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Writing Women Out Of History? The Case Of The Syrian Conflict And Women’s Inclusion

9 February 2015

As Cynthia Enloe so poignantly remarks, language matters, and it matters because it’s how we tell stories and make reports which then define how we respond, and how we respond becomes our history. So the question is; how does the language we use impact gender analysis itself? In other words, how can we use language as an entry point to analyse gendered power dynamics, how does it affect actions, and how can we strategically use it to advocate for our goals? A case which compelled our attention was the work of the Independent Commission of Inquiry (COI) for Syria, not least because of the impressions it was creating as to the role of women.

WILPF has been bringing attention to the gendered impact of the Syrian conflict for two years now, liaising with local partners and Sections, bringing women’s rights activists in the region together to strategise, and more. We knew what amazing work is being done by women and the role they are playing in a multiplicity of different contexts. Not passive victims. Not at all.

So to understand the extent of the deceit, we commissioned two brilliant students from the Graduate Institute in Geneva to conduct a study of the reports from a gender perspective and then the responses by States through the Resolution on Syria in the Human Rights Council (HRC).

The study, titled “A gendered analysis: examining how women and gender in the Syrian conflict are addressed by the UN Human Rights Council”, uses discourse analysis, or analysis of language “beyond the sentence”, looking at language, gender, and crisis, and its effects on women’s inclusion in peacebuilding processes. The results were quite shocking. The COI almost exclusively refers to women as victims of sexual violence, the HRC and COI documents construct women as agentless participants. Conversely, men are rarely mentioned as a separate entity, and have multiple and important identities ascribed to them, variously mentioned as; civilians (as if women are NOT civilians!), combatants, medical personnel, or journalists. So if that’s what your story tells you, why would you talk to women to devise your peace process and the future of the country?

Secretary General Madeleine Rees urges us to pay attention to how we use language, since it will have an impact beyond the words themselves.
Secretary General Madeleine Rees urges us to pay attention to how we use language, since it will have an impact beyond the words themselves.

Changing the way we use language will have an impact beyond the words themselves. We must acknowledge the different ways that the conflict affects both men and women, and move from women’s portrayal as agentless victims of sexual violence to more complex understandings of them as agents of change.

We encourage you to read the report and think about the power of your words to make change.

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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. 

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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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