Syrian dissidents criticise De Mistura's 'women's delegation'

Syrian dissidents criticise De Mistura's 'women's delegation'
Syrian activists have criticised the Syrian envoy's choice of personnel for being unrepresentative of Syrian revolutionary women.
3 min read
06 April, 2016
The women appointed to advise the UN envoy on Syria have come under fire [AFP]
The news that Staffan de Mistura, UN envoy to Syria, had appointed a delegation of women to contribute to the Geneva III peace talks was greeted enthusiastically by international officials.

"This is a historic moment. It is the first time that a Women's Advisory Board to a UN Special Envoy has been formally established," read a statement from UN Women.

"It is a tribute to the courage and contribution of Syrian women to exploring solutions for peace."

Yet many Syrian activists feel that the twelve women appointed to the delegation are unrepresentative of those who have taken part in the Syrian uprising.

Although the women come from a variety of backgrounds, activists feel that many represent institutions either allied to the regime, or sanctioned "approved opposition groups", widely criticised for frequent compromises, deals and acquiescence with the regime.

Activists therefore feel that the committee does not represent those many Syrian women who have lost family members, survived rape and torture in detention or even taken up arms and joined rebel groups themselves.

"The method that de Mistura chose to get the members of the advisory was only through him and through the initiative of women for peace and democracy," writer and activist Reema Fleehan told The New Arab.

"It is assigning a position to someone without taking into consideration any popular Syrian sentiments. He never asked Syrian women from all aspects of society if these women speak on their behalf," she said.

"This group tried to present what was going on in Syria through the discourse of crisis and neglected the importance of proposing a political transition as a key for any solution. Despite that the women are mostly active in peaceful activism, that doesn't mean they are apolitical."

Some of the women in the group have been "overly compromising" towards the Syrian regime in Damascus, she added. 

"Where are the mothers of the martyrs? Where are the activists who have fought for Syrians inside Syria? Where are the detainees who have endured all forms of torture?" asked Awaba Barakat.

Many among the delegation are prominent secular leftists and academics.

Among the women on the committee is journalist Diana Jabbour, who comes from Assad's hometown town of Qardaha. During the uprising she became editor-in-chief of Baladna, a newspaper owned by the son of Bahjat Souliman, an intelligence officer and former ambassador to Jordan.

Mona Ghanem was part of the opposition group "Building the Syrian State" at the start of the uprising, and is commonly thought of as part of the regime-endorsed soft "opposition". She is daughter of Faisal Ghanem, a regime army officer who headed the infamous Tadmor prison.

Asmaa Kuftara, the grand-daughter of Ahmad Kuftaro - a former Grand Mufti of Syria and a close associate of the late President Hafez al-Assad - was also appointed to the committee.

The delegation does include a former detainee, Magdoline Hassan, from the city of Tarros. A member of the communist party, she was arrested by the regime in 2013 while working as a defense lawyer for detainees.

Reefa al-Samih, an activist from Idlib, was previously included in the committee but was axed when it was revealed one of her brothers is a member of the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front.

"With due respect to some of the women who have fought as feminist activists or political activists, they only speak for themselves and the so-called women's advisory committee - and not on behalf of all Syrian women," Fleehan concluded.