It is without a doubt that Syria is currently passing through the most critical crisis since its modern birth in the beginning of the twentieth century. The U.N. recently declared the Syria conflict the biggest humanitarian and peace and security crisis currently facing the world as the fighting enters its fourth year.
Since the onset of the conflict in March 2011, there have been more than 100,000 fatalities half of whom are believed to be civilians. Syria has become the world’s leading country of forced displacement with around 40 per cent of Syria’s pre-conflict population uprooted from their homes. There are more than 6.5 million people internally displaced and another 2.5 million registered refugees who fled mainly to the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey. The number of refugees, however, is much higher as hundreds of thousands more await registration while many others choose not to register.
Though nearly all of Syria’s population is affected by the conflict, the U.N. estimates that over thirteen million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Syria’s youth and children are paying the heaviest toll with acute shortage in nutrition and vaccination and lack of education.
Moreover, with the deteriorating security situation in the country, Syrian women have become increasingly exposed to a range of violations from the different parties in the conflict. Women have become the main victims of the consequences of the dreadful conflict. Thousands of civilian women have been killed in the conflict and many others have been raped, arrested, tortured, taken as hostages and often used as human shields. Sexual violence has also been systemically used against Syrian women in this conflict as a means to terrorize them and their families.
Despite all these atrocities and crimes committed against them, Syrian women remain outside the politicians’ agendas who continue to ignore their rights especially to full participation and equal citizenship. Even before the war, and although Syria has ratified a number of international conventions including CEDAW, women’s participation in general and in political life in particular has been extremely low. The social values of the society and its negative view of women have led to the exclusion of women from most decision-making positions all over the Syrian social, economic and political life.
Challenges Facing the Coalition
Apart from the external constraints caused by the Syrian crisis, the Coalition of Syrian Women for Democracy faces a number of challenges that must be considered and overcome. These include finding and agreeing on common goals and means. The following strategic plan will clarify a clear focus and set realistic objectives on what the Coalition has been formed to accomplish. Nevertheless, the Coalition needs to form a coordination committee that will have to deal with a number of issues that if unaddressed might weaken the Coalition. The Coordination Committee needs to form a center of operations to deal internally with the members of the Coalition and externally with the partners, donors and other relevant actors. The Committee needs to work on boosting the motivation of the members and develop clear methods and mechanisms to resolve conflicts within the Coalition. Members need also to have a sense that each one is doing their fair share of the workload and contributing to what is expected of them to achieve the Coalition’s goal.
The Coalition, through its statutes and bylaws, must also ensure that there is a clear decision-making mechanism and that there is a clear understanding among members and partners as to how decisions in the Coalition are made. The Coalition needs also to promote a culture of trust within the Coalition where all members can feel that their agreements and dealings are open, forthright and transparent and that all members have equal status.
Other challenges that the Coalition will need to address is credit and visibility of the members where all members need to feel that they are receiving the credit and visibility they deserve unless they want to remain anonymous for one reason or another.
The Coalition’s advocacy efforts will gain more strength and efficiency provided that the Coordination Committee also works on prioritized and consistent issues through sharing the priorities of the Coalition as a whole and agreeing to work towards the shared goal. This can be achieved by developing clear lines of communication between members and learning how to utilize each member’s skills and resources.
Last but not least, joining efforts together, while definitely offering a range of advantages, might also be hampered by a set of weaknesses. For the Coalition to be effective and sustainable, it requires the active participation of all the members of the Coalition. The fact that many coalitions and networks are dominated by one individual can be a major obstacle. In his/her absence, no decisions will be taken and no communication will be activated, etc. It is important that all members contribute – and are encouraged to contribute – to the workload and that information is disseminated across the Coalition. This requires sharing information continuously and not just passively receiving it. The Coalition need to set the pace for planning, initiating and participating in joint activities and not merely waiting for things to happen.
We believe that all human beings have the right to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by gender roles. We believe that men and women have the same intrinsic value and thus are equally valuable to society and have equal rights and responsibilities. We believe that there should be equality in outcomes rather than simply equality in opportunities and that all forms of discrimination should be completely abolished.
Equality implies that everyone has equal rights, a fact that enables us to create a fairer society where everyone can participate and has the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Because real equality will only exist when we recognize and value difference and work together for inclusion, the Coalition recognizes, respects, values and embraces difference for the benefit of everyone. The Coalition also believes in gender equity and that men and women should receive fair treatment in all aspects of life.
We believe that democracy is more than just the right to vote; democracy requires that people be allowed to defend their legitimate interests and rights and have the means to influence decisions affecting their lives. Democracy also requires people to make informed decisions, to have the freedom to express their views and to participate in political processes without fear of retribution.
The Coalition believes that the inherent dignity and the equal rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedoms and justice in the world and as such all people should have the freedom of speech and expression, freedom to assemble peacefully and without arms, to move freely and to practice any profession, trade or business and to follow their dreams and aspirations.
Participation and Empowerment
We believe that women must be well prepared and empowered to participate effectively in making decisions that affect their lives and future. Women need not only learn about their rights but they should also learn to acquire skills that would facilitate their access to decision-making positions in times of peace and war.
We believe that citizenship goes beyond the status of being a citizen of a particular community or state. Citizenship means the right of living together in dignity with other citizens and sharing a common home with them. Citizenship requires a sense of a mutual interest and a relationship that includes rights, duties and privileges. Thus, we believe that citizenship, democracy and equality are integrally three interlinked concepts.
