Peace In Kurdistan Campaign
20 December 2013
Margaret Owen OBE, a human rights barrister, director of Widow’s for Peace and Democracy (WPD) and founder member of Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS), as well as long-time supporter of the Kurdish people, is today travelling to Rojava in northern Syria, also known as Western Kurdistan, on a week-long solidarity and fact-finding mission.
The visit comes less than two months after the Democratic Union Party (PYD) announced the decision to form an interim transitional administration for the region, which was the result of a conference on 12 November attended by representatives of 35 organisations of various ethnic, religious and political affiliations operating across Rojava.
Women have been particularly active as frontline fighters in the struggle against both regime forces and armed al-Qaeda affiliated groups in the region, as well as in establishing refugee support networks for Syrians fleeing violence in the rest of the country, in women’s councils, assemblies, and other decision-making bodies, and in education and family care.
Ms Owen, 81, says: “I hope in the short time I am in Rojava I will have an opportunity to visit some of the projects and programmes, service delivery that the PYD are managing on the borders of Rojava, and so I can observe at close quarters the plight of the refugees who have fled to Western Kurdistan.
“My visit will focus in principle on the women and girls, both as victims of the conflict and in need of urgent humanitarian aid, but also as incredibly brave and innovative defenders and providers of essential services, that alone can keep people alive and give them hope.”
The active role women have played in securing peace and self-rule in the Kurdish regions has been largely ignored by the ‘official’ Western-backed opposition in the Syrian conflict, in part because calls for Kurdish rights and autonomy in a post-Assad Syria have been repeatedly shunned by the opposition, who have still yet to guarantee that the Kurdish Supreme Council will be represented at the Geneva II conference in January. Nevertheless, Ms Owen believes there will be much to learn from the PYD and its democratic project:
“The PYD is, in its constitution and structure, a model for gender equality and the empowerment of women, as well as a model for countries in transition and developing new constitutions.
“I am going to Rojava to work with its women, at all levels, to see how they can access and use constructively the various international UN human rights mechanisms and ensure representation in any peace talks. It is vital that women’s voices are heard, and women play an equal part in any negotiations towards conflict resolution and peace building.”
She continues: “My hope is that I can bring attention and awareness to the plight and suffering of the Kurdish people, especially the women and children in Rojava, and those from other parts of Syria who have fled there, and help to insure these voices are heard in peace processes to end the conflict. No Women No Peace.”
Ms Owen will be in Rojava between 20 – 28 December. She will be available for interview on her return. For more information and for interviews, please contact:
Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Sirinathsingh – Tel: 020 7272 7890
Fax: 020 7263 0596
 Margaret Owen OBE: Biography
Margaret Owen OBE is a barrister and international human rights lawyer with a focus on women’s rights and access to the justice system. Her particular focus is on the status of widows in developing countries and particularly those afflicted by armed conflict, civil wars and revolution. She is the founder and Director of the international NGO Widows for Peace through Democracy (WPD) and in that capacity regularly holds meetings at the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
She has travelled widely researching gender and human rights issues, and is also a Founding Member of GAPS -UK (Gender Action on Peace and Security), which works with the UK Government on developing National Action Plans to implement Security Council Resolutions addressing violence against women, sexual violence in conflict and post conflict.
For more than a decade Margaret has been intensely engaged in work to bring about a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issues in Turkey and elsewhere in the region. She has often visited Turkey to observe trials, to monitor elections, and to provide training to Kurdish women’s associations on how to use the international human rights mechanisms, such as the Beijing Platform; CEDAW (UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women); other human rights treaties and conventions; and UN Security Council Resolution 1325. For several years she was Women’s Rights Advisor to the KHRP (Kurdish Human Rights Project). She is a Patron of the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign and the campaign’s adviser on Kurdish women’s and children’s human rights, and has co-authored reports to the European Parliament on women and girls in Kurdistan. She is well known as a writer, broadcaster, and activist on feminist issues both in the UK and globally.
She is a Cambridge University Graduate and also holds a degree in Social Sciences from the London School of Economics. She is a Member of the Bar of the Middle Temple, a Door Tenant at 9 Bedford Row, and a member of the UK Bar Human Rights Committee. She is also a founder member also of the UKNGOCSWALLIANCE, and a member of the NGO Liason group working with the government to prepare for the 58th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in March next year.