After nearly 10 years of conflict, women in Syria continue to suffer from sexual and gender-based violence. Recently, measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have increased the prevalence of domestic violence, child marriage and sexual harassment. Syrian women have at the same time been at the forefront of initiatives to respond to the crisis. They have also been a steadfast partner to the UN Special Envoy for Syria over the years, supporting the political process with inclusive proposals and solutions in the interest of all Syrians, men and women to advance peace and reconciliation in their country. Zozan Alloush is one of these courageous Syrian women.
Alloush is a member of the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board (WAB), a body of 17 civil society leaders and experts coming from diverse backgrounds who provide recommendations to the talks aiming to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in the country. “Syrian women must be at the center of building a sustainable peace in Syria”, Alloush stresses. “The Constitutional Committee, where women represent 28 percent of the members [...] offers a real window of opportunity for Syrian women to contribute to efforts to bring peace back to their country.”
UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen regularly engages with the members of the WAB to hear their insights on all aspects of the political process including gender and women’s rights-related proposals. “Syrian women must play and are playing a central role in the political process mandated by Security Council Resolution 2254,” he said, after his last meeting with the group on 2 December.
To ensure that women’s perspectives and leadership are taken into account in the peace process, the United Nations has been working closely with civil society activists, building their leadership capacities, convening women from diverse backgrounds and opinions, and supporting them in the process of identifying and unifying around a common agenda for peace.
The Syrian Women’s Initiative for Peace and Democracy (SWIPD), a network of civil society organizations from inside and outside of Syria, which Alloush was an active member in 2013, had been submitting recommendations and appeals to the UN since 2014, including to have a separate third party seat ‘at the table’ for Syrian women civil society representatives. In early 2016, given the complexity of the political process that was about to be initiated, the Syrian women from SWIPD also suggested the modality of an advisory board as a starting point for women’s inclusion. Together with UN Women, DPPA and the Office of the Special Envoy consulted with the Syrian women from SWIPD for their ideas on what an advisory board would look like, and soon after, the Syrian Women Advisory Board was established and began its work at the first round of intra-Syrian talks in February 2016.
“It’s the first time in history that we have civil society representatives, supported by the UN, within the Constitutional Committee. It’s the first time that the UN Special Envoy to Syria says that at least 30 percent of the members should be women,” Alloush explains.
Over the years, Alloush deepened her knowledge and expertise about the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction. “I participated in over 10 workshops centered around peace and democracy. It empowered me. [...] I learned about laws and acts which are centered on women. Before, we didn’t know how to talk about women, peace, and security,” Ms. Alloush said. This has led her to become the founding member of the Syrian Women Peacemakers, a network of civil society organizations with different backgrounds as well as the founder and director of Women Development Organization (WDO), advocating for women’s participation in all political, economic, social and cultural activities in Syria. In 2017, she joined the Women’s Advisory Board (WAB).
“Women should have a strong presence and participation in all political, economic, social and cultural activities in Syria. It’s also a necessity that women from all ethnic groups are included to ensure civil peace and national reconciliation,” she adds. She also hopes to see young women engage in public advocacy, add their voices to the Constitutional Committee, and take part in UN workshops to understand not just international law but also learn how to communicate with leaders about their demands and rights.
This article is based on information gathered and an interview conducted by Shruti Kedia with Zozan Alloush for the DPPA Innovation Cell data storytelling project “Behind the Numbers”. Ms. Kedia is a research and media consultant, policy analyst, and a Masters in Public Administration candidate at Columbia University. A former journalist and an entrepreneur, Shruti previously consulted for the Gates Foundation, Precision Agriculture for Development, and the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs.
Title picture: Zozan Alloush conducting a workshop for foreign ISIS women refugees in northeast Syria. The workshop discussed the concept of extremism and its implications for children. April 2019. Photo courtesy of Zozan Alloush