Kurdish forces and the US-backed coalition aren’t the only forces with female soldiers fighting in Syria and Iraq. The militant group The Islamic State (ISIS) is recruiting women, too.
Since February, ISIS has controlled at least two all-female battalions, recruiting single women between 18 and 25 and paying a monthly salary of roughly $US150.
Al Arabiya reports the groups were initially formed to “expose male activists who disguise in women’s clothing to avoid detention when stopping at the ISIS checkpoints.”
The battalions are also used to enforce ISIS’s strict laws of individual conduct on women — sometimes violently. Abu Ahmad, an ISIS official in Syria, told Syria Deeply, “We have established the brigade to raise awareness of our religion among women, and to punish women who do not abide by the law.”
Thomas Hegghammer, an expert on violent Islamism, told The Atlantic that it appeared the female battalions were restricted to the ISIS-controlled Syrian city of Raqqa.
“There is a process of female emancipation taking place in the jihadi movement, albeit a very limited and morbid one,” Hegghammer said. “Many of them are eager to portray themselves as strong women and often make fun of the Western stereotype of ‘the oppressed Muslim woman.'”
But the battalions aren’t evidence that ISIS is embracing female empowerment. It’s the just the opposite.
“ISIS created it to terrorize women,” Raqqa-based activist Abu al-Hamza told Syria Deeply, telling of a raid the group conducted at a girls school. “After arresting those women and girls they took them to ISIS prisons and locked them in for six hours and punished some of them with 30 whips each.”
The girls and women were accused or wearing veils which were two thin, or exposed too much of their faces.
Zainab, a teenager in Raqqa, told Syria Deeply she was arrested by the group.
“I was walking down the street when a car suddenly stopped and a group of armed women got out,” she reportedly said. “They insulted me and yelled at me. They took me to one of their centres and kept me locked in a room. Nobody talked to me or told me the reason for my detention. One of the women in the brigade came over, pointing her firearm at me. She then tested my knowledge of prayer, fasting and hijab.”
According to Syria Deeply, the fighter told Zainab she was arrested because she had been in public without an escort and her hijab was not being worn properly.
“You should be punished for taking your religion lightly,” the female fighter said, threatening Zainab with a harsher punishment if she was caught again, according to Syria Deeply.
The all-female battalions may be just another way that ISIS inflicts rampant gender-based violence on its captive population. The Islamic State has been disastrous for women living under its control, who are reportedly subject to rape, beatings, and arbitrary arrest and are ordered to wear coverings more extreme than the vast majority of Islamic societies. Women must also be accompanied by male guardians in public.
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