Syria: UN-sponsored conference demands full voice for women in seeking to end crisis

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi with participants of the conference. Photo: UN Women

13 January 2014 – The voice of Syrian women must be heard in all efforts to resolve the civil war that is tearing their country apart, a United Nations-sponsored conference declared today, stressing that women’s participation is vital in shaping a peaceful future for the strife-wracked Middle Eastern nation.

“Women have a critical role to play in creating the foundations for a sustainable peace and a pluralistic Syria based on democracy and respect for human rights,” UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said at the end of a two-day conference of Syrian women convened in Geneva by her organization together with the Government of the Netherlands.

“UN Women will continue to be a strong partner for Syrian women to support their collective voice and peace initiatives in the political process.”

In its Outcome Statement the conference, attended by some 50 women from inside and outside Syria, called on all parties to reach agreement for a free, pluralistic and democratic Syria that respects human rights, including the rights and equality between men and women, with decision-makers obligated to respect women’s right to full political participation in all matters shaping their country’s future.

“We have come together to prepare this set of demands and priorities based on our first-hand experience of the suffering of the Syrian people, which has become intolerable,” the Statement says, calling for an immediate cessation of armed violence, the release of arbitrarily detained women and men, lifting all military sieges to allow humanitarian and medical aid to reach all affected regions, and an end to gender-based violence and the recruitment of child soldiers.

Demanding the start of “the democratic transition process to end tyranny in all its forms and lay the foundations for a pluralistic, civil and democratic State,” it rejects any political solution based on ethnicity, confessionalism, religion or military balance on the ground and urges the UN to press the international community and the negotiating parties to guarantee the effective participation of women on all negotiating teams and committees in a proportion of no less than 30 per cent.

“The meaningful participation of women [must be ensured] in the entire political process, including in the formation of the transitional governing body, the constitutional drafting committee, the drafting of the election law, mechanisms of transitional justice, the local administration and local committees for civil peace,” it stresses.

The conference comes ahead of Wednesday’s humanitarian pledging conference for Syria, set to open in Kuwait City and be chaired by UN Secretary-General Ban ki-moon, and 10 days before the expected start of renewed political talks in Geneva seeking to end a civil war that has become progressively more horrific, killing well over 100,000 people and driving more than 8 million others from their homes, since conflict erupted almost three years ago between the Government and various groups seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.

The outcome of the UN Women-sponsored event calls for the appointment of a Syrian gender advisor to the mediation team and establish communication channels to enable joint action and coordination with women’s and civil society organizations.

UN Women, the Organization’s entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women worldwide, saw the conference as part of its long-term efforts to support Syrian women and civil society’s active participation in the peace process and create space to hear and advance women’s voices.

“These women worked day and night to identify solutions to bring back security, rights and dignity to the suffering Syrian people”, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka said of the conference participants.

“We cannot remain silent regarding events in Syria, such as daily death, massive destruction, starvation, displacement of hundreds of thousands of families (in Syria and abroad), and the spread of terror, violence, ongoing detentions, acts of kidnapping, destruction of infrastructure and the spread of disease, particularly among children,” said Sabah Alhallak, speaking on behalf of her fellow attendees.

UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who will play a principal role in the political talks later this month, joined the women during the opening session.

“This meeting conveys to both parties that will sit together at the negotiating table the importance of listening to the voices of Syrian women and incorporating women as a key player in the efforts leading to a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis,” he said.


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