Call for women’s political participation in the Middle East, as crises worsens

February 19, 2015

A strong appeal for women’s involvement in peace negotiations in Iraq and Syria was made to Dutch Foreign Minister Koenders by two Hivos partners from the region on February 17, 2015.

Suzan Aref from the Iraqi Women Empowerment Organization, together with a leading member of the Syrian Women’s Initiative for Peace and Democracy, discussed the situation of women in Syria and Iraq with Minister Koenders. As the conflicts in the region continue to worsen, they once more emphasized the need for women’s full and equal participation in political processes and peace negotiations. They asked the Minister to continue to push for this, together with the EU and the international community. 

The meeting took place during a conference in Amsterdam about the role of women in conflict and peace resolutions, organised by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The conference was held in light of the 15th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, a resolution that calls for acknowledgement of the special needs of women during and after conflicts, and their crucial role in dialogue and peace negotiations.

Both Hivos partners actively work towards the inclusion of women in the political discussions in and about their respective countries, Iraq and Syria. Hivos supports them by financing their work and by playing a broker role in these efforts. As the Syrian Women’s Initiative representative said: “I am convinced that a military approach alone can never lead to peace in Syria, but that an inclusive political solution is crucial. Women should be involved in this process from the start, because if women are not included from the beginning, women’s rights are the first thing to be thrown overboard once negotiations start”. In 2013, she was one of the women who, with support of Hivos, met with then-UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in the build-up to the Geneva peace talks between the Syrian regime and the Oppositional Coalition, to emphasise the plight of Syrian women in the conflict, and their crucial role in the road to peace and reconciliation.

Suzan Aref is one of the initiators of the 1325 Alliance, a group of Iraqi women’s organisations that try to push their government to implement the UN resolution 1325 in Iraq. Last year, the Iraqi government made a great step forward by signing a National Action Plan for this resolution, but so far this plan has not been put into practice. As the situation in Iraq deteriorates and security issues overtake the political debate, the position and role of women in the conflict is easily overlooked. Suzan’s Alliance therefore continues to remind both the international community and the Iraqi government of its obligation to prevent gender-based violence, to protect women, and to include them in Iraq’s political processes, as women have a specific role to play in peace building and reconciliation.

In his closing speech, Minister Koenders expressed his respect and admiration for the work of these women, and stressed that the Netherlands remains committed to include women more prominently as ‘agents of change’ in conflicts and peace.

The video report in English by Deutsche Welle (right sidebar) demonstrates the urgency of the situation for many women and girls in Iraq and Syria. It tells the story of Khanke and Lalish, two Yazidi girls who escaped from ISIS and were later helped by WEO staff.