posted on Thu 16 Jan 2014 2:14 PM
Arria Formula Meeting on Women’s Participation in Resolving the Syrian Conflict

On Friday morning (17 January), Security Council members are set to hold a closed Arria formula meeting, organised by Luxembourg and the UK, focusing on women’s participation in resolving the Syrian conflict. The panelists will be representatives of the Syrian Women’s League, Syrian Women’s Network and the Syrian Women’s Coalition for Democracy. It seems the holding of this Arria meeting, unlike the closed Arria meeting with the Syrian National Coalition on 26 July 2013, did not encounter any significant resistance from Council members as none of the speakers are politically aligned with either the Syrian government or the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC).

Tomorrow’s meeting will provide Council members with an opportunity to discuss how to strengthen women’s full and equal participation in talks on Syria’s future, the gender impact of the conflict including sexual violence and other gender-based violations, and get recommendations from the panelists on how the Council should approach and support both the participation and protection elements of the women, peace and security agenda in its Syria-focused work.

The civil society representatives briefing Council members tomorrow recently attended a conference in Geneva of Syrian women organised by UN Women on 12-13 January that was also attended by UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi. The panelists are likely to highlight this conference’s outcome statement which made several concrete recommendations regarding women’s participation in the Geneva II peace talks, slated to begin on 22 January. For Geneva II talks, the statement demanded, among other things, a 30 percent proportion of women on all negotiating teams and committees, that representatives of women’s organisations are included as observers, meaningful participation by women during the entire negotiation and transition process, and that a gender adviser be appointed to the mediation team. As a first step towards this goal, Brahimi has finally agreed to include a gender adviser on his staff.

The panelists will also provide first-hand knowledge to Council members regarding the current situation of women in Syria and how the brutal tactics of the regime, compounded by the proliferation of extremist elements among the opposition, have alarming implications for women’s rights and safety in Syria. A key message which Council members are likely to receive tomorrow regarding Geneva II is that neither the government or the SOC sufficiently represent the Syrian people and that the typical approach of only inviting “men with guns” to the negotiating table fundamentally undermines the integrity of the talks if pursued at the exclusion of women and civil society.

In this regard, Council members may be interested in the panelists’ views on a recent UK initiative regarding a consultative forum which would provide a practical mechanism through which women’s views could be fed directly into the Geneva II process, as well as enabling the availability of gender expertise to both the opposition and government delegations.

A final overarching message the panelists are likely to convey is that any transition should be based on equal citizenship, rule of law, women’s equality and a rejection of any political solution based on ethnicity or religion.