On 4 February 2016, the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, and the United Nations co-hosted a conference in London to support Syria and the region. The conference, which was the fourth of its kind, was a step forward from the previous three donor’s conferences that took place in Kuwait in 2013, 2014 and 2015 in terms of presence and participation of Syrian civil society organisations.
The day before the official donors’ conference, on 3 February, a separate civil society conference was organised to “raise awareness of the situation in Syria, with an emphasis on making the voices of Syrians heard and putting a spotlight on the experiences of Syrian people affected by the conflict.”
The Importance of Syrian Civil Society Organisations’ Involvement
The civil society conference included both panels and breakout sessions and a number of Syrian organisations (including several partners of WILPF in the region) took part in the discussions.
In the opening session, Hivin Kako, the Executive Director of Bihar Relief Organisation and one of WILPF’s Crisis Response Programme partners, presented the challenges her organisation faces and highlighted the threats of using standard gender markers without consulting local communities and understanding the bigger picture. “Syrians need to be involved in designing programmes as well as implementing them so they are sustainable and applicable,” said Hivin Kako.
On the implementation of a gender approach, Marcell Shehwaro, the Executive Director of Kesh Malek said “this is extremely important but (international agencies) should not assume how it is done. Ask Syrians! They know their cause and how to deal with it, they might not know how to write a perfect log frame, but they master everything else.”
Breakout Session on Women, Peace and Security
WILPF Crisis Response Programme Manager Laila Alodaat was the Rapporteur for the breakout session on Women, Peace and Security and brought to the conference the outcome of a valuable discussion among Syrian and international NGOs who shared their views and experiences on how to substantially address women and gender within the Syrian conflict.
The breakout session brought critical and insightful views, including that women rights in Syria will not be realised without adequate protection of civilians who are systematically targeted and without prioritising the fight for human rights for all. On the modalities of funding, the participants highlighted the dire need for strengthening the financial and political support for woman-led organisations. These organisations feel neglected because they do not fit into traditional funding modules and the support have so far been very limited. They suggested creating new modalities that are long-term, flexible and contextualised to fit the realities on the ground.
The conference participants stressed the need to change the way international agencies are addressing gender, and the necessity of turning it from a box-ticking exercise into an over-arching issue across all sectors by acknowledging that women are not only passive beneficiaries but active agents and should take their role in setting plans and strategies.
Also stressed was the need for states to create real accountability measures for implementing projects and making funding contingent on substantially addressing gender issues along the entire cycle of planning and implementation. They raised the changing political priorities as an obstacle that is eventually instrumentalising women grassroots groups to fulfil political agendas, and emphasised that the local strategies should be appreciated not overlooked.
On political participation, the civil society organisations welcomed the involvement of women in the political processes but stressed that the work should continue to make participation effective, reach gains for women and change the way they are being addressed within the conflict.
The donors conference raised over US$ 11 billion in pledges. WILPF welcomes this outcome but remains aware that it is unlikely that the civil society recommendations were taken into account at this stage as pledges were made only a few hours after the communique was passed. However, we hope that states fulfil a higher percentage than they did in past conferences, and call hosting and pledging states to take the recommendations of civil society into consideration when setting implementation strategies and plans.
WILPF also welcomes the co-hosts’ attempt to involve Syrian civil society in the conference and regard it as a positive step forward. That said, the substance of this presence and the global response to the calls of Syrian grassroots organisation is yet to materialise. Also, their participation could have been far more efficient if better logistical support had been provided, if the organisations had been given more time to draft their communique (45 minutes), if the organisations hadn’t been chosen randomly, and if more had been done to capitalsize on their presence in London.
London, 9 February 2016
On 5 February 2016, one day after the London conference on Syria, we co-hosted an event in the British Parliament for civil society entitled “What next after the Supporting Syria and the Region Conference?” Read a summary of points raised at this event here.