Women Without Borders
Published: July 4, 2011 - 14:58
It is no secret that poverty is on the rise, population is exploding and literacy figures are sinking worldwide. Making a bad situation worse is the scary feeling that none is accountable for the world’s woes. What then is the role of mothers at such a crucial moment in our history?
That is the question.
How can the majority of mothers feed, educate and prevent children from being attracted to violent extremism at a time when the average age of the world’s population remains an impressionable 24 years?
Tired of waiting for the world to be changed by those who promised to do so, the Vienna-based ‘Women Without Borders’ (WWB) launched SAVE (Sisters Against Violent Extremism) two years ago. It is a global movement of mothers and sisters against violent extremism, and for working unitedly towards a more safe and secure future. The purpose of SAVE is to provide an international platform for local action. Here, women meet to share best practices and alternative paradigms to combat violent extremism in their corner of the world.
The most recent event hosted by WWB in the spirit of SAVE brought together half a dozen local female leaders like Farah from a small village in Pakistan’s beautiful but troubled Swat Valley. She is a teacher and one of the few women in her community to be formally educated. Crisis visited the home of this mother of three when she realised that her younger son was being seduced by extremist groups. Farah’s inspiring story is about the way she and her husband worked together to bring their child back.
Esther Ibanga and Khadija Gambo Hawajah came from Nigeria. Esther is a Christian pastor and Khadija, an Islamic scholar and teacher. The area around the central Nigerian city of Jos has been hit by senseless killings for the past two decades. The north of Nigeria is predominantly Muslim and the south, Christian. More than 5,000 people have been displaced in communal violence.
After the deadly attacks in March 2010, Esther was filled with grief, but also exhausted from hate for the other. She no longer had faith in the authorities to stop the killings. She decided to walk the hard road herself and reached out to Khadija, a Muslim community leader, in an effort to try and end the conflict through dialogue.
Esther founded ‘Women Without Walls’ and says that her greatest achievement is to have won Khadija’s support. “It was not easy. There was a lot of suspicion between us, and our respective communities were totally against our friendship,” Esther told Hardnews.
Robi is an Israeli peace activist who lost her son to a sniper in 2002 and now works with the Parents Circle, a forum for reconciliation between Israeli and Palestinian families. Robi came with Siham from Palestine, whose brother was killed by an Israeli settler and mother imprisoned for her work with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The two have come together for a solution to what seems like an intractable conflict. Indeed, after the death of her son, David, Robi looked for ways in which to stop the cycle of violence and prevent other Israelis and Palestinians from experiencing what she had suffered.
Shaimaa Abdul Fattah came from Cairo with her husband, who took care of their two-year-old son while the school teacher took to the podium. Shaimaa represents the youth in the forefront at Tahrir Square, the venue of the non-violent revolution that toppled a three-decade-old dictatorship in Egypt. WWB welcomed Shaimaa’s husband and son in Vienna with the strong belief that peace begins at home.
Yemen was personified by Nadia Al-Saqqaf, the youthful editor of Yemen Times. “Yemeni women need to be empowered. They need to know that they are not alone,” said Nadia, who wants the international community to have faith in the women of Yemen.
Addressed among others by Ursula Plassnik, Special Envoy of the Austrian Foreign Ministry for Women’s Issues, the two-day event concentrated on the age-old role of women as homemakers and peacemakers. Plassnik pointed out that women make a difference simply because they educate not only 50 per cent of the population of a country, but actually reach out to the 100 per cent mark. This includes both girls and boys, and they do it during the early years, giving human beings their first impression of life.
The former foreign minister said that she is also surprised that better participation of women is not encouraged in global politics. Why?