Promoting Syrian Women’s Engagement in the Syrian Political Process

Opening Remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at a conference for Syrian women in Geneva, Switzerland, 12 January, 2014.


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Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria,

Your Excellency, Mr. Alexandre Fasel,

Representatives of the Government of the Netherlands, and we are so pleased to have a video message from Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans,

To you, the Syrian women leaders who have travelled far and at personal risk to come here as representatives of Syrian Civil society,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First, I would like to thank the Government of The Netherlands for sponsoring this important event and the members of the Dutch Foreign Ministry. I want to thank the Special Representative for Syria and his team with whom we work closely together, my colleagues at UN Women, the facilitators and most of all the Syrian women, for the hard work that went into this meeting.

The fact that many women from within Syria have travelled to this meeting is a demonstration of your commitment to peace, notwithstanding the dangers entailed for yourselves and your families.

And the fact that also many of you from outside of Syria are here is a testimony that you may be forced out of Syria, but no one can ever force Syria out of you. Syria lives in all your heart.

I am pleased to be here today in this meeting to support women's participation and collective voice in the peacebuilding process in Syria.

I have been told about what you said about your love for Syria yesterday, and I found it very touching.

For example, one of you said: “Syria is life, and when you love life, you love Syria”. For you, “Syria is the sun, the earth that you want to be buried in”. You want Syria to be “a nation for free women”. You want Syria to be “pluralistic, democratic, and free, and especially, you want to see women as builders of a new Syria”.

I have been told you said that you love the Syrian people, the people who resist all the injustices, the people who resist all the evils, the people who resist coldness and poverty, the people who, like the phoenix, rise and fight every morning.

I also have been told that you said that there is nothing in Syria that you don’t love: That you love your home, you love your friends, you love your neighbours, you love your children, and you love all the Syrian people. That you love the scent of Damascus, you love Syrian history, and that you dream about a pluralistic, civil Syria in which there is equality between men and women.

So here we are now with you on your road to peace.

UN Women, under the umbrella of the United Nations, is committed to foster peace, security and human rights.

Our hopes are to give visibility and public attention to your voices, to provide a forum for the political participation of Syrian women, and to leverage women’s inclusion in the Syrian political process and reconstruction process.

The United Nations Security Council has recognized the importance of women’s full participation in peace and security. Recently, it passed resolution 2122, which greatly reinforced the historic resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. 

Resolution 2122 stresses that including women on negotiating delegations is just one aspect of engaging women in peace processes. It is critical to ensure that women’s concerns are heard in relation to key negotiation topics, such as security arrangements, power-sharing, wealth-sharing, transitional justice, restitution of property and livelihoods, and disarmament.

Resolution 2122 also calls on the UN mediators to consult with women leaders from the earliest possible moment and to report to the Security Council on women’s perspectives. It calls on all Member States that support peace negotiations to urge negotiating parties to include women.

This is why Mr. Brahimi and I today stand here side-by-side.

I hope that you have an opportunity to engage in these subjects. And we believe that the Syrian peace process must not only be led by Syrian men, but by Syrian men and women. That is why it is important that you as Syrian women have an opportunity to talk among yourselves.

It is your agenda; it is your process, and they will be your results.

We are all aware of the deteriorating situation in Syria. Death, destruction, famine, terrorism, bloodshed, and displacement are all familiar to millions of Syrian people who also face the total collapse of services, social structures and living standards.

The ongoing conflict is taking a grave toll on women, their security, their dignity, their rights, and freedoms, and their hope for the future for their families and children, for the next generation.

Women and children are on the frontline of the struggle for day-to-day survival. And their suffering is augmented by the deepening humanitarian crisis and deteriorating economic, social and political conditions.

Syria as a country and its people have never faced a similar plight and destruction of this scale. It is a plight that is shaking the foundations of this civilization, which stretches back thousands of years and has made major contributions to humanity and our shared cultural heritage.

That is why we know that you need time to talk about the future and on how to bring an end to this tragedy.

At the heart of your discussion will have to be the importance of embracing reconciliation. Without reconciliation, it is difficult to build one Syria and to put the painful past behind you.

At the heart of your discussion will also have to be compromise. Without compromise, consensus will be difficult. Consensus does not have to be absolute, but it has to be sufficient and it has to be principled. It must enable you to have parameters, within which you will have glue that holds you together, so that if you have differences, you will then go back to this place where you have a sufficient consensus. This was our experience in South Africa. In this scenario, everybody had to compromise some of their positions. And women were critical to encourage compromise and consensus.

You have spoken about your love for Syria. And it is important to love Syria more than any of your positions that could divide you. Because it is that love for Syria that will enable you to protect your sufficient consensus.

In my country, sufficient consensus enabled those who fought apartheid and those who were part of the regime that was responsible for apartheid to put away many differences for the love of South Africa.

We urge you to share what you will agree on during these days with other women of Syria who are not here today to ensure that there is the largest number possible of Syrian women who can agree with you.

At the end of this meeting, you will share with us the conclusions that you will have reached with the hope that they will inform the peace talks. But it is also your responsibility to share them with the other women and men of Syria.

Women are often looked upon as the face of humanity, as the guardians of peace, security and dignity. And women are the unsung heroes of this and many other revolutions.

I am confident that Syrian women will continue to be at the frontline of communities as peacebuilders, as key players, and game changers in the rebuilding of a peaceful and just Syria.

You are the midwives of peace in every way possible.

As you are sitting here, you have the labour pains that come before the birth of a child. Whether the wait may be long or short, you cannot give up. You must stay in the struggle, you must stay committed, and we will stay with you. The process that brings you here today requires that you also stay committed to each other, and when there are differences, remember the future you are working for together.

This is not just about your life and yourselves. It is about the future generations of Syrians.

We join the people of the world in wishing you all the best, and most importantly peace.

We as UN and UN Women senior officials stand behind you and will do everything we can to support you in your fights, in your dreams and in your efforts to rebuild your country.

Audio clip of her speech: