Washington, DC 202.408.9450 © 2012 Women's Democracy Network. All rights reserved.
Women Demand Role in Syria’s Transition and Reconciliation
Doha, Qatar– “We, a diverse group of Syrian women, gathered to discuss the role of women in Syria’s transition to a peaceful democracy bound by the rule of law…will seek to establish an independent and inclusive women’s network.”
This remarkable phrase serves as the preamble to the Charter of the Syrian Women’s Network. Syrian women leaders wrote the charter, which serves to identify their shared goal to ensure women are included in the conflict resolution and transition of their country. This groundbreaking statement was adopted by a diverse group of Syrian women representing the leading opposition movements in the country at a conference hosted in Doha, Qatar by WDN, in coordination with the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.
In addition to writing the charter, participants formed the Syrian Women’s Network, a national network committed to advocating for women’s equal participation in all aspects of peace, security and future governance, as stated in the charter.
With tensions escalating in Syria, WDN connected the Syrian women with members of its international task force, which includes women from post-conflict societies who have extensive experience in negotiations and represent a broad geographical and cultural scope, to guide the Syrian women in their endeavors. Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo Edita Tahiri spoke candidly about her role during Kosovo’s independence movement. She discussed her role in the negotiations leading to NATO’s intervention, her active participation in the formulation of the Rambouillet Agreement and her current role as lead negotiator in the European Union-led dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.
Jihan Sindi from Iraq spoke with participants about her role as advisor to the presidency of Council of Ministers in the Kurdistan region, where she is focusing on the importance of including marginalized groups in transition processes. She also spoke about the role of Kurdish women in achieving a women’s quota for legislative seats.
Monica McWilliams, founder of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition and signatory of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, guided the women through issues of building consensus to move forward with an overarching goal of strengthening the voices of Syrian women. Stressing the importance of coalition building and women’s roles in negotiations, McWilliams shared a remarkable story of forming the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition in six short weeks, bringing together women from both sides of conflict to form a party that would be present during peace talks.
Led by these international experiences, conference discussion focused on identifying a shared vision for Syrian women that is encapsulated in the Charter for Syrian Women. As noted in the charter, “Building on the principle that the future Syria will be independent, determined by and accountable to the people of Syria,” participants identified priorities for Syrian women in conflict resolution, decision making and governance as well as the need for women’s inclusion in the transitional justice and reconciliation process.
In the charter, participants call for equal rights and representation for all Syrians, demanding equal participation of women at all international meetings, negotiations, constitution drafting and reconciliation committees and in elected governing bodies. The charter also covers topics including prevention of and prosecution for acts of violence against women, access to education and the overall need for women’s participation in ongoing conflict resolution while ensuring women’s future participation in the rebuilding of Syria.
U.S. government leaders also participated in the conference, underscoring their support of the Syrian women. Then-U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer encouraged the women stating that unless women come together “change will not happen.”
Verveer urged the participants to work together to strengthen the collective voice of Syrian women, and emphasized that it was important to grasp the momentum remarking, “Though women were asleep for some time, they are awake and on the frontlines now, and no one is putting them back to sleep.”
Echoing Ambassador Verveer, Nazanin Ash, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, urged participants to form a lasting bond during the conference because their “common vision will be Syria’s reality.”
In her remarks, Carla Koppell, senior coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at the United States Agency for International Development, advised, “If the most diverse group of women can find a common agenda, it will have enormous strength.”
To build on the success of the conference, WDN sponsored participants to attend a follow-on program organized by the Olof Palme International Center in Stockholm, Sweden. The Stockholm conference brought together Syrian women from inside and outside the country to garner further support for the charter and the network.
During the Stockholm conference, participants vowed to continue the momentum gained in Doha to expand the network and advance the network’s mission: To ensure the participation of women in decision making during the transitional period and in post-authoritarian Syria and the eradication of discrimination against women. Participants also created an organizational structure for the network including a Preparatory Committee that will facilitate next steps, and sub-committees including an administration and public relations committee; political participation committee; human rights committee; legal committee; media committee; family security committee; women’s empowerment committee and a membership committee.
As the two-year anniversary of the Syrian revolution approaches, WDN remains committed to support Syrian women to ensure their meaningful representation in the country’s transition. Under the Syrian Women’s Network, women now have a collective voice to rally around to ensure their presence and priorities are asserted at negotiation tables and on transitional committees during this pivotal time in their country’s history.