For International Women’s Day 2020, we asked internationalist women in North and East Syria: What is Women’s Freedom? This question is integral to the search that’s brought women from all over the world to the Rojava revolution. The act of asking is already a step on the road. We soon discovered the answers are diverse and deep, and everyone’s complemented the others to create something beautiful.
One of the vanguards of the Kurdistan Women’s liberation movement is Sema Yüce, also known as Serhildan or Leyla. She was sentenced to 22 years in Turkish prison in the early 90s. Whilst there, she wrote extensively, including on the topic of identity and inner struggle, and of the contradictions she found in her own personality and the revolutionary work of overcoming them. All internationalist women who have come to North and East Syria also meet the challenges of this work, and we take inspiration from comrades like Sema Yüce.
Heval Sema took her own life by fire on the 21st March 1998, as a protest against repression, following the footsteps of other şehîds such as Mazlum Doğan, and to call out to her people and to other women to rise up. She survived for 88 days after the fire and she continued to study and write. She wrote “my passion for life and as a free woman led me to do this.”
Heval Sema is a vanguard for international women’s revolution because of this passion, because of her strength of conviction, and because she shows us that no matter what the circumstances we find ourselves in we can always be the revolution. Her sacrifice was in the name of life, not death, an act of love that still burns brightly.
In the message she left after making her decision, she said “I want to build a bridge of fire from the 8th of March to the 21st of March.” That is, from International Women’s Day to Kurdish New Year, to connect two histories of struggle and resistance, her Kurdish identity and her identity as a woman, and unite the fights against colonialism and patriarchy. The Kurdistan Women’s Liberation Movement has drawn women from across the world to join in support, not least because of this incredibly powerful connection Şehîd Sema had so much faith in and love for she was willing to die for it. As internationalists in North and East Syria, part of our work is to build a new kind of bridge, and make more connections across time, space, and struggles, to help make a global movement strong enough to build a free future. These videos were published between the 9th and the 21st of March 2020, to symbolise the importance of unity, the leadership of revolutionary women, and the role of internationalism.
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