Women must be part of Syria talks, activists say

GENEVA (AFP) - Syrian activists said on Monday that the voice of women from the war-ravaged nation must not be sidelined at peace talks due to start next week in Switzerland.

"We have to take part in the whole process, from A to Z," Syrian Women's League member Sabah Alhallak told reporters in Geneva.

Alhallak and around 50 female campaigners from both inside Syria and the refugee community, held a two-day meeting behind closed doors in the Swiss city on Sunday and Monday.

The session was hosted by The Netherlands' embassy at the United Nations as well as UN Women, an agency of the world body, which underlined that the participants came from across the Syrian spectrum.

The head of UN Women, South Africa's former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said the goal was to ensure that women form at least 30 per cent of all the delegations at the looming peace talks.

The campaigners were due Tuesday to meet with Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League envoy who has spent months trying to bring Syria's warring sides to the table.

The long-awaited Geneva II peace talks - a follow-up to a meeting last year whose terms were never implemented - are set to begin with an international conference on January 22 in the city of Montreux.

Two days later, they are scheduled to shift to Geneva itself, where Brahimi is to broker meetings between the Syrian authorities and the opposition.

Given that women and children make up the overwhelming majority of the millions of Syrians driven from their homes by almost three years of bitter civil war, women must be involved in all levels of peace efforts, the campaigners said in a statement.

"If Geneva II doesn't work, we'll keep working to make Geneva III work, or Geneva IV or Geneva V," said Rafif Jouejati of the Local Coordination Committees network, which opposes the Syrian regime but has also been targeted by hardline Islamist rebels.

"We have come together as Syrian women looking to make peace... If Geneva II doesn't work, we will push the men who are making war to make peace," she added.

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