Yara Al Chehayed is Syrian and currently lives in Lebanon. She tells us about her understanding of peaceful coexistence:
I believe that peaceful coexistence and justice are two completely different concepts, and if we want to start defining peaceful coexistence - which is by default the absence of conflict between me and the ‘’other’’ - this status of peace can be maintained by geographical sectarian divisions. This is the case in Lebanon. It leads to people having no encounter with the other, and so fuels the conflict as this form of peaceful coexistence is geographically imposed. Peaceful coexistence can also be militarily imposed. Today we are living under increased militarisation which guarantees the maintenance of peace, hence peaceful coexistence does not necessarily mean peace or justice.
On the difference between peace and justice, she adds:
Peace and justice are two different concepts, and today, every initiative working towards peacebuilding should place justice at its core, because us women have long been victims of conflicts that killed and imprisoned us, and those who were killed and displaced deserve justice. Justice takes many forms. It doesn’t necessarily result in imprisonment and punishment. It can simply be a recognition of our sufferings… so that we can build peace rooted in justice, with an emphasis on not repeating the past.
On building peace in Syria, she says:
Those who made the war cannot make peace! So the first step would be to exclude those who made the war from the talks so that the victims sit at the table to assess their losses and build a vision of peace. We need to hear their stories of suffering, and know how they would like to be compensated. Every roundtable that seeks to build peace but does not include the people affected by the conflict is a meaningless table.
On the role of women, Yara adds:
Syrian women, like Arab women and all women from Argentina to Poland, are already oppressed by the patriarchal system that tramples them every day and in all practices of life, be it economic, political or social. The Syrian woman was marginalised and was on the sidelines within this society that claims to have lived in peace. She was underrepresented on the political level… the women who participate in politics in Syria do not represent the Syrian woman, in so much as a woman minister is part of the political bourgeoisie, which is part of the patriarchal system. We need real representation of women post-war, a representation that highlights her suffering and her long-standing marginalisation.
There have been opportunities for women during the war. They had the chance to turn some tables and make some gains for women, whether social, economic or political. We saw this in several initiatives led by women from Syria - including humanitarian, political and social. We also started to see Syrian women who, under the weight of war, were forced to join the labour market. There were several gains for women, and tomorrow when we try to build peace, we will preserve and build on these gains until we achieve gender justice in Syria.