What Social Contract Do Syrian Women Want?

What Social Contract Do Syrian Women Want?

Lina Wafaei, member of the Syrian Women’s Political
Movement, member of political consultations team.

On August 28th, 2020,
The Syrian Women’s Political Movement (SWPM) released a policy paper entitled “Syrian
Women’s Aspirations for a Just Social Contract, an Inclusive National Identity,
and Sustainable Peace”, as part of a virtual event called “Syrian politics: a
feminist perspective”. The event took place via Zoom and it was attended by his
Excellency Mr. Diego Ruiz Gallio, First Secretary for Human Rights in the
Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations Office in Geneva. The paper
was the result of consultation sessions attended by 140 Syrian women in 14
different regions inside Syria, covering the entirety of the country.

The fourth in a series of policy
papers prepared by the SWPM, this paper follows papers on topics of: the constitutional
process, the return of refugees, and reconstruction. All papers were written to
represent the perspective of Syrian women. The SWPM has taken it upon itself to
carry the voice of the Syrian woman to decision makers, and make sure that her
demands are respected and met by places of power. These commitments were the
basis upon which the consultation sessions started around two years ago.

The SWPM believes that the voice of
Syrian women must be heard all over the world by the international community. It
has endeavored, therefore, to have its policy papers released in Europe, North
America, Latin America, as well as with UN organizations. It also made sure
that the papers reach Syrian representatives in the political process. We
believe that we bear the responsibility of promoting our cause across the
world, so that our views regarding the future Syria receive proper attention.

The latest paper discusses women’s
views concerning the social contract in Syria both currently and historically.
In the paper, women talk about the oppressive social contract imposed by the
totalitarian state, in which a person’s identity depended on their absolute
allegiance to the ruler. Ironically, the whole country acquired the name
“Assad’s Syria”. Later, the revolution came as an attempt to establish a new
form of allegiance in Syria based on a united national identity. The protesters
often chanted “One, one one! The Syrian people are one.” Participating in this
movement helped Syrian women develop their sense of pride in their own country.
Thus, they ventured into the public sphere to play their role in the making of a
new Syria.

However, the regime’s systematic
and violent crackdown of the peaceful protests eventually turned the revolution
into an armed struggle which led to a fragmentation in Syrian identity. As a
result, Syrians fell back on their partial, pre-national identities. The
behavior of armed militias played a key role in this fragmentation, women
reported. At military check-points, regardless of who runs them, a person is
treated differently based on their area of origin. Moreover, the displacement
that accompanied most periods of the Syrian war contributed further to this
national and sectarian fragmentation.

Syrian women participating in the
sessions stressed that what brought us together as Syrians lay first and
foremost in the will to live together peacefully in a geographically-united
country. Although the country, defined by its current borders, is only one
hundred years old, the fact that Syrians insist on living within these borders
in one, undivided county is proof that they possess the will to coexist.
Furthermore, Syrians have a common interest in living together, as each part of
Syria needs the other parts to survive. No region in Syria can exist
independently. In terms of economy and livelihood, Syrian regions perfectly complement
each other.

“Suffering unites us all” was an
opinion expressed by one of the participants. “The crisis itself, the horrors
we have been through, they themselves unite us,” said another. “The suffering does
not discriminate. Everyone was hurt in one way or another: the rich, the poor,
men, women, everyone. This is what unites us as Syrians.”

However, our common destiny
necessitates the creation of a new social contract that unites us under a
national identity. Such a contract can only be established in the presence of a
comprehensive political solution that lays the foundations for sustainable
peace. This political solution needs to start with an immediate ceasefire, and
only end when a united Syria exists. The requirements for such a process
include the right to a voluntary, safe and dignified return for all refugees
and displaced people, guaranteeing their repatriation into their home regions.
It is also essential to resolve the problem of forced displacement which was
caused by the armed conflict. In addition, the new social contract requires a
fair reconstruction process which compensates the affected people, focuses on
rebuilding war-damaged areas first, and is immune to politicization.

All the above must be accompanied
by gender-conscious justice that takes into consideration women’s rights in the
issues of return and reconstruction, as well as the rights of disadvantaged
groups. A gender-conscious constitution must also be adopted in order to
guarantee the interests of disadvantaged groups, especially women.

No sustainable peace or viable
social contract can exist without releasing the detainees, and revealing the
fate of the forcibly-disappeared and the kidnapped persons. Thus, the issue of
political detention must be resolved permanently. Freedom of expression and
religion must be guaranteed.

The unity of Syrian land
necessitates putting an end to the state of multiple occupations across the
country, the participating women noted. The existence of several areas of
influence would definitely lead to a fragmentation of the Syrian population.
The current rift in Syria cannot be healed without the return of a
geographically-united country.

Only when all of the above is
achieved can an effective social contract, based on principles of equal
citizenship, be created. The women on the ground inside Syria have stressed
that this new social contract should lead to establishing a democratic state that
is fair to everyone regardless of their sex, ethnicity and religious