War, Earthquake, and Then What: Syrian Women Taking Action to Peace Building

by Reem Mohammad Wehbe

Introduction: Women`s Participation in Peacebuilding in the Middle East

As the Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Women in the World Summit 2013 said, “When women participate in the economy, everyone benefits. When women participate in peace-making and peace-keeping, we are all safer and more secure. And when women participate in politics of their nations, they can make a difference” (United Nations Foundation 2018). Resilience, resourcefulness, and rebuilding; three Rs describing women`s efforts to participate in the Middle East. Women have organized themselves into powerful networks and coalitions, leveraging social media and other technologies to amplify their voices and connect with like-minded individuals and organizations globally. Although women’s participation in peacebuilding efforts can put them at risk, particularly in situations where they challenge traditional gender roles or work against entrenched power structures, they stood up and try to shine in the process of peace-building. Women in the Middle East have been working towards peacebuilding for decades, and their contributions are increasingly recognized by the international community. However, despite some progress, women still face significant challenges and obstacles in their efforts to participate fully in peacebuilding processes. In the heart of the Middle East, Syria with the lived ongoing conflicts from various sources includes the lowest rates of women`s participation in the Middle East (Khiami G. 2023). However, women have played an essential role in peacebuilding during the conflicts in their country, but were their actions recognized? Women in Syria faced extreme oppression although they played a vital role in peacebuilding.


Proposal: Women’s Inclusion in Syrian Peacebuilding

Around the World, it has been recognized that hundred of initiatives were done to increase women`s participation in negotiations and state actions, but how is that applicable in Syria nowadays? Due to the presence of an authoritarian regime, emergency law, traditional and patriarchal systems, as well as discriminatory laws and codes, women in Syria have been deprived of their fundamental rights, resulting in their dependence on male family members. The General Women’s Union, established in 1967, was intended to represent all Syrian women, but its creation impeded the efforts of other women’s and feminist groups that lacked the ability to register or operate legally in the country (Bellafronto, 2005). Although there were no legal restrictions on women’s political participation in Syria, their representation remained minimal and the Global Gender Gap report ranked Syria in the 124th place among 135 countries. On the other hand, Syrian women’s oppression and marginalization in terms of participation in the country`s action plans were visible in media, economic, and political relationships. In other words, the subjective experiences of Syrian women as mothers, wives, widows, sisters, and daughters are intertwined with gender structures and religious identities, as well as professional, social, economic, and class disparities. These experiences also intersect with problematic political identities. For example, women during the war were represented in terms of victimhood in media where it was essentializing Arab culture as a harmful practice that perpetuates the marginalization of underprivileged women by reinforcing dominant representations (Mansour & K. 2020). For instance, a study was done about Syrian refugee women where the researchers interviewed women who were refugees and Syrian around the world, and many women reflected on their experience as refugees and the marginalization they were facing. A woman said that when she first came to the country, she was okay with calling her a refugee, but then she realized the hidden discrimination in the word that people felt and meant (Batainah, H. S., & de Percy 2021). So, is women being refugees around the world marginalized in their home countries and hosted countries the solution? For that women were always represented as passive and are typically three times more prone to being passive recipients of action rather than being active participants. Additionally, they are often depicted as victims of various forms of violence, such as rape, torture, detention, death, ransom, and human trafficking. All of that happening, and it is not the time for discussing these issues. It is not the time for discussing the representation of Syrian women as victims of sexual assaults, rape, and violence. It is not the time to negotiate about forced marriage for money and economic matters. It is not the time to offer the table, the reality of the political, economic, and social inequality Syrian women are facing. A logical explanation for that is the lack of women`s representation on this table that is offering the “action plan” for their “peace-building”. 



Review: Women`s Actions in Peacebuilding Inclusion in Syria

Women have been discouraged to participate in political issues and peace-building plans due to reasons based on sexist mentalities, women`s lack of education, and lack of security. Despite facing multiple obstacles to entering politics, Syrian women have made significant contributions towards promoting peace in certain communities during the past 11 years of the war. By bringing attention to crucial issues that had previously been overlooked or dismissed, Syrian women have helped expand the scope of various peacebuilding initiatives. In addition to working towards the release of prisoners and highlighting forced disappearances, Syrian women have played a crucial role in securing safe passage for humanitarian aid by negotiating local ceasefires. They have also been involved in the distribution of medical supplies, organized peaceful demonstrations, and continue to work in sectors such as education and healthcare to ensure that their communities’ basic needs are met. A notable example of their efforts was demonstrated in Banias, where a group of 2,000 women and children who blocked a highway compelled the government to release hundreds of illegally detained men (Khiami & K. 2023). 

