The 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61) took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, from 13 – 24 March 2017. In view of the theme of the CSW61 – “Women’s economic roles in the changing world of work”, the Permanent Mission of Sweden, in collaboration with Euromed Feminist Initiative (EFI) and Women’s UN Report Network (WUNRN), co-hosted a panel discussion on “Ensuring Women’s Participation in Future Political and Economic Decision-making in Syria Now”. This panel was built on and ampliﬁed the demands of the Syrian women’s rights activists from previous high level events organized by EFI and WUNRN in the framework of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva and the last CSW59 and CSW60.
Although women often carry the main burden of wars, only 2 percent of post-conﬂict budgets target women’s empowerment or gender equality. Women are often excluded from the negotiation tables. In regard to Syria, despite of the UN efforts to include women in the political process, only few women participate in the UN-led peace talks in Geneva and they therefore remain excluded from many of the discussions about the future of their country.
Therefore, the panel, which consisted of prominent Syrian women’s rights experts and activists, discussed ways and conditions to integrate and promote women’s role and rights, as well as gender equality, in the political and economic decision-making during a transition process of reconciliation and reconstruction.
Ms. Boriana Jonsson, Executive Director of the Euromed Feminist Initiative and a moderator of the panel, underlined that the panel was taking place as the violent conﬂict in Syrian went into its seventh year. Euromed Feminist Initiative had now for a long time supported Syrian women’s rights and human right’s activists and organizations, lawyers and legal experts in their efforts to achieve a political solution in Syria and their work towards peace and democracy, inclusive of gender equality and women’s rights. This support is taking place in the framework of a program funded by Sweden and the EU. She emphasised that the panel is the only one speciﬁcally dedicated to Syria during this CSW session and regretted the limited participation from Syria due to travel restrictions.
Ms. Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden opened the panel reminding the audience that it now was 17 years since the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. She stated that the UN still needs to perform better in ensuring women’s participation in decision-making related to peace and conﬂict resolution and in ﬁghting the global scourge of violence against women.
H.E. Margot Wallström, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden H.E. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women
Ms. Wallström also reminded the audience that in spite of the major role that women are playing in Syria, they are still mostly absent during the peace negotiations in Geneva. She stated that fundamental questions needed to be raised with regard to decisions made by bodies entirely without female representation. The Foreign Minister encouraged the international community to continually raise the question: Where are the women? She pointed out that the knowledge acquired through research on women’s role in conﬂict resolution could be summarized as “more women - more peace”. The minister underlined that this knowledge immediately has to be translated into action. “Women have to take a central role in the formal process, not in the parallel ones: if it is not given to you, take it”, she encouraged the audience and panellists. Drawing on her own experiences from a long political career, Ms. Wallström further deﬁned the following priorities for women: women should present their requests themselves and not let themselves be “represented” by men, as well as demand transparency in political processes. They should ﬁnd allies in their struggle and get leaders on their side. Solidarity among women was of utmost importance. “The future has a young face and a woman’s face in many countries. This will of course also beneﬁt the men and the boys “, she concluded, and voiced her full support for the Syrians to decide themselves and build the future of their own country.
Ms. Mariam Jalabi, Director of the Syrian National Coalition ofﬁce at the UN in New York and a member of the Women’s Advisory Committee to the Geneva talks started her intervention by talking about the suffering and resistance in Syria. She stressed that the international community did not seem to do much about the difﬁcult situation of the besieged and displaced populations. Jalabi pointed out that Syrian women were telling their stories while ﬁghting for their lives. They strived to obtain a minimum of 30% representation in all political bodies, including the opposition, and to push for accountability. Mariam Jalabi demanded that the UN should create mechanisms on the ground to monitor the ceaseﬁre, underling that it could not be monitored by the perpetrators themselves. She reminded the audience that only half of the victims or prisoners kept by the Syrian regime have been identiﬁed. She also called for urgent humanitarian access to besieged areas where women are in an especially vulnerable situation. As an example, Jalabi told the story of Alice Faraj, who has been prisoned and tortured by the regime and is now deputy head negotiator of the Syrian opposition at the Geneva talks. Ms Jalaby concluded: “Syrian women are doing their part, what is the international community doing? What can all of you do?”
