Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reflections on Tajikistan

I am writing to you from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where I am on a very interesting factfinding trip in cooperation with the OSCE to explore the potential of women to stand up against the threat of extremism, including along the Afghan  border, which is only 100 miles away from the capital.

It is a country where men are sparse; the majority of the males migrate to Russia for most of the year and often find new loves and lives there, leaving behind their wives who have to fend for themselves in a country where 40% are below the poverty line. Forced marriages and trafficking are also prevalent.

Tajikistan is a country in transition. There is a huge youth bulge without hope and without a promising future, which provides fertile ground for radicalization amidst few efforts to create counter-narratives.

With the withdrawal of the troops from Afghanistan  in 2014, the situation will be even more volatile.

This is a SAVE moment here!
The SAVE Team visits Tajiki students

Edit Schlaffer

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mona Eltahawy Arrested in Tahrir Square

Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy was arrested in Tahrir Square yesterday night, shortly after her interview with the BBC in which she boldly stated: “People are determined to get their defiance across to the Supreme Military Council, and tell them we want nothing short of a civilian leadership for Egypt”. (Scroll down for link to interview)
Mona Eltahawy

Soon after news of Eltahawy’s arrest came out, her Twitter account sent a tweet that said “Beaten arrested in Interior Ministry”. The tweet was reportedly sent from the journalist’s blackberry device while in prison.

Activists and supporters of Eltahawy have started an online campaign on Twitter entitled #FreeMona. According to the New York Times, the US Department of State was informed of the journalist’s arrest.

Eltahawy was released this afternoon following 12 long hours in detention. Soon after her release, she tweeted "I AM FREE" and "12 hours with Interior Ministry security forces and military intelligence combined. Can barely type - must go xray arms after CSF beat me." The journalist also claimed that she was sexually harassed while in prison.

Eltahawy is an award-winning journalist and public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues based in New York. She is a columnist for Canada's Toronto Star, Israel's Jerusalem Report and Denmark's Politiken. Her opinion pieces have also been published in The Washington Post and the International Herald Tribune.

Over the years she has tackled critical issues such as media censorship and women’s rights in Egypt and the Middle East.

Recent developments in Cairo strongly demonstrate the Egyptian people's determination to continue protesting until they receive the civilian leadership they have been demanding for the past 8 months.

Egyptian women demanding an end to military rule and the establishment of a long-awaited civilian government (By Al Jazeera)

Mona’s interview with the BBC prior to her arrest can be viewed here:

Monday, November 21, 2011

SAVE visits the graduates of the competence and confidence building income-generating workshop in Mumbai

On November 20, SAVE Global visited the graduates of the SAVE competence and confidence building income-generating workshop in Mumbai, India. The participants, all wives of constables in the Mumbai police force, recently finished the second session of this 8-week training course. Vinita Kamte, the wife of Ashok Kamte (who lost his life on 26/11 after shooting the only surviving terrorist), and the person who organized the training on the ground, was also present for this final session.

Over the course of the SAVE training, the women gained computer literacy, learned basic accounting, and took English courses. Once a week, the women also participated in hour-long SAVE confidence and competence-building workshops to encourage them to gain a voice within their families, to recognize their own self-worth, and to create a support network among the women, many of whom are neighbors, but who had never even spoken to one another before.

Recognizing one's own agency within the family, and being able to draw in a support network of others within the commit who might be in a similar position, are cornerstones of positioning these women to become active players in the security arena and in empowering them to combat violent extremist ideologies. All of these women have first-hand experience with the devastating consequences of terrorism, as their husbands were on duty during the deadly three-day siege of Mumbai that began on November 26, 2008. After participating in the training, the women clearly said that they felt much more confident to speak up within their families and to guide their children and husbands in the right direction.

The feedback was overwhelming:
"You have given Indian women the space to stand up."

"This training was so helpful-for the first time we were able to openly discuss our concerns, because at home I felt like I had to be strong and no One listened. Now, however, I can help my children and speak up."

SAVE Global's training of the wives of police involved in the Mumbai bombings was widely covered in the press:

Times Of India:

Indian Express – Mumbai Newsline

Free Press Journal:



The Tribune:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

India and Pakistan Side by Side at the UN Security Council, By Mehru Jaffer

The United Nations Security Council

The announcement of India and Pakistan’s admission into the UN Security Council is very good news for the people of South Asia.

The recent win of a two year term on the UN Security Council by Pakistan shows that when they are truly willing to make the effort, India and Pakistan can stand by each other. India defied international expectations when it recently voted for regional rival Pakistan in the elections for a non permanent seat on the 15-member UN Security Council.

A visibly happy Abdullah Hussain Haroon, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN Security Council, addressed journalists after his win, and received a congratulatory call from his Indian counterpart. This was a moment that did not go unnoticed by the media of a region in which the majority of the one billion inhabitants crave nothing more than peace between the South Asian rivals, and the end of a war that has lasted for over half a century.

Manjeev Singh Puri, India's deputy permanent representative to the UN, embraced Haroon after the vote, and stated that he welcomed the election of Pakistan into the Security Council. "Pakistan and India share a common perception on so many global issues, and we look forward to working with them," Puri said.

Last year Pakistan had also voted in favor of India for the same position at the UN Security Council. Now the two countries will work together on this international forum as a shining example of multilateralism, without allowing regional rivalry to come in the way.

The question is, why not practice similar camaraderie at home?

When it comes to international issues, India and Pakistan have always been thick as thieves. However the two neighbors continue to be boorish, belligerent and threatening when it comes to regional matters.

The question is why?

Haroon promised to avoid the usual tendencies adopted in the past as he praised dialogue between arch rivals India and Pakistan.

