Syrian women coming from various regions of the country have met Friday in a landmark meeting of a democratic congress held in the town of al-Rai in northern Syria's Aleppo to discuss their problems and increase their participation in politics. The gathering, organized with the support of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly and the women's branches of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), was attended by 165 delegations and nearly 400 women of Turkmens, Arab and Kurdish origin from Aleppo, Idlib, Bayirbucak, Raqqa, Hama, Homs, Tarsus, Daraa, Golan and Damascus.
An administrative board consisting of a president and eight other members of the board was elected by the congress.
Speaking to Daily Sabah on the issue, Saliha Sönmez, AK Party Women's Branches Foreign Affairs President, said that the Congress aimed to inform women on participating in politics and decision-making mechanisms.
Noting that Syrian women have little experience and knowledge of this issue, Sönmez stressed they will organize more congresses and provide training on civil society and how to collectively organize in the upcoming period.
Women who suffered from the atrocities of Daesh and the PKK- affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) also attended the meeting to draw attention to violence inflicted by terrorist organization on women.
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, half a million people lost their lives in the clashes, more than 6.6 million people were displaced internally and more than 5.6 million Syrians scattered across its borders. The toll on Syrian women has been particularly brutal. Many studies designated women and girls as the most at-risk population. They not only suffer violent acts of conflict, but they are also victims of gender violence, systematic sexual violence, and domestic violence.
The U.N. report titled "I lost my dignity: Sexual and gender-based violence in the Syrian Arab Republic," documented that women have been subjected to systematic violations and abuses amounting to crimes against humanity both at the hands of the regime authorities and other parties involved in the conflict.
Women were forced to marry Daesh terrorists and were being raped during the height of the terrorist organization's power. Even after Daesh, Syrian women could not escape from, rapes and other acts of sexual violence which are mostly used as a weapon by the regime forces. Today, more than 13,500 women are imprisoned in Syria, while women who took shelter in other countries continue to experience post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological problems.
Turkey, a safe haven for Syrian women refugees
Most of the refugees, including women, fled from war-ravaged Syria to the neighboring country, Turkey. Turkey hosts the biggest refugee population in the world, with 3.5 million Syrians, of which women refugees make up half of the number.
In a bid to empower women refugees, Turkey has offered a wide range of training and aid addressing women refugees' problems in every sphere of life along with numerous humanitarian agencies and international organizations. Ankara helps Syrian refugee women integrate with free Turkish language courses and psychological counseling.
It also took initiatives focused on economic self-sufficiency through vocational training, political strength through leadership training; and intellectual development through forums. Moreover, Turkey is the only country that has allowed certain Syrian refugees to obtain citizenship, giving them an opportunity to have stability in their lives.
Since 2017, 40 Women and Girls Safe Spaces (WGSS) throughout the country have been established with the U.N. Population Fund, providing a variety of services tailored to the needs of Syrian refugees and survivors of gender-based violence. Refugees can receive psychosocial support and attend skills-training workshops as well as information on sexual and reproductive health in these safe spaces.
Another center aiming to enhance the economic and social integration of refugee women and girls in the country was opened in November 2017 by the U.N. and Ankara. SADA Women-only Center situated in the southeast city of Gaziantep, Turkey has legal consultation and psychosocial counseling services to address domestic violence along with training in order to help women refugees to apply for works and establish small businesses. Since the center opened its doors in September 2017, close to 1,800 women and 800 girls, mostly Syrian refugees, registered in 2018.
Selva Sultan, a Syrian refugee who took shelter in Turkey and is also a volunteer of ASRA foundation helping refugees, told Anadolu Agency (AA) yesterday that despite all the hardships Syrian women experienced they need to clutch onto life and not give up as women are the backbone of the family.
Pointing out that she is also a psychologist and helps other Syrian refugees overcome psychological problems caused by the war, Sultan added, "When you are trying to heal the souls of others, you feel that you are healing as well."
RIGHTS GROUP calls for women's representation in SyriaAmnesty International, a London-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) focused on human rights, yesterday launched "Unheard No More: Syrian women shaping Syria's future" campaign to increase Syrian women's official and active role in shaping the country's future.
"Women's participation in political processes is fundamental for achieving gender equality and human rights for all. The international community, especially Iran, Turkey, and Russia, must pressure the Syrian government and armed opposition groups to end sexual and other gender-based violence and discrimination," said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International's Middle East campaigns director.
Hadid also called for Syrian women to be effectively represented and consulted in peace talks, negotiations, the drafting process of the constructions and other peace-building processes.
In 2014, not a single woman was represented at the negotiating table in U.N.-led peace process. Calls for greater inclusion were partially answered in 2016 when the first-ever Syrian Women's Advisory Board, comprised of 12 independent civil society representatives from diverse backgrounds, was established. The board have been consulted regularly with the U.N. special envoy for Syria and included formally in the peace talks. Yet, ensuring the presence of women in the process does not mean the active representation of those women; Syrian women on the board, rather, want to have a direct effect on the peace talks.