This article was original published on Huffington Post on March 17, 2016.
Yet, when Syrians tried to end the war, women were sidelined. They have been largely absent from the negotiating table in rounds of failed talks since 2012.
Fresh United Nations-brokered peace talks kicked off in Geneva this week, and many hope that a mostly observed cessation of hostilities and partial withdrawal of Russian troops are signs that the negotiations will be more successful than those of the past.
One aspect of the talks has already inspired some cautious optimism: More women are involved than ever before, but it remains to be seen how much influence they will wield over the discussions.
Last month, the U.N. announced the formation of the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board — a group of 12 Syrian women from different professional, political and religious backgrounds to advise the U.N. special envoy overseeing the peace talks. The formation of the group, which is the first-ever formal women’s advisory board to a U.N. envoy, is a “historic moment,” said U.N. Women.
On the eve of the talks, Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy on Syria, made a point of meeting with the women’s board.
“I strongly believe that this is a golden opportunity for Syrian women,” Mouna Ghanem, founder of the Syrian Women’s Forum for Peace and a member of the advisory board, told The WorldPost. Now it’s crucial for the board to be able to influence all parties at the peace talks, and bring the women’s agenda to the table, she said.