Let us hope that all the problems of the past will not prevent India and Pakistan from practicing at home, what both keep promising abroad.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Women urged to put their stamp on Arab Spring

(Reuters) - Women should voice demands about their rights during the popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world to avoid being short-changed by post-revolutionary governments, Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi said.

Ebadi, a practicing Muslim, also expressed hope that Arab men and women would learn from Iran's 1979 revolution, when the overthrow of the shah led to the establishment of an Islamic republic which imposed sharia-inspired laws many women regard as restrictive of their rights.
Egyptian women chant slogans as they attend a demonstration 
in Tahrir Square, Cairo-Reutors

"I think it is too early to talk of an Arab Spring, which should be used when democracy has been established and people can determine their own destiny and are equal and free. And we cannot forget half of society -- the women," Ebadi, a human and women's rights activist, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"If women cannot gain equality and the right to set their own destiny then that is not a real revolution and won't lead to democracy.

"Our experience in Iran's 1979 revolution proves this. We saw that people got rid of a dictator but instead of democracy he was replaced by religious despotism and many of the laws on polygamy, men's power of divorce ... and stoning were passed."

Since long-time leaders were toppled in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, many -- not least in the West -- have fretted that their departure will leave the door open for Islamist groups to take power.

In Tunisia, some women have expressed concern over the victory of the Islamist party Ennahda in elections last month, though its leaders have said they will not alter laws that guarantee women equal rights to men in divorce, marriage and inheritance.


Unless Arab women speak up soon, they risk being sidelined by the region's new governments, Ebadi said.

"Women should raise their egalitarian demands and the people should put forth their civic demands early on and oblige groups that are seeking power to answer," said Ebadi, a defense lawyer for Iranian dissidents who has lived outside Iran since 2009.

"These issues should be raised early, otherwise after a party reaches power it may be too late."

Egyptian feminist Nawal al-Saadawi has called for women to move fast to secure their rights as the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood targets large support in a parliamentary election later this month, following Hosni Mubarak's ouster.

"In Iran, the error committed by feminists and political groups was to put off the egalitarian demands of women until after the overthrow of the shah... But the women's problems were not resolved and things even got worse after the regime changed," Ebadi said.

"Pushing for transparency is the best way for this. Feminist groups should directly ask parties 'Do you support polygamy, yes or no?' ... Or ask "Do you support equal inheritance for men and women?' So that people would know a party's stand on rights issues before they take power," Ebadi said.

The leader of Libya's National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil caused consternation last month when he took to the podium at a celebration of the country's "liberation" and said polygamy would no longer be outlawed.

Ebadi rejected charges by some Islamists that demanding women's rights and more modern laws was part of a Western-inspired attack on Islam. Equally she said Islam was compatible with women's rights.

"I believe that if Islam is interpreted and applied correctly we can have totally egalitarian laws for women and strike punishments such as stoning and cutting hands from out of

law books," she said.

Ebadi was Iran's first woman judge but lost that job following the Islamic revolution because the country's new leaders said women were too emotional to be judges.

She became a human rights lawyer but, after suffering harassment, she left the country in 2009.

"It's no good if a dictator goes and he is replaced by another. I hope Arabs who have risen up in revolutions learn from Iran's experience."

(Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Robert Woodward - REUTERS)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Women must play greater role in conflict prevention, peacebuilding - UN Security Council

28 October 2011 – The Security Council today welcomed efforts by countries to implement a landmark resolution calling for strengthening women’s participation in peacebuilding, peacekeeping, conflict prevention and mediation process, but voiced concern over continuing gaps in implementing the resolution.

Several senior UN officials – including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of UN Women – and representatives more than 50 countries addressed a day-long debate at the Council on progress since resolution 1325 was unanimously adopted in 2000.

Women from Um Dersay IDP Camp (North Darfur) participate
in a gender awareness training, United Nations

The resolution calls for action to reverse the egregious and inhumane treatment of women and girls during conflicts, the denial of their human rights and their exclusion from decision-making in situations of armed conflict, in peacemaking and peacebuilding.

In a presidential statement the 15-member Council commended the countries that have formulated or updated their national action plans and strategies to increase the participation of women in peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

“The Security Council, however, remains concerned about the persistence of gaps and challenges that seriously hinder the implementation of [the] resolution, including the continued low numbers of women in formal institutions of conflict prevention and resolution, particularly in preventive diplomacy and mediation efforts,” the statement said.

It also noted that the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes committed against women and girls has been strengthened through the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other tribunals. It also reiterated its intention to enhance efforts to fight impunity and uphold accountability for serious crimes against women.

“The Security Council continues to encourage Member States to deploy greater numbers of female military and police personnel to United Nations peacekeeping operations and reiterates that all military and police personnel should be provided with adequate training to carry out their responsibilities,” the statement added.

Earlier, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the greater involvement of women in conflict prevention and mediation, the essential building blocks in reinforcing democracy.

“Women’s participation remains low, both in official and observer roles. This has to change,” he said, pledging that the UN would lead by example, and noting that the number of women leading UN peacekeeping, political and peacebuilding missions had gone up over the past year to six out of 28 missions.

He said the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) had increased the proportion of female candidates in its roster of senior mediators, team members and thematic experts to 35 per cent. In the field, UN teams are supporting women so they can engage in peacebuilding and conflict prevention, management and reconciliation, he added.

The Council received Mr. Ban’s latest report on the women and peace and security, presented by UN Women’s Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, in which he voiced concern that implementation had been so uneven.

