On the Frontlines of COVID-19: A Conversation with Women Peacebuilders


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Welcome to this conversation with an extraordinary group of women peacebuilders who run the frontlines of battling COVID-19. I am Melanne Verveer, director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

Today we will be discussing the impact of the pandemic and conflict affected areas. We are all experiencing COVID-19 and its impact in different ways but imagine in conflict affected areas where war has been raging where the people in those places, particularly women and their families, have been suffering greatly with deprivation, displacement and with all the consequences that war brings. And now COVID-19 has struck.

We will hear from our panelists on the impact of the viruses and the places they know best and where they have been working. We will also want to discuss the way forward; what does this mean for peace processes? For the role of women in dealing with the pandemic? What should all of us be doing, the international community, governments and other NGO actors around the world? 

And we will want to hear from you, with your questions to our panelists. You can submit your questions at any time during the discussion. Use the Q and A feature on your screen and just include your name and organization, and note if your question is targeted to one of the panelists who you are directing the question to.

There are more than 1000 of you participating in this discussion today. You are on the line from across many time zones and we welcome each and every one of you.From India, Sudan, Rwanda, El Salvador, Afghanistan, the Philippines and Morocco.

Let us begin so you can hear from these extraordinary peacebuilders. I’m going to start now with the discussion with Rajaa Altalli. Rajaa has been working on the frontlines of Syria. She is about an hour from Aleppo. She is a Syrian women’s right activist and co-founder and co-director of the Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria. She was one of 12 women appointed to the women’s advisory board by the UN office of the special envoy at the time… and that board continues to operate. She is focused in ensuring that women’s perspectives and leadership are taken into account  in any eventual peace process. Rajaa, tell us what is happening now  on the ground in Syria. How is COVID-19 impacting your community, peacework, and will it fuel an already terrible conflict? Will possibly de-escalate the conflict?



Thank you for including Syria in the conversation. Nine years ago Syrian people have taken to the street in order to demand justice and political transition. Through the nine years Syrian people have suffered from bombing, seizures, chemical weapon, you name it. Up to  two months ago bombing was continuing. Millions of Syrian people have been displaced, either internally or outside of Syria. Now what the Syrian people are saying after all this we are more immune for COVID-19. It’s not correct.

Syrian people are suffering a lot because of COVID-19, especially the Syrian detainees who are already in a very bad shape. You know the horrific Syrian detention is well known around the world. People are dying every day from torture but also because of the health situation. We are talking around the world that social distancing is a very good thing but there are children, there are Syrian men and women — they see it as a luxury to even talk about social distancing. And I’m not talking only about the people in the camps but also the people who have been displaced   in the last — within 2-3 months in mainly the Northwest. They don’t have the luxury to do social distancing.

The Syrian refugee only three weeks ago one Syrian refugee in Lebanon has burned himself because he is not able to pay for the rent, to pay for his children. Those are marginalized people. In Syria they need the support.

With that CSST has been calling a further cease-fire to continue I’m told in Syria. And at the same time pushing for the political process. COVID-19 could be an opportunity for peace in Syria. Also advancing human rights agenda in Syria is a vital issue at supporting Syrian women and Syrian civil society who is doing great work in production and prevention from COVID-19 in Syria to be supported.



So there is the possibility if the cease-fire could be executed that that might eventually lead to the kind of peace that has been elusive and all of these years.



Mainly like, we need the actors who are involved. The Syrian crisis is not a Syrian crisis, it is a regional and international crisis.This is why we are calling for a comprehensive response for COVID-19 in Syria. COVID-19 doesn’t know geographic boundary, ethnicity or religious boundary or political opinion and this is why, like the actors around the world who are involved in the Syrian crisis, they need to come together and say that enough is enough. 2254 has been agreed on in the security council in this agreement could happen on the virtual world. 

We are connected with each other, military weapons are continuing even though with COVID-19. Peace is the one that should be continuing because of COVID-19.



Let’s turn to the founder and director of the Women’sPeace Network. It is an NGO that conducts training in civil/civic engagement. Also she is involved in justice for women. Wai Wai Nu

has been engaged in bolstering peace building efforts in Myanmar for some time. We have heard so much about the million plus refugees. There are all so many in the state who are suffering greatly.

It has already been disastrous there before this terrible virus has come forward. What is happening with the onset of COVID-19 there? How is it impacting your work? I read the other day that a WHO worker was fatally shot. Can you give us a sense of how a grim situation, what has happened and what continues to happen, has that been aggravated?



Thank you for this opportunity to share the situations in Myanmar and Bangladesh. First of all as you said these are victims of international crimes. Victims of the crime of genocide and I want to highlight that  the COVID-19 pandemic  added another layer of vulnerability to the most vulnerable population people. In most cases WHO COVID-19 prevention guidelines on social distancing, handwashing are simply impossible to practice there. In Bangladesh as you said,  approximately 1 million from Burma are leaving an overcrowded squalid camp often sharing 10 m² of tent. Makeshift plastic tent by an average six members of family. Again the restrictions and limitations on the access to Internet create increased frustrations and fears among the refugee populations.

And basically yesterday and over the last week, I’ve been talking to many of our volunteers, youths and women in the camps. They are simply saying that yes,  we are scared of the COVID-19, on the other hand we feel like we are going to die before COVID-19 is in the camps due to the hunger and starvation. Although the government of Bangladesh and NGO and aid groups are trying to secure aid and distribute necessary prevention materials and food, however, the distributions of rations and necessary goods are very limited to the needs of the human populations in the camps.

For example, when they distribute rations it is mostly rice, beans and oil. So they still need a lot of other essential foods and other materials and people fear — they cannot go outside – so they are in fear of starvation at this point. They really feel like they’re going to die in the next couple of months this goes on. There should be another way of solutions.

On the other hand, as I said, they are living in very small tents shared by many members of families and at the same time they still have to share the bathroom. There is no personal hygiene and you know some age group has already distributed soap bars. However, there aren’t enough water for them to really wash hand in. Not only social distancing is a luxury, but also even washing hands is a luxury for them. They don’t have water to wash their hands.

So in my opinion the situation is really frustrating in a way that any of those prevention guidelines are not relevant to the conditions in overcrowded refugee camps. At the same time lack of information creates a fear and frustration among the refugee populations in Bangladesh. 

In a kind state again we have over a one year of Internet blackout in Myanmar. People are dying every day. We see increased number of the civilian casualties regarding the Civil War. The military has actually increased in terms of of fighting, the attack in the state. The war between theArmy and the Myanmar military. The Marie — Burmese military — has continued targeting the civilians, aid workers and humanitarian groups. As you said this week the WHO driver was shot and killed in order of an attempt to deliver COVID-19 test.

The situation on the ground is simply very, very difficult for other ethnic groups in Myanmar, as well as the situations in the camps in Bangladesh is really also dire. And really, as I said, has added more frustrations invulnerability to the already vulnerable population.



That is a sobering assessment of what is going on when you think of death by starvation, war, or a raging disease. These are terrible series of disease facing so many suffering people.

We are going to move now from Myanmar to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in eastern Congo. She is in where the conflict in that area of eastern Congo has been going on for many years. Many armed groups have been involved. Many of you who follow the situation in the DRC are aware of the extensive use of rape as abusive or, displacement and now a new outbreak of Ebola there on top of COVID-19.

She is the founder and CEO of ANZAFRIKA, a global movement for women which is critically important. She is also and when I first met her, she was starting the South Women’s Media Association which is been using journalism to fight against sexual violence and promote women’s rights.

Chouchou, this is a conflict you have been having to suffer through for a long time now, how is this new problem of COVID-19 impacting the situation in eastern DRC and what is happening to women and their families who have been going through very difficult times and now have to face the prospect of a new pandemic on top of of Ebola?



I would like to say COVID-19 has worsened the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As you know the president has declared a state of emergency and he is trying to adapt measures to the context and not impose a total lockdown but to ask the people to respect hygienic rules: 2 m of social distancing and wearing face masks. Around people are suffering. In the eastern part of Congo there are still attacks on civilians. There is still attacks on civilians in people by the group. Women are the first to suffer of the situation.

 What I am really more worried about is the socioeconomic consequences of the measures taken to limit the spread of the virus in the Congo. As you can imagine it like in all African countries people have to struggle every day to go out to look for food. They have to work every day here you have to live every day they by date to look for food.  This situation of lockdown because the borders are closed we are in the eastern part, we are at the border with Rwanda, Uganda and as you can imagine thousands of women leave from across boards to trade. From this situation they have lost all the men are source of livelihood and we are praying a lot that this situation of COVID-19 don’t reach our rural areas or displacing camps.

We have internal refugees in our country. We still have many refugees come internally. We are really praying that COVID-19 don’t reach that popular neighborhoods like refugee camps or rural areas. It’s not only an economical situation.

We have another problem here in the eastern Congo. We still had the Ebola virus. At this moment we were thinking that Ebola was under control but now 1-2 weeks there have been five new cases of Ebola. The country is fighting to main viruses. 

It is not really easy. I said the severe problem is the disruption of the chain of food industry and really this month since the lockdown started, I don’t know the difference between poverty and starvation. Because really there are lack of food and there is a potential famine coming to us after they COVID-19 and even to worsen the situation of conflict and insecurity and attacks on women.

The last time I talked with some journalists who are still at the front line in spite the coronavirus they have to go on the ground to record news, make reports and they said sometimes they going to farm to go to their daily work and they said really they do not know how they will fight coronavirus and the famine at the same time.



That is very difficult. I’m glad in a way you also injected into this conversation the whole you — issue of food security and starvation. There are increasing reports of how hunger is now going to exacerbate what is already been happening in terms of the consequences we know. The whole economic peace, lack of livelihoods and leading to starvation. 

We are going to end this first part of discussion with Oksana Potapova from the Ukraine. She is joining us from Kiev where she is a peace activist, member of the women’s initiative and co-founder of the Theatre for Dialogue, an NGO working with conflict affected communities. She has been very actively engaged which is how we know her so well in terms of women peace and security in the efforts in women — the women in Ukraine are making.

Oksana let me ask you, the war has been going on in eastern Ukraine for some six years now. There are at least 1,000,000 1/2 internally displaced. Something that I think a lot of people are aware of in terms of the consequences there. There have been efforts to secure a cease-fire but there have been repeated violations. In fact, I saw a headline this week that said Russian occupied eastern Ukraine is a ticking coronavirus time bomb. Give us a sense now we have moved from Asia to Africa to the Middle East, what is happening now in the heart of Europe, in Ukraine with this pandemic that is going on in a war zone and what are you and other advocates and activists trying to do?



Thank you for inviting me to this platform. It is a great responsibility because I know I will be sharing on behalf of many women activists in many communities including members of my own family who were living in the East — Eastern Ukraine. I come from that region and that’s one of the reasons I have been involved in working with the effects of conflict over the last six years. What I want to highlight is that there’s both definitely a humanitarian aspect  to this crisis in terms of how complex affected communities are now affected by the COVID. There is also a larger issue of advocating for a more comprehensive women peace and security agenda at large.

Speaking of the region, you’re right in naming the numbers of internally displaced people. As of recent numbers around 58% of these one and 1/2 million are women. Many of them are women  living alone with their children. Many families are separated or have separated as part of the conflict. Before the beginning of the pandemic there was a lot of movement between the so-called republics temporary uncontrolled territories of the republics. Now the movement has completely stopped and the borders have closed,  which brings us little information of what the situation really is but from everything we know in the Human Rights monitoring shows the population of the uncontrolled territories is largely people of pension age, elderly people. As we all know as well it’s a population at risk for contracting the virus and from suffering from it strongly. This creates, as you mentioned as well, high risk of contagion.