Ms. Mariam Jalabi
Ms. Joumana Seif, a former Member of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Damascus and a representative of the Syrian Women’s Network in the Civil Society Rooms to theUN Special Envoy for Syria underlined that the Syrian people lived under emergency laws (forbidding all political organisation and freedom of speech) during the forty years preceding the revolution. Theeconomy was based on concentration of power and wealth in a narrow circle around the president. Corrupted economy, patriarchy, religiousand political tyranny prevented women to be economic actors. Ms Seif believed this was one of the reasons why women took full part in the revolution, even though they were facing severe consequences: prisons, exile, death, tragic existence in the camps. They have obtained a stronger position through their struggle, including in refugee communities and will not accept being excluded again.
Ms. Joumana Seif
She stated that Syrian women refused the idea of forced return of the refugees, that they demanded a fair political solution based on Geneva 1 (not reinstalled religious or political tyranny) and a transitional process with accountability mechanism for the perpetrators. She underlined the need for a “Marshall plan for Syria”, for the development of a gender sensitive education, for girl’s access to school, and for new legislation grounded in social, secular and non-discriminative principles
Ms. Rafif Jouejati, director of the Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria, and former spokesperson to the Syrian National Coalition during Geneva peace talks expressed the reasons of her anger: During the CSW in 2016 she and her colleagues asked for the cessation of hostilities, a stopping of the bombing, an end to the regime’s starvation sieges and an international public stand against extrajudicial courts across Syria. They asked for accountability for the war criminals for the formation of a transitional governing body, for sustainable relief programs, for an increased participation of women in the negotiations and for protection of civilians. In 2015 they requested the same. “Can you guess what we asked in 2014, and 2013, and 2012? And do you understand why I am angry? I will not ask anything of this kind now: war crimes and starvation sieges of Syrian people are not new. Everybody who has interest in Syrian people knows about that and often turns a blind eye because it is too much, it is paralyzing.” declared Ms Jouajeti who stated that women are not just victims of the conﬂict, mothers, daughters and sisters, but they are engineers, teachers, doctors, lawyers and rebuilders of Syria and that has to be taken in consideration. Ms Jouejati concluded by raising two questions to the international community: What can the international community do and what is it willing to do?
Ms. Rafif Jouejati
Several participants from the audience underlined the positive role of Sweden in supporting the empowerment of women in Syria, the difﬁculty to ﬁnd a consensus at international level towards a political solution to the conﬂict but also the possibilities and the need to increase the concrete support to Syrian activists and the Syrian population.
Mr. Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General of Political Affairs of the UN took the floor for the closing remarks and thanked Sweden for the constant efforts to voice the demands of Syrian women. He declared that the UN strives to promote the role of women in peace processes, repeating Ms. Wallström’s call for “more women more peace “. “The world must do more so that the Syrian activists will not have to repeat again the same asks next year”, he declared. Some progress had been made at the global level as UNSCR 1325 now leads to more awareness and action and the informal group of experts on peace and security in the Security Council, co-chaired by Sweden, has been established. Today we have the Sustainable Development Goals, notably Goal 5 and 16 and an increasing number of peace agreements with gender sensitive provisions. With regard to Syria, Severthe efforts of the Special Envoy Mr. Staffan de de Mistura to involve women through the establishment of the Women Advisory Board, Civil Society support room, as well as the existence of two important texts – the Geneva Communiqué and Resolution 2254 were important. However, Jenča acknowledged that it was not enough and concluded with the words of the UN Secretary General at the end of his opening speech for the CSW61: “I ask you to hold us to our promises. Do not let the UN of the hook, keep our feet on the fire, this is the best way how to ensure that your cause will be heard and will be made reality”.
The panel gathered prominent Syrian women’s rights experts and activists, high level political ﬁgures, UN ofﬁcials and experts, and CSO representatives from numerous countries to raise the urgency of women participation on decision making places already now, in order for them to be able to inﬂuence the political and economic decision-making during a transition process of reconciliation and reconstruction. This event articulated the conditions for women’s participation. The message of the panelists was strong and clear: better involvement and support by the international community for immediate ending of the bloodshed and violence in Syria and for women’s full participation in all places of decision making. The panel concluded:
1. There is a lack of determination and action of the international community whose help is urgently requested to:
- Stop the bombing, stop the bloodshed, end the regime starvation sieges
- Take further measures to ensure protection of civilians
- Develop sustainable relief plans for Syria
- Reach a fair political solution based on Geneva 1
- Create a transitional political process, with clear mechanism to hold war crimes perpetrators accountable
2. Create UN mechanisms to monitor the ceaseﬁre on the ground. Support and pressure for a meaningful participation of women in the peace and transition process of a minimum of 30%.
3. Syrians must decide and build the future of their country, where Syrian women take their role. Consequently, only-male decision-making structures and bodies, or any kind of women exclusion should not be accepted.