The Coalition believes in the fair and proper administration of laws irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, gender, race and religion, and that all people should be treated equally and without prejudice and should have the right to access justice as a main component of their human rights. The Coalition believes that justice holds individuals and groups accountable for their actions and thus protects everyone’s rights. Justice should lead to establishing power balances within the society and reinforcing gender equity.
We believe that each person has a unique value as an individual and is thus entitled to have fair access to resources according to his / her capacities and abilities. We believe that attitudes of respect for one another should be developed as well. We also believe that proper policies and patterns of behavior should be shaped to protect and enhance the value of each individual.
Rationale of Strategy One
Syrian women, like most women in Arab countries, do not enjoy equal rights or equal opportunities with men. This is reflected clearly in their lack of access to political rights, civil rights, education, decision-making positions and key jobs. Even well educated women have to struggle against ancient traditions and restrictive social values that stereotype women and limit their abilities and fair access to power and resources.
Democracy and human rights are integrally intertwined to one another. Human rights can only be protected when there is a true democracy and rule of law in a country. A functional democracy would embrace diversity and would allow power to ultimately rest with the people. The Coalition believes that such a model has to provide fair opportunities for women to become full partners within the Syrian society at all levels. However, democracy and human rights are interdependent. Without human rights, democracy is meaningless. The Coalition realizes that true democracy cannot be achieved unless there is a focused advocacy on human rights, women’s rights, civil and political rights as well as social, economic, educational and cultural rights. These rights can only be accomplished and protected through a modern democratic constitution that would specifically guard Syrian women’s rights and equality.
The Coalition will strive to advocate for a constitution that not only grants equality to women but also sets a framework that would adopt measures of positive discrimination in favor of women – such as a quota – for neutralizing the cumulative political and socio economic disadvantages and marginalization that they have experienced for decades. The Coalition will work towards achieving a constitution that would ensure gender equality before the law as well as the equal protection of the law, prohibit discrimination against any citizen on grounds of sex, religion, or ethnicity and guarantee equality in opportunity and outcome to all male and female citizens.
Rationale of Strategy Two
The human sex ratio in the world, as well as in Syria, is almost equal. As such, women represent half the society; without their full and meaningful participation, the society is crippled with half its capacities. Using only part of its resources, a society is destined to fail. Syria is no exception. Women should be considered as full partners in a world that both men and women equally share. Women’s participation in Syria continues to be limited; per se, effective participation remains a top priority and a critical element for achieving gender equality.
The Coalition plans to lobby on behalf of the Syrian women to change all legislations that impede their full participation in political, economic and peace-making processes across all sectors and throughout different levels of life in Syria. The goal is to establish a more stable and just society in Syria. This can only be accomplished by increasing women’s capacities and skills and by adopting favorable laws and policies that would provide the proper motivation and opportunity for women to advance, flourish and achieve.
Moreover, with the devastating conflict going on in Syria, the imperatives for peace and peacebuilding are enormously substantial. It is obvious that at some point that peace building and conflict resolution will be sought but such a process cannot be accomplished without the critical participation of women. Therefore, women have to be active participants at the negotiating table as negotiators, mediators and technical experts. Gender issues must be integrated into all the negotiation processes. The interests and concerns of women in Syria, as well as those displaced internally and across neighboring countries, must be discussed and addressed properly.
The absence of women from formal peace negotiations is quite discriminatory and unfair given the fact that women have not only become parties to the conflict but also its main victims. The continued marginalization of Syrian women in related peace efforts that aim at preventing, addressing and resolving conflicts means that the local and international communities need to take more decisive action to remedy this injustice.
The Coalition adopts UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security so as to increase Syrian’s women’s participation in all efforts related to peace and security, and to strengthen their protection in the armed conflict the country is passing through.
The Coalition will concretely lobby for the participation of Syrian women in key decision-making processes related to peace and security. It will also ensure that Syrian women’s contribution is important in preventing, managing and resolving the current conflict and later in building up the society after the conflict has been resolved.
Rationale of Strategy Three
A coalition is a union of people and organizations that come together for the purpose of gaining more influence, outcome and power than the individual organizations can achieve on their own especially in advocacy efforts. As such, there is a need to spend time and energy to build a coalition and amass the power necessary to accomplish the intended change. Goals range from information sharing to coordination of services, from community education to advocacy for major environmental or policy changes.
The Coalition of Syrian Women for Democracy seeks to influence the Syrian constitution and all relevant policies and legislations that deprive Syrian women of their rights and prohibit them from fully participating in all aspects of political, economic and social life in Syria. The Coalition, however, is faced with several significant organizational challenges. Among these are the ability to function under the dynamic changes that Syria is passing through at the moment; the ability to make better use of the limited resources it has access to; the ability to increase the capacity and accountability of its members and the ability to preserve its mission course and ultimately achieve the Coalition’s goals and objectives.
The Coalition realizes quite well the urgency to respond to these organizational challenges as soon as possible. Moreover, the coordination committee needs to get more involved in the steering, communication, monitoring and guidance processes. The Coalition aims to develop the structures, strategies, methodologies, processes and procedures that would serve the Coalition best and ultimately increase its capacity and resilience. This cannot be achieved without investing in the capacity building of the members of the Coalition. This would require development of the members’ human resources, strategies, policies and procedures as well as leadership. The Coalition will embrace two values when developing its members’ capacities. These are: 1) humanistic values that relate to equality, openness, honesty and integrity and 2) democratic values that relate to social justice, freedom of choice, and involvement.