World leaders are meeting in New York today to draft a United Nations Security Council resolution to end Syria's conflict--but the crucial voices of Syrian women peacebuilders remain marginalized. The open letter below, addressed to US Secretary of State John Kerry, a convener of today's meeting, was authored by MADRE and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom to demand space for women's participation and recognition of women's vital grassroots solution for peace.
Dear Mr. Secretary of State:
We are deeply concerned that, as Syrian peace negotiations begin to regain momentum for 2016, Syrian women civil society representation still remains absent from the formal process, despite the obligation under international law and unmistakable commitments by the United Nations to ensure women’s meaningful participation in the peace talks.
The UN recently marked 15 years since the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325, which mandates a role for women in peace negotiations. Notwithstanding clear evidence that peace agreements without women’s participation run a far greater risk of failure, the international community has failed to take adequate action to ensure that women are effectively included in both negotiations and the decision-making process. Additionally noted in the recent Global Study on UNSC 1325, peace agreements that are devoid of language promoting gender equality may become themselves the obstacles to overcoming discrimination that persists after conflict has ended.
We see this pattern repeating in the Syrian peace process. The news that Iran would be included in the latest round of international talks was deservedly met with approval, yet women peacebuilders who have long demonstrated willingness and capacity to participate in talks have not received any guarantees they will be included in the upcoming process.
Syrian women and civil society representatives are organized across political positions and stand ready to present their recommendations and substantial input for a peaceful resolution to the conflict: an immediate ceasefire, gender-sensitive early warning mechanisms to prevent the spread of conflict, unfettered humanitarian aid to besieged populations and refugee communities, and immediate release of prisoners by all sides of the conflict. Women civil society has also developed critical recommendations for the process of political transition, including a gender sensitive constitution.
To Syria’s north in ISIL-controlled Deir Ezzor and the government-controlled Al-Hasaka, women are working to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers and small arms proliferation. In the contested city of Idlib, women have organized discussion workshops on the links between Islamic principles and democracy. To the south in Dariaa, women are holding consultation sessions on what implementation of Resolution 1325 in Syria would look like. Across the country, women are advocating for peace processes to include the political solutions laid out in the Geneva I Communiqué. They are also raising women’s rights concerns through law and policy, including calls to reform the nationality law which denies women full citizenship rights, and organizing hearing sessions for sexual abuse survivors to memorialize violations for future transitional justice processes. Syrian women have put forth measures that go beyond bringing an end to the conflict, calling for practical reforms that would reduce the likelihood of conflict recurring. These are but a few examples of Syrian women-led peacebuilding initiatives. Nevertheless, Syrian women rights activists have been continuously sidelined from formal peace negotiations.
Nearly five years after the oppression of a peaceful revolution and the resulting conflict, all attempts to establish the terms for peace have fallen apart. Meanwhile, the devastation has only escalated: rising death tolls, Syrian communities torn apart, and a massive refugee crisis with millions forced from their homes. Violent extremist groups, like the so-called “Islamic State,” have seized local power in wide territories inside Syria and Iraq and have used terror to achieve their purported political aims. Their first victims have been women and families in the communities they control, and they have expanded the realm of their brutality, from Paris to Beirut and beyond. In the days since those attacks, we have seen a marked turn towards military action, from the French government’s airstrikes to over a billion dollars in US arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Syrian women peacebuilders have local expertise on concrete community needs, which they can ensure are reflected in peace agreement terms. Finally, they can ensure that a peace agreement is transmitted and implemented effectively at the ground-level, thanks to their roles as local leaders and their extensive grassroots networks. These actors must be recognized as a third, independent bloc in any peace processes.
The solution to this intensifying crisis lies, not in militarism, but in a negotiated political settlement to the Syrian civil war. The key to creating and implementing a durable peace agreement is in the hands of women as vital leaders of civil society.
MADRE & Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)