Syrian women seek equal say under new constitution

Talks in Geneva could be start of greater political role for women in Syria, civil society delegate says

Geir O. Pedersen, center, Special Envoy for Syria shakes hands with members of the Government, after the first meeting of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva Switzerland, Wednesday, October 30, 2019. (Salvatore Di NolfiKeystone via AP)
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Syrian women remain sidelined from public and political discourse and deserve equal representation in parliament, a delegate at talks on a new constitution for the war-torn country told The National.

Samira Moubayed, a political and academic researcher, is among 150 members of the Syrian Constitutional Committee gathered in Geneva to begin deliberations on political reforms that it is hoped will lead to elections and an end to more than eight years of conflict. The government, opposition and civil society each have 50 members on the committee.

Nearly one third of the delegates are women and they are pushing to be taken seriously.

“We want to have equal representation for women in the Syrian constitution, at least 30 per cent. We will eventually push for a 50 per cent participation,” said Ms Moubayed, who is attending the talks as a representative of civil society.

Democracy can only be implemented in Syria “if equal human rights of both men and women are respected and recognised”, she said.

But she believes there is a lack of “confidence in the importance of having a female presence in decision-making roles”.

“Many sides believe that it’s important to have women as part of their delegations but … they are only there for appearances.”

She said women in Syria have stayed away from politics because of “cultural norms and traditions”.

“Unless there is a real and genuine push to include women in the decision-making process there will not be enough female voices to help shape the future of Syria,” she said.

Women have played an integral part in Syria’s conflict – supporting the rebels, running underground networks of humanitarian relief for besieged areas, and creating safe spaces for civilians. They have also been part of local negotiations and peace efforts.

“Even if women achieve solid representation in the constitution, there must be a push for the establishment of platforms that will enable female participation in the political field,” Ms Moubayed said.

The aim of the meeting in Geneva is to get all Syrian sides to agree on a new constitution for Syria, but it still remains unclear if the delegations will redraft the existing constitution, written in 2012, or start from scratch.

Ms Moubayed said the constitutional committee alone cannot push for a political solution in Syria, but is a part of a wider effort.

“It is seen as a step to launch the political transition path adopted in accordance with the international resolutions on the Syrian issue,” she said, adding that this must include all Syrians.

“It must serve the interest of all spectrums, and a radical change must be implemented today in order to improve the situation in Syria.”

For peace to prevail, all sides in the conflict must recognise that at least one member of every household has been subjected to torture, rape or other inhumane treatment, she said.

President Bashar Al Assad’s government has denied allegations of systematic torture, as well as allegations of widespread war crimes by government-backed forces and Syria’s security services.

“Reconciliation in Syrian society will never be achieved unless a recognition of abuses towards civilians is formally announced,” Ms Moubayed said.

Changing the constitution, enabling a political transition and having a solid vision for the future of Syria are essential to creating peace.

Syria’s civil society is aware of the difficulties, she said, but will push and hope for the best.