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Women in Conflict: A Close Look at Syria

June 20, 2013

What are the gendered consequences of the war in Syria? Are the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the international human rights framework having any impact in shaping the response to the on-going crises? How can it be ensured that women play their proper role in bringing peaceful resolution to the crises and contribute to building a society, which respects women’s rights and gender equality? These and more questions where raised on June 11 at our side event on Syria, during the Human Rights Council.

Hard times for millions of people
Side event on Syria

WILPF side event on Syria during the UNHRC

In front of a large audience of Member States and Civil Society organisations, our four panellists from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan presented the actual conditions and challenges for Syrian women inside Syria and in the neighbouring refugee settings and provided concrete recommendations for the international community.

The panellists emphasised that the increased militarisation of the conflict has huge gendered implications both inside Syria and the refugee host communities. As the humanitarian catastrophe continues to unfold, millions of people have been forced into displacement and refugee settings in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The humanitarian needs inside Syria are getting worse every day, as access to relief aid and protection of civilians deteriorates.

The escalation of violence by the warring fractions has serious consequences for the civilian population, including gender-based violence, such as rape, early marriage, sexual harassment, forced prostitution, arbitrary detention and punishments based on gender. However, the current conditions do not provide for solid statistics or documentation of these violations.

The importance of human rights organisations…

Despite the obligations under the international human rights framework and under International Humanitarian Law, few protection mechanisms are in place inside Syria. Most of the support work is done through grassroots organisations and human rights activists. The stigma and the strengthened traditional values make it extremely difficult to work with victims of sexual and gender-based violence in the refugee settings.

…and of women activists and peacemakers
Panelists presenting the situation in Syria during WILPF side event

Panelists talking about Syria during WILPF side event

The Syrian panellists strongly emphasised the importance to focus on the role of women as activists, reformists and peacemakers. As experienced in may other conflicts, the militarised conflict in Syria strengthens traditional gender roles, as well as patriarchal and fundamentalist values both inside the country and in refugee settings. That jeopardises women’s participation in a peaceful resolution to the conflict and in the reconstruction of a democratic Syria.

Syrian women across sectarian lines were in the lead of many of the early peaceful protests. However, women are not allowed to organise themselves as activists: the fear for detention and disappearance pushed many of them to go underground or flee the country.

Syrian women urge the need to support women’s and Civil Society groups to participate in bringing an end to the conflict. They urge the international community to include them in any process related to peace and security in line with the UNSCR 1325 and CEDAW.

Women’s participation in Syria has been a failure in the past. Unless there is a strong pressure for women’s inclusion in any negotiation and constitution building process, women face the risk of total exclusion and marginalisation.

As one panellist was saying, “the increasingly militarised violence is fostering more violence, segregation, sectarianism and exclusion – women are the most likely to be suffering long-term consequences as their struggle will not end with the conflict”.

5 recommendations on Syria
  • Stop military support to all parties to the conflict and insist on international pressure for negotiation to cease the militarised conflict.
  • Ensure the effective inclusion of Syrian women in any peace process from a range of Civil Society groups, as articulated in the UN Security Council resolution 1325 and its subsequent resolutions.
  • Ensure support and capacity building to the non-violent Civil Society movement inside Syria and in the refugee settings.
  • Ensure the full implementation of International Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law obligations, in particular CEDAW, to ensure women’s rights are integrated in any process with regard to Syria.
  • Use and strengthen the resources and capacities of Syrian women to enable participation in all range of economic, social and political development in Syria and in the refugee settings.

Read our statement on ensuring the inclusion of Syrian women in the mediation of the conflict.

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