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Global Mothers, United in Peacebuilding

14 September 2011 One Comment

Mehru Jaffer

Mehru Jaffer
India/Austria

“We recognize the untapped potential of women as a driving force for change, and as future leaders of an equitable, interconnected, and peaceful world.”

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Last summer I met 15 exceptional women from 7 different countries here in Vienna, Austria.

The women were participating in Mothers MOVE, a three-day conference hosted by Women Without Borders (WWB), a Vienna-based research and advocacy organization that provides grassroots women a platform to speak and to share their concerns with the international community.

As India Consultant to WWB, I watched the organization launch SAVE (Sisters Against Violent Extremism) in 2008, which gave birth to MOVE (Mothers Oppose Violent Extremism) in June 2011.

SAVE continues to bring together a broad spectrum of women determined to create a united front against violent extremism, providing women with tools for critical debate to challenge extremist thinking and to develop alternative strategies for combating the growth of global terrorism.

What all the women participating in SAVE’s Mothers MOVE meet had in common was firsthand experience of violent extremism, as well as a commitment to combating the scourge in their personal lives and within their communities.

Seven of these women, all mothers, appeared on a panel to share personal stories with the purpose of highlighting the role women can play as mothers and educators to de-radicalise communities around them at a time when the average age of the world’s population is an impressionable 24 years.

Farah came 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 with formal education. Crisis intruded on the home of this mother of three when she realized that her younger son was keeping company with members of an extremist group. Farah inspired the audience by describing the way she and her husband worked together to bring their teenage child back.

Esther Ibanga and Khadija Gambo Hawajah came from Nigeria. Esther is a Christian pastor and Khadija is an Islamic scholar and teacher. The area around the central Nigerian city of Jos has been hurt by senseless killings for the past two decades. The north of Nigeria is predominantly Muslim and the south is Christian. Thousands of people have been displaced by communal violence.

After the deadly attacks in March 2010, Esther was filled with grief, but also exhausted from feelings of 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 make friends and to end the conflict through dialogue.

Esther founded Women Without Walls and says that her greatest achievement is to have won the support of Khadija: “It was not easy. There was a lot of suspicion between us, and our respective communities were totally against our friendship,” Esther said. Her friendship with Khadija made Esther a little less afraid to visit the all-Muslim neighbourhood. Today she is a frequent visitor to Khadija’s home, where she had made friends with more Muslim people and shared many a meal with them.

Robi Damelin 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 Ikhlayel from Palestine, whose brother was killed by an Israeli settler and mother imprisoned for her work with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The two have made friends and come together for a solution to what seems like a never-ending conflict. After the death of her son, David, Robi looked for ways to stop the cycle of violence and to prevent other Israelis and Palestinians from experiencing the pain she suffers.

Nadia Al-Saqqaf

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 nonviolent revolution that toppled a three-decade-old dictatorship in Egypt.

From Yemen came Nadia Al-Saqqaf, the youthful editor of Yemen Times, the country’s English language daily: “Yemeni women need to be educated and empowered. They need to know that they are not alone. That is all that we want from the international community,” says this mother, who is determined to clean up society for her daughter.

Nadia wants the world to have faith in the women of Yemen, and SAVE supports Nadia’s work as part of its worldwide campaign to unify and to empower women as agents of positive change.

“We recognize the untapped potential of women as a driving force for change, and as future leaders of an equitable, interconnected, and peaceful world,” says Dr Edit Schlaffer, founder director WWB.

For me, listening to women from different parts of the world respond with an impressive list of peaceful solutions to war and violence has been perhaps the most “Yes we can” moment of my life.  Each of these women was inspirational!

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One Comments to “Global Mothers, United in Peacebuilding”
  1. jane reynolds says:

    We must stop the killing. We are all the same. We all want a safe world for our children. Can we organize a huge peace march throughout the world?

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