The role of Syrian women in resolving the Syrian crisis


Speech by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on the role of Syrian women in the peace process during a briefing to UN Ambassadors and an event with Syrian women and the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. Geneva, 19 December 2013.

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As we start, let us take a moment to express solidarity with the women of Syria, and to recognize the scale of the humanitarian crisis and the suffering of the Syrian people, both inside Syria and in the refugee communities across the region. We know that the situation continues to worsen on a daily basis and especially in these harsh winter conditions.

Syrian women and children comprise over 70% of the refugee population and continue to bear the brunt of this conflict in many ways. They face serious threats to their safety and security, lack of access to basic services including those related to reproductive health. And many women, who now have to head their households, struggle to find a source of income to provide for themselves and their families.

As we meet today, we are guided by international norms and standards, various directives and resolutions that support women's participation in the peace process, including Security Council Resolutions 2122 and 1325.  And we appreciate the advocacy of Member States and support of the UN Special Envoy to ensure that women play a full and equal role.

The inclusion of women in peace talks is not just essential to building sustainable peace based on the needs and concerns of all Syrians. It is a basic democratic right and essential for lasting peace. By including the perspectives of half the population, the path is paved for a society built on the principles of inclusion and justice.  

In our close work with Syrian women, we have heard their repeated calls to be included in the delegations and negotiations, and I would like to commend your efforts in this regard as well. 

Of course, the needs are enormous, and we must do more as UN Women, and the UN system as a whole, to support Syrian women.

For our part, UN Women has been following a three-track approach to respond to the crisis and to ensure Syrian women's active participation in the political process. 

Firstly, UN Women is supporting the immediate needs of Syrian women refugees, through income-generating projects and access to basic services including psycho-social and legal support for survivors of gender-based violence.  With the support of the Government of Netherlands and Finland, for example, we are working in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan to support Syrian women.

Secondly, UN Women is working to close the information gap by collecting and sharing information about the situation of Syrian women and ensure gender mainstreaming of the UN response. We have conducted needs assessments of Syrian women refugees in the camps and in the host communities in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq to identify the specific needs of women and girls in these settings, and to inform UN planning and humanitarian response.

UN Women also brought on board two sexual and gender crimes experts to the UN International Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

And thirdly, UN Women is Supporting Syrian women's mobilization and collective voice to engage in the current political process. UN Women has been consulting and supporting a wide range of women civil society actors to strengthen their collective voice and to ensure that Syrian women effectively contribute to the peace process and beyond. 

I would like to emphasize that while Syrian women have been organizing inside Syria, and in the diaspora since the early days of the conflict, their appeal to the international community was reiterated during the September opening of the General Assembly.  Thanks to the support of the Government of the Netherlands and other international partners, a group of Syrian women expressed to Special Envoy Brahimi their demands to have a greater and more meaningful role in the formal peace talks.

Since that meeting between the Syrian women and Mr. Brahimi, UN Women has been working very closely with the UN Department of Political Affairs and Mr. Brahimi's team to support women's participation in the peace process, and to amplify their collective voice to the international community.  It has become clear through this work that while a plethora of Syrian civil society and women's groups have emerged and are asking to be heard, many of these groups remain fragmented.

The UN has an important role to play as a neutral convener to bring together diverse women's groups and organizations to articulate their concerns and priorities and to bring visibility to their key principles and 'asks' for the negotiations and beyond. 

Towards this objective, UN Women recently facilitated a meeting of Syrian women in Amman with the support of the Government of Finland.

I would like to inform you that the two key messages that came out of that Amman meeting are very much aligned to the UN's mediation objectives and principles, as outlined in the Geneva Communique.

These include:

  1. The need for a political solution to the conflict and an end to the suffering of the Syrian people; and
  2. A strong call to the UN and the international community to implement the various resolutions and decisions that support women's participation in peace process including the negotiations. 

Moving forward, we are working with the Government of The Netherlands and Mr. Brahimi's team on a high-level women's civil society meeting on the 12th and 13th of January in Geneva. This meeting will bring together a diverse group of women leaders from inside and outside Syria who are committed to a peaceful political solution. 

We are undertaking a thorough and consultative process in the design of the meeting to ensure it responds to the expectations of Syrian women and promotes Syrian women's ownership of the meeting and its outcome.

The conference will provide space for Syrian women to voice their perspectives on a political solution with clear asks of the negotiating parties and the international community. This will build on existing work towards sustained engagement of the UN and member States in support of women's participation in shaping the future of their country.

In closing, I would like to express appreciation for the strong partnership with the Government of The Netherlands. I thank all of you for your sustained support to the humanitarian response for Syria and your advocacy to support the meaningful engagement of Syrian women in the peace process. We are delighted that Mr. Brahimi's will be with us at the opening and closing of the high-level meeting in January. 

Let me end with a quote that says it all, from a great leader who recently left us, from Nelson Mandela. He said:

"It always seems impossible until it's done… Part of being an optimist is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward."

I look forward to hearing from you, the women of Syria, and moving forward. And I assure you of UN Women's unwavering commitment to support women's participation in the peace process of Syria. 

I thank you.