LAST Friday, a powerful group of people gathered in the Palace Hotel in New York. On the agenda was perhaps the most important security issue facing the world today: bringing peace to Syria.

Led by the US Secretary of State John Kerry, these talks built on the international work started in Vienna over the summer, structured around the range of UN Security Council resolutions which have been passed to date. The talks were billed as an important step along the path to peace in the conflict-torn country and received a significant boost last week when the US and Russia worked together to find some common ground on the contested issue which allowed the vital meeting of the International Syria Support Group to take place.

But one picture of the meeting last week caught my eye. Under crystal chandeliers, lit up by the camera flashes of the assembled world media, sat 16 men in dark suits. Two groups were conspicuous by their absence from this homogeneous gathering. There were no Syrians and no women sat around the table.

It made me recall the adage, “Nothing about us, without us”. You can’t build a just society while excluding those with most at stake from the process.

I understand that in the complex and challenging world of international diplomacy, this meeting wasn’t the only show in town. Since Friday’s summit the UN has passed Security Council Resolution 2254, which calls for talks to be held between the Syrian government and opposition groups to begin within weeks, with a nationwide ceasefire to follow shortly thereafter in early 2016.

But the fact still remains that a lasting peace can not simply be imposed from afar.

Last week in Parliament I was privileged to chair an event organised by the Syria Solidarity Movement, which aimed to give a platform to the female perspective of the Syrian conflict.

It is vital that we build on the central role of women in Syrian society, not just because, as one participant put it, “the opposition to terrorism must be civil society”, but because women are often the forgotten victims of conflict. For example, attacks on healthcare facilities disproportionately affect women. It’s estimated that 80 per cent of women who died during pregnancy or childbirth could have been saved if there were the appropriate healthcare facilities, but these tragedies are often not accounted for in the official death toll from terrorist or military action.

I heard some valuable insight from Laila Alodaat, a Crisis Response Programme manager for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Speaking about specific ways in which the conflict disproportionately affects women, she set out why in Syria today the frontline can be safer than people’s homes. Her organisation’s experience is that military intervention increases the already extensive use of explosives in highly populated areas, which in turn is the cause of over half of all current civilian deaths in the conflict, leading to a situation where some people find the frontline of the conflict a safer place to be.

She spoke passionately about the fact that poverty is amplified in societies experiencing violent conflict, and the fact that the majority of poor families have women as their heads of households. I was also grateful to meet Raheb Alwany from the Syrian Badael Foundation who talked about peace initiatives and the practical ways in which women are helping on the ground in their own communities.

For example, women have been at the forefront of action in Syria to combat child recruitment to armed groups, and have led and co-ordinated the disarmament of men in public places in some refugee camps, so that children may walk around without seeing armed men. These initiatives disguise the names of their community projects in order to keep their work hidden from Daesh networks.

It is only by actions such as these that we can prepare Syrian society for a future beyond the current conflict.

That’s why I’m also proud that our Scottish Government is playing its part in these vital efforts. Building on UN Resolution 1325, which sets out the importance of women’s involvement to conflict resolution and peace negotiations, the United Nations' Special Envoy to Syria has asked for Scottish support in training Syrian peacemakers in negotiation and communication skills to best prepare them to maximise their role in the talks. Where better to provide this support than a country with a gender-balanced Cabinet and female leaders of the three main parties in its Parliament?

While those of us who opposed UK military intervention in Syria earlier this month did not secure a majority in the House of Commons, it is vital that we continue to work to find and promote pathways to peace that eschew the military option. We can’t withdraw from the debate because the result didn’t go our way.

Now that UK forces are actively involved over the skies of the region, we all have a responsibility to the people of Syria to find ways to build a long-lasting peace, for everyone’s sake.