Celebrating Feminists’ Voices, Inspiring Global Peace

Syrian Women: The Missing Civil Link to Geneva II Peace Talks

23 January 2014
Peace Summit 2014
From left to right: Madeleine Rees, Secretary General of WILPF; Susan Alloush; Gracia Namour (Elham’s interpreter); Elham Ahmad, and Rim Turkmani.

“The power of women is truly enormous, but we need to cooperate more. Our world needs the voices of women,” urged Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize winner from Northern Ireland, to an audience of women’s peace activists at the Maison de la Paix in Geneva.

On January 21st 2014, women from across the globe gathered at the Geneva Graduate Institute to discuss women’s role as peacemakers both in Syria and beyond. Prompted by the exclusion of Syrian women from the Geneva II peace talks, this Peace Summit addressed the seemingly universal barriers that women encounter as peacemakers and how they can overcome them.  One of the themes of the day, which appeared in many of the women’s testimonies and stories, was the need for collaboration of women across political and ethnic boundaries, the need for a united coalition of women for peace.

Rim Turkmani, the founder of Madani, an NGO that supports the role of Syrian civil society in the peacebuilding of Syria, put it succinctly when she reminded the audience that, unfortunately, “Not all women are a voice for peace,” instead, she stressed that “Women are a power for peace” especially “women working from a civil society perspective.”

Intervention by the International Community

A picture of Shirin Ebadi seated.
Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Iran, gave the peace summit’s keynote address.

Among the women present there was a general consensus that while Syria may need help, foreign States needed to stop funding and militarizing the warring factions in Syria.  Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and human rights activist from Iran, gave a keynote address during the middle of the conference. During her speech Ebadi apologized for the interference of Iran and argued, “Syria belongs to the Syrians. Iran should leave Syria.” Ebadi also addressed the men in Syria and urged, “So for once, listen to your sister, put down your guns. Dry your tears.”

However, it was strongly suggested in the peace summit that the international community should provide support for mediation and monitoring of local peace processes. Rim Turkmani told the audience that in Syria, “we’ve seen so many local peace deals fall apart because there was no one to monitor.”

Finding a Way Forward

Excluded from the formal peace negotiations, the Syrian women civil society present at the peace summit continue to struggle to find an alternate path to participate in the international peace processes of their country.

It became clear that although the UN could block them from Geneva II, the women would return to continue brokering and maintaining the peace at the local, community level in Syria. Caroline Ayoub, a Syrian activist who fled the country after imprisonment and later co-founded Souriali radio station, conveyed to the room that Syrian women can be a powerful force on the local level. She said, “The women played a very important role in the start of the resistant movement. The girls, women were able to cross the checkpoints, they were able to bring milk to families, and go to besieged places. They were able to transport people for treatment, they were an organised group.”

Even Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN’s Special Envoy to Syria, has indicated that the Syrian women civil society are a more organised force than the current opposition party. It is truly a lost opportunity then, that one of the most organised and powerful links to the local communities will not be present at the formal peace talks.

Ann Patterson, an activist from Northern Ireland, confided to WILPF after the peace summit, women in difficult situations rise to the challenges life presents. “It is ordinary women, who are doing extraordinary things,” she said with a bit of awe.

The peace summit demonstrated to all present that the Syrian women and civil society are currently doing, and will continue to do, extraordinary things for peace to arrive in Syria.

A picture of women peace activists sitting in a circle and talking.
Mairead Maguire, a Nobel Leareute from Northern Ireland speaking to the audience. On her left, Ann Patterson also from Northern Ireland, and on her right, Chaba Seini from Western Sahara.

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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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