“Proactive steps must be taken to accelerate implementation of key elements of this agenda, such as strengthening women’s engagement in conflict resolution and deterring widespread and systematic abuses of women’s rights during conflict,” he wrote.

The report covers findings in five areas of the women, peace and security agenda – prevention, participation, protection, relief and recovery, and coordination and accountability for results – noting that there is growing recognition of women’s roles in peace and security, and highlighting an increasing number of innovative measures and good practices.

“Member State participants in contact groups supporting specific peace processes should offer negotiating parties various incentives, such as training, logistics support or adding a negotiating seat, in order to ensure women’s inclusion on delegations,” he wrote.

Introducing the Secretary-General’s report, Ms. Bachelet stressed that women’s participation in resolving and preventing conflict is not an optional, but an essential ingredient of peacebuilding.

“As we go forward, we need determined leadership – by all of us – the Security Council, Member States, civil society, and the United Nations, to fully engage women in mediation and conflict prevention. This will advance peace and security and deepen democracy around the world,” she said.

Ms. Bachelet pointed out that the UN system was working to increase post-conflict spending on women’s empowerment and gender equality to a minimum of 15 per cent of overall post-conflict financing within a few years.

The President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Lazarous Kapambwe, emphasized women must be fully incorporated in efforts to rebuild societies through playing key roles in negotiating peace agreements, national reconciliation and economic recovery.

Published by UN News Centre on 28 October 2011:

Friday, October 28, 2011

What does the future hold for Yemeni women? An Interview with Nadia Al-Saakaf, Editor in Chief of Yemen Times

Nadia Al-Saakaf, Editor in Chief at Yemen Times
Dr. Edit Schlaffer recently conducted an interview with Nadia Al-Saakaf, Editor in Chief of Yemen Times, who is closely following the turbulent developments in Sana'a. On the 26th of October, Yemeni women defiantly burned their veils and headscarves in protest of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s brutal crackdown on protesters that has lasted almost 8 whole months. Nadia expressed her concern over the current situation in her country, and stressed on the fact that Yemeni women continue to be excluded from the current transitional talks, despite their active involvement in the uprising.

1. How does the Yemeni regime officially deal with the ongoing unrest? And how do people deal with the socioeconomic challenges?

Women protesting in the streets of Sanaa-Reuters
Until now, and despite UN resolution 2024, the Yemeni regime does not seem to get it. On Tuesday, a truce was announced between the regime and armed opposition but we are not sure how long it will last. There are huge trust issues at the moment, and so unless the regime decides it is over, we are bound for a civil war of which we are already witnessing signs here and there.

As for the economy, it is the last thing on the minds both the regime and the opposition, and it is a time bomb that will explode soon. There is however a group of respected Yemeni economists who have come up with an economic proposal for the priorities of the country during and after the transition stage. They are in direct communication with the donor community and helping them support Yemen's economic recovery.

2. What is the role of women in the current crisis in Yemen? Will they eventually (or have they already) change the fate of Yemen´s patriarchal society?

So far, unfortunately, women are only seen as lobbyists and campaigners. Despite the fact that Tawakul Karaman won the Nobel Peace Prize, the issue of involving women in the new regime, or instituting a quota for women, remains to be discussed. During a discussion with UN Envoy Jamal Benomar, he personally told me that none of the official delegations from both sides had included a woman, and that the issue of women was not brought up when as they were discussing politics.

During my interview with the Islah leader, I asked him about women and the possibility of a quota, he said: ‘we will think about that later!’ The only positive response I ever got was from the head of the opposition's national coalition who mentioned the possibility of a 20% quota, but there was no concrete action plan so I simply took it as lip service.

The tragedy is not there, it is rather that none of the women's movements or leaders on the ground are campaigning or demanding their share. Eventually, this is going to blow up in our face after the regime falls.

Yemeni women burning their veils in protest-Reuters
3. In Egypt there are no reservations for women. Islamists are supported widely in Tunisia. What are Yemen´s prospects? Are you worried of a possible intervention like what happened in Bahrain?

Yemeni women will not allow to be taken back centuries and they will not let go of the rights they acquired over years of struggle (I know I won't). I think the same goes for Tunisia and Egypt and Bahrain. The good news is that the Islamists are playing it political not ideological. And to ensure the rebuilding of Yemen, we need the support of the international community who will ensure that women are represented and free.

But the point is that the drive for women's equality is not coming from within, it is coming from outside pressures, which is neither healthy nor sustainable. My fear is that the Yemeni women's place in the new system will only be for show and not for real.

Friday, October 21, 2011

ETA publicly renounces violence

Members of the Basque separatist group ETA have publicly declared the "definitive cessation of armed activity" in a video message released to the media today (BBC News). The news of the end of the 40 year conflict was welcomed by Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who said it was a 'victory over terror'.

ETA has publicly declared ceasefires on numerous occasions in the past, however, many believe that this time the decision is much more serious, as ETA members have officially called for a transition to peaceful methods.

Over the years, ETA has organized many terrorist attacks in Spain and France, which claimed the lives of nearly 800 people. Zapatero hoped that this declaration would bring some peace to the victims' families.

It remains unclear why the Basque group decided to cease its armed activities after so many years. Nonetheless, ETA members declared in a public statement that they faced "a historic opportunity to obtain a just and democratic solution to the age-old political conflict" (BBC News).

Masked ETA members declare their permanent ceasefire - Reuters

SAVE Reaches Out to Libyan Women

Col. Muammar Gaddfi's death was confirmed today as pictures of the ex-Libyan leader circulated the media. "It's time to start a new Libya, a united Libya. One people, one future" declared Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril as the Libyan people rejoiced in the streets (Reuters).

