Socio-Political Feminist Activism: Reshaping the Peace Processes in Syria
‘There is still time for change’
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
Church Centre of the United Nations: 777 UN Plaza, 2nd Floor
Salma Kahale, Dawlaty
Fadwa Mahmoud, Families for Freedom (FFF)
Sana Mustafa, Syrian Women’s Political Movement (SWPM)
Madeleine Rees, Secretary-General, WILPF (Moderator)
The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Dawlaty, Families for Freedom, the Syrian Women’s Political Movement (SWPM), held a joint panel on the margins of the Annual Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security in New York.
The panel gathered Syrian women activists and political leaders from across the activism spectrum - from grassroots organisations, victims-led initiatives, to political movements, with the purpose of discussing the key priorities and ways in which Syrian women have led an array of interventions for peace and human rights during the transitional phase after failed attempts to reach a political solution. Panelists provided insight on challenging the exclusionary spaces within the different political processes on Syria, how they transformed this lack of inclusion into victim-centered and gender-sensitive initiatives and movements, and the recommendations they have for key Member States and UN agencies on how to support Syrian women’s initiatives during the transitional phase. Discussion questions centered on Syrian women’s active and meaningful political participation in peace processes and situation of women organising and being sidelined by powerful stakeholders in the Syrian context, and the issue of detainees and forcibly disappeared inside the country.
WILPF’s Secretary General, Madeleine Rees, opened the panel with a question, “Wouldn't it be wonderful if states were honest as to why women aren't able to participate in the peace process?”
Panelists reflected on the question by emphasising that women’s inclusion in the Syrian political processes has been more tokenistic and symbolic rather than active or meaningful. Instead Syrian women have been excluded and marginalised from any discussions pertaining to the future of Syria, including in political talks and peace processes.
Panelists identified stakeholders’ responsibilities in rendering women’s political participation to a mere formality. Sana Mustafa (SWPM) reflected on the United Nation’s (UN) role in meaningfully engaging women in the political processes. The UN established the Women’s Advisory Board (WAB) to the Special Envoy, which was a result of pressure to include women in the process; however, it did not serve a meaningful purpose ofreshaping how women’s inclusion and meaningful representation is addressed. The WAB served simply as an advisory board. Fadwa Mahmoud (FFF) spoke on the tokenistic inclusion of women in the Syria peace process. She told the audience that under the consultative committee which was under the umbrella of the Higher Negotiating Committee, women’s participation was simply a formality, where they were often excluded from meetings. The UN, which had facilitated and insisted on the inclusion of women in such committees, has not placed a priority on women's participation in meetings where discussions shaping peace in Syria take place., When it comes to women’s participation, women are always asked what “added value” they would bring, or what their qualifications are, when such questions are rarely posed in regard to men’s participation. This is a small reflection of the patriarchal thinking and structure of the peace processes. Salma Kahleh (Dawlaty) called out the international community in its efforts to advance women’s participation, adding that women are often deemed incapable to take on leadership roles in political processes. Adding to the discussion, Sana Mustafa acknowledged that while the UN has attempted to bring more civil society representation, which includes women, into the discussion on Syria, this has kept women-led civil society and women’s participation in the humanitarian framework instead of extending into the political discussions on the future of Syria.This can be seen in the higher number of women under the civil society representation of the constitutional committee in comparison to the low number under the opposition or regime representation groups.
According to Salma Kahale, even when it comes to funding for women empowerment programmes, “ women continue to be working and organized on the ground[...] but the majority of ‘women’s empowerment’ programming goes to organizations that are led by men." Mariam Jalabi, an SWPM General Secretariat member who was present in the audience, contributed a feminist analysis demanding the dismantling of the patriarchal systems that underpin and uphold the militarized systems that shape the solution. The entire political structure is patriarchal and military-oriented policy making, which makes it very difficult for women to enter the space. Women’s perspectives, needs, and solutions continue to be side-lined, and it is through this reshaping of the political process globally that the peace process can be reshaped. Despite these realities, women lead a significant role on the ground during the uprising and took on leadership roles. Although the space for organising was limited, what little space was available was led by women and women-led organisations. Today, women continue to work and organise on the ground, serving victims of violence, producing knowledge, and working together to get their voices and demands heard.
Women’s meaningful participation in pursuing fast-track solutions in the Constitutional Committee
“One of the issues with the detainee file is that it's only looked at as a human rights file, but it's also a political file”, said Sana Mustafa, arguing that work on a constitution does not make sense when the same security apparatus that has detained and continues to torture detainees is still roaming around the streets of the country.
Within the Astana process, the UN, Russia, Turkey and Iran have discussed the issue of detainees in the same context as prisoner exchange, but the issue of political detainees has not been negotiated as a separate issue. According to Fadwa Mahmoud, this is why Families for Freedom reject the Astana process. Panellists reassured that feminist peace cannot and will not happen as long as military solutions continue to be utilised in addressing the Syrian context. We are currently witnessing the rehabilitation of a regime that has killed hundreds of thousands, devastated the country, resulting in half the population as IDPs and refugees. A change that addresses the dysfunctional patriarchal and militarised systems and root causes is needed.
When asked about whether the new Special Envoy to Syria, Geir Pederson, is improving the inclusion and participation of women within the processes, Fadwa Mahmoud, responded, “We believe the situation is better because women have been determined and have insisted on participating and making their participation meaningful and sincere... we will not accept a negotiated solution to the Syrian process, without us being an integral and active part of that process.”
To conclude the panel, Madeleine Rees said, “When we come to write the history of the Syrian process, it will be a history of how patriarchy works in practice and how the attempts to bring in women into the process have been stymied all the way along and through, and how brilliant women have been excluded from obtaining a peace process which is going to work for them. There is still time to change that.”