At the same time what we see and what we know is the leadership of those territories is not taking the situation as seriously as we would have liked it so we have no estimation of exact numbers of cases. It is very little Ukrainian government can do but what the women peacebuilders are doing across the country is providing information about the health measures and the importance of staying home and sanitizing yourself. We are also talking a lot about the importance of access to health infrastructure. Right now and after borders are open this is the first thing that will serve the needs of the people. Due to poor roads, due to little access to hospitals it is an issue and it continues to be an issue in the conflict zone and across Ukraine.

The other issue we are seen as a big challenge and not only in Ukraine I am sure but as the increased violence against women — Domestic violence and gender-based violence, and lack of systemic responses to that. One of the examples is after the setting up of the quarantine measures which are still in place in Ukraine the police has started to use a lot of its own force to monitor the violations of quarantine and not be so active in places of domestic and gender-based violence. It tells us something about the priorities of the security system. Again we want to stress that feminist priorities are gender-based violence first  in responses of the security system towards that.

One of the things we are doing and have been doing as a women’s movement is mobilizing to sign a petition for the rectification of the extendable prevent convention which will provide a systemic response to gender-based and domestic violence. Ukraine has signed this document but has not ratified it due to strong influence of conservative groups. What is important for me to stress along with humanitarian increased challenges is increased gender-based violence and a necessary response is needed as well as the economic vulnerability also leads a lot of women to mirror back with the perpetrators.

Including women in the conflict zone including women in a zone close to the conflict. When we talk about security right now and post COVID-19, we must talk about economic empowerment of women. We must make sure that this situation does not lead to disproportionate firing of women which is already happening.We do not have statistics but we have cases of women being sent on unpaid leave are being asked to take unpaid leave unofficially.

We do not have direct statistics but we know gender discrimination is happening at the workforce right now and it will have long-term effects. When we talk to women in communities about security the displaced women and women affected by conflicts they told us the second thing they fear most after shelling or bombing is not having enough income to provide for their families. We must stress that looking beyond just ending for, looking beyond just stopping the pandemic, we must use momentum to transform policies, narratives and discourses to make sure we live in a world with just and sustainable peace for everyone.



Thank you so much.I’m glad you raise the issue of the spike in domestic violence in the conditions that are now making the situation that many women have confronted around the world that much more difficult. I thought the point you raised in terms of the police looking to do the social distancing and making sure those requirements are being adhered to and ignoring pleas for help that come out of the spike in domestic violence is one that we are hearing about in other places as well and again the economic livelihood issue.

I want to put one more series of questions to you before we turn to our audience. Let me continue with you Oksana. You already raise some very important questions that need to be addressed.What other kinds of responses should we be seen from the international community, government, from those of us who are engaged in NGOs and other ways to this issue and given the fact you are a peace builder and leader in terms of women peace and security in Ukraine, what do you see happening in that space? What needs to happen to push a real sustainable peace in a way that needs to be fully understood in Inc.?



Thank you. It’s a question I could go on to answer forever. I will mention briefly women on the ground are doing already on different levels. They are as I mentioned providing information in different formats by social media, going on television and radios and there has been no lack in information for communities. Women are also organizing to provide psychological and emotional support to the communities that are at risk and to deal with the stress. As I mentioned, we are also mobilizing our women’s community to push for fortification of the Istanbul convention. 

Another thing that is happening and I think is important is we are seeing an increase in feminist analysis. And advocacy around gender impacts of crisis. Women’s organizations, international organizations and local organizations are more sensitive to this now and we think we cannot miss this momentum. I have been spending a lot of time reading articles and research, talking to my colleagues in different regions as well as interviewing women peacebuilders and leaders of organizations to see what we as a group need.

