Syrian activist insists: women ‘must be heard’ in U.N.-led talks

AP

A group of Syrian women demanded Monday that the U.N. appoint a gender adviser and make other efforts to reflect their voices at Geneva peace talks aimed at ending the country’s civil war.

Participants said at the end of a two-day conference for Syrian women that the international peace conference for Syria planned to begin next week in Switzerland must include women’s representatives and push for constitutionally guaranteed equality between women and men, if there is to be lasting peace.

A prominent Syrian activist, Kefah ali Deeb, said the women must be heard because “no less than 80 percent” of all 9.3 million Syrians who need aid are women and children. The conference is meant to broker a political solution to the Syrian civil war, whose raging violence has killed more than 120,000 people and forced more than 2.3 million to flee the country, destroying much of the nation’s economy and social structure.

“We cannot remain silent regarding events unfolding in Syria such as daily death, massive destruction, starvation of people and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Syrian families, in Syria and abroad, as well as the spread of terror, of violence, ongoing detentions, acts of kidnapping, destruction of infrastructures and the spread of diseases, particularly among children,” she told reporters.

Women under Syrian President Bashar Assad’s rule enjoyed freedoms and relative rights, but thanks to the civil war those rights recently have been dealt a setback in opposition-held areas of the country where al-Qaida militants have taken over.

Human Rights Watch said in a report Monday that some extremist Islamist groups in northern Syria, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, (ISIS), are imposing strict, discriminatory rules on women and girls, such as requiring them to wear headscarves and full-length robes. These roles have no basis in Syrian law and limit their ability to carry out essential daily activities, move freely in public, and attend school.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the U.K. Parliament that the government has “urged the U.N. to facilitate a clear role for women’s groups and civil society, in the form of a consultative body” at the Geneva talks, and is providing $327,000 for that purpose.

The Syrian women in Geneva are forming a team to coordinate with peace negotiators, said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of U.N. Women, which was a co-sponsor alongside the Netherlands of the Syria women’s conference at the U.N.’s European headquarters in Geneva.

The women’s conference agreed that Syrian authorities must put an end to all arbitrary detentions and prosecutions by security forces, lift all travel restrictions on activists and politicians, and ensure the safe return of refugees and displaced people.

They also demanded that authorities and rebels must allow humanitarian and medical aid to flow unhindered to all areas based on needs, under the supervision of an independent commission with international oversight.