This speech was given at the Austrian Parliament in December 2014 concerning the UN 1325 Resolution on “Enhancing Women’s Share in Security and Peace-building”
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Peace building has been quite difficult in the Arab World due to the complexity and the cultural differences that people from around the world do not understand – differences that have violently come to light in these times of war. There is still much work to be done in order to properly implement resolution 1325 and its commitments on women’s inclusion in peace and security. A non-utopian systematic approach is needed in order to include women in all phases of crisis management. Where I come from, the lack of stability and the continuous changes, provoked by sporadic revolutions that were accompanied by extremist movements, will drag us back to the middle Ages unless they are somehow stopped. In the MENA region, the conflicts have exacerbated the inequalities well after the wars and revolutions, specifically in countries that are affected by the ISIS infiltration. I can certainly say with deep regret, that the situation has gotten terribly worse.
To begin with, we must mention that the UN resolution 1325 aims at involving all parties to conflict to take special measures in gender-based violence in situations of armed-conflict. Since 2000 this policy adoption has not been properly implemented in the Middle East. I will begin with Iraq and Syria, Lebanon’s neighbors, since ISIS has become an international catastrophe that is threatening women and girls’ existence as we speak.
In Iraq, the Islamic State group said that it has enslaved families from the minority Yazidi sect after pillaging their villages in Northwestern Iraq, as a revival of an ancient custom of using women and children as spoils of war. Families were forced to either convert to Islam or face death. Human rights Watch activists have confirmed that girls were forced to marry the fighters and shipped out in buses from Iraq to Syria in order to be sold into sexual slavery and as prizes for the highest bidders. The Islamic State has been keeping concubines as part of an established aspect of the Shariah Law and has declared that whoever denies that practices actually mocks Islam and the Quran. 500 girls were butchered and 300 girls and women have been kidnapped in the atrocity in Iraq, according to the country’s Human Rights minister. The jihadists have besieged 150,000 Yazidiz. 30,000 have escaped to Syria yet brought back to Iraqi Kurdistan in order to protect them. In Kurdish territories, 550 peshmergas female fighters, peshmergas means those who do not fear death, have been protecting their territories from being invaded by the ISIS militants. These audacious women face the dangers of these terrorists who have actually been forcing little girls to choose between being married and enslaved or becoming just another dead body on an already huge pile of little corpses. One Yazidi woman was kidnapped and was able to contact the Peshmergas. She was quoted saying: “Please if you can locate where we are, we urge you to bombard the area and kill us. Anyway we are dead. It is not noon yet and I have been raped 30 times. I have been suffering from painful infections and I can’t take it anymore. Most of us are committing suicide to stop this torture.”
Ironically, in February 6, 2014, the government of Iraq had actually launched its national action plan on UN Security Council resolution 1325, and had become the first country in the MENA region to do so. However, as we all can see, Iraq is far away from achieving peace and security when women are treated as slaves to militants who are planning on taking us back to Middle Ages.
In Syria, thousands of women and girls have also been suffering under the grip of Bachar El Assad’s regime as well as ISIS infiltrators and the war has given men the tools to further instill fear among the people. The war has been raging on for 3 years/ and has not shown signs of stopping. Many female activists have fallen under the grip of the Syrian Regime that has been brutally torturing and murdering its own people for years. Women were brutalized in prison without a trial or release conditions. Razan Zaitoune disappeared the 9th of December in 2013 and till now no one knows about her whereabouts. She is one among many human rights activists who have been silenced under suspicious circumstances.
Still, the number of female militants joining the conflict has risen significantly on all sides. Kurdish fighters have been battling the Islamic State in Northern Syria for almost 2 years. They have been relatively successful in protecting their territories with the help of US airstrikes. The Syrian town Kobane that’s located right on the Turkish border has been under intense assault by ISIS for over more than a month. The town is completely surrounded yet thousands of Kurdish female fighters are defending this town and the army has grown into more than 10,000 female soldiers. Arkin Mirkan blew herself up killing 10 ISIS fighters, while the Islamic militants beheaded nine female combatants.
With all of this, there have been some endeavors by Syrian women of diverse backgrounds who also met with international figures at the UN Geneva conference this past January2014, in order to discuss their peace plan. that they would like to implement alongside the UN to help in ending the Syrian war. Their demands included concrete steps, and a road map to peace while calling the UN to implement the resolutions1325, 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106, and 2122 concerning women in armed conflict. Yet we don’t know the future of these resolutions in Syria since the war is still raging as we speak.
And on to my country, Lebanon, which is not a stranger to all those Syrian tragedies since the regime had occupied Lebanon for decades after the civil war. The war ended when Arab countries agreed on the infamous Taef agreement, and basically legitimized the military Syrian Occupation on Lebanese soil. Years later, representatives from different religious communities worked together for the first time and launched an international campaign in order to end the Syrian hegemony over Lebanon, as well as an internal one which included activists backed by journalists. All were fervently opposed to the tyranny of the Syrian puppet Lebanese intelligence Apparatus. I was one of the very few journalists, and rare women, who dared to be on the front lines. Without losing my professionalism, I managed to transform my political talk show into a platform for the defenders of Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence to speak their minds against the regime and their domestic allies. Their backlash to the UN resolution 1559 was the assassination of the Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. One month later, the 14th of March 2005, A million and a half Lebanese people took to the streets to rally against the Syrian regime, this was known as the Cedar Revolution. I tried to be the voice of the voiceless. Not much later, the Syrian regime, with the help of Hezbollah, began a string of assassinations in an attempt to silence their incessant and outspoken critics. They triggered the Cedar Revolution’s prominent figures, including myself. They placed a bomb under my car. It was a miracle that I survived because the amount of explosives should have blown me to shreds. I lost my left leg above the knee and my left arm and now live with prosthetic limbs. I suffered from terrible burns and underwent 36 surgeries. I was and still am a pioneer because I am the only female victim of a political assassination attempt to have ever occurred in Lebanon. However, not long after this attempt, I refused to be defeated and resumed my work as a talk show host with the same determination. 3 years later I decided to quit, then I established the May Chidiac Foundation, MCF, a non-profit organization mainly dedicated to training, research, and education on issues of media, democracy, women’s rights, and social welfare. Every year, MCF hosts “women on the front lines” conferences and receives international prominent guests to discuss women’s empowerment and others that have faced a testing ordeal throughout the Arab revolutions and their aftermaths. These conferences aim at moving debates forward, and attempting to understand and tackle the trials that women have to go through in order to promote their ideas of truth, peace, and equality. We also train young female journalists and activists to understand media properly and ethically, in order to use it to their benefit. Yet, I am sad to say that Lebanon has barely achieved any law-related ratifications when Lebanese women representatives had actually signed the Beijing treaty at the time of its inception in 1995.
