This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Howard G Buffett Fund for Women Journalists.
On a sweltering summer day in a military academy just outside al-Hasakah in Syria, male fighters grumbled over a mandatory class called “jineology”, or “the science of women”. They’d already spent several days learning the basics of women’s history and mythology as well as about the damaging effects of patriarchy in their region.
All 102 assembled men were members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of militias in north-east Syria supported by the United States and led by the Kurds, a stateless people indigenous to the Middle East. The jineology class was part of an 18-week academy that would include military training. Most of the men were Arab and came from conservative communities. The lecturer, who went by the tough-sounding name “Roken 23 Doshka”, a nod to the Soviet-era machine gun, was a woman.