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New Report from a feminist solidarity conference by Women Organising for Change in Syria and Bosnia

June 4, 2014

Report-Cover_300As part of WILPF’s initiative “Women Organising for Change in Syria and Bosnia” a feminist solidarity conference between women activists from Syria and Bosnia was held from 10-14th of February 2014 in Sarajevo, Bosnia. 20 representatives and activists from women groups and human rights organisations in Syria attended the conference along with 42 activists and representatives of women’s rights groups and civil society organisations from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The intention was to provide a space where Bosnian experiences could interact with Syrian experiences – to learn and draw lessons from each other – but also to put these different experiences together in a coherent picture on what female activism looks like in conflict and post-conflict settings, and the different spaces that need to be created for their participation.

At this conference, which turned into an amazing feminist solidarity meeting between the women of Syria and Bosnia, three different segments were addressed. These being; peace negotiations and women’s participation in peace making and peace-building, Gender Based Violence, and justice. We focused on the different ways women have organised during war, and the lack of space in formal arenas for women’s active and meaningful participation in peace negotiations.

The women also shared their experiences of working with survivors of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and the different forms and shapes it takes both during and after conflicts. The women discussed the notion and different dimensions of justice from women’s perspective and what justice is in light of massive human rights violations that have taken place in Bosnia, and are still occurring in Syria.

The Bosnian experience highlights what happens when women are not represented during peace talks, or in strategic decisions during the post-conflict recovery period, and how inefficient and discriminatory power embodied in patriarchal political elite continues to deepen conflicts in the society instead of solving them. At the same time, the ongoing conflict in Syria and the Syrian women’s struggle to gain meaningful space at the negotiations during the Geneva II Conference shed light on the inability of groundbreaking international mechanisms such as UNSCR 1325 to create a space for women when geopolitical interests and the interests of the male political elites are prioritised over the needs of Syrian people.

Below are few conclusions from the discussions that took place. To ensure that you get the full understanding make sure to download the full report from the conference.

  • Peace negotiations are more then just about negotiating ceasefire, they are about creating a democratic society inclusive for all, and that women’s active participation in creating that society is an imperative;
  • Wartime rape should not be seen only through ethnic or religious lenses, nor only understood as weapon of war, or during its prosecution be merged with other crimes. There must also be an understanding that sexual violence and other types of GBV happen to women because they are women; this is necessary for better and more adequate understanding of power relations in the militarised society.
  • Justice is not only about prosecution; it is also about the whole environment of justice that needs to be created. In order to achieve peace for everyone, truth, justice and accountability for gender-based and human rights violations also need to be achieved through mechanisms of social, economic, and cultural justice.

The discussion during the four days the conference was truly insightful and in the words of the participants themselves, it was a space where they felt safe to share their experiences, to practice true solidarity and to create a joint vision of where they want to be and how to get there.

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