I just want to say that often we call women leaders, women peacebuilders resilient and that is true. However this term comes kind of with a price. Sometimes resilience means you’ll just always manage it in one another crisis comes you will pick it up and save the day again so why don’t we lay back and employ watching you do it. When I was preparing for this presentation I really thought I want to shift that paradigm. I want for women to not have to save the day again and for that we need sustainable policies and structures.

One of the things I think is really important which we unfortunately do not see happening in Ukraine is women need to be involved in decision-making now, not after or later but now. A lot of bodies that have been set up a local and national level to respond to the crisis unfortunately don’t consult with women civil society, don’t integrate gender analysis in their work for lack of capacity or lack of awareness but it’s not happening in it’s very alarming. It is an echo of the peace process. It is also very gender blind. So one of the things that needs to happen I think is put gender analysis and in consideration of needs of women especially vulnerable groups of women, intersectional gender analysis at the core of any decisions we make. Especially as international organizations coming to partner with governments and civil society, increasing capacity for gender integration increasing accountability for consideration of women’s voices is key.

Another one is I believe we need a change of narrative and a change of story. I have been hearing a lot of discourse around we are fighting this crisis. It is an enemy and we are at war. Once again we are using a militarized discourse.We can displace it with the discourse of care, support, solidarity and equality and this is what I think a feminist agenda can offer. We have seen the reproductive work and care work is what saving us and most of this work is done by women.I think it’s time to put value to this work, means not only changing the discourse but also changing the funding and priorities that our governments invest in military spending versus public funds, healthcare, education, infrastructure.

Those are the things again we have been talking about and continue to talk about now. One of the areas that is coming up is the focus on labor rights and how inefficient labor legislation is putting women at risk of being unemployed or being unofficially employed. The rights of workers is something that needs to be on the agenda especially these days.

I want to say that in all of this is a long-term hall what I’m talking about now. Of course we need immediate response right away and I have already mentioned some measures being taken. I cannot stress more the role of women’s organizations in peace building, organizations in moments like this. Activities on the ground has stopped. A lot of our work is based on dialoguing activities, workshops, meetings or roundtables. The quality in connection of trust we have built is still there and I think the international community needs to rethink the logic of what is considered an efficient program in what is considered a result of the program.

Can a network of our organizations an effective trust relationship could be enough as a result of the program. There is risk some organizations would lose their funding now because they cannot to activities on the ground. I think we must not let this happen. We must support the likelihood of organizations, provide institutional support, provide spaces for self-care and community care for women peacebuilders themselves who have been traumatized and turned out from the work and make sure as we come out of this the civil society is stronger than before and is not also scrambling for resources. The women’s civil society is the glue that is holding communities together and will hold them together as we come out of the situation.



Thank you very much for that. I think you have put forward a number of action areas for which we should all be focused. We hear again and again how women are not being involved in the decision-making processes when they are on the front lines and enormously capable and experienced in terms of making contributions as leaders, not just as people being impacted by this ongoing challenge that is confronted as well as the funding issues have come up. I think that is another really important area to stress in terms of women’s organizations and the long-term need to continue this investment going forward.

Same question, what kinds of responses would make the difference now and what should we all be focused on?



Thank you very much. It’s really and very important because it’s a new virus. It was not known by people and we started making videos, messages to sensitize people. As usual women generally are at the frontline they are heroes to because they are still working to get news. To protect them we distributed usable facemask to them. Here in Congo the facemasks available in pharmacies are very expensive. Now in my hometown, for example, the population has been asked to sell its own homemade masks and wear them when leaving the house. This is one measure adopted by who is leading the medical commission to fight against COVID-19 in the province.

The doctor, as you know, is a Nobel Peace Prize 2019. He has adjusted some COVID prevention measures so that women can still go out and look for food for their families. It is a gender sensitive measure and now in sensitization approach the local media here in my country adopted to use a fluid language so people can understand what it means COVID-19 and it said for example — instead of saying where your facemask in French it is hide nose and mouth so instead of thing facemask. That is to avoid misunderstanding because the Congolese are very inventive. We could see people wearing inappropriate material as masks such as bra or diapers. We are turning to recommendation.I think the strong response is a strong community involvement.

