Supporting the future of Syria and the region - Brussels III conference, 12-14 March 2019

12 Mar 2019
Brussels third conference, Supporting the future of Syria and the region

On 12-14 March 2019, the United Nations and the European Union co-chaired the third Brussels Conference on Supporting the future of Syria and the region to urge further support to help Syrian people who remain vulnerable, both of refugees and their hosting communities. The conference brought together more than 1000 representatives of international and regional NGOs, Syrian civil society, EU and UN officials. Click here to read the co-chairs declaration.

EuroMed Feminist Initiative, represented by Ms. Lilian Halls-French and Ms. Boriana Jonsson participated at the third Brussels conference along with Dr. Maya Al- Rahbi, Head of EFI’s Syrian partner, Musawa-Women's Studies Center.

Dr. Maya Al-Rahbi, stressed the importance of the conference as it provided a platform for Syrian activists to raise their voices and express their demands. The majority of Syrian activists’ interventions focused on the safe return of refugees, conflict resolution and the prosecution of those who committed crimes against humanity. Activists agreed that it is not possible to talk about a safe return for Syrian refugees and conflict resolution without reaching a political solution. Ms. Rahbi said, “It is not safe yet to return home for Syrian refugees as a lot of returnees suffered violations upon their arrivals such as arrests or forced military conscription”. Moreover, Syrian activist drew attention to the suffering of Syrian refugees, especially women noting that the international community has to shoulder responsibility for them. They emphasized the need to release detainees and abductees and to clarify the fate of missing persons.  In her intervention, Ms. Rabhi underscored the need to engender humanitarian & refugee response programs to meet the specific and different needs of women and stressed that donors should stipulate addressing women’s needs in aid policies and programs to ensure women’s needs are recognized.  According to Ms. Rahbi, the victim-oriented approach of the conference did not allow enough room for a deep discussion on the political solution to the Syrian crisis.  Ms. Rahbi emphasized the importance of the conference as it provided a safe space for Syrian women and men to meet, exchange ideas, and bring their voices to the table of decision makers. She added “the conference succeeded in mobilizing international financial support for Syrians inside the country and in the neighboring countries” and “it denounced the idea of a forced and premature return for displaced Syrians, a return can only happen when the conditions for dignified, voluntary and safe return are met and until today such conditions do not exist”.

In preparation of the third Brussels Conference, the Delegation of the European Union to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the EuroMed Feminist Initiative and UN Women Jordan Country Office organized two consultation sessions with Syrian activists and Jordanian civil society organizations active in the field of women's human rights and the Jordan Response Plan to the Syria Crisis on 21 and 29 January 2019 at the Holiday Inn Hotel, Amman. The participants in the consultations produced key messages and recommendations to the Brussels Conference in six identified areas: education, health, legal protection, social protection, livelihoods and the role of women in the future of Syria. Click here to read the key messages.

Based on these consultations, EFI nominated three Syrian women to participate in the two days of Dialogue with Syrian, regional, and international civil society organizations, to share their opinions and concerns surrounding key aspects of the Syrian Crisis such as displacements of Syrian refugees and the attempts at forced returns, protection, health, education, livelihood, women’s participation and the role of women in the future of Syria. They provided valuable interventions on different topics such as the role of women in society and their legal and social protection, the right to education and the responsibility of governments to provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for women. They discussed the situation of the Syrian women refugees in host communities, their needs and the challenges they face. They stressed the poor economic conditions and types of exploitation that women face and especially regarding female-headed households where an urgent protection mechanism is required.  Ms. Dema Kassir, a Syrian activist said: “In order to achieve full and effective protection for Syrian women refugees, the international and national organizations should empower women economically, legally, academically and socially because women rights are interrelated and indivisible”. Moreover, the three Syrian activists highlighted the issue of sexual harassment that women face in public spaces and at the workplace and shared their personal experiences of harassment.

The three Syrian women appreciated the support provided by EFI to participate in such an important conference. Ms. Lara Shahin said: “Brussels third conference, unlike past years, witnessed a large presence of Syrian civil society organizations and activists where they had an opportunity to voice the demands of Syrian people to the international community”. Ms. Hiba Hamidi also stressed the importance of this conference but she had some concern: “The conference was an opportunity to raise new opinions and challenges that hinder public action at all levels, but I was expecting more. The suffering of Syrian refugees in host communities was addressed during the conference but no sustainable solutions were proposed”.

The consultations helped the three Syrian women to provide rich and valuable interventions on topics related to gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s role in finding solutions to the Syrian crisis. Ms. Shahin emphasized the importance of the pre-conference consultations organized by EFI, EU, and UN Women “the consultations were very useful for us as they helped us to shed light on very important topics related to the situation of refugee women affected by conflicts and ways of empowering them. Moreover, the conference has adopted 90% of the recommendations that have been produced in the consultations in Jordan”. Ms. Hamidi reiterated the importance of the pre-consultation discussions "I gained a lot of experience from the consultations as they were very useful and varied in terms of topics and information. Soon I will start my own initiative, which aims to end gender-based violence and support Syrian women".
EFI will continue supporting Syrian women in exercising and enjoying their full civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Moreover, EFI will continue supporting a transition towards peace and democracy in Syria through promoting women's rights, combatting VAW and ensuring women's role and meaningful participation at all levels of political, social and economic reconstruction processes.