Latest News

Cynthia Enloe's Report from the Syrian Peace Talks

30 January 2014

Cynthia Enloe, feminist writer and scholar of women and militarized cultures, participated in the recent Geneva Peace Summit, which brought together women from different war torn countries including Syria, to share their lessons, experiences, and frustrations with their often limited role as peacemakers. Dr. Enloe is also a member of WILPF Academic Network

Below is Dr. Enloe’s entry for Day 1, the Peace Summit. Download her full writings on all the days here

Day I of the Syrian Women’s Peace Talks in Geneva: Prelude to the Official Syrian Peace Talks.
Monday, January 20, 2014

If you haven’t been to Geneva, it’s a beautiful city straddling the far end of the very large Lake Geneva. Alpine hikers only have to take a tram to start a day of mountain walking. On one side of the bridge is the old city – think Calvin – now small shops, cafes, museums. On the opposite side of the lake, where I am, are modern apartments, the big train station, halal butcher shops, and acres of glass high rise international agency offices: the UN refugee agency, the UN labor organization, the UN human rights council, as well as the offices of Doctors Without Borders, the International Committee of Red Cross, among dozens more.

Peace Summit
Cynthia Enloe hosting the third panel of the Geneva Peace Summit 2014
Cynthia Enloe, seated middle, hosting the third panel of the Geneva Peace Summit 2014.

The major transnational feminist organization with its headquarters here in Geneva is “WILPF,” the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Founded in 1915, in protest against the waging of World War I, WILPF is headed now by Madeleine Rees, one of the really smart feminist strategists who has been pushing for women’s rights to be taken seriously in UN peacekeeping operations and in the crucial post-conflict transitional political arrangements. WILPF is one of the organizers of this gathering.

Also here taking part in these alternative Syrian peace talks are two Nobel laureates – from Northern Ireland (Mairead Maguire) and Iran (Shirin Ebadi). Shirin explained at lunch today that she’s been forced to leave Iran now that the government has forcibly closed down her law firm because of its work for human rights advocates. With other Nobel women laureates, Shirin has created a Nobel Women’s Initiative working internationally for peace.

We all gathered at the Graduate Institute, wonderful new glass buildings just a short walk from the UN. Lisa Prugl, a well known feminist International Relations scholar and a faculty member at the Institute, had arranged for the space. The politics of space is always interesting. We all sat in a big circle – we are feminists after all! The focus was and is: How to persuade the UN officials and the US and Russian officials – as well as all the Syrian men invited to the official peace talks table (which officially begin in two days) – that inviting the only men who wield guns (and the men with brief cases who have large armies behind them) to make peace is not a formula that will work. In fact, there’s an international track record – evidence! – to prove that this “only men with guns can make peace” is not an effective formula.

Instead, the women who have come together here, as diverse as /we they certainly are (in experiences, ages, nationalities, occupations),  agree: the only productive formula for moving towards a sustainable (“sustainable” was used repeatedly – these are not “quick fix” sorts of thinkers) peace is to have at the official table (not mere “observers”) representatives of those women civil society activists inside Syria. That is, sitting at the official negotiating table should be Syrian women who have knowledge about creating peace, reducing violence, creating a genuine social contract, AND who are not coming to the official table to promote post-war political careers for themselves.

In public, the government and international agency officials have learned over the last decade how to say the polite, diplomatic things about caring about women in war zones. But, in practice, they go on taking seriously only men with guns.

Syrian Women: Link to Civil Society
Rim Turkmani speaking at the third panel of the Geneva Peace Summit 2014
Rim Turkmani speaking at the third panel of the Geneva Peace Summit 2014.

One Syrian woman active with civil society groups working inside Syria under terrible conditions told us a story ( “civil society ” is the term used by all the women gathered here to mean: NOT militias, NOT political parties, NOT groups representing any regime; to create a civil society is to create a society of genuine citizens, not subjects).

This woman’s  name is Rim Turkmani. Rim is an astrophysics professor and local community organizer (Rim could give her name, unlike many of the Syrian women activists here, who cannot give their names or be photographed – it’s too dangerous). Rim explained  to us that she comes from Homs, the Syrian city where the non-violent movement calling on the Assad regime to open up politics for a more transparent, democratic process began in early 2011.

She said that no one in Homs ever used to identify anyone else or any neighborhood or village by its sectarian majority. That is, no one she knew in Homs called village X “Shiite” or suburb Y “Sunni.” Rim: “I had a roommate and I didn’t even know whether she was Shiite or Sunni. Who cared?”

But now, in year 4 of the violent conflict, Homs residents are being urged to think in these divisive sectarian terms. Rim blames this divisive new trend in part on outsiders, for instance, the Saudi, Qatari and Iran governments, each of which is pouring in money for their respective proxy fighters and political organizations, each of which wants to think of the Syrian war in those sectarian terms for the sake of their own regional ambitions.

Rim Turkmani
Rim Turkmani with fellow Syrian activists at the Geneva Peace Summit 2014.

When US and other officials also start seeing any Syrian with an idea as “representing” one sect or another, then that plays right into this destructive dynamic —It also, Rim told us, reinforces Assad’s claim that only his regime represents “all Syrians,” even though he has been playing the ethnicity and sectarian “cards” for years.

Listening to Rim’s story, I was reminded of Iraqi feminists during the years of the US occupation saying that the more the US officials insisted on seeing Iraq’s troubles in sectarian and ethnic (Sunni vs Shiite vs, Kurds) terms, the more Iraqis themselves, many of whom had married, had had friendships and neighborly relations without employing such narrow identity boxes, began to think of themselves and their fellow citizens in these divisive terms!

Oh, and all of this is after just Day 1!  My wee head is bursting….

Share the post

Your donation isn’t just a financial transaction; it’s a step toward a more compassionate and equitable world. With your support, we’re poised to achieve lasting change that echoes through generations. Thank you!

Thank you!

Melissa Torres


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


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


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

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Mauris facilisis luctus rhoncus. Praesent eget tellus sit amet enim consectetur condimentum et vel ante. Nulla facilisi. Suspendisse et nunc sem. Vivamus ullamcorper vestibulum neque, a interdum nisl accumsan ac. Cras ut condimentum turpis. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia curae; Curabitur efficitur gravida ipsum, quis ultricies erat iaculis pellentesque. Nulla congue iaculis feugiat. Suspendisse euismod congue ultricies. Sed blandit neque in libero ultricies aliquam. Donec euismod eget diam vitae vehicula. Fusce hendrerit purus leo. Aenean malesuada, ante eu aliquet mollis, diam erat suscipit eros, in.


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.

Skip to content