As for Ebola, my country has learned a lot about how to tackle this kind of epitome in the solution is to involve communities in ordinary people and amongst them the women. The women they know what solution will work for them but unfortunately they are not involved in the decision making. They are not leading the commission’s. Sometimes they are even forgotten. For example, a lockdown cannot be imposed without the consent of people affected. This measure should be gender sensitive. I remember when we were in the middle of the Ebola outbreak there were hand washed points every mile in the city and people were obliged to stop and wash their hands and that was a good habit and behavior for them to fight against COVID-19. Yet, as I said, women should be included in equal commissions that make decisions. They have to be involved so they can have a response that must be suitable, and to be at the frontline.

Now after a month of lockdown in Congo. Really it has caused a painful situation in the communities, and neighborhoods. I think assistance measures – are needed here in the country because the big issues is as I mentioned the potential famine after the COVID-19. The international community would have to work on that in my organization. ANZAFRIKA are working with women farmers to help them continue forming even for the time by respecting measures of social distancing and we also provide them with adapted farming devices by text message and vocal messages on their mobile phones. That is our contribution in the fighting against COVID-19 in helping women continue their farming work.To avoid famine after the COVID-19. Thank you.



Thank you and it’s important that you raised the issue of women in the agricultural sector. In many countries they are the majority of the farmers to help farmers — the ability to stave off starvation in many ways will be what they will be able to produce. I think the assistance in that arena and women led community engagement and also the issue of information. This was raised — there’s a lot of misinformation. What are people to do and again how vital it is to get accurate information to people so they know how to respond.

Wai Wai let’s go to you with the same question.



Thank you for the floor again. I want to  provide some recommendations in this regard. First of all, before giving more broader recommendations I want to say in your and more the military should stop the Civil War and basically stop the Civil War. That is the most important thing.

In addition the Burmese government should remove the Internet blackout and allow humanitarian frequency to provide adequate humanitarian needs to the people. At the same time to prepare the – to take preventive measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those are very important recommendations.

Specifically in relation to Myanmar. As far as general recommendations, I would like to emphasize a couple of things. Firstly, health infrastructures and services that should be available for the needs of all patients regardless — with gender and social economy backgrounds especially to the most vulnerable groups such as refugees. Support for the survivors should be strengthened during COVID-19 by ensuring case work and continue at-risk assessment in safety planning is done and adopted to the survivors needs.

Inclusive and integrated crisis management response and should be considered given the risks  and the impact on the women can be different in the pandemic. Again the women should be at the forefront of these responses and some of the important factors should be evaluated and considered including supplying like when people supply personal hygiene material for the women, it should include menstruation pads and care for the babies in such.

Also in the case of refugee camps and in the remote area there might not be help lines or  hotlines available, which is available here in the Western Hemisphere or developing countries. The need to create a supportive volunteer social network is essential so that people can physically provide essential needs as well as the information. When it comes to the human rights protections…

I also want to emphasize from insurance that COVID-19 must not be a reason to stall or stop justice mechanism from supporting women, mothers, elderly people who need support. Rights should not be restricted or restrained during the pandemic nor should authority use pandemic to justify violence. We need to continue the human rights work in building work.These things are not going away. The humans rights violations are continuing. The victims of genocide are waiting for the justice – to gain justice for their suffering and for their crimes that have been committed against them. I think these are very important things.

Lastly, for the recovery the role of women organizations and protection agencies must be recognized when developing recovery plans and responding to the gender-based violence as we see the rates of increasing domestic violence and other impact against the women populations. Finally, protections of I want to remind all of us that protections of all life is our moral responsibility. We must also remember the right to help the human right and the right to live his human right so the world must protect the most vulnerable populations especially the refugees.



