On Thursday, January 17th, 2014, Peace Boat US attended “Women’s Participation and WPS Accountability in Syria: Geneva II Peace Negotiations and Beyond” at the United Nations. This event was co-sponsored by the Mission of Liechtenstein, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, PeaceWomen Programme, and the Liechtenstein Institute for Self-Determination at Princeton University.
The event focused on the current civil war in Syria. This war has been marked by violence between government and rebel forces, the death of more than 120,000 Syrians, a mass displacement of many other Syrians, and human rights violations.
The main purpose of the Thursday event was to emphasize the importance of women in the negotiations process in Syria between rebel and government forces. Panelists included members of the Syrian Women League, Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein to the United Nations Christian Wenaweser, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom representative Maria Butler.
Sabah Alhallak, one of the main representatives of the Syrian Women’s League, stressed the importance of women’s involvement of the peace process, since women are often the most directly affected by the war in Syria. For example, women are often left to raise families and lead households after their male counterparts have been taken by war and its accompanying violence. “Women bear the brunt of any violence,” Alhallak said, “and we have the burden to rebuild society”.
The Syrian Women’s League representatives had just arrived from a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, where Syrian women produced a declaration calling for a role in the peace negotiation process. The main concerns of this conference included an immediate cease-fire, the release of detainees, the removal of all blockades that are causing hunger and starvation, the end of gender based and sexual violence, the expulsion of non-Syrian combatants within Syria, a safe and dignified return of all external Syrian refugees, and ending the usage of child soldiers.
Demands included a constitution that guarantees equal rights for men and women and penalizes all forms of gender-based violence. Syrian women’s groups who drafted this declaration also want to ensure that women will be represented throughout the whole political process, or at the very least will be observers.
Another representative of the Syrian Women’s League expressed the desire of Syrian women to be heard. “We have taken to the streets, we have screamed after being silenced,” she said. “We as women are here to say something… we want peace.”
The Syrian Women’s League’s representatives ended the session with a reminder that citizens of every nation have the opportunity to push for womens’ involvement in the Syrian negotiations. “Push your countries or governments to let us participate as independent party of women. If this is not possible, we want to be there as observers. Endorse our declaration, and push your governments to endorse it,” Alhallak said. “Anyone who wants to support us will find a way to do so.”
Peace Boat US advocates for human rights issues worldwide, and the war in Syria is a threat to human rights everywhere, but especially to Syrian refugees. Understanding the war in Syria and women’s roles is a step forward in ensuring that all human beings have access to food, water, shelter, education, and security.