Celebrating Feminists’ Voices, Inspiring Global Peace

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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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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