Lebanon suffers from a huge gender gap and has fallen 13 ranks (from 123 to 135 out of 142) following the Annual Gender Gap Index issued by Geneva-based World Economic Forum this last Tuesday. On another level, we all know that to enable women to participate in peace-building they need to be more involved and become political decision makers alongside men, yet in Lebanon, women do not enter the realm of politics. We have had only one female minister and 4 as members of parliament. I presented my candidacy twice two years ago, knowing that it would be fruitless, since parliament was barely functioning due to internal tensions and security considerations, while MPs renewed their terms twice. Yet even so, many other women nominated themselves just to prove a point about the electoral law, /yet not one political party opted for them. To add to this inequality, women, by law, cannot even pass on their nationality to their children. Religion authorities interfere with almost all the decisions related to women since Lebanon is a country that is dominated by 18 religious sects with each retaining its own set of beliefs on women’s civil rights. These rights include, inheritance, protections against marital rape, domestic violence, harassment, and others.
In addition to our own internal struggles, Lebanon is now witnessing an influx of almost 2 million Syrian refugees and new problems have emerged related to the exploitation of Syrian girls and women. There have been cases where Syrian female refugees were sexually abused, sold into prostitution, and married off as child brides. This is also happening in Jordan, where girls are exchanged for money in order to nourish the rest of the big family. Yet in Jordan, the main infraction of women’s rights is the practice of honor crimes. There have been many movements to fight it but there are still 3000 occurrences per year and some.
Moving on to Libya, the law has been failing women. In 2011, the Libyan conflict allowed Gaddafi and his forces to use rape as a violent weapon of war against women. The UN eventually recognized the Transitional National Council after the conflict thereby legitimizing the power governing Libya. Women played a significant role in bringing democracy back to Libya and allowed them to take part in the reconstruction of their country and be active in the peace building process, and now the religious authorities have been trying to enforce male guardianship and impose educational and health segregation.
In Egypt, women have become even lesser class citizens than before the revolution. During the conflict, women were raped, tortured, and shunned from political life. The May Chidiac Foundation actually received Samira, Ibrahim, as guest at one of the WOFL conferences. She is an activist who rose to prominence during the revolution but was arrested alongside many other women. All of them were beaten, given electric shocks, strip-searched and videotaped by the soldiers. They were also among the women who were given virginity tests, a phenomenon that gained international attention due to its intent to protect these soldiers from claims of rape. Also, the Egyptian women who were working with Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, but were disappointed when the 1325 plan was not approved.
In Tunisia however, the situation is completely different. It is the only Arab country that managed to restore stability after the Arab Revolution. Its new constitution allowed women to be completely equal to men, and steps were taken in order to implement a plan against gender-based violence. Yet in a country where civil rights are granted there are still many who, after the revolution lost their place and became resistant to such a huge change, especially those who have been recruited through social networks and online forums to become jihadists in Syria and Iraq. Young women were arrested in parts of Syria and Tunisia and were then accused of undergoing sexual jihad or jihad el niqah and granting sexual favors to militant fighters in order to improve morale.
Moreover, concerning the Gulf countries, a few days ago, the UAE hosted a panel discussing the involvement of women in engaging women as leaders in confronting violent extremism that will actually be included in the reports concerning the 1325 resolution implementation.
With relation to media, in 2011, which was they year the Arab revolution took place; we saw how social media and the web were used to revolt against the tyrannical rulers in parts of the Arab World. Yet right now in 2014, we are witnessing the descent of social media as a tool to spread propaganda, lies, and misinformation as easily as it can spread truth. It can actually be used to suppress and discourage free speech just as it can be used to encourage it. It was used as a tool to enhance women’s rights but now it is used to humiliate them, such as in the recent incident which involved a Syrian women being stoned by ISIS, supposedly with her father watching and yelling at her. They made her confess that she committed a huge sin against God.
I will conclude my statement by bringing to light that I did not mention Palestine because our fellow speaker Dr. Hanan Ashrawi is much more informed than I am in the Arab-Israeli conflict and I am sure we all want to hear it from an expert such as herself.
With that, I would like to say that there could be no action plans, no strategies, no peace-building or post-conflict reconstruction, when women are not given their basic rights in the first place. And I should conclude by saying the resolution 1820 demands that armed parties should halt their violence towards women and girls in war and should enforce disciplinary measures. But this kind of measure can only be applied to states; it is inapplicable when dealing with terrorists. The only way to truly aid the MENA region is to actively give these women their God-given basic human rights and train them to know when and how to defend their rights, so that then, they can truly be agents of change, and after that such action plans can be discussed. Thank you.