The doors are now open for a new Libya, and the country's women are bound to play a crucial role in this long awaited democratic transition. SAVE will closely observe the country's developments, and is already reaching out to women activists on the ground to discuss gender-inclusive strategies for a new democracy.

We truly hope that the Libyan women's issues, which were largely ignored in the past, will finally be given the international attention they need. This will in turn facilitate the flow of support and advice crucial to the building of a better future for the country and its women in particular. 

Women's demonstration in Tripoli back in September 2011-Reuters

With New Hope, Women Activists Keep Focus on Libya, By Thanassis Cambanis

Libyan exile Shahrazad Kablan was teaching school in Cincinnati when the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi began in her hometown, Benghazi. She put her house on the market and within weeks had moved to Qatar, where she hosted a taboo-busting show on the pro-rebel Libya TV.

On Wednesday night she was in Manhattan, drumming up support among women’s rights activists for the long slog ahead as Libya rebuilds.

“We need help,” Ms. Kablan said. “I want people to remember that Libya is a story of hope, but we need the international community to play its part.”

Ms. Kablan had joined another Libyan diaspora activist, Sara Maziq, and New York Times reporter Anne Barnard (who is married to the author of this blog post) to discuss the role of Libyan women after Colonel Qaddafi’s ouster. During the uprising, women used their clandestine nongovernmental organization networks to smuggle weapons to rebel fighters and pass intelligence. Ms. Barnard’s reporting on Libyan women activists drew the attention of advocates in the United States, who organized Wednesday’s symposium in New York.

“The idea is to connect people who can bring attention to the cause and offer technical help,” said Jill Iscol, the philanthropist who hosted the meeting in her Fifth Avenue apartment. Ms. Iscol, a longtime patron of women’s causes, is the author of “Hearts on Fire,” a book scheduled to be published in November about social activism.

During the uprising, Ms. Kablan used her show to openly probe topics that normally went unmentioned in public forums, like systematic rape by Qaddafi fighters. Since then, she has been advising Libya’s National Transitional Council on education reform. Her small, mostly self-funded nonprofit already has recruited dozens of American teachers willing to spend next summer in Libya working with special needs children.

Ms. Maziq, a former investment banker, quit her job in Dubai to devote herself full-time to Colonel Qaddafi’s overthrow. She helped supply communications equipment to fighters in Misurata, her home city, and since the liberation of Tripoli her Libyan Civil Society Organization has been working to open women’s centers around the country.

“Most of us dug deep in our pockets. Now we’re tapped out,” Ms. Maziq said.

Ms. Iscol’s meeting, organized in tandem with the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit organization that promotes women leaders around the world, sparked some immediate connections.

An officer at a New York foundation volunteered to connect Ms. Maziq and Ms. Kablan with women judges and legal experts who could provide advice to Libyans drafting a new constitution; they agreed to meet the following day. A former prosecutor and a foundation head both offered support for programs helping victims of sexual violence. An official at the American mission to the United Nations invited the Libyans to give a presentation. A Dutch diplomat said his government had money available for women’s activists in Libya.

Ms. Kablan and Ms. Maziq are headed to Libya again in the next month. If they can raise enough funds, both hope to expand the fledgling nonprofits they currently run with support from friends and family.

“Libya has no infrastructure,” Ms. Maziq said. “People tell me, ‘We’ve done what we know how to do. Now, you need to come back and rebuild our country.’”

Thursday morning Ms. Kablan was woken up by a text message from a friend in Libya: Colonel Qaddafi, according to early reports, finally had been captured.

Still in her nightgown, Ms. Kablan smiled and restrained a shout of joy.

“We really needed this,” Ms. Kablan said as she read the latest news on her laptop. “This is a great boost for us.”

Published in the New York Times on 21 October 2011:


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Former Palestinian prisoners, future peacemakers? By Robi Damelin

Tel Aviv - The whole country is talking about it: over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were involved in suicide attacks in which lives were lost, will be freed in exchange for the kidnapped Israeli solider Gilad Shalit who had been held in captivity in Gaza for over five years. Today the prisoner's swap dominated world news when Gilad was freed at the same time as 477 of the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. While it’s clear that everyone in Israel is happy to see Gilad reunited with his family, among bereaved parents there are some who feel that those responsible for the death of their loved ones should never walk free.

I lost my son David in a shooting incident in the West Bank in 2002. Initially, I was told that my son’s killer would be released this week. Now it is not clear whether or not has or will be freed as part of the deal. But when it seemed likely that he would, I took some time out to search deep inside myself to see what I honestly feel. Do I really mean the things that I have been saying all these years about the need for reconciliation between our two peoples? About the need to understand both the pain of the Jewish mother and the pain of a Palestinian mother? How do I really feel about the fact that David’s killer could be freed?

The answer I came up with is that the life of Gilad, and peace for his family is worth everything. Besides, what petty satisfaction and revenge would I feel if the man who killed David stayed in jail for the rest of his life? That wouldn’t fill the void which is always in my heart. There is no revenge for a lost loved one. I too would have released the whole world in order to get David back.

I belong to a group of Palestinians and Israelis called the Parents Circle - Families Forum. We are more than 600 families who have lost an immediate family member to the conflict. Our long-term vision is to create a framework for reconciliation process that would be an integral part of future political agreements.

When it was first disclosed that David’s killer may be walking free I received phone calls from my Palestinian friends, also members of the Parents Circle - Families Forum. They had listened carefully to the names of the prisoners released and when they had heard that David’s killer might be amongst them, they were in great turmoil. They wanted to come to my house, some from the West Bank, to be with me. They said they were proud of my reaction and that they also understood how painful it is.

