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At the end of a long dusty road in the plains of northern Syria, a young woman with a rifle over her shoulder guards the entrance to the isolated village of Jinwar.

Thirty brick houses lie beyond the gate, decorated with splashes of purple and blue. They surround a large plot of agricultural land where rows of vegetables are growing.

A war zone perhaps isn’t the most obvious setting for a feminist utopia. But here, in a far corner of a country that has been devastated by ongoing conflict, a group of women have created an escape from the chaos around them. Built over the past two years, this small hamlet is a self-sustaining, ecological idyll where women rule and men cannot stay.

“There’s no need for men here, our lives are good,” says Zainab Gavary, a 28-year-old resident. “This place is just for women who want to stand on their feet.”

Jinwar is a women-only commune a few miles from Qamishli, a city in the mainly Kurdish region of northeast Syria. It was set up by local women’s groups and international volunteers to create a space for women to live “free of the constraints of the oppressive power structures of patriarchy and capitalism”.

The homes here were built by the women who are now living in them. Murals and statues of women at work are scattered around the site, in the centre of which is a garden of meadow flowers. It’s a jarring contrast to the villages that surround it.

That it was built in northern Syria is no coincidence. Just a few years ago, the entire area lived under the shadow of the Isis caliphate. The jihadist group captured large swathes of territory when it made lightning advances to the south and to the east of the Kurdish region, and across the border into Iraq.

It made its capital in Raqqa, just a few hours away by car, and carried out one of its most heinous atrocities in the town of Sinjar, less than a hundred miles east. Thousands of Yazidis were massacred, and still thousands more women were kidnapped by the group to be used as sex slaves.

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In response to this wave of brutality, many Kurdish women took up arms to fight the extremist group. The story of these women facing off against a murderous cult that aimed to enslave them captured the attention of the world.  

The founders of Jinwar see their project as a continuation of the “women’s revolution” that led those women to leave their families and go to war. But while the world may know the Kurds through images of women fighting on the frontline, Kurdish society is still deeply conservative. Jinwar was built as a place for women to escape the family-orientated roles that a patriarchal society has assigned to them. Gavary is one of them. She married when she was young, but her husband died not long after.

“My mother begged me not to come, but I still came,” she says. “I brought up my son alone for 10 years, I suffered a lot.”

“Without women there is no freedom,” she says, repeating a mantra that is written on the walls in Jinwar. “Until women educate and empower themselves, there won’t be freedom.” ...

Read full article and see video at The Independent