‘Conscience Convoy’ highlights the suffering of Syria’s women

Of the 10,204 civilians killed in 2017 during the Syrian conflict, an estimated 1,536 were women and 2,298 children.
Thursday 08/03/2018
Women stand in the rain as they prepare to embark on buses in Istanbul on March 6, ahead of a ‘Conscience Convoy’ calling for the release of Syrian women held by the Syrian regime. (AFP)
Victims of war. Women stand in the rain as they prepare to embark on buses in Istanbul on March 6, ahead of a ‘Conscience Convoy’ calling for the release of Syrian women held by the Syrian regime. (AFP)

TUNIS - A convoy of some 2,000 women is expected to complete the 1,100 km journey from Istanbul to Hatay upon Turkey's border with Syria, arriving on March 8, International Women’s Day. The convoy is intended to highlight the plight of Syria’s women and children after seven years of the country’s brutal civil war. 

Nearly five dozen buses carrying “women activists, housewives, CEOs, teachers, lawyers, doctors and academicians from 55 countries left Istanbul,” Dia Hassoun, spokeswoman of the Conscience Convoy said in e-mailed comments.

She said the convoy was scheduled to collect additional participants as it passed through cities along the way to Hatay, with more than 10,000 women involved by the time the convoy reaches its final destination.

Of the 10,204 civilians killed last year during the Syrian conflict, an estimated 1,536 were estimated to be adult women and 2,298 children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Many of those who escaped death languish in the Syrian regime’s prisons or in refugee camps that dot the battle-scarred Syrian landscape and countries offering humanitarian support. The convoy’s organisers said that, since the outbreak of hostilities, 13,581 women have been arrested in Syria, of whom 6,786 remain in prisons where rape and torture are routine.

“We are urging all parties to uphold their obligations under international law, especially in terms of protecting women and children,” Hassoun said. “Besides, we are calling for the immediate release of all women and child prisoners held unlawfully in official and secret prisons.

“Finally, we call upon the international community to take effective measures to protect women and all vulnerable people during conflicts and wars.”

Massive displacement has taken place across Syria, with entire populations fleeing from the fighting. As of 2016, 6.1 million people had been displaced within Syria and 5.4 million crossed its borders for safety elsewhere, the United Nations reported.

Of those 11 million Syrians — a number approximate to the population of Tunisia — about half are females. Many are subjected to exploitation and sexual abuse, sometimes by representatives of the agencies that purport to help them, a UN Population Fund report concluded in February. Sex at some UN camps was routinely traded for access to aid, the report stated.

Though the Assad regime has consistently denied accusations of war crimes and the systematic use of torture, evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. Reports from human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and, from within Syria, Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights have documented the deliberate use of sexual and gender-based violence by the regime.

“No matter what religion, race or ethnicity, women from the world are coming together today to start a journey of humanity,” Yvonne Ridley, a Scottish activist told Reuters. “We are setting off on this journey to be among those, to help those who are in Syrian prisons.”