I think of the pain of the Palestinian mothers in our group. Their pain is the same as mine and the tears are the same colour. Some of the men in our group had served jail sentences and today they are tireless campaigners for reconciliation.

I have been influenced by my meetings with ex-prisoners in South Africa and Ireland who have at least as much blood on their hands as some of the prisoners here. But they have turned around and have become central to the reconciliation process in their countries. Perhaps we too should be exploring the path of restorative justice?

In South Africa I met a bereaved white mother who set up an organisation to help ex-combatants together with the man who had been responsible for the death of her daughter. This is part of understanding how to overcome the state of being a victim.

I don’t want to be anyone’s victim. I won’t be the victim of the young man who killed my son. I will try to understand why he did what he did. It was very painful for me but at one point I went to see his lawyer to find out who this young man is. The road to reconciliation passes through understanding.

I think of my beloved son David. If he had not been killed by a sniper, he probably would have been at the tent supporting the Shalit family. He would have understood the value of human life. He would have understood that in the conflict in Ireland and in South Africa, prisoners with blood on their hands were freed so that an impetus for negotiations could be created. Some of the greatest peacemakers in those two countries came out of dark cells.

Reconciliation is all-inclusive. Prisoners and all sectors of Israeli and Palestinian society should come to the peacemaking table and take part in forging a peaceful future. We must find a way to reconciliation. Let us allow the Shalit family some dignity, grace and solace. Let us hope that the Palestinian prisoners, who after so many years are now being embraced into their families, will have a non-violent and peaceful future.

* Robi Damelin is a member of the Parents Circle - Families Forum, Bereaved Palestinian and Israeli Families for Reconciliation. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 October 2011, www.commongroundnews.org

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Cairo Revolution is Far from Over: the Egyptian Women's Revolution has Only Just Begun - By Evita Mouawad

Shahira Amin at the Amerikahaus
By Evita Mouawad, Program and Communications Officer for MENA at Women without Borders/SAVE

Contrary to popular belief, the revolution in Egypt is far from over. In fact, the military's repression of Coptic protests in Cairo last Sunday can be described as the most violent incident since the overthrow of the Mubarak regime last February. Twenty five died and more than 300 were injured as soldiers drove their vehicles into crowds of protesters demanding to know the truth about the attack on a church in Aswan last month.

The Coptic Christians are not the only ones still fighting for their rights in the country, Egyptian women are also struggling to be treated as equals to their male counterparts. Issues such as the continuation of the Egyptian revolution and the role of women in post-revolution Egypt were discussed on Thursday by renowned Egyptian journalist Shahira Amin. The event entitled 'Post-revolution Egypt: Inclusive Democracy in the Making, A Journalist's View' was organized by the international advocacy group Women without Borders and their Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE) initiative, in cooperation with the American Embassy in Austria.

In February 2011, at the height of the Egyptian revolution, Amin's face was seen on television screens around the world, as she resigned from her post of senior correspondent for state-run Nile TV on live television. While supporters of the Mubarak regime stormed Tahrir Square and began attacking protesters, Amin was given a script to read that made no mention of what was happening that very moment outside her studio, and so, she simply walked out.

Today, Amin has become a symbol of the continuing fight for freedom of the press in her country. "I find it tragic that in post-revolution Egypt civilians would get killed for simply expressing their demands which are very legitimate. Their church had been torched and they were calling for the protection of their places of worship" said Amin, referring to the recent Coptic protests.

As for the role of women in her country, Amin stated that, while female political participation remains considerably low, it is undeniable that Egyptian women played a major role in the revolution that ousted Mubarak's 30 year old regime after just 18 days of protests. "Let's not forget that it was young female activists, like Israa Abdel Fattah and Asmaa Mahfouz, who instigated the mass uprising, by posting videos of police brutality on Facebook." she said.

Nonetheless, shortly after the ousting of Mubarak, women activists realized that their fight was far form over. After the interim government formed what Amin dubbed a 'committee of so-called wise men' to draft the first constitutional amendments, not a single woman was invited to take part. As for today, there is only one woman minister in Egypt.

Furthermore, women who were celebrating Women's Day in Tahrir Square on the 8th of March were physically assaulted. Amin said the women "were humiliated by what we were led to believe were conservative bearded men who shouted 'go home where you belong'." But the journalist believes that in reality these men were 'thugs' hired by the remnance of the old regime to 'scare' women away from the political scene.

The journalist also denounced the 'virginity tests' that were conducted by the military on seventeen female protesters who were arrested in Tahrir Square in March. Amin interviewed one of the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces two months after these tests allegedly occurred, and when asked if the rumours were true, the general claimed the military had done it in self defense, so that the  imprisoned women could not later claim they were sexually assaulted by the army. "As if this wasn't sexual assault already" said Amin.    

Amin also urged the West to adopt a more ‘balanced’ attitude towards the region as other revolutions that have occurred in countries like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and of course Syria have been more or less ignored.

