Friday, November 5, 2010

Women SAVE Pakistan: Empowering Women to Sensitize and Mobilize Against Extremism, with Mossarat Qadeem

On Thursday, October 21, Mossarat Qadeem, Executive Director of the PAIMAN Trust and SAVE Pakistan Coordinator, spoke on SAVE Pakistan’s activities and the vital role women can play in combating violent extremism at the Austrian Embassy in London. Dr. Emil Brix, Austrian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, hosted the event.

Ms. Qadeem, who has over twenty years of experience in working with susceptible youth in stricken regions in the Northwest Frontier and FATA provinces, spoke about her experiences and the best-practice strategies she has developed for combating violent extremism. Here are some of the most striking quotes from her presentation. To read a full summary of the presentation, including Mossarat's experience negotiating with the Taliban and the achievements of the PAIMAN Trust, go to the Women without Borders/SAVE website.

The problem 
 “Extremism in Pakistan is an external problem, because it is being imported by different groups from countries in the region. We have border disputes with India, and Afghanistan feels that Pakistan is responsible for what has been happening in Afghanistan today.”

“We are the victims of psychological warfare. There are different groups within the same religion, who belong to different schools of thought, playing against each other. Then there are the ethnic quarrels, and the social economic clash point – the “haves” against the “have-nots”. We usually lack access to proper knowledge, resources, and economic opportunity, and above all, in Pakistan the lack of awareness in the poorest regions has always been exploited.”

“30,000 people have already been killed because of this war on terror that we have become a part of, and 50,000 people are missing. The threat still looms that there may be a recurrence in Fatah and even in Swat and we fear that we are exporting extremism."

The role of  women
It is very important to concentrate on the role of women in their families and in     
their communities. Women are extremely marginalized. They were not allowed 
to go to school, and their mobility was highly restricted.
                                                                                                                                 “Now this is the important part. It was not possible to think that by empowering              
women, we really can end this. But believe me, it is possible. No one actually 
recognizes the role of women. They are part of the problem so they can be part 
of the solution.

Because of the restrictions on mobility we don't have the indigenous support; 
people don't support women coming out of the house and playing a role in 
rehabilitation, peacemaking and peace-building, so we lack skills as peace 
nuilders and the knowledge to transform the conflict into something peaceful. 
We lack these sources and of course, we lack the culture and a true leadership 
that can support women to come out and help reintegration, rehabilitation, or 
prevention of more people becoming radicalized and extremists.

The Project
We tried to analyze the role of women. Then we tried to strengthen the role women             can play in combating extremism within the culture and society, where extremism has impacted everyone. We tried to convert weaknesses into strengths. We developed the need for peace from within. You cannot impose peace from outside, you have to build the need for peace from within that community, from within the individuals as instruments to end that violent extremism. We're also trying to provide a platform for women to act, to bring peace into their lives and into their communities. Under this program we have established a center for conflict resolution and peace building. We train male and female youths, not only from Universities but also women from the same community. So far, we have formed 70 youth groups, and we also have subsidised women. Women’s peace groups have formed - we have some 51 women’s peace groups in Fata. These peace practitioners work together at different levels in the same society. Through them we have been able to reach out to 35,000 male and female youth and over 2,000 women.

We have been directing these women on the impacts of extremism on their lives and on the lives of their male children. We explain to them that Islam has nothing to do with the extremists. Through one women’s group, we reached out to 75 boys. They were so disappointed with this whole situation, they thought they are being besieged by the extremists on 1 side and by their own mother on the other hand. But now they are with us; we're trying to give them working skills, skills that they asked for and we're also trying to give them direction.

The role of men 
“We need to educate the men in the family to accept women as peace builders. We may need to desensitize through disorientation sessions through the mullah in the mosque. We went to the mullah first and we put him to our side, then the elders in the community and neighbors. We tried to sensitize the children in the way that yes, we are going to talk about this, and we are going to be open about this.                                                                                                          
“A woman cannot go against the wishes of her husband, so we never worked that way. We work in a sensitive way, and we first make men understand that the role of a woman is very important, and they are still working for it.

What you can do
As far as resources, of course a lot of financial resource are needed, but otherwise you can support the women morally. Send them messages, because this is right now when they come to us. They are so disappointed, not only with themselves but with the whole society that they belong in. So, this acceptance is very, very important. So if you can just send these messages to these women so that they stay on guard, we will definitely forward that to them with translations.

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