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Violence in Iraq and Syria is Escalating, but it is Not Curbing Women’s Peace Activism

4 November 2015

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and MADRE, in collaboration with partners from Iraq and Syria, convened the second Strategies for Change conference on 15-16 October 2015 in Istanbul, Turkey. This conference was a segment of a series of conferences that bring together grassroots women groups working across Syria and Iraq to engage with each other on addressing the crisis of sexual violence and related women’s human rights concerns in the context of the current conflicts.

The conference brought around 40 local Syrian and Iraqi women activists and representatives of local women’s organisations. Many of the activists operate in ISIL-controlled territories and other areas in Syria undergoing aerial bombardment, heavy fighting and movement restrictions, or in Iraq facing severe security threats, and have therefore undertaken significant risks in order to attend the conference. 

Recent Developments in Iraq and Syria

Participants from Iraq and Syria have identified a series of developments and challenges in their respective countries since the first half of 2015, and discussed how these developments impact their work.

The legal backsliding in Iraq is menacing women’s peace activism

Iraqi participants described how the legislation in Iraq is regressing both its international and local obligations. For instance, although Iraq is amongst the advanced countries in the region in terms implementing the UNSCR 1325 and adopting the 1325 National Action Plan (NAP), six main pillars have been confidentially cut out and banned from implementation particularly those related to funding, amending legislation, and women empowerment. Iraqi participants also communicated how those returning to areas liberated from ISIL are witnessing ongoing human rights violations from security forces and militias, and that women and children are suffering the repercussions of the lack of medical personnel, equipment and infrastructure in those areas.

Syrian women inside and outside the homeland: divergent opportunities for the same shared struggle 

Syrian participants shed the light on the constant decrease of women’s participation in public life since 2013, predominantly because of bombardment and military fighting, which hinders mobility. Certain extremist groups have also banned interaction between men and women, and blocked women from public life. Although the number of local women’s organisations has increased, participants pointed out that many organisations often lack prerequisites for orientation and coordination in order to be efficient.

Although women residing inside Syria have increased their capacities and networks, there is serious concern that this development will come to a halt due to the lack of mobility and shrinking space for local women CSOs. They will not have access to the support needed. As for the women activists residing outside the country, there is a quantum leap in terms of capacity and experience.

International organisations are too focused on women’s participation at the international level (on international negotiations and policies). This narrow focus on limits their ability to work with women at the local level. These two levels of organisations have very different priorities. It is necessary that we work to bridge the gap and communicate local women’s realities and concerns to the international level.

Conference outcomes

Building upon previous conference’s outcomes, this conference aimed at providing sustainable support and action plans for Iraqi and Syrian women groups. These groups agreed to continue developing recommendations about threats to Syrian and Iraqi women’s safety, peace and security. They also identified news areas that require international attention.

The recommendations will be built on a holistic analysis; they will respond to issues of sexual and gender-based violence; and therefore will also address healthcare, funding, empowerment, capacity building, networking, legal assistance, and media reform.

Stay tuned to our social media platforms for our upcoming January 2015 Strategies for Change Report!

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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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