Women whitout Borders founder Edit Schlaffer & Shahira Amin
Despite the post-revolution setbacks, Amin applauded the fact that female candidate Bouthayna Kamel is running for president in Egypt. "She knows she may not win, because society is simply not ready for a female president yet. But at least Bouthayna has shattered the glass ceiling for all women who wish to run for president in the future" she said, making it clear that the Egyptian women are certainly not planning on giving up the fight.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fatima Bhutto and India-Pakistan Relations, by Mehru Jaffer

Pakistani writer Fatima Bhutto warmed Indian hearts when she said that “you are like me.”
The 29-year-old Bhutto was the star attraction at the recently concluded Kovalam Literary Festival in Kerala, where she delivered the sixth KC john Memorial Lecture on India and Pakistan: Road to Peace.
Dressed in a flowing sari which belonged to her grandmother and similar to those worn commonly by Indian women, this was Fatima’s first trip to the southernmost tip of the Indian sub-continent.
The granddaughter of slain Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and niece of Benazir Bhutto, the country's first female prime minister, who was killed in 2007, Fatima's father Murtaza Bhutto was gunned down in a political battle in 1996.
Fatima was a teenager at that time, and ever since, she has condemned violent extremism. The Karachi-based writer believes that the road to peace between India and Pakistan will have to be mapped by building on the shared heritage and the common social malaise confronting the two nations. And the onus of the task lies with the youth.
"We the people of India and Pakistan are the same. You are like me. We need more people-to-people contact to promote peace. Our destinies as countries are inextricably linked as our past were... Justice is within the borders and not outside it.
Despite being separated at birth and with a shared heritage, India and Pakistan have created an enormous gulf between their people. They cannot visit each other's country without going through enormous official procedure.
India and Pakistan over the centuries have shared something hopeful, peaceful - a joint heritage that modern day hostilities could not erase.
But there is lack of coordination. We could develop policies together. But we don't do that - instead we feed the world when the hungry in our country starve.
India and Pakistan have the largest migration history in the world with the biggest displacement... When we parted, the world shook.
The freedom movement was iconic but the only problem was that we quickly turned on ourselves. What Pakistan did to India, Bangladesh did to Pakistan. Punjab was almost a holocaust.
Trade between India and Pakistan is a fraction of the trade that we do with strangers. Trade between the two countries was much larger and we should be giving 40 billion dollars in trade. Many other arch rivals have better trade ties,” concludes Fatima convinced that young Indians and Pakistanis can counter violent extremism in South Asia.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

World Leaders Draw Attention to Central Role of Women's Political Participation in Democracy

United Nations, New York — Women make up less than 10 percent of world leaders. Globally less than one in five members of parliament is a woman. The 30 percent critical mass mark for women’s representation in parliament has been reached or exceeded in only 28 countries. At a high-level event today, during the 66th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, women political leaders made a strong call for increasing women’s political participation and decision-making across the world. Stressing that women’s participation is fundamental to democracy and essential to the achievement of sustainable development and peace in all contexts — during peace, through conflict and post-conflict, and during political transitions — the leaders signed on to a joint statement with concrete recommendations on ways to advance women’s political participation.
“It is a solidarity that we see represented here today among this important group of women around me,” said Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, at the event. “We are bound by a common goal — to open the way for women to participate in all decisions affecting not only their own lives, but the development of our world, at the global, regional, national and local levels. By making full use of half the world’s intelligence — the intelligence of women — we improve our chances of finding real and lasting solutions to the challenges that confront us.”
Signatories of the joint statement included: H.E. Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil; Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; H.E. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State of the United States of America; Rt. Hon. Baroness Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission; H.E. Roza Otunbayeva, President of the Kyrgyz Republic; Lilia Labidi, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Republic of Tunisia; Helen Clark, Under-Secretary-General and Administrator, UN Development Programme; and Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
Details of the event, including webcast archive: http://j.mp/WomLeaders
Photos: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjw6ryVk

Joint Statement
On Advancing Women’s Political Participation

New York, 19 September 2011
We, the undersigned Heads of State and Government, Foreign Ministers, High Representatives, and senior UN officials affirm that women’s political participation is fundamental to democracy and essential to the achievement of sustainable development and peace.
We reaffirm the human right of women to take part in the Governments of their countries, directly or through freely chosen representatives, on an equal basis with men, and that all States should take affirmative steps to respect and promote women’s equal right to participate in all areas and at all levels of political life.
We stress the critical importance of women’s political participation in all contexts, including in times of peace, conflict and in all stages of political transition.
We recognize the essential contributions women around the world continue to make to the achievement and maintenance of international peace and security and to the full realization of human rights; to the promotion of sustainable development; and to the eradication of poverty, hunger and disease. Even so, we are concerned that women in every part of the world continue to be largely marginalized from decision-making, often as a result of discriminatory laws, practices, and attitudes, and due to poverty disproportionately affecting women.
We reaffirm our commitment to the equal rights and inherent human dignity of women enshrined in the United Nations Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other relevant international human rights instruments. We call upon all States to ratify and fulfill their obligations under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and to implement fully Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women and peace and security and other relevant UN resolutions.
We call upon all States, including those emerging from conflict or undergoing political transitions, to eliminate all discriminatory barriers faced by women, particularly marginalized women, and we encourage all States to take proactive measures to address the factors preventing women from participating in politics, such as violence, poverty, lack of access to quality education and health care, the double burden of paid and unpaid work, and to actively promote women’s political participation, including through affirmative measures, as appropriate.
We reaffirm and express full support for the important role of the United Nations system in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women, and we welcome UN Women and its mandate in this regard.

