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08. March 2010

Women as Early Warning Systems

Comments on International Women’s Day in the Context of Terror Prevention: A Global Mothers’ Movement Against Violent Extremism is Fighting for a New Architecture of Peace. A commentary by Edit Schlaffer

Nearly one hundred years ago, Mother’s Day saw new competition: International Women’s Day, which is celebrated globally on the 8th of March. Since the beginning, the focus has been highly political: the public representation of women and securing the right to vote. Even before the cumbersome word “empowerment” crept into the German language, the activists realized that the prerequisites for these acts of liberation had to be fought in very difficult territory: in the private living rooms and bedrooms.

The revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai described the 1911 International Women’s Day in Germany as “one seething, trembling sea of women…Men stayed at home with their children for a change, and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings.”

The big challenge was demanding social equality and justice in all areas of life. The women courageously secured their right to vote, but it soon became clear that the principles of equality and justice appeared to be incompatible with the private sphere. Taboo topics had to be addressed: violence against women, abortion, and unquestioned male control in the family. Shaking the foundations of male power over women in a world that had thus far conformed to a very rigid gender hierarchy created shockwaves in the male identity. The private sphere was declared to be political, and women spearheaded the most important and formative social movement of the last century.

There were setbacks, but also periods of rest that women vitally needed to raise their children (predominantly alone), to secure their professional development, and—despite the highly praised female ability to multi-task and to work under pressure at the touch of a button—to not lose their minds.
A great deal was happening on the psychological front, as well. Emotional traps were being analyzed, women’s excessive readiness to make do with what they had was being attacked in self-help groups, and women finally turned the patriarchy upside down after the ’68 movements.
While the accustomed securities in the private sphere have increasingly proven themselves as fragile, a new conflict has appeared during the course of globalization—cultural conflict. Women frequently stood and continue to stand between the fronts of this conflict.

The 9/11 attacks were a turning point in the global security structure. A new movement of female strategists and experts has developed that tackles the challenges of violent extremism and which wants to create a new foundation for the security debate. These women have recognized that the fight against terror also is about creating an emotional breakthrough: they have recognized that they must reach young, restless, violence-prone men from all social and educational backgrounds in order to disarm the highly-explosive bombs whose detonation regularly rocks the world.

Mothers for Change!” is the global campaign of a new movement called “SAVE – Sisters Against Violent Extremism.” The representatives in Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia, England, and India have decided to use the power of mothers and to equip them with the tools to protect their growing children from the allures of violent extremism.

Vinita Kamte, whose husband, a high-ranking police officer, lost his life during the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008, is determined to “give a face” to the victims and their family members. In doing so, these witnesses of history confront the young generation with the real effects of terrorism. Hanan Ibrahim came to London as a refugee from Somalia, and created an entire network of Somali women who detect latent threats in their communities.

Women like Vinita and Hanan are early warning systems; they aim to prevent terror from even developing. They are part of a global mothers’ movement that is the basis for a new architecture of peace.

This commentary was published on March 8th in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard.


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