Syrian Women’s Groups Push for Equal Role at Geneva II Talks

Excerpt from the article, originally published on Passblue.com:

The frustration for many international feminist groups is that women are reduced to being marginal observers at negotiations or cut out at the top threshold.

The movement for inclusion on Syria involves UN Women and such groups as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Women’s Democracy Network, the International Civil Society Action Network, Karama, Madre, CodePink and more.

“Just a few weeks ago, Security Council passed Resolution 2122 on Women, Peace and Security, stressing  the need to address the persistent implementation gap that has marred the realization of  UNSCR 1325,” Yasmine Ergas, director of the new gender and public policy specialization at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, said in an email. “In approving Resolution 2122, the Council declared its intention to focus more attention on women’s leadership and participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. It would be astonishing if negotiations intended to begin a peacebuilding process in Syria were now to exclude or only minimally involve women. Would that not fly in the face of the Security Council’s clearly stipulated policy of inclusion?”

To push for Syrian women to attend as a “direct, third party” and for including gender expertise in the talks, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which has been operating since 1915, has posted a petition on its website that people can sign to be sent to Brahimi and relevant foreign ministers, like United States Secretary of State John Kerry. The petition, dated Nov. 25, 2013, declares that “to date, Syrian women have not been included in the process, even though they are active, prepared and representative.”

The wording is clear, it says, in the original Geneva communiqué of 2012, which propelled Geneva II talks, “that women must be fully represented in all aspects of the transition.”

Dr. Abigail Ruane, a New York program consultant for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, wrote in an email: “At present, the future Syria is being negotiated with the warring factions without the presence of women. A narrative of power is taking place instead, which ignores the Security Council Resolutions on women, peace and security and the evidence of past failures where this pattern has been followed.”

Although the list of participants for Geneva II is still being decided, Martin Nesirky, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, wrote in an email that Ban and Brahimi “have consistently urged both government and opposition to ensure women’s participation at the international conference in January.”

Van der Schatte Olivier of Hivos said that Brahimi has been “quite receptive” to incorporating women in the conference but no formal commitment has been made yet. Dr. Ruane’s take on Brahimi’s reaction is different.

Her group is specifically asking for a senior woman mediator to participate at the same level as Brahimi, with a team of experts on international humanitarian law to support her, so that women are included “at the table” and “not just in the corridors.”  There has been “some indication of support by key member states for this, but substantial challenges remain for broader UN support,” she added.

That means Brahimi himself, whom Ruane said “has his heels dug in, so we are exploring other avenues of ensuring women’s full and equal participation.”

Van der Schatte Olivier, a lawyer and international development expert, said that a delegation from some of the Syrian women’s groups the Dutch program is working with and others from Egypt visited the UN in September to rally for women’s roles in regional peace processes and to meet with Brahimi and additional UN officials to “gain access at the highest political arena” in the Geneva discussions. The women will sit down with Brahimi before January to push again to be represented by both sides of the conflict and as a third party.

Dr. Ruane’s group is planning with partners to hold a Women Lead to Peace Summit on Jan. 21 in Geneva, with women from such post-conflict societies as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ireland, Liberia and Rwanda telling their stories and hearing testimony from Syrian women describing life in a war zone and in refugee camps.

Karama, an Arab organization focused on ending violence against women in the MENA region, is promoting the Syrian Women’s Forum for Peace to be present at Geneva. (The forum receives financial help from a  nonprofit, Donor Direct Action.)

Members of the forum have not met with Brahimi, said Hibaaq Osman, a Karama founder, but they are continually meeting with people from his office. “They understand, however, that the effort must go beyond Brahimi, and Brahimi alone cannot push the government of Syria and/or the coalition to include women.”

Osman noted that the forum was pushing for it to happen by “working with women’s groups and civil society and political parties to make sure that women are not only included, but that women are listened to, and that as part of the peace deal, women’s needs are prioritized.”