Thank you so much for that and I think adding to what your colleagues on the panel have already said the stress on cease-fire ending the violence so a lot of this emergency work and ongoing work can take place to save lives and to really administer what’s needed to the vulnerable.But also the important point of human rights. That it should not be taking a back seat right now and we see in many of the authoritarian governments in particular using the aggregation of human rights in terms of fighting the pandemic. And I think being very mindful of that and calling that out again. What happens in the way forward when that comes, when recovery is truly possible and ensuring women’s participation in the process? Rajaa take us back to Syria and the ongoing situation there.



Thank you so much for this important conversation. I want to start with find creative mechanism to support Syrian society. I would with that as the first recommendation. We are all suffering from COVID-19. Especially the leaders around the world are taking steps in order to move with the protection, prevention, containment of COVID-19 around the world. In Syria civil society has been playing a very important leadership role in order to advocate for equal rights for IDPs and refugees for protection of COVID-19.

Supporting civil society is a key but also women civil society especially in decreasing the gender gap in technology. From this important platform I would like to call for the help in Syria but also around the world for Syrian women in closing the technology, especially during COVID-19. It actually showed us how important it is to take 2020 as one of our goals making a smaller the gap is.

In the human rights sector I really would like to call for advancing human rights in Syria and supporting human rights activists, and organizations. But mainly for a call for the release of the detainees in Syria. Tens of thousands of people are detained and are missing in Syria. Their family deserves, they deserve to be released on a humanitarian base during COVID-19. This is supporting the call for the special envoy to release in Syria.

What it be possible to have a creative move in Syria and a peace agreement online. In the Syrian process establishing a woman advisory board. It is the first time that is happening. Inclusion of civil society and the constitutional committee. It was the first time that is happening.  With that be the creative move to support from the Security Council to support the effort of the special envoy to have a peace agreement online during COVID-19. We deserve peace as Syrian women, Syrian people and let’s move for a political transition to democracy.



Thank you so much and for bringing us back to the situation in Syria that is haunted the world in many ways. Elusive of a solution that it has been and what this really interesting proposal. about how to achieve a cease-fire even under these conditions and may be particular because of these conditions. Let us all focus on that and continuing to support a civil society in Syria which is a vitally important. We are going to turn now and the limited amount of time we have left to our audience. Allie, are there questions?



We have a bunch of questions. How are women’s groups lobbied for the inclusion of women in decision-making during the crisis? And for gender sensitive policies?  Cleopatra adds our social distancing measures stringing the base for civil society including women’s organizations and if so how are they working to overcome that?



This is directed to anybody, correct? Those questions bundled under leadership as briefly as you can be so maybe we can get into one more round from the audience. Who wants to take it? Anybody on women’s leadership? Rajaa your microphone is off.



The Syrian women leaders not only the last couple of months are trying to overcome the challenges we are facing. It is very important to know that since 2011 but mainly 2012that Syrian woman has been advocating for the participation in the political process which resulted in the Syrian women initiative for peace and democracy in 2014 and also the Syrian women advisory board for the special envoy but many other initiative that is really being on the frontlines.Syrian woman has been on the frontline for a while in order to advise the woman agenda but not only that the Syrian human rights agenda for the future.

Now during COVID-19 we are seeing Syrian women, we’re taking the responsibility in advancing prevention and protection. It is very important to know that in Syria we are not talking about one place, one thing controlling forces. We are talking about a peace for area inside Syria that has different controlling forces and women are reaching to each other, working with each other in order to advance that situation for Syrian people no matter where we are. We are pushing for a comprehensive response for COVID 19 around Syria and we are being influencing the agenda for responding to COVID-19.



Allie let’s try one more round.



How can digital technology be leveraged to address COVID in your communities? What has been the response of men and boys to the situation especially of organizations engaging with men and boys?



Digital technology and then bringing men and boys into the solution, who would like to take that on?



