Amidst conflict, Syrian women lead on frontlines for peace

By Jillian Slutzker

June 27, 2016

Recruiting, training and encouraging women to fill critical roles in Syria’s liberated areas is having an immediate result for society, as well as demonstrating the productive role females are playing in building a future for the war-torn country.

Beyond inclusivity: Women on the frontlines for peace in Syria”  provides two case studies that explore how Syrian women are launching or participating in initiatives that are expected to lead to a more stable society.

The Syrian Civil War has been devastating for women’s rights, says Katie Krueger, Senior Associate for Stabilization and Development at Creative Associates International, noting that while we hear a lot about draconian measures imposed by extremists, even women in more moderate areas face challenges.

“However, in moderate communities, women are finding ways to take on leadership roles in community-driven peacebuilding,” she says. “With support from international donors, they lead NGOs, report news at great personal risk and promote the security of their communities.  As more communities remember the roles that women have historically played in Syria, and as more women step up, the more resilient these communities become.”

For example, in areas previously controlled by the violent extremist group ISIS, which imposes its incredibly repressive rule on women and girls, female police units are now helping to fill a security void with civilian-led security systems that improve communities’ access to justice.

“We started to give them the opportunity for work. There were girls who dreamed of sitting behind a mic or writing. Now, they are some of the best people working with us.”

Reem Aleppo, founder and head of Radio Nasaeem

While ameliorating conditions for female victims and women in the justice system, the female units are also shifting perceptions of women’s roles in society.

“The role of these policewomen, breaks traditional gender roles in Syrian society, promotes the presence of women in public spaces, and encourages women to serve and play a more active role in their communities,” states the report.

As leaders, female peacebuilders are also opening doors for other women, paving the way for a more gender equitable future.

For example, the founder and head of Radio Nasaeem—an independent station broadcasting critical information and pro-peace messages to Syrians—is female and more than half her staff is comprised of women, including five reporters inside Syria and elsewhere.

“Honestly, it’s not a coincidence,” says founder and manager Reem Aleppo, who uses a pseudonym for her safety. “We started to give them the opportunity for work. There were girls who dreamed of sitting behind a mic or writing. Now, they are some of the best people working with us.”

In an interview with Creative Associates International, Reem Aleppo says she looked for women who had studied communications but were not given a chance to work in the industry. The radio station made good hiring decisions and the women have been very successful.

Prior to the conflict, journalism had been a male-dominated field in Syria, but the station is helping to change this as women fill positions as reporters and producers.

Thinking beyond inclusivity

Together, the two case studies illustrate the wide-ranging positive outcomes of women playing active roles in peacebuilding. In Syria, these benefits are even more pronounced as the presence of women in leadership helps to counter and shift traditional gender norms.

There is a great need to bolster programs like these and advance inclusive peacebuilding systems and grow opportunities for women to lead, say experts.

“Multilateral and bilateral agencies, governments, military, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector must persistently engage the issue as we continue to work in conservative societies, suppressive cultures and conflict environments,” says Paul Turner, Senior Conflict Adviser at Creative.

Click here to read the full report, “Beyond inclusivity: Women on the frontlines for peace in Syria.”

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