Op-ed by Hibaaq Osman originally published on The Guardian online
Talks have commenced to bring an end to the civil war in Syria that has killed more than 100,000 and forced almost 2.4 million men, women and children to flee the country, while millions more have been displaced internally. As is so often the case in such conflicts, women have been disproportionately affected by the fighting in Syria – women and children make up three quarters of the refugees in Jordanian camps. Despite facing this terrible toll in the civil war, Syrian women’s voices will rarely be heard, if at all, during the Geneva II peace talks. One thing all the delegations have in common – whether the Syrian government, the Syrian opposition, or the UN – is the complete absence of women.
This is a far cry from March 2011 when women marched alongside men in the frontline of the popular protests against the Assad regime. Those women thought the protests would establish real, progressive changes in Syrian society. However, these voices have since been overshadowed by men with guns and the increased influence within Syria of groups who believe in a more conservative interpretation of Islam.
This regression now faces entrenchment by the lack of representation of female voices in the process to bring about peace and a transition to democracy. Voices like that of Dr Mouna Ghanem, vice-president of the Building the Syrian State (BSS), which is considered to be the first opposition movement established in Syria. Despite the ongoing violence across the country, Dr Ghanem, like many activists, has been working to ensure women are able to take an active part in bringing peace to Syria and in civil society post-conflict.
Despite the violence, women are speaking out across the country. Earlier this month the Syrian Women’s Forum For Peace held a conference in Damascus of more than 60 women from across Syria, representing all spectrums of society. The women came together, at great danger to themselves, to develop a Syrian Women’s Charter for Peace to present at Geneva II. The charter calls for measures to prevent the supply into Syria of weapons and armed militants, and to stop exporting terrorism to Syria via neighbouring countries.
The charter outlined the need for measures that go beyond bringing an end to conflict, calling for the need to develop special programmes to ensure that refugees and the internally displaced can safely return and to ensure the protection of their human rights, notably the right to active citizenship. Perhaps most importantly of all, they called for Syrian political and civil processes to remain the exclusive right of the Syrian people, including the drafting of a new constitution.
While these issues are being actively explored within Syria, much diplomatic energy has already been expended on who will be invited to the table and who holds the true influence over Assad. Meanwhile the needs of so much of the Syrian population remain unrepresented at the negotiating table.
For the full article, please visit The Guardian online.