Syria: new campaign to support women's role in seeking justice and shaping country's future

Unheard No More campaign launched, with 12 women’s stories included in inspiring short film

‘Women have told us about how they’ve repeatedly been left on the margins at Syrian peace talks’ - Chiara Capraro

Syrian women must have an official and active role in seeking justice and shaping the country’s future, Amnesty International said today (8 March), as it launched a new campaign highlighting an ongoing failure to include them in discussions and decision-making about the future of the war-ravaged country.

In 2014, not a single woman was represented during Syria peace negotiation in Geneva, a failure which was tacitly acknowledged two years later when the office of the UN Special Envoy for Syria established a women’s advisory board to act as a third-party observer. Meanwhile, despite ongoing failures to ensure women’s representation in Syria peace talks, Syrian women have been instrumental during local peace efforts in the country. 

Amnesty’s campaign - Unheard No More: Syrian women shaping Syria’s future - also illustrates how since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, women have been subjected to human rights abuses - including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, abduction and gender-based violence - at the hands of the Syrian authorities and other parties to the conflict. 

The new campaign, being launched on International Women’s Day, invites members of the public to send Syrian women a message of solidarity calling for equal and effective representation in all political processes. The campaign also aims to amplify the voices of women already playing crucial roles as active members of Syrian society - as activists, human rights lawyers, organisers of humanitarian relief, and founders of organisations and community centres.

Meanwhile, Amnesty has recently helped develop a new set of detailed guidelines to help ensure the meaningful involvement of women in conflict-affected countries around the world (see below). The 62-page document, “Beyond Consultations” - produced in partnership with Women for Women International, the GAPS network, Womankind and Saferworld, as well as government officials and 200-plus women from conflict-affected countries - aims to provide government officials, NGOs and others with key advice over ensuring the meaningful involvement of women in conflict-resolution negotiations and similar processes. 

Chiara Capraro, Amnesty International UK’s Women’s Human Rights Manager, said: 

“Women have told us about how they’ve repeatedly been left on the margins at Syrian peace talks and in key political meetings

“Syrian women need to have an equal number of seats at the negotiation table and the Beyond Consultations document shows how this can be done.”

Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Campaigns Director, said: 

“Eight years since the start of the crisis, Syrian women have suffered tremendously over the course of the conflict, yet they’ve not given up and have instead become brave everyday heroes. 

“They are political activists and they report abuses committed by those in power. Many of these women are the sole providers for their families and risk their own lives speaking up.

“Women’s participation in political processes is fundamental for achieving gender equality and human rights for all. 

“The international community, especially Iran, Turkey and Russia, must pressure the Syrian government and armed opposition groups to end sexual and other gender-based violence and discrimination. They must also consult with women and ensure that they are represented effectively in peace talks, negotiations, the drafting of the constitution and other peace-building processes.

“Syrian women must be included in discussions about the past and future of their country, at the local, regional and international level. Ending gender-based discrimination is crucial to ensure accountability and a just society in Syria.” 

12 activists’ stories: new film

In a powerful new 13-minute film, Amnesty interviewed 12 women activists who fled the Syrian conflict and sought safety in neighbouring countries and elsewhere. Some of the women told Amnesty how they were arbitrarily detained, abducted and held in dire conditions with limited access to basic services. Others talked about how they were shunned by their families after their release and how they were harassed and received death threats for their humanitarian and political activism, as well as for trying to discover the fate of loved ones who’d been forcibly disappeared or abducted.  

Crucially, all the women Amnesty spoke to expressed concern at being under-represented in decision-making processes about Syria’s future. They said that in some instances, only women representing the government or opposition have been included in discussions that have already taken place. 

Gender-based violations

Since 2011, Amnesty has documented gender-based violations against women carried out by the Syrian government and armed opposition groups. Amnesty’s findings show how women detained by the Syrian authorities have been subjected to invasive security checks upon arrival at detention centres, in some cases, amounting to rape. Women in detention also reported either witnessing or having been subjected to sexual harassment or assault by guards. Women were also detained alongside male detainees and watched over by male guards. They also were denied access to medical treatment for chronic illnesses. 

Amnesty has also documented how armed groups in Idlib and Aleppo have violated international humanitarian law by abducting women and forcing them to work in kitchens in informal detention centres run by armed groups. They have also been subjected to corporal punishment, such as stoning and flogging, including for alleged offences such as sexual intercourse outside marriage. 

Note to editors

The Beyond Consultations tool is designed to support actors to move towards more meaningful engagement with women in fragile and conflict-affected states. The tool was developed in partnership with women and women’s organisations in fragile and conflict-affected states in response to their feedback that current consultation practices tend to be extractive, tokenistic and disempowering. It will be available at https://www.beyondconsultations.org/ from 13 March. 
 

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