A Comprehensive Feminist Plan for Reconstruction in Syria with the condition of political transition

Reconstruction in Syria was discussed on international levels several months ago and is still subject to considerations of different states with varying interests, political orientations and strategic interests. These include regime allies who adopt the approach of starting reconstruction such as Russia and Iran, and other states that link reconstruction to the political solution based on the Geneva talks such as European countries and the USA. Reconstruction in Syria is not merely an economic process but rather a political process par excellence. Therefore, the regime has constantly used this process as a bargaining chip to secure some economic and material gains, on the one hand, and as an alternative means to continue its war, exclusion and marginalization of all those opposed to it, on the other.

The regime ignored any humanitarian or social aspects in its approach to reconstruction. This was further accompanied by the problematic absence of gender cost of war economy and approaching the economic implications of the war, and hence reconstruction efforts, solely in terms of infrastructure, impact on real estate, investment or complex economic sectors. In this regard, World Bank reports indicate that the cumulative economic losses and repercussions on the GDP due to violence and war in Syria since the beginning of the revolution in 2011 are estimated at about USD 226 billion.[1] According to the World Bank reports, the sectors damaged by the war in Syria and the cost of their reconstruction are as follows:

1-      Real estate (USD 111 billion- losses)

2-      Industrial sector (USD 75 billion- losses)

3-      Services sector (USD 45 billion- losses)

4-      Public services (USD 24 billion- losses)

5-      Transport and communications (USD 18 billion- losses)

6-      Agriculture (USD 15 billion- losses)

7-      Financial services (USD 12 billion- losses)

Based on these two levels of problems and the fact that reconstruction is often addressed (in most local, regional and international political and economic reports) from a narrow political perspective, SWPM, in cooperation with WILPF, have sought to identify the discourse of women in Syria on local levels around this issue. Thus, eight consultation sessions were held with 121 women in March 2019. These consultation sessions, which used a focus group format, were followed by general discussion sessions in which women deliberate over key issues. In the course of these discussions, women showed innate political and economic awareness, analyzed the economy of war and violence from a feminist point of view and analyzed reconstruction as addressed by the regime from various economic, demographic, cultural and social angles taking note of the key implications on economic, human, social and cultural capital, developing conditions for any future reconstruction plans and concluding with an outline for an alternative economic participatory, inclusive and feminist plan for reconstruction.

In their analysis of the regime’s approach to reconstruction and the social and demographic impact of the political economy policies pursued by the regime, women found that the regime uses reconstruction to wage war of a new type on all those who are opposed to it, especially refugees and IDPs in areas outside its control. Further, the timing and path of the regime’s approach to reconstruction constitutes a lie or a political ‘trick’ to ‘restore its legitimacy in the region’ and support its allies to receive funding which increases its own wealth and that of personalities affiliated to it. Hence, the views and positions of the women agreed with the literature and political analyses of reconstruction which indicate that the regime’s approach is based on interests and personal-wealth aspirations as well as giving bonuses to allies and ‘punishing’ the enemies particularly through granting projects to companies, organizations and institutions affiliated with or allied to the regime.[2]

In terms of the new form of economic war used by the regime, women highlighted the exclusive and punitive practices against areas out of the regime’s control and which are done with a legal cover and which have serious repercussions on social, demographic and cultural levels leading to the continuation of conflict as the sense of injustice increases which may in turn lead to exacerbating social and demographic fissures among the people. In addition to systematic social, economic and political exclusion of areas outside the regime’s control, another form of economic punishment is practiced against regime-controlled areas. Women from those areas indicated that the regime makes citizens shoulder the cost of war and reconstructing the destroyed infrastructure and services through levying taxes which mainly takes its toll on families and people and their livelihoods and food security. This could later give rise to inter-area disputes and wars.

Systematic impoverishment policies pursued by the regime damages, according to the women, material, human and cultural capital in all areas in general, and those outside its control in particular. In this regard, women highlighted deteriorating conditions and high living expenses in all areas and high unemployment rates (in areas outside regime control), brain drain due to security conditions and compulsory conscription policy (in regime-controlled areas) which tilts the balance of human capital, let alone the impact on children in terms of child soldiers, school dropouts and coercive marriage of girls.

 Based on the overall picture of the economy of war and violence outlined by women from a holistic feminist perspective and their feminist analysis of the exclusive and punitive dimension of reconstruction in its political, security, demographic and economic dimensions, women thought that any reconstruction efforts must only start after two key conditions are met; namely peaceful political transition, security, safety and ceasefire as well as implementing gender-sensitive transitional justice mechanisms.

Once these conditions are met, reconstruction may be considered provided that it is based on priorities and pillars which include participation and inclusion while paying attention to the needs of the people and women and including the basic success factors such as accountability in order to ensure sustainability of any future reconstruction plans. The key priorities and pillars of the reconstruction plan from the point of view of women are:

1)      Prioritizing services, public services and infrastructure particularly of the services sector (health and education) and public services (water, electricity and gas). These sectors must be prioritized over the real estate sector as they could, if developed in a balanced manner in all areas, promote social cohesion and overcome the sense of injustice and grievances among those areas.

2)      Identifying needs and available capacities because outlining a reconstruction plan must be mainly based on identifying the needs of women, men and youth as well as identifying their capacities and qualifications and investing them in the context of reconstruction to ensure utilization of local capacities and work force.

3)      Promoting and activating women political and social participation in the reconstruction phase, building on the efforts and roles of women during conflict and making use of the gradual and positive shift in norms and traditions and the perception of women and their work outside the household.

4)      Evaluating direct and indirect damages as any reconstruction plan would not be authentic, sustainable and realistic unless direct and indirect damages incurred by war, violence, bombardment and conflict in Syria are assessed. More often than not, immaterial, psychological and indirect damages suffered by the families due to bombardment, death, violence and ongoing conflict are overlooked or ignored.

5)      Reforming and amending laws of property through revoking the unjust laws and decrees issued by the regime since the beginning of the conflict while ensuring international legal protection for women so they can prove their property rights in cases of husband death or absence.

6)      Promoting monitoring and accountability and enhancing mechanisms of responding to complaints in order to ensure efficiency and prevent waste and corruption while taking note of the principles of competence, diversity and selecting people on the bases of merit rather than nepotism and imposition.To see full summary tap hereTo see full paper tap here

[1] The Toll of War, The Economic and Social Consequences of the Conflict in Syria https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/syria/publication/the-toll-of-war-the-economic-and-social-consequences-of-the-conflict-in-syria (Last accessed on May 2019).

[2] Brookings Institute for Public Policy Analysis, Rules of Reconstruction in Syria, available at: https://brook.gs/2wwIRai (last access in May 2019)