Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Shobhaa De in conversation with Edit Schlaffer about SAVE's mission

During SAVE Global's recent trip to India, Edit Schlaffer talked to Shobhaa De, Indian author and journalist, about SAVE's mission. Shobhaa De has written 13 books and her columns in Bombay Times, the Sunday Times and The Week reach 10 million readers. The following article was published in the most recent edition of The Week and on Shobhaa De's blog

 Shobhaa De, renowned Indian journalist and author, spoke to Edit Schlaffer

Edit Schlaffer means business! It was easy to tell as much when she strode into my home late one afternoon. Her stride and voice indicated she was someone who was determinedly focused on issues that concern her deeply – her organization - SAVE (Sisters Against Violent Extremism) - reflects that unflinching commitment. Accompanying the Austrian lady was a beautiful assistant called Elaine. Both were unambiguously “ Ladies With a Mission” . After an hour long chat, I got a better understanding of their extraordinary mission.

Often, it is personal tragedy that ignites such fervour. She talked about empowering and inspiring women to stand up against violent extremism. She mentioned how society could transform itself if women were consulted on policy. She asked me several difficult and perplexing questions that demanded a great deal of introspection (“ What solutions can women offer to combat terrorism?”). As we chatted – easily and naturally – I began to understand her concerns better . Edit travels around the world meeting women who have suffered at the hands of violent men representing special interest groups of all hues, religious and political. The stories of those battered women are what she wants to highlight and eventually find peaceful resolutions to. She points out, “ Violent extremism is not a distant, abstract threat. Acts of terrorism could happen at your grocery store, your bus, your plane….” Scarey! But it is important to move beyond victimhood, her brochure states. “ For too long, in too many places, the potential of women to make meaningful change has been ignored and overlooked – this is a grave mistake.” Hear! Hear! She also stresses on reconciliation and dialogue, pointing out that “without the knowledge of the other, how will we ever live together?” She believes that without genuine contact and communication, the process of healing and moving forward remains incomplete.

The response mechanisms she recommends involve alternatives that reach out to young men and women who feel frustrated, confused and isolated in societies without adequate support systems. She talked about providing women with the required tools for critical debate to challenge extremist ideologies. As she points out, women are at the heart of the family. They are the first to recognize signs of anger in their children.Change starts in the home…. change starts with women. As she continued talking passionately about her work, I was moved to note her level of intensity as she described meeting the mother of the sole terrorist in custody after the 9\11 attacks in New York. At a conference in Vienna earlier this year, 15 courageous women from Yemen, Pakistan, India, Israel, Palestine, Northern Ireland, came together to share their experiences and work towards a safer future.

The thinking behind Edit’s remarkable initiative is pretty simple : “ Women can transform society by sensitizing and mobilizing their own children susceptible to or already trapped by ideologies of violent extremism.” She has successfully launched ‘Mothers for Change’, a world wide campaign to involve women who can ensure safety and security in their immediate surroundings…. and act as an early warning system.Representing India is Vinita Kamte, the outspoken, fearless widow of the legendary Police Commissioner Ashok Kamte, who was killed during the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks on 26\11. From Hatred to Hope, is the apt heading for this segment that chronicles the efforts of women like Vinita, lone voices in a hostile environment, struggling to be heard. Despite the odds, these extraordinary women are managing to push for reform and change, no matter how daunting the task. There are several other ‘Vinitas’ across the world, most of them linked by a single common factor – the loss of a loved one at the hands of senseless terrorists. Tragedy is the ultimate leveler. But Edit’s tireless efforts are about the triumph of the human spirit … she wants to change the world, and fervently believes that her organization - ‘Women Without Borders’ - will emerge as the most effective agent of that change.

How right she is!

Correction: In the original article, Shobhaa De mentioned that Edit Schlaffer had lost her son. This is not the case. This is a confusion with the stories of Phyllis Rodriguez and Aicha El-Wafi, which were also mentioned in the conversation.

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