“Forward ever, backward never!” Closing remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Syrian women conference in Geneva

Closing remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Conference on Promoting Syrian Women’s Engagement in the Syrian Political Process, held in Geneva, Switzerland, 13 January, 2014.


Good morning to all of you on this special morning when you have achieved yet another milestone in your long walk to freedom.

Congratulations and thanks to all those who participated and worked tirelessly to amplify the voices of women in civil society.

Thank you to the partners who made this possible, the Government of the Netherlands, who has been with us throughout this meeting. Thank you also to the UN Women team who has worked hard alongside you, and to our brilliant facilitators.

And now I come to you, the delegates. Salute! We admire your commitment, your foresight and your strong sense of patriotism.

We applaud your leadership, your determination to see your process through, to achieve your outcomes and to determine your future.

Your meeting once more has demonstrated not only your exceptional qualities but also what can be achieved when the international community provides an enabling environment and respects your space to determine your future.

This event is only one step in a longer process to ensure that the voices of a diverse spectrum of Syrian women are heard in the Syrian political process.

And I want to stress that you can count on UN Women for sustained support; we will stay with you all the way and for the long haul.

Our commitment stems from our shared belief that no sustainable solution to the crisis in Syria can be reached without the meaningful participation of Syrian women.

You have a commitment from Special Envoy Brahimi that he will do his best to facilitate the participation of Syrian women in negotiations on the future of Syria. You will have the time to meet him again tomorrow and to share your calls.

As I said yesterday, your love for Syria comes out so clearly and powerfully to those who had the privilege of hearing your personal stories and dedication to your beloved country.

You have made a strong call to decision-makers that you have a right to full political participation in all matters related to shaping the future of Syria. This is a very important message.

You have made a strong call for an end to the bloodshed and all military actions in Syria, and the urgency of mitigating the suffering of the people by allowing humanitarian access.

You have made a strong call in support of the political process, urging all parties to transcend their existing differences to reach an agreement according to the Geneva Communique, and you have made a call for a free, pluralistic and democratic Syria that respects human rights including the rights and equality between men and women.

You called for a change that upholds the dignity of humanity and its fundamental values and aspirations for peace, justice and inclusion.

Now as the real journey begins, continue to make sure that it is a journey in which you have placed women's rights and equality high on the agenda, alongside other national concerns, in the knowledge that women’s rights are the rights of a whole nation and women’s freedom is the freedom of the people.  

The same conviction also drives ours efforts at UN Women.

Based on what you have achieved here, I am convinced that despite the daunting process of peacebuilding, of restoring security, rights and freedom in Syria, you will succeed.

There will be disappointments and hard times ahead but let us agree here and now that you will never fall backwards. You must always go forward and rise! 

It has to be forward ever and backward never!

I know that a lot of work is ahead of you and every hour counts from now until the convening of Geneva II. Please do not relax now; go and share with the people, tell the women of Syria about what you propose. Be confident; share your vision with Mr. Brahimi; show your determination and coherence. He is open to your message.

Reach out to more women and remain inclusive. Be open-minded and determined, as you have been here. You will need to sustain and give direction to international solidarity and to ensure that this is your process; it has to be your outcomes.

Thank you and congratulations. It is a privilege to work with you. Let us agree: Forward ever, backward never!