Cairo, Egypt -- It's been nearly two years since Syria's dictator Bashar al Assad began his brutal assault on hundreds of thousands of people in Syria, a country of over 20 million people. Since the Arab uprisings began, women from Damascus to Aleppo have played a critical role in trying to build a better future for their country. We have seen them take to the streets protesting; we have seen women arrested; and we have seen women at the front of humanitarian aid missions and helping the sick and wounded. But unlike the jubilant scenes we saw unfold in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen or Egypt, the world has been shocked at the slaughter of hundreds of women and children in ongoing massacres in Syria. This violence must stop. Change has to come to Syria; women's voices must be heard.
In a first of its kind initiative, over forty women from Syria gathered recently in Cairo to form the Syrian Women's Forum for Peace. For many of them, their bravery in leaving their homes and families behind, in the midst of the war, was a miracle. And this risk was critical, as it reinforced their commitment to forge a united vision and shared efforts to create a great role for Syrian women in all spheres of public affairs, politics and human rights in a post-Assad era, and to elevate peace as a universal value for all Syrians.
The initiative came at a critical juncture, as women have largely been overlooked during the conflict in Syria. We heard women from Aleppo tell us firsthand about human rights violations facing women as a result of the violence. They reaffirmed the importance of involving women in peace building and the creation of a democratic Syria so that they can fully participate in public life and work towards a unified vision for peace. The issue of displaced women and refugees was also raised.
Our movement, Karama, has provided a framework for coordination, cooperation and linkage among people working to stop violence against women. Since the fall of the authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Egypt, Karama has initiated an unprecedented range of multi-sectoral collaboration and advocacy by women across the region at the national, regional and international levels. We have lobbied these emerging democracies for better parliamentary representation, legislation and rights, and we are seeing progress. Today our partners include organizations in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Palestine with experience in research, service provision, community outreach and working with at-risk groups. Syria is our next chapter. These brave women are now empowered to propose strategies and solutions to build national action plans and aim to grow a bigger movement of support.
Here's how we plan to do that:
We will reach out and network with organizations and groups committed to the goal of peace, inside and outside the country. We will build avenues of communication with Syrian civil society at the individual and organizational levels, and in doing so empower civil society to undertake active roles in peace building. Addressing the immediate and urgent needs of people caught up in the conflict -- particularly women and children -- is one of our biggest priorities. The images we've seen on YouTube of torture of innocent people of all ages is proof that change must come and we must all come together to change Syria and support women's vision for a peaceful Syria.
As Syrian women work to build a democratic and civil state, they will do so holding their heads high, knowing they will assume their rightful roles in the country and in doing so help stop the violence which is killing their fathers, brothers and sons so needlessly. Women have a right to be heard, a right to demand change and a right to create better future for generations to come. President Assad: the world sees the bloodshed, destruction and devastation in Syria, and hears the crying of innocent children. How long will it take until you do?