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Exceptional Inclusion: Understanding the PKK’s Gender Policy

GroupsMiddle East


The PKK’s gender policy, which includes maintaining a fighting force that is 40% female and the promotion of women’s liberation as a key component of its political platform, makes the PKK an outlier among both Kurdish nationalist groups and leftist armed movements in the Middle East. Based on interviews with members of the PKK’s allied civilian political movement and former PKK combatants, this paper argues that rather than being a function of the PKK’s ethnic or ideological identities, this policy emerged as a result of a confluence of four other factors: the PKK’s leftist ideology, the preferences of its leadership, and the need to recruit selectively all served as permissive factors. Ultimately, however, it was the greater participation of Kurdish women as a result of Turkish state violence in the Kurdish southeast in the 1980s that ultimately changed the PKK from within.

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