If you are following our social media channels, you probably already know that a delegation of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement was in Geneva. On Wednesday 26 June 2019, they held a side event to the Human Rights Council’s 41st session, where they presented three policy papers with recommendations on what needs to be done to achieve sustainable peace in Syria.
[FACTBOX: Echoing the Voices of Women Inside Syria]
The recommendations within the policy papers are the product of consultations the Syrian Women’s Political Movement have carried out between December 2018 and March 2019 in eight different locations within Syria and in the diaspora with the support of WILPF.
A Democratic and Pluralistic Syria
In their first policy paper, Towards an Engendered Democratic Syrian Constitution Based on the Values of Freedom, Dignity, Participation and Equality, they highlight that a new constitution is essential for a meaningful political transition to take place in Syria. In the policy paper, they insist on the importance of that “women’s voices, their issues and their rights are heard and considered both in the process and substance of a new constitution.” At the consultations, they formulated a ‘feminist human rights manifesto’, with the values and principles they want to be included in the new constitution with a focus on tackling gender discrimination.
“Syrian women are politically active and they are advocating for political and civil rights,” said Sabiha Khalil, a Syrian feminist advocate and a political activist, and highlighted that their research showed that although women are being excluded from the formal peace talks, the “Syrian women have been actively participating in informal conflict resolution processes at the grassroots level,” as stated in their policy brief.
“I Return to What? I Return to Where?”
Another crucial issue that was highlighted during the side event at the Human Rights Council concerns the return of Syrian refugees. Their second policy paper, Feminist Roadmap to Ensure Safe, Voluntary, Neutral, and Sustainable Return of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), investigates thoroughly the questions of return seen from Syrian women’s perspectives.
“I return to what?” I return to where?” said Sana Mostafa, Co-founder of the International Network for Refugee Voices, during the side event, while also underlining that when we talk about “returning” then we are not only talking about people to return from abroad but, indeed, also about the 6.2 million Syrians that have been forced to flee their homes and are now internally displaced inside Syria.
In this policy paper, they emphasise that the “return of refugees as currently proposed by the Syrian regime and its allies, is used as a political bargaining chip that serves narrow political, economic and geostrategic interests, without considering the humanitarian, legal, or gender dimensions, while turning a blind eye to the rights of refugees and IDPs and their gender priorities.”
“For me to be able to return, democracy in Syria must first be ensured so that we can express our opinions freely and women and men are equal before the law and in daily life. Democracy in Syria is the solution,” said Jomana Seif, who is a Co-founding Member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement.
Her statement documents the concerns of the women interviewed by the Syrian Women’s Political Movement in advance of drafting the policy papers. These women pointed out that “international discussions on the return of refugees and IDPs are illogical and unacceptable because they are isolated from reaching a comprehensive political agreement or solution and without a neutral entity that can guarantee safe and sustainable return of refugees and IDPs.” The key message the women interviewees wanted to convey was that return will only be possible when a sustainable political transition has taken place in Syria and some kind of mechanism for transitional justice is in place.
Lastly, for sustainable peace to take place in Syria, reconstruction and rebuilding of basic infrastructures is urgently needed. However, the Syrian Women’s Political Movement explains in their policy paper on reconstruction that the Syrian regime “has constantly used reconstruction as [leverage] to secure economic and material gains, on the one hand, and as an alternative means to continue its war, and exclusion and marginalisation of all those who oppose it, on the other.”
“Those receiving the money to reconstruct Syria at the moment, are those destroying it,” said Saba Hakim powerfully during the discussion, while also pointing out how the regime is building luxury developments and shopping malls instead of prioritising clean water, electricity and petrol for the people in need.
In their policy paper, the Syrian Women’s Political Movement presents a comprehensive feminist plan for reconstruction in Syrian conditioned upon the political transition. To them, there are five main priorities in the rebuilding of Syria: prioritising public services, infrastructure and utilities; identifying the needs of women, men and youth, as well as their capacities and qualifications; promoting and activating women’s political and social participation; promoting monitoring and accountability; and reforming and amending property laws.
If you want to read the policy papers, then you can download them on the links below:
Policy Paper 1:
Policy Paper 2:
Policy Paper 3:
[FACTBOX: About the Syrian Women’s Political Movement]
Established in October 2017, the Syrian Women’s Political Movement formed out of a collective need to support Syrian women’s demand for meaningful representation in the political process including at the negotiating table and in all decision-making positions by at least 30%. As Syrian women and feminists, SWPM’s efforts not only further their highest aspirations of an inclusive, free democracy and sustainable peace, but they also contribute to the global women, peace and security agenda. Under the most dire circumstances of tyranny, terror and exile, Syrian women have had an invaluable role and have been leaders in their communities and elsewhere when possible.
The SWPM’s membership comes from both inside Syria and throughout the diaspora, and it includes women and men. It has coordinated the efforts of Syrian women from diverse backgrounds. To date, the SWPM has successfully lobbied for increased women’s representation in the negotiations, organised National Consultations (NC) with Syrian women in Syria and in the diaspora, and recently produced policy papers based on the outcomes of the NC. The dissemination and discussion of these papers to stakeholders throughout the world is an opportunity to build momentum for rethinking the Syrian political process from feminist and gender perspectives.
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