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Incubating Solutions for Peace in Syria and Iraq

Recent terror attacks have intensified debate on how to tackle violent extremism. Today, countries grapple with how to deal with a global refugee crisis that’s reached unprecedented levels. And momentum is gradually ramping up for a renewal of Syria’s peace talks to end a brutal, almost five-year war.

These are tipping points that could tilt in any direction, towards hope or greater harm. As human rights advocates, we have the power to help push towards peace and justice. This is the conviction that prompted MADRE and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) to launch a series of solution-incubating sessions we call Strategies for Change.

These meetings have brought together dozens of Syrian and Iraqi women activists and leaders to meeting hubs in Istanbul, Turkey, twice so far this year. In the most recent two-day gathering, with support from the Global Fund for Women, these women activists shared their stories and advanced new concrete, strategies to confront violations of women’s human rights.

While they come from differing contexts, the women highlighted the many challenges they share in common.

  • They face discriminatory laws and practices, like Iraqi women’s inability to obtain legal identification without a male family member or like Syrian women’s prohibition from passing their nationality on to their children.

  • They confront a healthcare crisis and a lack of humanitarian aid, where war has destroyed hospitals and medical infrastructure, where communities under ISIS control have no reproductive healthcare to speak of, and where services in refugee camps are woefully inadequate.

  • Women are targeted with violence, simply because they are women: by family members who carry out so-called “honor” killings, by ISIS forces engaging in widespread rape and sexual slavery, by government forces who subject women to sexual assault and harassment, and by sectarian militias who target women based on their ethnic affiliation or simply for speaking out.

What’s more, the women put forward actionable solutions—and came up with strategies to propel their solutions to policymaking circles. These included shared calls to:

  • Increase access to healthcare services and counseling support, especially for survivors of violence

  • Provide sustained funding to grassroots organizations in war zones, including in communities under ISIS control

  • Train and strengthen local organizations to document human rights abuses and respond to the needs of survivors

  • Support women’s networking efforts from local to global, bringing advocates from different spheres together to share strategies

  • Provide legal aid to align national laws with international human rights standards and adopt policies to protect refugees

  • Increase access to education, particularly for refugee girls whose schooling has been interrupted

  • Foster economic independence for refugee and displaced women

  • Support the documentation of human rights violations

These meetings are more than just solitary flashes in time. Each woman who participates brings new ideas and solutions back home, and is strengthened by renewed connections to a global community of support.

Peace is not just an absence of violence – it’s an active pursuit, nurtured by courageous people who hold their families and communities in their hearts. The Strategies for Change gatherings capture the best of that spirit.

When you support MADRE, you help women peacebuilders foster healing and justice in their communities around the world.

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December 15, 2015  / Middle East / Iraq / Syria / Ending Gender Violence