In our experience digital technology is one of the most effective ways at this time to really leverage information around the COVID-19. Rock country like Myanmar for example Facebook and the technology becomes essential, the Facebook is one of the main kind of sources of information for the people, the majority of the people but the difficult part here is that especially in the conflict affected area and as I said the refugees and IDP camps where there is no Internet or access to the devices. The technology itself will create harder for the people to have access to information. I think we have to understand that yes digital technology, social media, whatever devices can be very effective in this kind of crisis management and information dissemination. At the same time we also need to address the conditions of Internet blackout or access to the Internet itself as well as access to the devices.

For example, for women, elderly, men and women for them it’s sometimes impossible to even have a telephone or any kind of devices if they are refugee or IDP. We need to make sure access to the technology and devices and access to the connectivity as well.



Does anyone want to take on the issue of engagement with men, you mentioned the doctor and the leadership role he has been playing. You talked about the UN envoy and creation of the Council, are there other examples are ways we need to move that part of participation forward to create change in the ways we have been discussing?



As I mentioned we are really lucky to have men like the doctor. Really he thought about measures, included the measure that would2  — were just on women’s needs so he knows what are real problems of women so he it just measures. I think he had a big influence because when the government designed a new commission to lead another commission to lead the fight for COVID-19 there we saw some women, names of women appeared. I think he had a big influence on that. We have a movement of men  and they started a movement of men.



We had a technological problem there Chouchou, but I think we got the gist of your response. Lastly Oksana did you want to say anything on this?



Around meant engagement on the individual and community level, I’ve heard a positive stories from my colleague women peacebuilders who now continue to work from home and you actually have a different experience of sharing household rules with her husband’s. There has been more awareness raising about that. It is still one of the biggest challenges brought to the organizations, the women’s organizations are stepping up about raising awareness on shared household rules. There is a potential for transformation there, I believe.

I think we can also help us in the long term is more research and more informed conversation about masculinity’s and how the gender binary is taken to extreme in a conflict context and is used to promote violence. Recently we had a book that came out by a Ukrainian sociologist and scholar on her research about masculinities and I hope it’s going to start a discussion among men and feminists and women activists about gender stereotypes and gender roles.

Finally to add to the question of leadership, I think informed leadership is what we also need. It’s based on data, based on analysis. So investing in the capacity of women scholars and women advocates who can ground their positions and advocacy in data and have informed and meaningful participation is important not just have the focus on women doing the frontline humanitarian work but also strengthen the capacity of women leadership. I see this happen in Ukraine, right now are government is about to develop a new action plan on women peace and security in civil society is actively involved in monitoring the implementation of the current plan in designing the approach to writing the new one and I think it is very positive beginning and I hope that it leads to an inclusive and first honest document. I think we are in the moment where women have enough capacity to contribute in a meaningful way and that capacity needs to be celebrated and strengthened as well.



Thank you for that. I know Ukraine’s national action plan was the first one written. It is good to hear it is being implemented and that you are moving on the second stage of that. Thanks to all of you. We could have this conversation,I wish we could for much longer but to all of you, thank you for participating today of course for all of the good ideas. For giving us an eyewitness sense of what is happening in terms of the pandemic but thank you mostly for what you do every day in this very difficult work of peace building and not doing it confronting new challenges.

We are going to have to conclude at this point. We have more than run out of time. Before we leave I would like to announce that at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security we have launched a new initiative called Stories from the Frontlines: Women Peacebuilders in the Pandemic and we hope that learning experiences like those that you have given us today will not only help our ongoing efforts but will put a spotlight on the important work that women peacebuilders are doing, have been doing, need to be listened to and also the additional ways in which you are dealing with the current challenges.

For those of you who are listening in and know of others who would benefit from this discussion, know that this discussion lists on our website and you can access it under events. We hope that others will benefit from all of the good discussion in the good advice and recommendations.

Until next time, stay well. And do all you can in these very difficult times. And really heed the recommendations. Extraordinary discussion today but also very good advice about how we can better engage with all of you no matter where we are and no matter what we do to really make things a little bit better in these trying times and to continue the very important work on women, peace and security. Thank you all so much.