Friday, February 5, 2010

The Roles and Capabilities of Yemeni Women Against Violent Extremism: A Report From a SAVE Yemen Workshop

On January 21st, 2010, Women Without Borders/SAVE Yemen held a workshop on women’s role in challenging violent extremism in collaboration with Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC). Fahmia Al-Fotih, SAVE Yemen coordinator, presented Journey Through Darkness, a SAVE-produced documentary about three women affected by terrorism, to start discussion about what Yemeni women can do to prevent the spread of terrorism in their own lives.

During the discussion, the group noted that the capacity of women to spot and react to extremism in their families ranges greatly based on levels of education, local awareness, and geographic remoteness. Mothers, especially those with less formal education, struggle to recognize the warning signs. In general, they perceive their children as merely becoming more religious and often consider the change to be positive. Mothers with less formal education often realize too late when their family members are involved with extremist thought or actions. Female illiteracy and radical thinking, they said, often go hand in hand.

The group discussed what to do after a family member has gotten involved with extremism. Families that have children with extremist ties are usually subjected to harassment, random government raids, and humiliation within their communities. Those families then tend to isolate themselves or move somewhere where their stories are unknown. Consequently, extremism is not discussed as it is playing out. Many families attempt to conceal their child’s involvement in extremist groups. The pressure to keep silent about extremism robs families of the opportunity for dialogue and community support. In addition, young people who have recently moved away from extremist ideals are not given the opportunity to re-join their communities; neither the government nor the community attempts to rehabilitate them. Participants expressed that legal, psychological, and emotional support is urgently needed for both individuals and families attempting to cope with the presence of extremist thought in their everyday lives.

The participants stated that increasing awareness and creating a more supportive network among women are crucial, whether that be through organizing seminars or capitalizing on local social events. Many in the conference also called for women to take more initiative for speaking to their children about extremism and protecting them from it.

Recommendations and Steps Forward:

  • Community/social gatherings are an effective way through which SAVE can make its presence and resources known among local women.
  • Undereducated or illiterate women can be reached through their children. Whether in primary school, high school or university, students bring aspects of their education back home with them, and thus their education can be viewed as a useful way of reaching those women who are otherwise hard to reach or empower.
  • The Ministry of Education and school administrators should be aware of 'extremist teachers' who use their position to encourage radical thinking.
  • Targeted campaigns could effectively bring awareness to women and children about the importance of addressing violent extremism on a family level.
  • SAVE should cooperate with mosques and mullahs, encouraging them to use their teachings as a platform for discussions of not only religious issues, but also social ones.
  • Collaboration with the heads of villages and tribes' sheikhs would help promote non-extremist thought within communities.
  • Educational and media messages that call for violence as an alternative to justice should be actively discouraged.
  • A system of rehabilitation must be in place for former terrorists or extremists.

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