The Women of the Syria Peace Talks
In the lead-up to the Geneva II negotiations, Syrian activists, local and international organizations, the UN, and various foreign governments made a clear demand: Women must be at the table. During the first round of talks in late January, both the regime and opposition delegations heeded that call, to differing extents. Below, we’ve documented what we know so far about women’s formal roles in the Syria peace talks.
This is a promising step forward, but we still say: More women must be meaningfully involved in the negotiations. To ensure women’s unique perspectives and needs are a core part of the discussions, all of the parties—including the UN in their role as mediator—must ensure representatives of diverse constituencies from inside Syria are consulted and engaged throughout the entire process. (We’ve written extensively about models for doing so.)
Note: This list will be in flux as the negotiations continue and the parties adapt to changing circumstances and needs. We’ll post new profiles as delegates are added or made public, so check back here for updates.
*Updated February 17, 2014
Three of ten delegates on the opposition’s negotiating team are women.
- As a leader during the 2011 revolution, she was arrested for taking part in nonviolent protests demanding the release of political prisoners, including children.
- She led the creation of the Assistance Coordination Unit, which helps donors distribute relief inside Syria. At Geneva, she’s head of the committee negotiating humanitarian access to the besieged city of Homs.
- USA Today claimed that she’s “likely the most powerful woman in Syria, despite the fact that she is living in exile.”
- She start the Jamal al-Atassi National Dialogue Forum, which called for political reform, in 2001 during the short-lived “Damascus Spring” (the group was banned shortly thereafter).
Watch Suheir Atassi talk about women’s rights in Syria.
- At 26, she’s the youngest delegate to the talks and vice president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces.
- In her native city of Homs, she participated in protests and helped distribute relief during the first year of the revolution.
- In 2012, she was detained, interrogated by military intelligence, and tortured with electric shock cables for six months. Her release was secured after a large social media campaign and interventions of global humanitarian organizations.
- On why she joined the National Coalition: “I was sick of this negativity, of people criticising the Coalition instead of fixing it. So I decided to join it, because our revolution should be represented everywhere. I also want the face of the revolutionary women to be represented.”
- Early in the revolution, she wrote a statement, signed by 1,400 people, calling for the government to end its siege of Daraa and allow humanitarian aid to reach children in the region.
- She was threatened and imprisoned multiple times for her activism before she finally fled to Jordan in late 2011.
- In the National Coalition, she represents the Local Council of Sweida (her hometown) and the Local Coordination Committees, a network of revolutionary activists inside Syria. She’s also one of the few representatives of the Druze minority.
- At Geneva, she’s in charge of negotiating the release of detainees, particularly women, children, and the elderly.
Two of nine delegates negotiating for the regime are women.
- As political and media adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, she’s been a key government spokesperson before and during the Geneva II talks.
- Prior to this position, for six years, she was Syria’s first Minister of Expatriates.
- In 2005, she was presented with the “Most Distinguished Woman in a Governmental Position” award by the Arab League.
- Formerly an anchor on Al Jazeera, where she hosted her own program called “For Women Only.”
- After leaving the network, she returned to Syria and became spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry in 2012.
Read Lina al-Shibl’s remarks on this round of negotiations.
Behind the scenes, women are four of thirteen members of the opposition’s technical team.
Rime Allaf is a writer and frequent commentator on geopolitical, socioeconomic, and cultural issues in the Arab world. She’s been an advisor to the National Coalition and various civil society groups, especially around media messaging and regional issues.
Yisser Bittar is one of the delegation’s main support staff, writing background research, speeches, and talking points on a range of issues being discussed by the parties. She works in the National Coalition’s liaison office to the UN.
Nagham Ghadri is an independent member of the National Coalition representing Lattakia. She led a campaign near Idlib to encourage local council elections in order to pave the way for democratic reform. She also founded a civil society organization, Bahr, which provides internally displaced women with employment opportunities.
Women Waging Peace Network member Rafif Jouejati is a spokesperson for the opposition delegation. Her organization, Foundation to Restore Education and Equality in Syria (FREE-Syria), provides humanitarian relief and established safe havens called “Jasmine Tents” for women inside Syria to recover from trauma and learn new skills.
Read more about about Rafif’s work on nonviolence and women’s rights.
…and one of four advisors to the opposition’s negotiators.
Bassma Kodmani was one of the founding members of the Syrian National Council, the pre-cursor to the National Coalition. A political scientist, she has vast experience in policy analysis and democratic reform (she created the Arab Reform Initiative, a research consortium, in 2005).
Kristin Williams is Writer and Program Associate at The Institute for Inclusive Security, where she strengthens women’s leadership in the Middle East and North Africa and makes the case globally for women’s substantive participation in the peace and security decisions that affect their lives.
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