From the so-called Jihadi Janes who have taken up arms with the self-proclaimed Islamic State to the female fighters of the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), female militancy in the Middle East has captured international attention. The Islamic State has seen hundreds of women join its ranks, flocking from countries as diverse as Austria, France, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia. On the other front of the same war, Kurdish female fighters have made international headlines following their resistance in Kobanî and Sinjar.

What do we know about these women’s motivations to take up arms in the region’s ongoing conflicts? How do we understand women’s support for the Islamic State in spite of its extreme attitude toward them? Other than an essentialist and sexualized portrayal of the YPJ in the media, what do we know of complex historical and personal trajectories that brought these women to play such key roles in Rojava?

The Carnegie Middle East Center held a panel discussion on this important topic with Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck, Mohamad Abu Rumman, and Isabel Käser. Maha Yahya moderated.


Mohamad Abu Rumman is a researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan.

Dalia Ghanem Yazbeck is El Erian fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

Isabel Käser is a PhD candidate at the Center for Gender Studies at the School of Oriental and Africa Studies, London.


Maha Yahya is director of Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.