Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SAVE India works to boost peace at the grass roots level

Peace talks between India and Pakistan at the highest political levels have been faltering for the last two years. Now politicians are calling for increased efforts at the grass roots, people-to-people level. SAVE Global is in Mumbai working with SAVE India on the anniversary of the Mumbai terrorist attacks to bring women's voices into the peace dialogue. 

SAVE Executive Director Edit Schlaffer with Vinita Kamte, author of To the Last Bullet, in April 2010. 
Vinita's husband was killed while on duty during the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008.

This week, the SAVE Global team is in India to build a foundation for the Mothers for Change! project, and to carry out a bridge-building dialogue between Pakistani and Indian women representatives to boost peace initiatives at the grass roots level.

The anniversary of the Mumbai terrorist attacks are just around the corner. Since the attacks on 26 November 2008, peace talks between India and Pakistan’s foreign ministers have been on hold. In February this year, high-level representatives began to re-initiate the talks under pressure from the international community. Unfortunately most of the planned meetings have ended in stalemate or failed to take place.

President Obama urged for progress in the talks during his recent visit to India. It is in the interest of most western countries that the two rivals have an amicable relationship, due to the volatile situation in neighbouring Afghanistan. Pakistan and India must cooperate to stabilize the region, and many fear that the countries’ nuclear capability could make ongoing enmity very dangerous indeed.

It is clear, however, that talks that take place at the highest levels will have little to no effect at the grassroots level. Women—both as victims and as actors—have further been utterly neglected in these talks.

Societal stability and the wellbeing of future generations are at stake if steps are not taken to ease tensions and include civil society in an enduring fashion. Cross-border security is not the only issue at stake: the number of terrorist incidents within Pakistan alone has increased over three-fold since 2008.

Leaders at the highest levels have been calling for more people-to-people contact as an essential ingredient to moving peace talks forward. Women working as effective peace-builders can be a central driving force in this process.

SAVE global travelled to India in April 2010 to carry out storytelling and swimming workshops with the families of the policemen who were on duty during the Mumbai terrorist attacks. To read more about that project, click here. This week, the team will once again be working with these women in an income-generating workshop.

On Saturday November 20, SAVE talked to over 40 school children about their own potential as agents of change. By tackling prejudices and engaging with people of other faiths and backgrounds, children can help build a better future for their communities. SAVE brought this message to children from various schools and organizations at Mumbai’s National Centre for Performing arts.

At the presentation, held in cooperation with the World Kids Foundation, children watched the film Harun-Arun about a Hindu woman who learns to love and take care of a Muslim child, and a trailer of the SAVE film “Journeys Through Darkness”. Click here to read press coverage of the event.

Early next week, SAVE will also carry out a day-long bridge-building dialogue between Indian and Pakistani representatives. Women’s close proximity to the issues at hand positions them as ideal architects for change at the local levels. Mothers, especially, can reach out to disenfranchised youth and provide support and alternatives to the allure of extremist activities. Youth must recognize their potential to act as changemakers at both the grassroots and at the highest levels, and strive to build bridges between divergent religious, cultural, political, and socio-economic groups. These bridges will create the necessary emotional breakthrough to start a meaningful dialogue for action.

This initiative comes from a different perspective, aiming to explore ways in which women can come together in a united front against violent extremism. A cross-cultural dialogue based on shared values, mutual respect and empathy aims to bring women of different backgrounds and perspectives together to better understand one another and work together for a stable, secure future.

SAVE India focuses on bringing women’s voices into the vital dialogue for peace between India and Pakistan. Women’s position at the heart of their families and communities allows them to exercise an enormous moral and educational influence that often goes unappreciated. Their unique perspectives are often left out of the security debate, denying the peace talks between Pakistan and India the input of society’s most powerful peace makers.

SAVE India works with women who are able to influence their local communities in their roles as mothers, teachers, students and activists, and helps them to make their voices heard at the highest political levels. By creating a supportive network, women can more easily and confidently spread peaceful values and tolerance, influencing the next generation to build a brighter future.

The goal of this month’s meetings is to offer participants the opportunity, accompanied by experts, to practice conflict resolution and dialogue within a small circle. Within the framework of this project, getting to know the “other side” across cultural and religious boundaries will be facilitated, while an exchange on the personal level will be accelerated. Each participant will become a catalyst for positive change and the spread of peaceful messages within their communities. The meetings will lay the foundations for further interactions between Indian and Pakistani women, in order to reduce tensions and deconstruct prejudices.

Updates about our activities in India will be available very soon.

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Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS