance in the history of women’s resistance and women’s capacity to build free lives. Talks amongst the residents of Jinwar had promoted an aim to formulate a social contract based on the experiences and wishes of the women who created this feminist society.
Another instance of cultural preservation can be seen in the form of the Hermel herb, a medicinal plant found abundantly in the Rojavan hills and middle eastern regions. The Hermel is believed to protect a house from evil eyes and bring fortune and fertility to the inhabitants. It is also used as an incense to keep insects away and the plants seeds can be used as a base material for creating artifacts.
Zainab Gawary, a 28 year-old resident told The Independent, “There’s no need for men here, our lives are good. This place is just for women who want to stand on their own feet.Without women, there is no freedom. Until women educate and empower themselves, there won’t be freedom.” This is a belief that many Jinwar-ians seem to espouse and can be found written on the walls in the village. The project’s aim is to create a life built on the foundations of women-centered ethics and values. All at once, this is a space for women who have lost their husbands in war; for women who have been displaced from their homes; for women who have experienced physical/sexual violence or structural violence and ultimately for any woman who wants to be free.
Jinwaris being developed on foundations of Jineology, often referred to as Kurdish feminism. One of the governing ideologies of Northern Syria, Jineology is the science of women and is built on the principle that no society can call itself free without ensuring the freedom of women within the society. Jinwar conducted a week-long Jineology camp in May 2018, which was attended by 30 young women from different cities. The camp consisted of workshops on women’s history, women’s anatomy, self defense training, driving, gardening, horse-riding, music and theater and dance, among other activities. The construction of the academy is designed to be a space for exchanging of knowledge and ideas about Jineology. In June, there were proposals to arrange for seminars for men on the role of men in women’s liberation.
At its heart, Jinwar wants to reconstruct lost homes into havens of peace as an act of resistance and resilience in the face of violence and war. Providing not just a safe haven but also an alternative way of life, Jinwar wants to create a mode de vie that inspires women to reach their full potentials, free of patriarchal and capitalist shackles. Viewing the revolution through a holistic, intersectional and feminist lens, Jinwar is ushering in an unprecedent level of peace and hope in the war-torn Syria.