Next month in Geneva, rebels will sit down to talk to representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's government about a peace plan to end Syria's civil war -- a conflict that has killed over 100,000 people since 2011 and driven a third of the population from their homes. In the room alongside the rebels and government officials will be a whole slew of negotiators from various Western countries and Russia.
Yet again in human history, we are setting up a peace process that seems destined to fail before it has even begun. The people responsible for causing the conflict -- the men with the guns, aided by the suppliers of guns -- will also be trusted to deliver peace. And who will be missing from the room? Women.
Women were also missing in the Dayton peace process that "ended" the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and with hindsight we now know that this was a serious omission. The 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, which set out the post conflict structures for Bosnia and Herzegovina, has failed the people it was theoretically designed to help. There were no women or representatives of civil society during the peace negotiations. Not surprisingly, then, the mechanisms created by Dayton resulted essentially in the institutionalization of the war in the political frameworks. For example despite the high level prosecutions at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, there is still a de facto impunity for crimes committed against women and the most vulnerable during the war.
Research in recent years has shown that there is a qualitative difference to peace agreements that are inclusive, and respond to the needs not only of the perpetrators but also of the victims. Indeed, only about half of all peace agreements in the world actually work in keeping the peace and even a cursory examination of the countries where that peace has held, questions could still be raised about the "quality" of that peace.
So what is going on here? Why would Lakhdra Brahimi, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for Syria, say that the upcoming peace process is a "huge opportunity for peace" when the approach being taken seems to suggest it will be the same recipe for disaster?
It's hard to know. Common sense would dictate that if half of all peace agreements fail completely and the rest are questionable, then it is time to try a different approach. Yet, when prominent women's organizations asked the UN to ensure the inclusion of women in the upcoming Syrian peace negotiations, we were told that the "political situation is complicated."
We already know that. But the solution is not to perpetuate the divisiveness that led the country into war in the first place.
That's why we are raising our voices to support the women of Syria who are asking to be included in decision-making regarding the future of their country. It is foolish to keep women out of the peace talks, as if their voices matter less than the voices of the men with guns. It is untenable and wrong to exclude women at this critical juncture in Syria's history.
Even though they have been excluded up to now, Syrian women are active and prepared to be involved in the peace negotiations. They have the support of women's organizations around the world, including 10 that are circulating an international petition in support of women's participation in Geneva II.
Of all the western governments, only the United Kingdom has been direct in stating that women should have a direct role in the peace talks. We are calling on other Western governments and Russia to join the UK in demanding meaningful participation of women, as it is required in UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 2122 as well as UN General Assembly Resolution GA/65/283.
Between now and when the peace talks begin on Jan. 22, the slaughter of civilians will continue unchecked in Syria. There will be potentially thousands more deaths as winter encroaches, and as humanitarian aid fails to reach the most vulnerable. Those deaths will be mainly women and children.
But there is something you can do to help the women and children of Syria. You can ask your government to ensure that women are included in the upcoming peace talks. Sign this petition: http://www.wilpfinternational.org/geneva-ii-petition/.
Let's give peace in Syria -- lasting peace -- a fighting chance.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Nobel Women's Initiative, spotlighting women working globally for peace, justice and equality as part of the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Violence campaign. For more information about the Nobel Women's Initiative and 16 Days, click here. URL:www.nobelwomensinitiative.org
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