— Syrian women's groups said on Monday they want international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi to give them a role in peace talks that are expected to begin next week.
They said women should make up at least 30 percent of all negotiating teams in the Geneva 2 talks, due to begin in Switzerland on Jan. 22, on ending the war in Syria.
Their demands include ensuring that any eventual constitution should guarantee equal citizenship to the Syrian people “in all their diversity and affiliations” and guarantee equality of men and women, penalizing all forms of discrimination and violence against women.
Four representatives of the Syrian women's groups will meet Brahimi on Tuesday to talk about how to put the demands into practice, having already consulted him, said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of U.N. Women
“His message was that as long as these are the demands of the Syrian women and they are coherent and they agree, he will take it forward,” she told Reuters.
The four women were elected from 47 women who drafted the demands in a three-day meeting in Geneva, a group that included representatives of Syrian women inside and outside the country.
“I think we can say that we represent the majority, inside the country and abroad,” said Sabah Alhallak, one of the four.
She said women's groups had been working on principles for a new constitution since 2011, having how seen the issue had been opened up in other “Arab Spring” revolutions.
“Women were looking at what happened in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya and there were a lot of lessons to prepare ourselves and see what was coming our way,” Alhallak said.
Another of the four, Kefah ali Deeb, said the most pressing issue was to get detainees released from prison, which she said received little media attention.
“Do you believe that it is more important for you to cover how one of the Islamic groups has invaded a region rather than talk about the hundreds of thousands of people who are dying in prison?
“We have to withdraw this card from their hand. The case of the detainees - our families and friends and neighbors who are detained - is more important than all political cards,” Deeb said.
She told Reuters that the death rate in some prisons, such as Military Security Branch 215 in Damascus, had reached 30 a day, mainly due to torture or malnourishment.
Another priority was breaking the sieges which were driving stranded populations to starvation.
“If I tell you that there are children who are eating the leaves off the trees, you have to believe me. This is not my imagination.”
Rafif Jouejati, another of the four representatives and spokeswoman for the local coordination committees in Syria, said that if Geneva 2 failed, the women's groups would push for peace at Geneva 3, 4 or 5.
“We are lawyers and engineers and professors, we are housewives and nurses and other medical professionals, we are 50 percent of society,” she said.
“If Geneva 2 doesn't work, we will push the men who are making war to make peace.”