Beirut, Lebanon: Citizenship, Gender and Democracy Building International Roundtable Discussion


an article by Euromed Feminist Initiative (abridged)
The international roundtable Citizenship, Gender and Democracy Building took place on the 9-10th of February 2015 at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, organized by Euromed Feminist Initiative (IFE-EFI) in partnership the Syrian League for Citizenship (SLC) and the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship. This event was held in the frame of the program “Towards a Democratic Transition in Syria through an inclusive Constitution Building Process” supported by Sweden.

2017 BeirutRoundtable participants

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The roundtable brought together over 100 participants representing various civil society organizations, women’s rights groups, academics, researchers, legal scholars and media representatives. It provided a platform to collectively think, share experiences and foster solutions to common challenges of gender-inequality, the on-going conflicts, occupation and patriarchal domination. It broadened the concept of citizenship and came up with recommendations to be adapted as a base for future work. The roundtable examined theoretical and practical dimensions of citizenship and gender equality and addressed common challenges of exclusion, discrimination, negative stereotypes, violence and armed conflict. Furthermore, the event was a powerful expression of international networking, civil society alliance building and solidarity with the Syrian civil rights organizations.

The roundtable was opened by Mrs. Diana Janse, the Swedish Ambassador to Syria, who stressed the value of a concept of citizenship, which is based on mutual trust and positive collective habits of citizens. Mr. Fateh Azzam, of the Asfari Institute of Civil Society and Citizenship, emphasized the importance of having a clear vision for effective and active citizenship in order to direct the activities and goals of civil society actors. Mrs. Lilian Halls French, for the Euromed Feminist Initiative IFE-EFI, articulated the common goals of the participants: the realization of true equality for women, the enjoyment of their full rights and their freedom of movement and action in the public and private sphere. Mr. Hassan Abbas of the Syrian League for Citizenship addressed the conference by urging participants to conceive of citizenship as a culture and practice rather than a mere formal legal status.

During the roundtable presentations and discussion, all speakers emphasized the need to move towards effectively implementation of international human rights and in particular women’s rights frameworks in the local contexts. Though the event explicitly addressed the Syrian context, it also drew on the experiences of women from the MENA region and Europe in its theoretical presentations and practical discussions. While the central focus was on broadening the concept of citizenship to include gender-equality and democratic participation, it tackled a range of other related issues. The main themes that were addressed in the discussions included women’s common experiences of exclusion from full citizenship rights and discrimination in public and private life; challenges faced in their effective political participation; experiences of violence at the hand of the patriarchal domination; the rights of refugees; and experiences of women during armed conflict. . . .

Latest Discussion

How can there be a political solution to the war in Syria?

In the following article, Wilhelm Langthaler, a Co-convener of comments on the spirit emerging from the “All Sides Consultation for Political Solution” in Vienna.

Now that the “All sides Consultation for a Political Solution in Syria” is accomplished and is being recognized by all the participants as a success that deserves continuation, the time has come to draw a balance not only of the conference itself, but also of its wider significance. The very fact that around two dozen people from the most diverse and conflicting backgrounds of Syrian society came together and consulted how to overcome the civil war tearing apart the country is extraordinary. But the spirit emerging from the debates reaches far beyond the objective of this single event, giving hope that a movement for a political solution is gaining momentum.
Exchange among the people – not power-brokering

First of all, let us recall the aim of the “All Sides Consultation for a Political Solution” which took place in the “Peace Castle Schlaining” close to Vienna, Austria, from 7-10 March, 2014. The idea was to give a voice to Syrian society in its full diversity, voices emerging from the people who have been silenced and excluded by the powerful. It was not intended to hold negotiations between the conflicting sides and their global and regional sponsors as has failed in Geneva. A consultative forum of personalities not directly representing the sides involved but indeed representing the societal richness was called upon to explore ways to stop the catastrophic bloodshed.

Thus we were not in search of sophisticated and well-balanced formulae of compromise pleasing the foreign powers involved (something which might, however, be necessary to reach in other places), but to give answers concerning how the full rights of the people might be guaranteed. The quest for these rights is what is thought to have sparked the conflict and is at the same time key to ending what has turned into a fratricidal war pitting the components of society against the other, a conflict additionally fuelled by massive international involvement. As Naser al Ghazali, one of the Syrian members of the preparatory committee hailing from Daraa, put it in his introduction: “Democratic rights are not negotiable. It is like pregnancy – you cannot be half pregnant as we will not accept less than full rights.”

The meeting was all about understanding the grievances of the diverse social, political, cultural and confessional components and to develop the mutual trust necessary to reach a ceasefire and to maintain it. . “We are contemplating elements of a new social contract,” as Serbest Nabi, a Kurdish professor of philosophy teaching in Erbil and Mardin, commented.

Tokens of mutual acceptance

“Once when I had to relocate, I donated my library for the use of the community by giving it to the local mosque. So together with my pious friend I checked the books one by one to see whether they were suited or not.” This allegory was recounted to the consultation by the Syrian filmmaker Nidal al Dibs from Sweida, reminding us of a contemporary version of Lessing’s ring parable which happens to be a symbol of European enlightenment.

This cautious but all the more powerful message was understood and adopted by all sides and can exemplify the spirit of the event. . …more.