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The Women of Syria Advocating for Peace

25 June 2014

The Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit that took place in London Between 10 – 13 June 2014 was a great platform for international NGOs and grassroots women organisations to show the impact of sexual violence on civilians and discuss the programmes they are leading to combat this impact.

In Syria, the impact of ongoing violence on women goes beyond the direct victims to affect all women in the society. Whether living inside or outside Syria, women are losing their basic rights and hard-earned status due to the continuous violence.

WILPF invited 6 Syrian women to share their experiences on how the ongoing violence affected their lives and status and what they are doing on the local and international levels to limit this affect.

Panel
The panel of Syrian women

Sema Nassar a researcher at the Women’s Rights Division in the Euro-Mediterranean Human rights Network shared the findings of her report “Bleeding Wound in the Syrian Conflict”. Sema explained the patterns of sexual violations and stressed the need for accountability of perpetrators, she also highlighted the difficulties faced by activists to document sexual violence inside and outside Syria and the need for raising capacity on documentation and ensuring access to affected areas.

That was emphasised by Rola Hallam who has been visiting Syria regularly to provide health aid as a volunteer physician for Hand in Hand for Syria. Rola spoke about the horrors facing women and children in Syria and advocated the need for immediate delivery of humanitarian and medical aid inside Syria.

samar
Samar Yazbek speaking of her experiences of visiting Syria since the beginning of the conflict

Samar Yazbek: a Syrian writer and journalist shared her observations during the several visits she made to the most affected areas in the north of Syria. Samar highlighted the great efforts made by women grassroots organisations for peace, and how that motivated her to launch Souriyat for Development organisation in 2012 aiming to empower Syrian women economically and socially. The organisation currently runs 4 centres, with the objective to empower women in Lebanon, Turkey and Damascus Suburb and aims to open more centres inside Syria and in neighbouring counties.

An influential statement about the importance of non-violence was made by Majed Chourbaji, a non-violent activist who was arbitrarily detained by the Assad forces and later left to Lebanon where she cofounded “Women Now” centre that helps raising capacity of Syrian refugee women in Lebanon.

“I was nonviolent when the uprising started, remained nonviolent when I was arbitrarily detained by the Asad forces, and still believe in nonviolence now after I had to flee the country”

Majed Chourbaji

Sabah Hallak, a board member of the Syrian Women’s League spoke about the efforts made by members of the Syrian Women’s initiative for Peace and Democracy to ensure the inclusion of women in all levels of negotiations and peaceful transition.  Sabah also spoke about the great efforts by Syrian women in international advocacy and lobbying, including the recent shadow report that will be presented to the CEDAW committee in July.

 “Syrian women of all backgrounds sat and agreed on the need to stop violence and hold all perpetrators accountable, those are the ones who will change the dynamics of the Syrian conflict and should be supported”

Sabah Hallak

Sabah
Sabah Hallak, board member of Syrian Women’s League

Laila Alodaat, a Human rights lawyer and the MENA associate at WILPF moderated the session and spoke about the failure of the rule of law and the systematic use of the legal system as a tool of repression. Laila explained the impact of this failure on women who face a new spectrum of violations while they completely lost their access to justice.

The Syrian women presented a great example of proactive individuals and groups who oppose the weak and victimised stereotype, they showed how they can positively contribute to the peaceful transition in Syria and contribute to a democratic society that is free from violence and human rights violations.

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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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