Syrian Women Refugees Depend on Women’s Rights Organizations

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DAMASCUS, Syria — On January 22 of this year, long-awaited peace talks occurred in Geneva, Switzerland, targeting the resolution for the humanitarian crisis in Syria. While much else has happened on the global stage between now and then–such as the missing Malaysian Airlines plane and the crisis in Crimea–the conditions in Syria have not improved, and global attention needs to be redirected back to this dilemma.

The nonprofit organization, CODEPINK, advocated tirelessly for women to gain seats at said peace talks that occurred a few months ago. Since CODEPINK’s work primarily involves anti-militarism and the progression of women’s rights, they bring a critical angle to the issue in Syria. The issues regarding gender-based violence transpiring amongst Syrian women refugees are often left unmentioned, which stagnates progress and will stifle the resolution of the overall crisis in Syria.

CODEPINK collaborated with other women’s rights organizations to form a coalition entitled Women Lead to Peace. This strategic collaboration incorporated a combination of organizations, including Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), MADRE, the Nobel Women’s Initiative and Karama.

These organizations together advocated for a ceasefire in Syria, an increase in aid, diplomatic strategies to end Syrians’ suffering and the inclusion of women in peace talks to address the gender-based issues inflicting women refugees.

Women Lead to Peace rallied for women to gain seats by lobbying the United Nations (UN) and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. The organization also coordinated a “peace rally” outside of the peace talks in Geneva to further push for the inclusion of women.

Despite these significant efforts, Brahimi did not allow women to be included in the peace talks. It is quite a shame, especially since Brahimi had said earlier that Syrian women as a civil society are a “more organized force than the current opposition party.” It is flabbergasting as to why one would not want an influential group of people like that present at the negotiations. The results of these peace talks speak volumes as well, since they were recognizably unsuccessful.

Activist Marcel Shehwaro wittingly commented on the exclusion of women, “Which peace are we talking about here? It’s really unimaginable to believe in peace when you see the pain of Syrian women.”

Unfortunately, the conditions for women are in a critical state, with many women facing gender-based issues, especially within Syrian refugee camps. The lack of focus on women’s differences causes for their needs to be neglected, and their rights to be violated. Specifically, they are unable to receive reproductive health care, and there are consistent accounts of sexual harassment, domestic abuse and rape.

Women Lead to Peace and other organizations need to keep the Syrian issue at the forefront of the minds of policy-makers. Recently, information has surfaced regarding the absence of future Syrian peace talks, indicating that they are far out of reach due to the new global crises that have surfaced.

This could be a crucial turning point for the crisis in Syria if the rumors are true about no plans for future negotiations. There are growing numbers of terrorist organizations opposing the government, which means if Assad is overthrown, the vulnerable state of Syria could fall under control of a dangerous militant group. Needless to say that the conditions in Syria would not improve, and women, as well as men, would continue to suffer.

Allies to Women Lead to Peace are also crucial for promoting peace talks that include women. An organization called the Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria (FREE-Syria) focuses on women’s rights and education as well, which is a suffering institution. The director, Rafif Joujati, says of her organization’s persistence, “We are lawyers, engineers and professors; we are housewives, nurses and other medical professionals; we are 50 percent of society and we are determined to stop the war… We will keep pushing the men who are making war until they make peace.”

It will take a combination of organizations that target specific issues, but all come down to the core principle of promoting peace for everyone in Syria, and ending the violence under the Assad regime.

Continued efforts need to persist in the urge for peace talks that actually include women this time. The end to this tragic humanitarian crisis cannot be reached if the peace talks and negotiations are dismissed. Even more so, sustainable peace will not be possible with zero representatives of half of the Syrian population. There is a burning irony in the decisions for peace being held in men’s hands, while the women are more often the ones facing victimization and sexual abuse.

Sources: CODEPINK, Freedom House, Global Exchange, Huffington Post, WILPF, The Women’s International Peace 
Photo: Al Jazeera America

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