Moreover, political involvement in Syria began formally in 2012 with Geneva I, but it was noted that women were absent from these discussions. As a result, Syrian women pushed for the UN to address this gender gap and help establish a network of women to participate in peacebuilding processes. Although Syrian women were present at the second round of political negotiations in January 2014, they were still underrepresented. Unfortunately, these peace talks failed due to a number of factors, including geopolitical manipulation, regional instability, and differing global interests, as well as the absence of women. Meanwhile, the UN held a high-profile women’s conference in the Netherlands to provide Syrian women with a platform to voice their concerns and make recommendations to Joint Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. This conference led to the creation of the Syrian Women’s Initiative for Peace and Democracy (SWIPD), a group of diverse women civil society activists. After three years of hard work by Syrian women, the Women’s Advisory Board (WAB) was established in February 2016 by Special Envoy Staffan De Mistura. The WAB comprises 12 Syrian women from different backgrounds and affiliations who were appointed to ensure that women’s perspectives were represented and included in the peace talks in Geneva. However, the WAB does not participate directly in political negotiations but rather advises the mediators (Theros, M., & Turkmani, R. 2022).



Analysis: Women`s Voices Are Heard, or not

At the end of the day, why do women`s participation in peacebuilding need these efforts and work to let women`s voices be heard? According to the social dominance view, gendered power relations are linked to group-based inequalities and the oppression of women. There is an asymmetry in the way that men and women relate to issues of power in society, with men’s power being defined in the public sphere and women’s power being relegated to the private sphere. Because power and authority are exercised in the public realm, women’s influence on peacebuilding is limited even though their presence has positive outcomes for peace. Additionally, women’s economic dependence and vulnerability contribute to inequalities, and the structure of society perpetuates and reinforces this economic dependence, limiting women’s power over men. Patriarchy is a major structural force that influences how men and women relate in all spheres of life, resulting in inequalities between them. Women are excluded from enjoying their autonomy and human rights and are denied opportunities to actively participate in public life. As a result, there is a gendered construction of public and private spheres. In addition, one of the major challenges is the lack of support for women after the peace process. Although there may be attempts to keep a few women who were involved in the peace processes, they often receive less support compared to their male counterparts. Furthermore, women may also be hesitant to take on leadership positions in political life due to the fear of being targeted and victimized (Milimu W. S 2022). Therefore, whether women`s voices are heard or not is an issue that the future will tell and women will answer.



Conclusion: For a better Inclusion, For a Better Life

In summary, the way women are portrayed and depicted during times of conflict and war can significantly impact their ability to take action and influence their future. The under-representation of women in peace negotiations is not just limited to Syrian women or women in conflict zones; it is a universal issue within the international system, which fails to uphold its principles of inclusivity and diversity. Also, the limited involvement of Syrian women in politics is a symptom of a larger issue in the system, which is designed to systematically exclude women from formal peace negotiations and political processes. Many steps have been taken in solving the issue, but what is the big step that is needed for the “real” inclusion of Syrian women in peacebuilding; international support that is in a problematic format or women`s resilience and patience in their suffering? Syrian women dislocating or refugeeing is not the solution, and their everyday suffering with sprinkles of their resilience cannot continue. “Syrian women and girls should not continue to bare the brunt of more than a decade of conflict and instability” – Dr Natalie Kassem.






Work Cited

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Khiami, Ghina. “Inclusion of Women in Negotiations: The Syrian Women’s Advisory Board and the Yemeni Women’s Technical Advisory Group.” Al-Raida Journal, vol. 47, 2023, pp. 115-124. Accessed from http://www.alraidajournal.com/index.php/ALRJ/article/view/1839.

Mansour, Kinda. Syrian Women and Their Participation in the Peace Process. American University in Beirut, 2020. Accessed from http://www.activearabvoices.org/uploads/8/0/8/4/80849840/syrian_women_-_en_-_v.1_-_digital.pdf

Batainah, H. S., & de Percy, M. A. “Women, Peace, and Security: What Can Participation Mean For.” Retrieved from https://www.acmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-03/Taskforce%20Leadership%20Guide%20e-Publication_0.pdf.

Bellafronto, Catherine. “Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa – Syria.” Freedom House, 14 October 2005.

Theros, Maria, and Rouba Turkmani. “Engendering Civicness in the Syrian Peacemaking Process.” Journal of Civil Society, vol. 18, no. 2, 2022, pp. 183-200, https://doi.org/10.1080/17448689.2022.2068625.

Milimu, Winfred S. “The Place of Gender in Peacebuilding: An Analysis of Women’s Role in Post-Peace Processes.” American Research Journal of Humanities & Social Science (ARJHSS), 2022. Accessed from http://www.arjhss.com/.