As negotiations to halt the violence in Syria continue, I am reminded daily of the essential role that Syrian women must play in order to resolve the crisis. Two weeks ago, I represented the U.S. Government at a high-level preparatory conference organized by UN Women and the Dutch Government to prepare women for a voice in the upcoming Geneva II talks. The compelling briefings and written declarations by delegates underscored how important women’s perspectives are to progress.
Despite their widely varying views regarding the future of Syria, the women who gathered in Geneva unambiguously called for an immediate end to violence, unfettered humanitarian access, and support of the Geneva 1 communique and diplomatic negotiations. Most importantly, their declaration also emphasized that women must participate robustly in all talks.I have no doubt that the perspectives of women will add breadth and depth to the conversations. Syrian women and girls are experiencing the conflict in specific ways. They are coping with sexual violence that can have a significant impact on their health, well-being, and position within their families and communities. They are assuming non-traditional roles as their husbands, fathers, and brothers go off to fight or are targeted by violence. They are facing the risk of being married off young in exchange for dowries to put food on their families’ table, or to pay rent.
Last week, Geneva II negotiations began and fortunately, for the mediators and for the Syrian people, women were included on government and opposition delegations. Today, the talks focus on enabling humanitarian aid for Homs. Women at the talks are reminding delegates that a diverse coalition of women called for medical and humanitarian aid weeks ago. These women can also help garner support for negotiations back home in Homs, in Aleppo, in Damascus and elsewhere, because they represent a constituency on the ground, living the violence every day.
The participation of these women will be invaluable because like other women before them, including in Sudan, Uganda, Iraq, and among Israelis and Palestinians, they raised unique issues during negotiations. Women focus on the need to re-establish civilian security; they emphasize the need to maintain and rebuild communities; and they focus attention on the needs and interests of the displaced. Women are well-connected to war-affected communities back home; they help create lines of communication to increase local knowledge and ownership of talks and support for negotiated solutions.
As negotiations continue, women will remain a critical resource in pushing for peace. They will be able to provide insight to the situation on the ground and best strategies for rebuilding and reuniting communities torn apart by the conflict.
It is in the global community’s own interest to ensure Syrian women’s continuing role and influence in dialog and problem-solving at both the local and national levels. Without their involvement, peace is likely to be harder to attain, more tenuous, and more fragile.