The Middle East Institute (MEI), with support from the Asfari Foundation, hosted Syrian civil society activists Salma Kahale (Dawlaty) and Oula Ramadan (Badael Foundation) for a discussion about Syrian women in activism and politics.
Women have played remarkable roles throughout the Syrian crisis, including as protesters, civil society leaders, organizers, and civil defense volunteers. At the same time, they are struggling to re-define their current and future place in Syrian society. Kahale and Ramadan head Syrian NGOs working in areas outside of regime control. They shared their experiences regarding the role of women activists in Syria and the need for their increased participation in peace talks. Leila Hilal moderated the discussion.
Executive Director, Dawlaty
Salma Kahale is the executive director of Dawlaty, an organization which supports the engagement of civil society actors and young people in democratic transition processes through capacity building, community mobilization, and advocacy. Dawlaty is based in Beirut with centers in Syria and staff in six Syrian provinces. Kahale is also a founding member of Planet Syria, a campaign that includes 114 Syrian groups and over 60 international groups advocating an end to barrel bombs, the promotion of a no-fly zone, and meaningful peace negotiations in order to stop violence in Syria. Previously, she worked on child protection and youth engagement in Syria with Save the Children, UNICEF, and Mercy Corps, as well as with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Kahale worked in the Office of the First Lady (OFL) on youth engagement and civil society issues until 2011 when she left for political reasons.
Founder and Executive Director, Badael Foundation
Oula Ramadan is the founder and executive director of Badael Foundation, a Syrian nonprofit organization based in Turkey committed to strengthening Syrian civil society and grassroots efforts in peace-building, human rights, and nonviolence. Ramadan has been human rights activist since 2003, but was banned from travel by the Syrian regime between 2006-2011 due to her advocacy work. Before 2011, she worked with UNHCR to address gender-based violence affecting refugees from the MENA region. In 2011, she became active in supporting a political transition in Syria and promoting political activism among Syrian women as key players in the peace-building process. She is also a researcher whose writing focuses on civil society and peace-building in Syria.
Fellow, New America
Leila Hilal is a senior fellow for the International Security Program and the former director of the Middle East Task Force at New America. She focuses on Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and issues related to U.S. foreign policy, community-based change, constitution-making, and transitional justice in the broader Middle East and North Africa. Prior to joining New America, Hilal served as senior policy adviser to the commissioner-general of the Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) and as a legal adviser to Palestinian negotiators from 2002-2008. She has led numerous research missions on human rights and post-conflict scenario building and transitional justice in the Middle East, including for Chatham House, the International Center for Transitional Justice and the Euro-Med Human Rights Network for Human Rights.