Organised by: The Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice, MADRE, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Nobel Women’s Initiative (NWI), the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI)
Participants: Yanar Mohammed, Founder and Director, Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI); Nawal Yazeji, Syrian Women’s Peace Activist, Damascus; Member, Syrian Women’s League; Charlotte Bunch, a Board of Governor's Distinguished Service Professor in Women's and Gender Studies; inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame; Radhika Coomaraswamy, former U.N. Under Secretary-General, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict; Visiting Professor of Law at NYU Law School (invited); Madeleine Rees, OBE, Secretary General, WILPF; Patricia Viseur-Sellers, former Gender Legal Advisor and a Prosecutor for the ICTY & ICTR
On March 6, 2015, WILPF in collaboration with City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, The Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice, Nobel Women’s Initiative (NWI), the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) and Madre hosted a Symposium, “Women Confronting ISIS: Local Strategies and States’ Responsibilities”. The Symposium offered an opportunity to learn and contribute to a set of solutions for the international community to remedy the human rights crisis that Iraqi and Syrian women are facing. The program consisted of three expert panels focusing on preventative measures, protected contexts and prosecution & reintegration, along with special remarks.
After introductory remarks from Michelle J. Anderson and Lisa Davis, from CUNY School of Law, Charlotte Bunch opened the symposium. She reinforced that we should not play into a clash of civilisations discourse, used by political classes, which benefit from misogyny. Further, that colonial legacy cannot condone the use of violence against women as “simply a cultural aspect”. She noted that given twenty years have passed since the Beijing Declaration and SCR1325, atrocities against women continue. The solution, she suggests, starts with the rights of women on the ground and an insistence on an international human rights response that prioritizes peace.
The first panel, moderated by Julie Goldcheid, explored the foreshadowing of ISIS abuses in areas where violations of women’s human rights were endemic and the lessons for prevention in other contexts of war and armed conflict. Jacqui True discussed the political economy of violence against women in conflict situations. She directed attention towards the capacity of global structures that marginalise women to be modified and controlled to serve as early warning signs for more systematic violence against women. Laila Alodaat noted that extremist violence normalises SGBV and explosives impact women disproportionately in public spaces like markets. Further, Liesl Gerntholtz explored the practice of naming and shaming in this context and the limitations of the Security Council to look beyond sensationalised violence. Jessica Stern spoke on the vulnerability of LGBTI Iraqis and the absence of support networks.
This was followed by special remarks from Radhika Coomaraswamy, lead author on the WPF high-level review. She remarked that the rise of violent extremism and terrorism are the biggest changes since the inception of SCR1325. In looking at extremism, she reminded that extremism is not always religious, all religions have extremists and extremist violence and that the UN must be careful when understanding the causes of extremism. Further, she noted that attacks on women can never be justified, but women also join extremist groups. The UN must not aggravate the situation and “should put their [our] swords into ploughshares”.
The second panel on protected contexts, moderated by Ramzi Kassem, highlighted the work of local women’s rights activists. Oula Ramadan, from the Badael Foundation, highlighted the broad range of violence against women and the lack of reporting. She stated that Syrian women could learn from the lessons of Iraqi women who have been organising for a number of years. Yifat Susskind noted the subtle change in treatment of women sexual abuse survivors in times of conflict. While she suggested that rape will probably regress into being a crime against family and honour, there is an alternative narrative that “brutality is a radical break from the past”. Sara Ferro-Ribeiro emphasized that there is a structural problem in the international community, with a tendency to isolate and compartmentalise different strategies. She called for a cohesive and responsive strategy, which would lead to better results.
The final panel on prosecution and reintegration, moderated by L. Camille Massey, discussed national and international infrastructures and civil society strategies needed to generate the political will and social change necessary to sustain national commitment to women’s human rights and lasting peace. Nadal Yazeji noted that intention to integrate the women’s rights agenda into the revolution has been successful to some extent. She claimed that religion, however, has nothing to do with this shift and allows ignorance to control the lives of women. Further, Patricia Viseur-Sellers highlighted the need for a gendered analysis of the legal process against ISIS. Finally, Madeleine Rees looked at the situation from a broad context and questioned how we can make the multinational system work. She claimed that we have the mechanisms to reach the end-goal, but we need to get the system on board. “The organizational capacity of women could actually meet the WPS gap in the multilateral system”.
Paula Donovan, the Co-Founder of AIDS-Free World, issued the closing remarks and summarised the key messages of the day.