Monday, January 17, 2011

Speaking Out Before it is Too Late! Women Know How

Guest Commentary by Edit Schlaffer in Die Presse, 17.01.2011.

Understanding, reconciliation, forgiveness, compromises, and ideals are not terms that we immediately associate with negotiations at the international level. But why don’t we? The answer is alarmingly simple: these characteristics are not particularly masculine in a classical sense, and the unwritten rules of Realpolitik are still based on power and dominance. The presence of women at high-level international summits is still an exception, and should not lead us to believe that the iron-clad agreement has been broken: there is still no room for women at the men’s table. This reality may be unfair, but it would not further bother us were it not for the fact that we cannot be certain that our futures lie in safe hands. We live in a global climate of fear, which maintains its balance by a through a curious paradox: state and non-state actors resolutely remain on opposite sides of the negotiating table—armed, often full of hate, suspicious at best; sometimes defensive, but generally in favor of total annihilation of the other party. This path is archaic and destructive, and has been dominated by men to date.

Global political power dynamics as well as gender roles have recently been turned upside down; now, increasing numbers of women are determined to be included in the security arena. They no longer simply let world events pass them by—a familiar, but often catastrophic tendency of past eras—and do not settle for the role of observer or of victim of riots, assault, and war.

Women have the potential to launch a new movement specialized in building bridges with ‘the other side’ and learning about “the enemy,” which motivational factors are at play, and how the hostilities can be transformed. The courageous dialogue currently taking place between a group of Indian and Pakistani women, who decided to meet during the anniversary of the Mumbai attacks at the Taj Hotel in the besieged city, is just one example of how new paths toward a future for both countries beyond hardened enemy lines can be established and secured.

In late November 2010, a delegation of Pakistani women traveled from Islamabad to Mumbai to develop joint strategies for a new, action-oriented dialogue. The trip was no simple touristic undertaking; half a century after partition, which had been accompanied by violent riots, and nuclear armament on both sides in recent years, the women now decided to take the first step toward change. They committed to engaging in a new dialogue and not falling victim to the old trap of talking without taking concrete action. SAVE, the world’s first female counter-terrorism platform, brought the group together. Both sides agreed to directly address the reality of what is happening on the ground and to openly speak about terrorism, but without pointing fingers—their goal is to achieve an emotional breakthrough.

This august resolution has been tested many times, for example when the organizer of the Indian delegation suggested that the group walk the ‘trail of terror’—that is, to visit the sites that were attacked on November 26, 2008. The women began at the Gateway of India, where the terrorists ditched their boats to enter the city, and then proceeded to CafĂ© Leopold, where young Mumbai inhabitants mixed with tourists from around the world—a scenario that the armed fanatics clearly did not approve of. They continued to Cama Albless Hospital, where they stood with a young widow from Pakistan who lost her husband in an attack in the Swat Valley, and took in the wall surrounding the hospital, which is still peppered with bullet holes. It is here that Ashok Kamte, Mumbai’s Associate Commissioner of Police, desperately fought with Ajmal Kasab, the young Pakistani terrorist. Kamte managed to shoot and injure Kasab, but paid for his valiant efforts with his life.

Vinita, his young widow, is also part of this women’s dialogue. Two fateful incidents brought these women together: shots fired in distant Pakistan and shots fired here in a narrow back alley behind a hospital in Mumbai.
The label ‘victim’ does not fully apply to these dynamic women. Yes, they experienced grief and desperation, but they came together in Mumbai to speak about finding new ways out terrorism, mutual stigmatization, and defamation. The attempts to overcome fear of ‘the other side,’ to speak openly about divisive factors, and to carefully stake out the terrain for shared activities have been successful.

This program is ambitious; a joint meeting currently underway in Vienna is taking concrete steps: it is an exploration of how to establish a dialogue process between both parties to overcome isolation and violent extremism. Women are perfectly positioned to spearhead this program in their respective societies, as they play a central role in their families, in the educational realm, and in daily community activities, and can thus uniquely identify dissatisfaction and frustration and counteract these sentiments with the appropriate tools.

Hillary Clinton has identified development as a central pillar of the global security structure. Poverty, exploitation, corruption, and dominance by a ruthless elite facilitate the growth of extremism, paving the way for religious and political fanaticism. Bertha von Suttner, an Austrian visionary and the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, shows us the way: “Those who want peace may not be silent.”

Original article (German):

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Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS