Raising Women's Voices in Syria's Conflict

Posted by Rick Barton
January 17, 2014
Syrian Woman Raises Her Hand in Turkey

Reem Halibi joined the Syrian revolution early.  A student at the University of Aleppo when the revolution started, she was shot in a demonstration and, determined to participate, journeyed to Gaziantep, Turkey, in September 2012 to receive training in civil administration and media.

The State Department's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) has had a team in Turkey since early 2012 to help train and equip the Syrian civilian opposition. "Reem is one of the rock stars," says CSO's Jennifer Marron, who spent six months in Turkey. "She started Radio Naseem, the first woman-owned independent radio station in Syria. It also was the first independent station in the province of Aleppo." Radio Naseem is dedicated to increasing awareness of political activism, humanitarian assistance, the dangers of extremism, and other issues. Reem even launched a national women's magazine Jasmine, which carries stories on human rights, women’s role in the revolution and their communities, and civil society.

The United States believes that the opposition can do more to take advantage of women’s strengths and skills. CSO has conducted a variety of workshops, four for women only, educating them on how to improve security in their communities. Since few women are being elected to local council leadership positions, training from CSO, DRL, and USAID helps women find their voice and get involved.

"The training also increased their self-confidence," says Marron. "Even receiving a laptop prompted several to comment that they felt stronger and more ready to tackle community issues."

It is easy for an American to forget just how steep the challenges can be for a woman trying to gain a foothold in government. During a trip to Turkey in October with Catherine M. Russell, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, I spoke with a number of the women we have trained, and heard about resistance from men on local councils who told them: "It is too dangerous right now for women; they have their roles in medicine and education -- their job is not politics."

One woman told us, "I had lost hope of being able to practice as a judge and bring justice...especially after increased tension and difficulty of women's participation forced me to flee to the safer countryside."  But after participating in a workshop, she said, she has renewed energy to conduct her work and participate in decision-making. The laptop has helped her document violations so that perpetrators can be held accountable when the security situation improves.

U.S. policy seeks to make the opposition more capable for today and tomorrow -- in order to advance a negotiated agreement. As in all our engagements, CSO relies on valuable teammates, including MEPI, OTI, NEA and DRL in the State Department, USAID, the United Kingdom, and various nonprofits based in Turkey. Together, we are raising women’s voices in this conflict.

About the Author: Rick Barton serves as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations.



Eric J.
New Mexico, USA
January 21, 2014

@ Assist. Sec. Barton,

I think it's probably fair to say that when Sec. Clinton 's words on Syria, "We don't want to milatarize the situation" as rationale for non-kinetic intervention and a diplomatic premis that "there is no military solution" carried foward by Sec. Kerry is assessed on it's foundations of present day reality and historical policy guidance, about the only option left is to help pick up the pieces and deal with humanitarian catastrophe, war criminals run amock playing at regaining state control and a destroyed state that has become a magnet for evcery extremist on the planet. Ergo; You have a milatarized hell hole for the world to help clean up now, so people can get back to living.

 My question is this, to my government; When it becomes obvious to you that folks prefer to find a military solution (including those arming the parties in conflict)to solve their national crisis, when do you kineticly intervene to deal with a regional crisis that has become militarized and threatens the peace and stability of the entire region? With or without diplomatic efforts underway to bring the parties to talks.

 You can gain control over chemical weapons but the international community can not impose peace (or a halt to the fighting by overwhelming force being applied to eventually cause folks to cease and desist), on warring parties by rendering them incapable of making war on civilkian populations? 

 There's something wrong with this picture if we feel no longerr capable of winning wars against genocidal maniacs, to protect populations before it even gets to this point, folks...and I think your answer lies withing these words, as to what a proper balance between diplomacy and when applied kinetic force in support of diplomacy need be applied to resolve conflict. ;


By General Omar N. Bradley
Boston, Massachusetts
November 10, 1948

TOMORROW is our day of conscience. For although it is a monument to victory, it is also a symbol of failure. Just as it honors the dead, so must it humble the living.

Armistice Day is a constant reminder that we won a war and lost a peace.

It is both a tribute and an indictment: A tribute to the men who died that their neighbors might live without fear of aggression. An indictment of those who lived and forfeited their chance for peace.

Therefore, while Armistice Day is a day for pride, it is for pride in the achievements of others—humility in our own.

Neither remorse nor logic can hide the fact that our armistice ended in failure. Not until the armistice myth exploded in the blast of a Stuka bomb did we learn that the winning of wars does not in itself make peace. And not until Pearl Harbor did we learn that non-involvement in peace means certain involvement in war.
We paid grievously for those faults of the past in deaths, disaster, and dollars.

It was a penalty we knowingly chose to risk. We made the choice when we defaulted on our task in creating and safeguarding a peace.

It is no longer possible to shield ourselves with arms alone against the ordeal of attack. For modern war visits destruction on the victor and the vanquished alike. Our only complete assurance of surviving World War III is to halt it before it starts.

For that reason we clearly have no choice but to face the challenge of these strained times. To ignore the danger of aggression is simply to invite it. It must never again be said of the American people: Once more we won a war; once more we lost a peace. If we do we shall doom our children to a struggle that may take their lives.

ARMED forces can wage wars but they cannot make peace. For there is a wide chasm between war and peace—a chasm that can only be bridged by good will, discussion, compromise, and agreement. In 1945 while still bleeding from the wounds of aggression, the nations of this world met in San Francisco to build that span from war to peace. For three years—first hopefully, then guardedly, now fearfully—free nations have labored to complete that bridge. Yet again and again they have been obstructed by a nation whose ambitions thrive best on tension, whose leaders are scornful of peace except on their own impossible terms.

The unity with which we started that structure has been riddled by fear and suspicion. In place of agreement we are wrangling dangerously over the body of that very nation whose aggression had caused us to seek each other as allies and friends.

Only three years after our soldiers first clasped hands over the Elbe, this great wartime ally has spurned friendship with recrimination, it has clenched its fists and skulked in conspiracy behind it secretive borders.

As a result today we are neither at peace nor war. Instead we are engaged in this contest of tension, seeking agreement with those who disdain it, rearming, and struggling for peace.

Time can be for or against us.

It can be for us if diligence in our search for agreement equals the vigilance with which we prepare for a storm.

It can be against us if disillusionment weakens our faith in discussion—or if our vigilance corrodes while we wait.

Disillusionment is always the enemy of peace. And today—as after World War I —disillusionment can come from expecting too much, too easily, too soon. In our impatience we must never forget that fundamental differences have divided this world; they allow no swift, no cheap, no easy solutions.

While as a prudent people we must prepare ourselves to encounter what we may be unable to prevent, we nevertheless must never surrender ourselves to the certainty of that encounter.

For if we say there is no good in arguing with what must inevitably come, then we shall be left with no choice but to create a garrison state and empty our wealth into arms. The burden of long-term total preparedness for some indefinite but inevitable war could not help but crush the freedom we prize. It would leave the American people soft victims for bloodless aggression.

BOTH the East and the West today deprecate war. Yet because of its threatening gestures, its espousal of chaos, its secretive tactics, and its habits of force—one nation has caused the rest of the world to fear that it might recklessly resort to force rather that be blocked in its greater ambitions.

The American people have said both in their aid to Greece and in the reconstruction of Europe that any threat to freedom is a threat to our own lives. For we know that unless free peoples stand boldly and united against the forces of aggression, they may fall wretchedly, one by one, into the web of oppression.

It is fear of the brutal unprincipled use of force by reckless nations that might ignore the vast reserves of our defensive strength that has caused the American people to enlarge their air, naval, and ground arms.

Reluctant as we are to muster this costly strength, we must leave no chance for miscalculation in the mind of any aggressor.

Because in the United States it is the people who are sovereign, the Government is theirs to speak their voice and to voice their will, truthfully and without distortion.

We, the American people, can stand cleanly before the entire world and say plainly to any state:

“This Government will not assail you.

“You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressor.”

Since the origin of the American people, their chief trait has been the hatred of war. And yet these American people are ready to take up their arms against aggression and destroy if need be by their might any nation which would violate the peace of the world.

There can be no compromise with aggression anywhere in the world. For aggression multiplies—in rapid succession—disregard for the rights of man. Freedom when threatened anywhere is at once threatened everywhere.

NO MORE convincing an avowal of their peaceful intentions could have been made by the American people than by their offer to submit to United Nations the secret of the atom bomb. Our willingness to surrender this trump advantage that atomic energy might be used for the peaceful welfare of mankind splintered the contentions of those word-warmakers that our atom had been teamed with the dollar for imperialistic gain.

Yet because we asked adequate guarantees and freedom of world-wide inspection by the community of nations itself, our offer was declined and the atom has been recruited into this present contest of nerves. To those people who contend that secrecy and medieval sovereignty are more precious than a system of atomic control, I can only reply that it is a cheap price to pay for peace.

The atom bomb is far more than a military weapon. It may—as Bernard Baruch once said—contain the choice between the quick and the dead. We dare not forget that the advantage in atomic warfare lies with aggression and surprise. If we become engaged in an atom bomb race, we may simply lull ourselves to sleep behind an atomic stockpile. The way to win an atomic war is to make certain it never starts.

WITH the monstrous weapons man already has, humanity is in danger of being trapped in this world by its moral adolescents. Our knowledge of science has clearly outstripped our capacity to control it. We have many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.

This is our twentieth century’s claim to distinction and to progress.

IN OUR concentration on the tactics of strength and resourcefulness which have been used in the contest for blockaded Berlin, we must not forget that we are also engaged in a long-range conflict of ideas. Democracy can withstand ideological attacks if democracy will provide earnestly and liberally for the welfare of its people. To defend democracy against attack, men must value freedom. And to value freedom they must benefit by it in happier and more secure lives for their wives and their children.

Throughout this period of tension in which we live, the American people must demonstrate conclusively to all other peoples of the world that democracy not only guarantees man’s human freedom but that it guarantees his economic dignity and progress as well. To practice freedom and make it work, we must cherish the individual; we must provide him the opportunities for reward and impress upon him the responsibilities a free man bears to the society in which he lives.

Erica M.
California, USA
January 24, 2014

Excuse me, but hasn't Secretary Kerry made it abundantly clear that the US opposes a negotiated settlement? And who is he to presume to pick and choose governments in other nations? People who live in glass houses, etc.

Eric J.
New Mexico, USA
January 28, 2014

@Erica M. in Calif.;

I think there's been a pretty concerted international effort led vby the US to reach a "negotiated settlement" that includes a transitional government and statements made for Bashar Al-Assad to step aside as leader of Syria are as a diplomatic alternative to removing him and/or making it impossible for him to make war on his own people. And so to answer your question one must consider whether dropping a big rock on Assad's head 3 years ago would have saved about 150,000 Syrian's lives, and prevented 9 million from becoming displaced, with only rubble left to come home to when and if the fighting stops. So the flip side is do we drop a big rock on him now, and prevent that number from being a quarter million by next year or so?

I say there's a point the international community has to come to the aid of a people, being slaughtered their country's leadership and if that means removing a genocidal dictator as an incentive to form a transitional government, and reach an eventual political solution that's currently at an impasse, then it's probably worth considering.




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