Bassma Kodmani, here together with Staffan de Mistura, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré
There is an important story about women, peace and security that needs to be told.We are putting the spotlight on women who have paved the way – the bold and the brave – and we know there are and can be many more of them. We are pushing for #MoreWomenMorePeace.
When Bassma Kodmani was ten years old, she and her family left their home town of Damascus and, after a few years in Lebanon, her family ended up in London, where her father got a job with the United Nations. Later, Ms Kodmani studied and worked in Paris. But her extensive and passionate commitment to her home region never waned. In her most recent book, Breaking the Walls, she describes herself as an “Arab woman, with a Western intellectual formation (…) and raised according to the ethics of Islam.”
After obtaining a PhD in Political Science at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris, she wanted to do more than just study the Arab world. She wanted to contribute to its change; And in the course of her entire adult life, Ms Kodmani has focused, through her commitments, on propagating for human rights in the Arab world. Not least when she established the Arab Reform Initiative in 2005, which was established to inspire Arab decision-makers and opinion leaders and raise awareness about successful democratic reforms in other parts of the world. The aim of the Arab Reform Initiative was, of course, to promote reform in the Arab world towards its own democratisation.
However, Ms Kodmani is probably most well-known for her role as a political activist in the Syrian opposition. When the 2011–2012 Syrian uprising began, she saw how fiercely young Syrian women and men fought for their freedom. She simply wanted to bring the voices of these young people to the outside world and so chose to take a prominent role in the opposition against the Assad regime.
As she worked for the opposition, Ms Kodmani quickly understood that, as a woman, she had to push extra hard to make herself heard by the Syrian regime, as well as by her own colleagues.
“I learnt, rather late in life, that women needed to unite and fight their way into the spheres of power and decision-making if Syria is to be the country of all its citizens.”
Now she has become the voice of women in war-torn Syria, a country where the regime’s systematic use of sexual violence against women has torn apart entire lives, families and communities. Ms Kodmani seeks to unite women activists. In this way, she wants to emphasise the need to protect and defend the dignity of women, and not least, she has created scope for vulnerable women to heal:
“Women activists inside Syria and in refugee camps are mobilised to bring relief to the victims, heal their wounds and raise awareness among their families about the need to protect the dignity of the women as part of the overall struggle; otherwise the regime will be winning on a very dangerous front,” she said in a speech at the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office in connection with the celebrations of the 2014 International Women’s Day.
Let us pay tribute to Ms Kodmani’s great commitment to women’s rights. For three decades, she has contributed as a spokesperson, advisor and professor in a number of various think tanks and organisations to give women more place in local and international arenas. This has enabled many initiatives to enhance dialogue between Western and Arab decision-makers on political freedom, democracy and not least, gender equality.
After her work in the opposition, she was also involved in founding the Syrian National Council, which was created as an umbrella organisation to unite different opposition groups in Syria and abroad, with hopes of building a modern and democratic country.
In view of resumed negotiations in Geneva, Ms Kodmani was one of the initiators behind the new Syrian Women’s Political Movement launched in October demanding one third of the seats in the opposition’s negotiation delegation.
Today, Ms Kodmani is 59 years old and her heart beats just as passionately now as it did thirty years ago for an inclusive Arab world with respect for diversity and gender equality. Over the years, her efforts have come to involve many people, which has led to opportunities for more women to take more space in the political context – in the Arab world, and not least, in her home country, Syria.
As the war has advanced through Syria, women, like Ms Kodmani, have also been present there to lead another way – a way towards a more democratic and equal country. If Ms Kodmani and Sweden have anything in common, it is precisely the struggle for a more inclusive and equal society.
We believe #MoreWomenMorePeace.
Written by Linus Erlandsson