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Women in Conflict: A Close Look at Syria

20 June 2013

What are the gendered consequences of the war in Syria? Are the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the international human rights framework having any impact in shaping the response to the on-going crises? How can it be ensured that women play their proper role in bringing peaceful resolution to the crises and contribute to building a society, which respects women’s rights and gender equality? These and more questions where raised on June 11 at our side event on Syria, during the Human Rights Council.

Hard times for millions of people

In front of a large audience of Member States and Civil Society organisations, our four panellists from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan presented the actual conditions and challenges for Syrian women inside Syria and in the neighbouring refugee settings and provided concrete recommendations for the international community.

The panellists emphasised that the increased militarisation of the conflict has huge gendered implications both inside Syria and the refugee host communities. As the humanitarian catastrophe continues to unfold, millions of people have been forced into displacement and refugee settings in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The humanitarian needs inside Syria are getting worse every day, as access to relief aid and protection of civilians deteriorates.

The escalation of violence by the warring fractions has serious consequences for the civilian population, including gender-based violence, such as rape, early marriage, sexual harassment, forced prostitution, arbitrary detention and punishments based on gender. However, the current conditions do not provide for solid statistics or documentation of these violations.

The importance of human rights organisations…

Despite the obligations under the international human rights framework and under International Humanitarian Law, few protection mechanisms are in place inside Syria. Most of the support work is done through grassroots organisations and human rights activists. The stigma and the strengthened traditional values make it extremely difficult to work with victims of sexual and gender-based violence in the refugee settings.

…and of women activists and peacemakers

The Syrian panellists strongly emphasised the importance to focus on the role of women as activists, reformists and peacemakers. As experienced in may other conflicts, the militarised conflict in Syria strengthens traditional gender roles, as well as patriarchal and fundamentalist values both inside the country and in refugee settings. That jeopardises women’s participation in a peaceful resolution to the conflict and in the reconstruction of a democratic Syria.

Syrian women across sectarian lines were in the lead of many of the early peaceful protests. However, women are not allowed to organise themselves as activists: the fear for detention and disappearance pushed many of them to go underground or flee the country.

Syrian women urge the need to support women’s and Civil Society groups to participate in bringing an end to the conflict. They urge the international community to include them in any process related to peace and security in line with the UNSCR 1325 and CEDAW.

Women’s participation in Syria has been a failure in the past. Unless there is a strong pressure for women’s inclusion in any negotiation and constitution building process, women face the risk of total exclusion and marginalisation.

As one panellist was saying, “the increasingly militarised violence is fostering more violence, segregation, sectarianism and exclusion – women are the most likely to be suffering long-term consequences as their struggle will not end with the conflict”.

5 recommendations on Syria
  • Stop military support to all parties to the conflict and insist on international pressure for negotiation to cease the militarised conflict.
  • Ensure the effective inclusion of Syrian women in any peace process from a range of Civil Society groups, as articulated in the UN Security Council resolution 1325 and its subsequent resolutions.
  • Ensure support and capacity building to the non-violent Civil Society movement inside Syria and in the refugee settings.
  • Ensure the full implementation of International Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law obligations, in particular CEDAW, to ensure women’s rights are integrated in any process with regard to Syria.
  • Use and strengthen the resources and capacities of Syrian women to enable participation in all range of economic, social and political development in Syria and in the refugee settings.

Read our statement on ensuring the inclusion of Syrian women in the mediation of the conflict.

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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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