Women and the Syrian Conflict: How Women Can Shape Syria’s Future?
Throughout the course of the Syrian conflict, women have been disproportionately affected by violence and have generally been excluded from peace negotiations. The inclusion of Syrian women in peace negotiations is a necessity for a stable post-conflict Syria. Their inclusion at all levels of peacebuilding processes is crucial to create long-lasting peace and has the potential to promote sustainable development in the country. With Assad’s military victory looking likely, Syrian women will face many challenges having their voices heard in reconstruction processes.
Syrian women have lost family members, faced poverty and hunger, and have lost access to education. While the Syrian conflict has left no one unscathed, women have been particularly affected and make up a majority of the displaced (Osman, 2016). The West has focused attention on the brutal violence carried out against women by Daesh, but women have faced violence on various fronts, including abduction and sexual violence (ReliefWeb, 2017). Accounts of forced child marriages and trafficking have increased for girls during the conflict (U.S. Department of State, 2015). Directly linked to the seven-year conflict, women have also faced violence in the household, with accounts of men taking out their frustrations on their wives (Leigh, 2013). However, the violence faced by women in Syria did not emerge from the conflict alone. Sawsan Zazak, the founder of Syrian Women’s Initiative for Peace and Democracy (SWIPD), explained that accounts of violence against women are not isolated to the Syrian conflict: “the violence against women in the armed conflict is an extension of discrimination against women found in the law” (Women on the Frontline, n.d.). The protection of women and women’s rights during peaceful times is crucial to their security during conflict.
Women have an important role to play in shaping Syria’s future. Syrian women’s involvement in the peacebuilding process is a necessity, as is modernizing Syrian law to give men and women equal rights. This will help give women a voice in government, economy, and society following the conflict. Zazak, a member of the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board, argues, “the Syrian feminist movement understands that armed conflict cannot lead to a real democratic transition” (Bode, 2017). Any lasting transition must include the participation of all members of society.
To ensure a democratic transition, laws that do not grant equal rights to men and women must be repealed. Although the Syrian Constitution grants women and men equal rights, there is no law banning gender discrimination, undermining this element of gender equality (Gender Index, 2014.; BBC News, 2009). Similarly, lenient sentencing for those who commit honor killings is another way that equality is impaired. If laws do not evolve, Syrian women will continue to face oppression and violence even after the conflict ends.
Research has evidenced that peace processes are undermined with the exclusion of women. A study on the absence of women in the Dayton Peace Agreement talks to resolve the conflict in Bosnia found that “[t]his absence of women in the formal peace process has had concrete consequences both for the society as a whole and also for women as a distinct group in the society and their ability to be recognised as agents of change in later processes” (Mlinarević, Porobić Isaković and Rees, 2015). Additionally, a study by the International Peace Institute found that when women are involved in peace negotiations “there is a 35% increase in the probability that a peace agreement will last 15 years or more” (Lindborg, 2017). This is because women focus on resolving the conflict, promoting economic development and justice, rather than on the spoils of war (Lindborg, 2017). This demonstrates that the involvement of women in peace negotiations benefits the whole of society.
Women have been shutout of the peace process “by the Syrian government, the opposition delegations and the UN” (Lindborg, 2017). However, as noted by Federica Marsi, "out of sheer necessity following the outbreak of the conflict, Syrian women have become actively involved in the civil society" (Marsi, 2017). Women continue to actively fight for inclusion and to change societal norms. The peace negotiations must start to include women, not only to improve the lives of Syrian women after the conflict, but, further than this, to contribute to long-term stability and economic development for all Syrians.
Katie Peach recently completed her master's in International Studies with a focus on Global Security at the University of Oklahoma.
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