Margaret Owen, patron of Peace in Kurdistan Campaign and human rights barrister, as well as Director of Widows for Peace and Democracy and a founder member of Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS), travelled to Rojava on 20 December 2013 on a 7-day fact-finding and solidarity mission to the region (read the press release). The trip came a month after the Kurdish regions of Rojava established an interim transitional administration following a conference attended by representatives of 35 local political and civic organisations.

The main purpose of the visit was to meet with representatives of civil society, political and humanitarian organisations operating in the area, and in particular, women’s groups. Women have played a crucial role in the revolutionary progress of Rojava, making up nearly 50% of the armed self-defence units (YPJ), as well as taking senior positions in political parties and civil society organisations. These included the Families of the Martyrs Association; SARA, a women’s organisation addressing gender based violence (GBV); the Martyrs Cemetery; the Widows’ organisation; Assayis (the Rojava Police Training Centre); the armed women defenders of Rojava; the Women’s Academies and the Women’s Houses.

Margaret’s visit came soon after the UN-Women’s CEO had decided that it was essential for the women of Syria to be supported so that they could be central to peace efforts for the country, including in the Geneva II conference that was due to take place in the new year. Despite the centrality of women in Rojava, the women’s representative of the region had not been invited to the international peace conference, while the women of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had received an invitation.

Margaret’s observations can be found in her briefing document, where she discusses how the Interim Transitional Administration has been implementing principles of democratic autonomy and gender equality across all its connected bodies. She also gave an interview with Bad Housekeeping, and wrote a special report for online magazine Ceasefire, Gender and justice in an emerging nation: My impressions of Rojava, Syrian Kurdistan.