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Convening for “Feminist Movement for Change in Syria” Partners

WILPF organised a three-day face to face convening for partners of the “Feminist Movement for Change in Syria Project” with the aim of providing a safe space for the Syrian feminist organisations involved in the project to discuss cross-cutting and important issues.

Image credit: WILPF
WILPF International Secretariat
13 November 2018

WILPF organised a three-day face to face convening for partners of the “Feminist Movement for Change in Syria Project” with the aim of providing a safe space for the Syrian feminist organisations involved in the project to discuss cross-cutting and important issues.The face-to-face meeting was organised in response to partners’ requests to meet like-minded organisations for networking opportunities, sharing experiences and forming possible collaborations and partnerships.

The meeting was held between 1 and 3 October 2018 in Beirut, Lebanon, and 11 out of the 19 partners were able to physically attend. A video-conferencing option was set up to break the barrier of isolation and allow partners who are unable to travel, to join and participate in the discussions; 6 partners joined different sessions remotely over the period of the convening.

The convening allowed partners to share their thoughts organically, including flexible breaks to allow partners to network and get to know each other informally. Additionally, psychosocial support sessions were provided on all three days by Sabine Choucair, the co-founder of Clown Me in, in order to decrease the burn-out and allow for some breathers and fun activities in between focused conversations.

Rather than bringing external facilitation, the Feminist Movement for Change in Syria team thought it would be best to assign this task to the partners to guide the discussions among themselves on key thematic issues related to their areas of work. The four thematic sessions were held during the first two days of the convening and ranged from humanitarian relief and women’s economic empowerment, to gender equality, awareness raising, women’s active political participation, and peace-building.

The partners presented the work their organisations are undertaking in relation to the four themes, which broadened the conversation to other important issues, such as the role Syrian Civil Society Organisations (CSO) have played in defying stereotypes, awareness raising on gender equality and combating gender-based violence, how CSOs have challenged internationally imposed agendas to reflect the needs of women. Moreover, they discussed what peace-building means from a Syrian grassroots perspective, and what Syrian CSOs have done towards peace-building and the challenges they have faced. Partners also extensively addressed the issue of women’s political participation both at the local and international level, discussing the good practices required to achieve active participation and how the work being done can be supported and amplified. Dima Moussa, from the Syrian Women Political Movement, also attended the convening and brought valuable input from the movement’s experience and shared lessons learned and the tools available to civil society to impact the political process.

The importance of women’s presence and active participation on many levels was strongly vocalised by partners. Khawla Dunia, a member of the Syrian Women Network expressed the need for women’s active and meaningful role in politics, stating, “Women’s presence in the political sphere is insufficient, they need to be in decision-making positions. The question will remain on the women’s position at any table; women can be part of the local council, but whether they have meaningful participation is what matters.” Whereas Milia Eidmouni from Syrian Female Journalists Network (SFJN) added the importance of women’s presence on media outlets and on social media platforms. “It is important for women in the political sphere to appear on media, in order to present their opinions, additionally women should receive training on effectively using social media platforms.

On the third and last day, representatives of the Canadian, Norwegian and British embassies in Beirut, together with representatives from OHCHR were invited to the meeting with the aim of fostering communication between international organisations and grassroots CSOs, to provide opportunities for networking, sharing lessons learned, exchanging good practices and the challenges Syrian organisations are facing. A big struggle the majority of partners share is the issue of sustainability of funds, which is one of the aims that the “Feminist Movement for Change in Syria” project is contributing to. Manal Quider, Founder and Director of Damma, said, “When a project ends, there is a lack of funding, and a gap while applying for new funding, and we are in dire need for more sustainability. To respond to the priorities of the funding agencies, we are forced to work on different issues which sometimes are not necessarily our expertise, so this results in burnout of team and loss of work and effort. The struggle is we sometimes either have to shut down operation, change our policies or work within the “trend” to get grants.” Other challenges discussed were the many obstacles and limitations of legal registration for organisations working on Syria in neighbouring countries.

Anna Brown, MEL Consultant at WILPF, facilitated two sessions where partners discussed what empowerment and resilience meant to them. Flexibility and passion for what they do were feelings echoed across the room by the partners. Dr. Maria Al Abdeh, Director of Women Now for Development expressed, “We have all been flexible and resilient, and if it weren’t for that we would not be here today. Believing in what we do, and not just in the execution of projects, relying on mutual trust, and not just funds, has been crucial.”  She added that the partnerships the project built with organisations that do not work exclusively on women issues had a particular importance as it allowed them to explore, and be vocal about, their feminist agendas, and empowered women within the teams to take their ideas forward.

The last day also allowed the partners to share their honest and constructive feedback regarding the project design and implementation as well as the overall WILPF support.

The feedback on the technical support, communication and project design itself was also very positive. The partners truly appreciated the participatory approach that WILPF adopted during all the stages of the project. Doha Adi from Sawa for Development and Aid said, “The support that SAWA received from WILPF was different as it was built on SAWA’s needs; it was not ready and imposed on SAWA. This was very beneficial, as many times donors have pre-built conceptions and expectations that do not fit into the local context we are working on, or the needs which we know are required…. The partnership with WILPF had a different approach on the team itself; it was built on taking a step back, looking at the bigger picture, and how the work had been performed and how we view gender”

Photo credits: Faten Jebai

Women Now for Development provided feedback on the gender mainstreaming training, stating, “The member of our team who attended in person reported that the trainers were excellent, had an interesting approach and for the first time explained how feminism had been used and co-opted through colonialism and she will use this understanding in the training that she delivers on gender and women’s rights within our centres.”

A member of Al-Wafa organisation based in Idlib who attended the Psychosocial Support and media sessions online , because of travel restrictions, stated: “I found the Psychosocial Support training sessions truly beneficial and useful for us, and we would like additional training sessions in this area since they were very useful for us to be able to learn to cope with our reality. In regards to the media & communications, we also found the training very useful and interactive. It helped us learn how to formulate and create posts that are more sensitive to our target audience”

Alternatively, while the project responded to their individual organisational needs, partners noted that the project was short in general and there is uncertainty about sustainability.  WILPF will carry on fundraising to continue this flexible pilot project, taking into consideration all feedback received throughout the project to enhance and improve future projects.

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WILPF International Secretariat

WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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