Are Women Better at Peace? by R.M. Schneiderman

As CGI continues, Leymah Gbowee tells a striking story about women as peace makers.
The empowerment of women: It’s a concept we often think of in moral terms. Yet in an afternoon session at the Clinton Global Initiative today, Leymah Gbowee, the executive director of the Women Peace and Security Network-Africa, told a story that speaks to the importance of empowering women as a social good.
In Liberia, in December of 2003, a brief ceasefire occurs in an otherwise brutal civil war. The United Nations plans to symbolically disarm 300 fighters. But more than 2,000 fighters show up, and the U.N. can’t control the crowd.
Gbowee and others set out to calm the men, to provide them with aid. One day, a woman came to her office in tears. She had been at one of the relief camps, where a young boy whom she was giving food looked up and asked for her daughter.
“My daughter is dead,” the woman said.
And the boy responded: “I know.”
“How do you know?” the woman said.
“Because I killed her.”
Sitting in her office, Gbowee was shocked.
“Did you stop feeding him?” Gbowee asked the woman.
And the woman said no.
“This is what peace building is,” Gbowee said. “To stare at the killer of your child in the eye and continue to show him that kind of compassion. And I’m sorry men … from all my readings I’ve only seen it with Jesus.”
The moderator of the panel, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, echoed this sentiment: “If women are economically and politically empowered … it makes for more stable societies. When I was in office, I went to Burundi and we got women of different ethnic groups to talk to each other when men couldn’t.”
In a world where women comprise more than 50 percent of the population, and many continue to lack the same basic rights and opportunities as men, that’s reason enough to make their rights a priority.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Aicha el-Wafi: "My Pain Grows Worse By the Day"

This interview contains certain controversial ideas which we are sure will prompt discussion. Please leave your comments in the 'comments' section below.

This article was published in Die Presse on September 11, 2011.

Her son was presumably meant to be the 20th hijacker in the September 11th attacks, but was arrested before that fateful day. His mother recounts how 9/11 also changed her life forever.

A US court condemned him to life in prison for his involvement in the terror plot.

It was the first sentence passed against someone involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks. In early May 2006, a twelve-person jury in Alexandria (near Washington) sentenced Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan origin, to life in prison. Moussaoui only escaped the death penalty because the jury did not unanimously agree that he had been involved in the 9/11 plot, although he pleaded guilty.

It is possible that he would have flown a plane into the White House as the 20th hijacker, had he not been arrested at a US pilot training school several weeks earlier after making his trainer suspicious. A few days after the sentencing, Moussaoui surprisingly retracted his guilty plea and unsuccessfully filed an appeal. Aicha el-Wafi, the mother of the alleged terrorist, has accused the US of having turned her son into a “martyr.” After the September 11th attacks, she reached out to the families of the victims.

You wanted to raise your son Zacarias to be a perfect French citizen. Why did he nonetheless head down the wrong path; what went wrong?

Aicha el-Wafi: I tried to raise my son correctly, and to show him the path of respect and tolerance. At first he did live like a French citizen; he went out with his friends, drank alcohol, and smoked.

Where did Zacarias first come in contact with extremists?

In a mosque in Great Britain while he was studying there, not in France. He went to England to improve his English.

Did you see any warning signs? At which point did his behavior begin to make you suspicious?

I never saw any warning signs. After he left for Great Britain, he came to visit me multiple times. That’s when I noticed that he was praying a lot. But that is not unusual for a Muslim. I thought he was praying for me. I never would have thought that he was surrounding himself with extremists.

You came to France as a young bride at the age of 17. You worked hard and studied to ensure that your children would have the best lives possible. Did Zacarias accept the image of a woman that you portrayed—firmly anchored in French culture and daily life?

I came to France in 1965; I was 17 years old and already had two daughters: Nadia and Jamila. My sons were born in France. It was a very difficult period in my life: we had no work, we had nothing to eat, and my children’s father regularly beat me. It was really hard. That is why I decided to take charge of my own life and left my husband, with whom I could no longer live.

What about your children?

When my children were young and I picked them up after school, their classmates always asked them whether I was their sister. They were proud of me and respected me; they did whatever I asked of them. That all changed when they left home and went to university. In particular, my sons’ personalities changed a great deal. All of a sudden they wanted me to wear a veil. They no longer went out with friends, stopped drinking alcohol, and no longer smoked. I did not want to accept these changes. My sons were growing up and changing, but I was already grown, and did not change.

Did you never ask your sons about their friends?

In France, my children even had Israeli friends! I never asked too many questions about who they were spending their time with. When Zacarias began attending university in Great Britain, I wanted to go visit him. He told me that I would have to book a hotel room. I asked him why—he had his own apartment. He answered that other people were now sharing his apartment with him—he called them his “brothers.” It did strike me as strange, but I thought that perhaps that was normal in Great Britain. I didn’t visit him in the end, because I did not want to stay in a hotel room. But I was never really suspicious. Only later did I realize that he was referring to the Islamists as his “brothers.”

And then—did you stay in touch with your son?

We did not speak for years, but when I returned home after a long break in Morocco, I suddenly found several messages on my answering machine from Zacarias. He kept saying “Mama I love you,” and “Mama I hug you.” On September 13, two days after the attacks, I went to Great Britain. There were many protests in front of the mosques. I was completely shocked, because this was my first interaction with Islamists. Everyone knew me; they all knew I was Zacarias’ mother. But I did not know anyone.

The 9/11 attacks changed your life forever. But you also changed the mindset of many people in the Western world toward Muslims, because you approached the family members of the victims. What do you learn from those meetings?

I met those families during an extremely difficult time; they had just lost loved ones. We shared those hard times and I learned a lot from them, and I hope they also learned from me. Our fates are similar, but we are different in one key aspect: my pain grows worse every day, because I don’t know how my son is doing. The family members of the victims at least know where their loved ones are: they are dead. The pain those families feel will lessen over time. But Zacarias is buried alive; he has no contact to the outside world. My stomach hurts every single day, because I do not know how my son is doing. I have so many questions that remain unanswered. I cannot and will not accept this.

In your opinion, did your son not deserve this sentence?

I demand to know what exactly the US government is accusing him of having done. Of course I am thinking of the family members of the victims and their pain. But Zacarias was not sentenced to death, he was condemned to life. It is terrible that he moved in Islamist circles, but he did not engage with those people responsible for this terrible act. He was arrested on August 16, 2001 for visa problems.

