In 2010, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan, PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, declared, “The freedom of the Kurdish people can be viewed as inseparably bound to women’s freedom.” This statement emphasizes a core tenet in the reinvention of the PKK’s ideology as articulated by Öcalan: the understanding that freedom can only be achieved through the defeat of the patriarchal system. The women of the PKK and its sister organization, the Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, PYD), represent the embodiment of the PKK’s new ideology, attracting international attention following Kurdish efforts to establish an autonomous region of governance in north-east Syria. This article focuses on a case study of the PYD’s Syrian Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Jin, YPJ), and their defence of Kurdish-dominated enclaves in Syria. The analysis demonstrates the agency behind their engagement and the ideology that motivates their resistance to patriarchy in the Middle East. In so doing, the article compares the YPJ’s understanding of agency to media representations of YPJ fighters’ engagement, in an effort to see beyond the traditional victim/peacemaker articulation of gendered engagement, arguing instead for the need to recognize the politics behind Kurdish women’s participation as combatants in the Syrian civil war.