Crisis in Syria: Now is the Time to Seek Male Allies for Leadership Equality

Publication Date: 
9 Dec 2015

Publication Type:

Author(s): 
Jessica Huber, IFES Senior Gender Specialist

The crisis in Syria is a hardship for men, women, boys and girls who struggle to subsist amid a brutal conflict with widespread and indiscriminate violence. Men are disappearing from their communities into the fog of war, and boys are preparing to join them. Women and girls are left behind in most cases and are desperate for opportunities to provide for their families and communities, while playing any part they can to end the conflict.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Global Women’s Leadership Program, is developing a systematic approach for engaging men to support women in leadership and decision-making roles in political and electoral processes. On November 10, 2015, an IFES delegation traveled to Gaziantep, Turkey to meet with Syrians to discuss male allies for leadership equality.

IFES asked participants in the Male Allies for Leadership Equality (MALE) focus groups and interviews to answer a few questions about gender equality and women's leadership on a scale of “Not Useful” (1) to “Very Useful” (5), which revealed perceptions that were echoed in further detail during discussions.

Key findings and recommendations

While matters of life and death, peace and security overwhelm the people of Syria, it was clear from these discussions that the inclusion of women as partners in Syria’s future must not be delayed and there are steps that can be immediately taken to close the existing gender gap. During focus group discussions and key informant interviews with over 50 Syrians living inside Syria and in Turkey, there emerged visions for movement forward. Highlights include:

  1. There are highly educated and active women who are opting out of transition politics because they do not want to be treated as “decorations,” but rather as equal power brokers in finding peace for Syria. Women who participate in the transition must be supported as equals and involved in key decision-making events at the international, national and local council levels.
  2. Professional women repeatedly requested training to enhance their skills related to peace and political transition, including mediation, negotiation and peace-building skills.
  3. Women at the community level need support in every way possible, as the humanitarian crisis inside Syria and the poverty and discrimination for those in Turkey overwhelms their daily life. Despite these hurdles many women still believe that if the opportunity came about to lead or if they saw other women as leaders in their communities, they too could step into such roles.
  4. Female mentors are critically important to women both as professionals and as community members, yet such role models are vanishing within the crisis and increasingly conservative culture.
  5. As education is interrupted for women and girls, they must have access to creative channels to continue to empower them. Education and empowerment need not center on traditional female roles (sewing, nursing, teaching, etc.) but can and should include preparing for professions that will help rebuild the country’s administration and infrastructure.
  6. With early marriage on the rise for young Syrian women, opportunities to engage in supporting their families and continuing their education should be prioritized to provide an alternative to this potentially very abusive future.
  7. Women and girls who have been arrested need access to psycho-social support and treatment. Their communities, who may reject them as “impure” because of the sexual gender-based violence they suffered while in prison, must be sensitized to support these women.
  8. Male professionals could learn from both female colleagues and other male champions who promote gender equality. They could also use basic gender and gender integration training.
  9. Policies that support meaningful gender integration, even at this moment of crisis and transition, will ensure that as Syria returns to peace, gender equality is in its foundation.
  10. Mentoring is seen as a critical tool to encourage men who may not value women’s leadership. Particularly, occasions to bring male allies together with men who maybe resisting gender equality could reduce the zero-sum assumptions about gender equality and engage those who are new to the concept.
  11. Families must respect both husbands and wives’ roles as leaders in the household and the community. In cases where women want to become more active in activities outside of their homes, they should be supported and enabled by their husbands and family.
  12. Mothers and sons are a critical cohort as Syria faces daily pressure from increasingly conservative culture and daily violence. Mothers can use their influence with their sons to create understanding and support for gender equality.
  13. It is imperative to focus on boys and young men who are catalytic to Syria’s future, because they bear the brunt of the violence, are deeply traumatized and now have psycho-social disabilities, and will need continual support to recover.