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Innovative WILPF Conference Gathers Syrian and Bosnian Women’s Rights Activists

21 February 2014

Last week, WILPF International gathered more than 70 women’s right and civil society activists in the city of Sarajevo for an innovative and ground-breaking conference on women’s participation in conflict and post-conflict countries.

The conference was entitled  “Women organizing for change in Bosnia and Syria.” This international meeting enabled women’s rights activists from Bosnia and Syria to share and compare information on how to organise and mobilize during conflict, with a special emphasis on how to influence the peace making process.

Five intensive days in Sarajevo

The timing was opportune: as the women met in Sarajevo a new wave of demonstrations  were taking place in the streets of many of the major towns in BiH, protesting still at the straitjacket the peace agreement of Dayton had placed on real people and real lives, and whilst second round of the Geneva II peace talks, negotiating only between warring parties without women lead civil society, continued to fail.

Bosnia and Syria - women organising for changeDuring five intensive days, conversations, seminars, and  group discussions took place, some of them almost brutally honest, but all constructive and done in the spirit of solidarity and support. Specifically, the women addressed three fundamental elements to attaining peace: women’s participation  in peace processes, addressing gender based violence and justice.

An overall theme of the conference was the multiple roles and potential of women as agents of change, revolutionaries, policy makers and peace builders. 

The nontechnical aspect of peacemaking

The conference was not just about the technicalities of peacemaking, but also about sharing the pain, fear and a sense of despair regarding the current situation on the ground.

Both the Syrian and the Bosnian women related how a life after conflict seems impossible, when your reality is filled with the terror of war. Sharing these personal stories was an important step to take before starting to discuss how women can gain influence in their country’s peace processes.

As one of the Syrian participants concluded, “it is the first time anybody outside Syria has understood the processes and challenges I am going through, and I feel their connection and support. The Bosnian women are proof that life continues in one way or the other after the horrors of conflict and we need to continue to build on these experiences.”

Pushing each other forward

The Syrian women were not the only ones inspired. The Bosnian women used the conference as an opportunity to reflect upon and analyse their work during the past 20 years. Through the conversations with the Syrian participants, the Bosnian women tested the logic of their work and discussed what their future work should look like.  As one of the  Bosnian women remarked, the Syrian activists “had slapped Bosnians in the face” by pushing them to take a stand in regards to the ongoing protests in Bosnia.

During the conference, the Bosnian women organisations developed further strategies for mobilising their demands for accessing rights in the context of post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Never seen before

The conference was the first of its kind. It provided a space for Syrian and Bosnian women activists to come together and interact and to learn and draw lessons from shared experiences in conflict and post-conflict zones. This type of meeting has never been seen before. All of the conference’s participants and organizers left with the feeling that something amazing had happened.


One conclusion was clear: sustainable peace and development cannot be reached  if women and civil society are omitted from the process of negotiating that peace and transition.

For the Syrian activists, who are currently organising and readying to participate in the Syrian peace negotiations, the conference provided a more in-depth discussion on how they could mobilize their resources, develop their approaches, sharpen their demands and broaden their constituencies.

The Bosnian activists, on the other hand, left the conference with the motivation and inspiration to re-evaluate their activism in the past and to re-think their strategy for future.  The women mobilised and reached a common ground in response to the ongoing demands in the street and read them out at the plenum in Sarajevo the same day!

Next steps organizing a change in Bosnia and Syria

WILPF International is now preparing a longer analyses and outcome report of the conference.

The report will go into much more detail with the experiences, the components, the obstacles and the opportunities for women’s civil society in Syria and Bosnia.  We expect it to be done soon, so keep an eye on this website to get access to the report as soon as it is published.

Did you participate in the conference? If so, then feel free to share your experience of the conference in the comments below. We would love to hear from you.

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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

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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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