Civil Society Consultation: Discussing Gender Equality, Women’s Rights and Participation in the Syrian Context

24 Mar 2020

EuroMed Feminist Initiative (EFI) and the Coalition of Syrian Women for Democracy (CSWD) held a civil society consultation meeting on the 9th and 10th of March 2020 in Beirut on developing guidelines for Women, Peace and Security Agenda (WPSA) in Syria. The Consultation was jointly supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and the European Union (EU) and offered a platform for a major brainstorming conversation of over 65 participants.

Increasing the effective participation of women in peace-making and conflict prevention efforts has been a key priority for EFI and CSWD. In 2016, the partners, together with the Embassy of Sweden in Damascus, organized the first international conference involving over 100 stakeholders and activists, with diverse political views and backgrounds, to discuss the implementation in Syria of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325. In 2018 this work provided major recommendations on ways and means to implement in Syria the UNSCR 1325 and allowed the engagement of a wider number of actors. 

The consultation this year marked the international women´s day and provided a platform to discuss and better understand the reasons underlying violence and discrimination against women. The meeting further favoured a debate on strategies to reduce all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls in the challenging context of the Syrian crisis, while emphasizing women’s agency and participation in all stages of decision-making. The outcomes from the consultation will be presented during the UNSCR1325’s twentieth anniversary, in October 2020, during the annual United Nations Security Council debate in New York.

Focusing on the importance of working on WPSA, Ms. Lilian Halls-French welcomed the participants; activists, lawyers and representative of Syrian civil society organizations working on human and women’s rights in Syria, Turkey and Europe.  She said that “WPSA gives the victims the right to justice, support and reparation, the right to safety and security. Its implementation requires a lot: a lot of mobilization, a lot of commitment, but also a budget and the participation of women in preventing violent extremism and migration policies.”

Mr. Faek Hwajeh, the director of Equal Citizenship Center, focused on Syrian women’s new roles after the war, and highlighted the fact that the current laws do not reflect this role. He stressed on the importance of having equipped and aware lawyers and activists fighting for these rights.

After this round of introduction, Mr. Samir Aita, President of the Arab Economists’ Circle and former Editor-in-Chief of the Arabic version of Le Monde Diplomatique, and Ms. Lina Dayoub, a journalist from Syria discussed the present context and reality of Syrian women. Ms. Rouhada Abdoush, a Syrian lawyer, then tackled the legal dimension of discrimination against women in Syria and how to reform the personal status law. She pointed out the last amendment to the Personal Status Law in 2019 which raised the age of custody, but asked: “what is the benefit of increasing the age of custody without a house for women who have custody?”

At the end of the first session, an open discussion took place where participants shared their thoughts on Syrian Women’s realities and the challenges they encounter on a daily basis, after which two short films about forced marriage and domestic violence were screened. The films were produced by EFI under the project “Strengthening Access to Protection, Participation and Services for Women Refugees, Internally Displaced People and Women in the Host Communities in Lebanon” funded by the EU’s Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, the ‘Madad Fund’.

During the second session, Ms. Zakzak, highlighted the link between the feminist and democratic struggles and the work for a gender sensitive constitution in Syria, while Ms. Hallak discussed the fact that Syria has signed international agreements, and conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) but  there is no commitment to implement these agreements. She also mentioned that the reservations that were made on some of the CEDAW articles maintain the gender imbalance and inequality between men and women. The expertise of the panellists on constitutional matters and women’s rights sparked an engaging debate with the participants.

During the last intervention of the day, Mr. Aref Al Shaal, a Syrian lawyer, and Mr. Faek Hwajeh tackled legal challenges in view of the reconstruction through the example of civil documentation. The participants were divided then in four working groups discussing legal reform, institutional reform, constitutional processes, and monitoring and evaluation. The efforts of each group were put towards harmonizing Syrian legislation in line with WPSA, and International Women’s Rights mechanisms. The groups reported the outcomes of their discussions and came up with recommendations.

Ms. Lama Kannout, a political and feminist activist, made a final intervention discussing participatory democracy and gender sensitive policy-making in Syria based on an effective mobilization of social and feminist movements. She mentioned different steps to set up gender-sensitive policies in public enterprises and civil society organizations, as identifying, planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluation etc.

Ms. Fadia Habib, EFI’s program coordinator, and Ms. Rajaa Tanjour from CSWD, made the closing remarks and presented next steps.

To watch a round-up video of the meeting, click here.