After surviving ISIS and a civil war, these Syrian women built a female-only village
Updated 0425 GMT (1225 HKT) May 4, 2019
(CNN)Fatma Emin's life changed forever when her husband died in the Syrian war, killed by ISIS in a land mine attack.
It triggered a series of events that would bring her to Jinwar, a village built and inhabited by women -- a refuge for Syrian women and their children fleeing a rigid family structure, domestic abuse and the horrors of civil war.
Jinwar means "women's land" in the Kurdish language. The village welcomes Syrian women and children, regardless of religion, ethnicity and political views. It is a mosaic of diverse women who want to experience freedom, democracy and a new form of life.
"Jinwar is a response to every person who thinks of violating a woman's freedom, or sees the woman as the weaker sex in the society, or that she can't manage her life or manage her children," Emin told CNN by phone in Arabic. "On the contrary, a woman can build her house. Here we are -- we built a village not only for Kurdish women, but we have Arab, we have Yazidi and some of our foreign friends are also living with us."
After Emin's husband died in August 2015, the stigma of being a widow weighed heavily on her.
The 35-year-old had to fight to keep her six children -- her husband's family repeatedly took them away from her, she said. They didn't want her to work, and demanded she give up a job she loved in Kobani's local government to raise her daughters under the family's supervision. She says they viewed her and her children as weak, with no man left to protect them.
"The people that I was mixing with didn't value this and didn't accept me as a strong or a working woman, or raising my kids after my husband's death," Emin said. "I worked at the (Kurdish) administration and I was good and excelling at my work."
When she managed to get her children back with the help of a Kurdish women's movement group, she moved to Jinwar -- a village in northeast Syria built from the ground up by Kurdish women two years ago.
A refuge from war
Brown, rectangular houses constructed of handmade bricks sit on land that looks dry and parched. But on the inside, the homes are painted and decorated, showing the touches of the families who live in them. Today, Jinwar is home to 16 women and 32 children.
Men are allowed to visit during the day as long as they behave respectfully toward the women, but they can't stay overnight. Working in shifts, the women keep track of who comes and goes from Jinwar. They only carry a weapon during night shifts for security.
Jiyan Efrin is a 30-year-old mother to two daughters and one son, who live elsewhere with their grandfather. Efrin moved to the village by herself three months ago to escape the Turkish assault on Afrin, a city in northwest Syria. She says life in Jinwar is beautiful.
"You feel like there is a normal society that you can live in," Efrin said. "We work, we farm and get paid, too, from the village council."
Some of the women who live there have fled displacement, rape, imprisonment and death at the hands of ISIS and other armed groups. "In the war conditions that we have been through, every woman suffered. Every woman was hurt. Every woman was lost, but Jinwar brought them together," Emin said.
Syria's civil war has devastated the country and wrecked its economy with intense fighting, arbitrary detainment and use of chemical weapons. It created the worst refugee crisis of the 21st century. And it continues.