Friday, April 15, 2011

"No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men"

Shabana Fayyaz taking part in the SAVE Women's Dialogue
Shabana Fayyaz, SAVE Pakistan representative and Assistant Proffessor at the Defense and Strategic Studies Department of Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, reflects on the critical role of women in combatting extremism in Pakistan, and on the inclusive teachings of Quaid, founder of Pakistan.

In Pakistan women deserve a critical role to play at the state/society policy shaping and making level. Women in Pakistan constitute more than half of the country's population. Female icons since the creation of our country have played and continue to play a decisive role on all fronts - yet their role as 'agents of change' remains under-appreciated, both by themselves as well as state/society at large.

The SAVE Pakistan chapter is a step in the right direction to make unheard stories of women’s contributions known. Women’s role in ‘social cohesion’ needs to be registered through multi-track interventions. That is, investing in the training and capacity building of existing women-based networks to counter extremism at the micro and macro level.

There exists a critical gap in the existing indigenous literature on women and extremism accompanied by a tendency to frame women as ‘victims’ and not recognizing their role as ‘healers’ in society. By following a victimhood lens, the women are mostly reduced to being either a ‘sufferer’ or a ‘silent spectator’, ignoring the ground realities. The fact of the matter is that women have a central role simultaneously at the family and at the community level. At times, particularly in the case of SWAT, it was womenfolk that served as a critical fund-raiser plus a victim of Maulana Fazlullah’s so-called ‘Islamization’ drive. Many mothers were aware of their sons’, brothers’ and husbands’ radical tendencies but looked the other way purposefully, thinking that it would lead to an equitable and just society - as pronounced by Maulana Fazlullah’s in his sermons through a mobile radio network in the area.

The role of women in curtailing, spreading and tolerating extremism in Pakistan remains an under-researched area. There is an abundance of contemporary literature on the genesis of extremism in the country but focus on women as an equal stake-holder in the policy-making and shaping arena remains untouched. There exists a niche to critically focus on sensitizing women leaders from all over the country on how to build and nurture their role as “agents of change” through team-building initiatives. And it is only through informed debate, dialogue and discussion that an inductive and inclusive counter-extremism policy can be shaped.

As it is often said, who will bell the cat? It is state and society together. The extremism and terrorism facing Pakistan falls in between traditional and non-traditional security challenges. It requires an inductive and sustainable response on the home front. That is, optimal use of women as key stake holder in response to radicalization, extremism and political violence. In this enterprise, media (including print, television, radio, and on-line) has the capacity to be a ‘change-maker’ in airing not only the stories told through the ‘victimhood lens’ but also highlighting the on-going efforts of the courageous women leaders on the ground against religious, cultural and political extremism. Parallel to this, learning and sharing the best practices on how women became an agent of change for sustainable peace in all parts of the world should be encouraged.

In conclusion, women facing and fighting extremism need to be recognized as viable and critical partners in the fight against the quagmire of extremism in Pakistan. That is, we need to reclaim Quaid’s vision of a moderate and progressive Pakistan, whereby a woman is an essential stake holder in the policy making arena. Now is the time to rectify our earlier deeds, when women’s activism was/is perceived as a threat to the so-called social, cultural and religious underpinnings of a stable Pakistan. In conclusion, the following words of Quaid - the founder of Pakistan, (in a speech at the Islamia College for women on 25 March 1940) are worth recalling:

“I have always maintained that no nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women”.

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