The Role of Women in the Syrian Armed Conflict
Ever since I heard UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speak so eloquently on the need for women’s political participation in peacebuilding two weeks ago at a ‘Peacebuilding Commission High-Level Ministerial Event,’ I felt inspired to dig a bit deeper past the headlines coming out of Syria in order to begin learning a bit more about the role of women in the Syrian armed conflict. Ever since the UN Security Council unanimously adopted its landmark Resolution 1325 on 31 October 2000, the international community has repeatedly affirmed that women play an essential role in peacebuilding, conflict resolution and conflict prevention. For instance, as Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka pointed out in her address, “women’s political participation is associated with lower levels of corruption, more inclusive decision-making, greater investment in social services, job creation for women, and family welfare,” all factors that lead to a more peaceful society. Furthermore, while correlation does not necessarily prove causation, there is a “statistically significant relationship between female representation in government and peace,” as you can read about here.
However, well over a decade after the adoption of Resolution 1325, rates of women’s political participation in formal peacebuilding negotiations remain extremely low. As an August 2010 report released by UN Women indicates, a “reasonably representative sample of 31 major peace processes between 1992 and 2011 reveals that only 4 percent of signatories, 2.4 percent of chief mediators, 3.7 percent of witnesses and 9 percent of negotiators are women.” Women have specific concerns in peace negotiations, such as a need for gender training on all levels of armed forces, the elimination of sexual violence, and the protection of women refugees and internally displaced persons, yet these concerns are rarely addressed in final peace accords. As discussed in this videofrom IREX, violence against girls and women, especially sexual violence, has become widespread in the Syrian armed conflict, and thus it will be especially important that women are represented in any future peace negotiations in order to increase the likelihood that women’s issues are properly addressed. For more information on sexual and gender-based violence in the Syrian armed conflict, as well as other issues, you can read this report from Human Rights Watch and this report from International Rescue Committee.
While we need to raise awareness about sexual and gender-based violence in the Syrian armed conflict, women are playing many leadership roles as well, both officially and unofficially. As discussed in the video from IREX linked to above, women are leaders of protests, civil society organizations and occasionally serve in the Free Syrian Army, although they are increasingly being marginalized as extremist groups to continue to gain power in the opposition. The work of women to protect other women and girls in refugee camps was also mentioned.
Finally, we would like to lift up three women working providing leadership in Syrian armed conflict, all with different approaches. Although currently in exile, Suheir Atassi is a co-vice-president in the Syrian opposition and is one of the movement’s leading secular activists. Razan Zaitouneh is a Syrian writing and human rights lawyer who still remains in the country, working to document human rights abuses. Finally, the young Yaman Al Qadri is a peace activist who was detained and tortured by Syrian police in 2011. She eventually fled to Canada after being released, and has recently toured in a play called “Let’s Talk” about the complex issues Syrians have about the uprising. To hear more from these three amazing women, check out the videos below.