There’s a remarkable, underappreciated story of global gender progress to be told, and it’s rooted one of the world’s unlikeliest places: inside the war against the Islamic State now raging in Syria and Iraq.
In the fight against ISIS, the world will hopefully remember women not only as the ones who battled on the front lines to take down the caliphate, but as the ones who broke down patriarchal barriers and demanded the kind of cultural respect that will make it harder for extremism to take root and flourish in the future.
Not only are women soldiers fighting and dying to retake ISIS-occupied land, but in towns and neighborhoods along the way, they are being embraced by older women and are inspiring little girls who see firsthand that they, too, have the power to stand up and fight.
The Syrian Democratic Forces — an alliance of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrian Christians, Turkmen, Circassians and more, both men and women — fittingly entered Raqqa on the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, the culmination of a months-long drive to encircle ISIS’ declared caliphate capital.
Commander Rojda Felat, a Kurdish woman, leads the Wrath of Euphrates operation and vowed from the first shots in November that her forces will free the Yazidi sex slaves being held by ISIS. Felat has said that, in addition to being chosen for the role because of her battlefield experience in previous campaigns against ISIS, her fellow military leaders wanted to make sure ISIS knows that women will avenge the terror group’s hideous abuses against their sex.
“Wherever a woman is being suppressed, wherever a man is threatening a woman, our forces will struggle against this,” Felat vowed. “Our struggle for the liberation of our people will become a beacon for all resisting peoples.”