Zacarias will spend the rest of his life in prison. If he were to accept a visit from you, what would you say to him?

I have been in touch with him for the past five years, but FBI agents are always nearby and listen to our conversations. He couldn’t tell me how he ended up where he is now. I am sure he would have told me if we had been alone. But he cannot speak in front of the FBI agents. So there is always a barrier between us. But he says that he will read letters.

You encourage mothers around the world to be gatekeepers. In your daily work, do you communicate with mothers whose sons may be susceptible to extremists?

My message to all mothers and parents is: be watchful, and show respect and tolerance. It is not easy to raise children. When they are young, they are with us, but when they get older, they leave and you do not know what they are doing. It is not about Black or White, Jews, Arabs, or Christians—we must respect everyone. I am thinking of all the families who have lost someone. But my pain grows worse by the day. My son is buried alive.

Interview by Edit Schlaffer, founder of "Women without Borders" and SAVE (Sisters Against Violent Extremism). Translated by Elaine Hargrove, Anna Gabriel

Monday, September 12, 2011

Shobhaa's Take on Recent Mumbai Blasts, by Shobhaa De

Yup. It happened. The nineteenth terror attack on the Capital in fifteen years. So far, the body count is 12 deaths and 90 injured. By the time someone takes the trouble to total it all up, India will have moved on (24 hours later, most people already have), and those who don’t live in Delhi will shrug and talk about ‘intelligence failure’, ‘security lapses’, ‘crisis in leadership’. Out-of-work movie stars will tweet away, offering prayers and condolences, and television anchors with grim faces will attempt to grill the usual suspects, embarrass a few and reprimand the rest. There it shall remain. Manmohan Tauji will tut tut ‘It’s a long war’ and beseech the ‘People of India to stand united’, to remain ‘calm’ . Chidambaram Chhacha will issue some more somber sounding statements (does he just recycle them from a master list?). And that will take care of the situation… till the next blast… and the next. And till such time as every Wednesday will make Indians fear it may be another Black one. There is something called immunity. Just as cockroaches, dog ticks, certain strains of bacteria stop responding to powerful drugs and pest control chemicals, human beings too develop a resistance to acts of terrorism. How many times can we go ‘Hai Hai’ and beat our breasts? Those responsible for the safety and security of the nation count on just that. This ain’t America, boss. Nor is it Australia. Or any other country that has declared zero tolerance for terrorists. Here, we keep those accused and convicted of terror attacks in conditions that are denied to a majority of God-fearing, law -abiding citizens. Even the Sri Lankan assassins of a former Prime Minister have been spared from the gallows so far. Afzal Guru? Let’s not even go there! Ditto for Qasab. So long as we play these dangerous political games in a clumsy attempt to prove something dubious to the world (“ Look guys! We are a democracy. Please be impressed.”) we shall have to resign ourselves to living with terror. And slippery, weak politicians whose sole objective in life is to hang on to their kursis and make money.

What does the average Joe do in such a desperate situation? I received a really dumb email with a request to stand in silence and pray for the dead. Respecting the memory of those innocent people who were blown to bits on 7th September is one thing. But the pointlessness of such chain mails makes me see red. There was another email which expressed outrage at the fact that not a single politician in the last 5 years was directly affected by terrorist attacks. It was as if the chattering classes would have felt a little better had a couple of netas lost their limbs or lives in similar attacks. This is just such a childish and churlish reaction! But one can understand where it’s coming from. There is so much repressed rage against the ruling class right now, that it would somehow appease the masses if those lofty politicos enjoying z-category protection at tax payers’ expense were as vulnerable as that poor Pawan Jaswal from Gurgaon who had come to the HC to attend a hearing on his employer’s case and was instantly killed. Increasingly, affected people are vociferously articulating their anger and contempt for leaders as was evident when Rahul Gandhi was heckled when he showed up at the RML Hospital. This is the bold writing on the wall that politicians need to pay close attention to. It indicates a shift in people’s attitude towards those in power. So far, the high and mighty have been insulated from such outrage because the cowering masses have grown accustomed to treating VIPs like ‘maap baap’, bowing and scraping in their presence. But, watch out! Nobody is likely to be spared in future, least of all bechara Manmohan Singh, whose kamzor position at present is encouraging dissidents to shout him down, when he trots out platitudes like, “Co-operation, not accusation, is the need of the hour.” Try saying that to 21-year-old victim Amanpreet Singh Jolly’s grieving father. Or to the wife of 54-year-old Vinod Jaiswal, who was blissfully oblivious she’d been widowed till much after 4.30 p.m. when the sad news was finally broken to her by Ashok, Vinod’s brother. Unfortunately, not too many people will remember these tragic stories even a week from now. Not even the media.

The government cannot hope to get away with alibis and excuses each time the nation is shattered by demonic acts of terror. The buck does stop with those in power. It is the primary duty of our elected representatives to protect lives of citizens. People don’t care if it is the ‘LeT hand’, or Harkat, IM or some other terror group’s ‘foot’ that’s responsible for the HC attack. 68% of people polled blamed the blast on ‘the lack of a political will to tackle terrorism.’’

Sharam karo, bhai, sharam karo. The mood of the nation is belligerent. Public anger is as lethal, as dangerous as an IED. All that’s required is a trigger. And such a symbolic blast can cause far greater damage than anything placed in an abandoned suitcase.

It’s ‘champi’ time for politicians. The smart thing to do would be to keep shut and get to work. Oh yes - netas should definitely stay away from the RML Hospital – we don’t need any more casualties there.

Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS