Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mothers as Counterterrorism Agents, by Fahmia al-Fotih'

Fahmia al-Fotih', the SAVE Yemen coordinator, wrote this essay to explain the role of SAVE Yemen in combating violent extremism in her country. Even though Yemen has recently received international criticism for its high rate of child brides, Fahmia sees women, and especially women as mothers, as vital agents against radicalization in the home. For more information, email the SAVE Global team at office@women-without-borders.org.

I always meet people who are skeptical about women’s role to stand against violent extremism, and they cannot comprehend the mission of SAVE: having women combat terrorism and extremism thinking. The first thought that comes to most of them that SAVE aims to have combatants or women in military to fight terrorists on the ground. In fact, the Yemeni government already has a Counter-Terrorism unit that consists of a number of qualified female soldiers, which greatly help in capturing terrorists who are disguised in women clothes.

However, when I explain the innovative idea of SAVE to counter terrorism via women (educated and uneducated alike) from their homes and their immediate surroundings through spreading peace, tolerance, and non-violence culture while raising up their offspring, a kind of relief could be seen then on their faces. The idea of working from home and with children just fits the mentality of majority of Yemeni men who do not prefer to see women working in public life. Therefore, many have already expressed their readiness to join and support SAVE work in Yemen.

Keeping in mind that Yemeni women might not discuss politics much, and their attitudes and opinions might be greatly shaped by the male figures in their lives (like their fathers, husbands, or brothers) as well as the fact that the majority of them are illiterate (which in turn excludes them from the public domain), I myself was skeptical about talking to uneducated mothers who might not have an ability to discuss terrorism and extremism or comprehend the threats posed by extremism and terrorism. Yet having conversations with simple uneducated women proved that I was wrong!

Meeting with uneducated ordinary women, I have found out that there are women who are well aware of extremism and terrorism as a phenomenal threat to us and the ways that extremists utilize to trap the very young people into their ideologies. Better than any counterterrorism expert, those women have well explained the techniques of the extremists and the attractions they have, and those women have highlighted the reasons that make the young people vulnerable to falling in their hands.

Needless to say, a mother is usually the closest person to her kids, which enables her to have a great influence on them. She is the one who could first closely observe the early warning signals of change in her kids’ behavior that might result in traveling down into the path of extremism and terrorism. If we aim to defeat extremist thinking in the bud, it would be very wise and essential to empower and work with those uneducated Yemeni mothers.

It is true that the public domain is confined for Yemeni men yet women have a lot to do in their private sphere. Here in Yemen, the majority of women are full-time housewives whose work centers basically around household chores and taking care of their children. Unlike fathers, who are either emigrants or spend much time working outside, mothers have chance to have more time with their kids and have more influence too. Hence the women have more opportunities to shape their kids’ attitudes among which accepting the other, tolerance and rejecting violence and terrorism. Yet, more support and empowerment should be provided for these women in order to arm them with the necessary skills and knowledge that enable them to adequately and effectively challenge the extremism ideologies.

More importantly, due to the unique Yemeni social structure where social relations are remarkably very strong, woman has an ability to spread the foundations of peace and tolerance beyond her home. She can freely move from a neighbor’s house to another, an advantage that Yemeni man does not have (for instance, that’s why in most population census, women are preferred to go and knock on the households’ doors). For example, it is normal to see a daily crowd of women sitting in one house chatting, chewing Qat, or attending a religious lecture, wedding party, or any social occasion.

To put it in a nutshell, if the counterterrorism experts just recognize the potential and the capabilities that women possess, which then could be effectively utilized in countering terrorism, uprooting, and drying its sources, they would save more money, time and energy in their efforts.

Last but not least, unquestionably no one competes with the mothers in their worries and fears about their kids. Hence, protecting and preventing the young people from travelling down into the path of radicalization is placed in the hands of these loving, committed mothers.


  1. Fahmia
    Well done for writing such a comprehensive piece on Mothers/Women's role in Yemen. This is the same in a lot of countries including the Western world where the majority of women are primary carers for their children. Outside of school women should be recognised as teachers within their homes too. What better way to promote our campaign by starting with the Mothers.
    Best regards

  2. Many thanks dearest May:)‎

    ‎ I just saw your comment. I guess Yemeni woman needs ages to reach to the same level of her ‎counterpart in the West. To mention but a few, just imagine 70% of Yemeni women are illiterate!!! ‎How come the whole society could move forward with most of its population is paralyzed?!! big sigh‎
    Hope to see you in May TOT training:)

    Thanks again,‎
    Fahmia ‎


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