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30. March 2010

SAVE Women Speak Out

Excerpts from the second Global SAVE Conference, 2010

In February 2010, women from all over the world came together for the second Global SAVE Conference in Vienna, Austria. Below are some excerpts from the conference participants about who they are, how they got here, and what their vision of the future looks like. For more information about our conference, download the conference report here.

Nadia al-Sakkaf, Editor of the Yemen Times, Sana’a, Yemen

“In 2005, I became the Editor-in-Chief of the Yemen Times, which is Yemen's first English-language newspaper. I have grown many white hairs since then because of the tension, not just because of meeting deadlines and media work, but also because there's so much you get exposed to. You hear the stories, and you assume the responsibility of being the spokesperson for the people.

Many journalists, well-established journalists, feel the heavy weight of the responsibility of knowing that you have to fight for your people's rights. You have to be the voice for the voiceless. It becomes heavy. And if it weren't for meetings like this, I would have quit a long time ago.”

Christie Coombs, Journalist, Founder and President of the Jeffrey Coombs Foundation, Massachusetts, USA

“This is the farthest thing that I ever thought I would be doing, growing up as a little poor kid—the youngest of 12—in Arizona. But my husband was killed on 9/11. I haven't witnessed the kind of horror that you have seen, but I certainly have lived it. I've held six inches of my husband's remains in my hand. Soon after the attacks that killed Jeff and so many others, I decided it was time to teach my kids a lesson about paying it forward, and we held a big fundraiser to raise money to help other 9/11 families that had been impacted by losing someone on September 11th. And we took that money and sent it to immigrants who were working at the restaurant at the World Trade Center, and to adult children of parents who died in the terrorist attacks, because they weren't receiving money like the traditional families were. I think it gives us the opportunity to remind Americans in particular that terrorism is something that has hit our country, and it's likely to hit again. It's no longer something that hits other countries. It’s something that we need to be aware of, and we need to do what we can to stop it, even if it's just making people aware of what's going on around them. I think we are taking a stand that we're against terrorism and we want to do something to make it stop. So this is an incredible experience. It's very new to me to be working with a group like this.”

Anita Pratap, Journalist, Author, Documentary Filmmaker, India (currently in Tokyo, Japan)

“I found one of the most traumatic experiences in my life, which was a turning point for me both professionally as well as personally, was when I was 23 years old and I had come to Sri Lanka. Urban riots by the majority community had broken out against the Tamil minorities. I'd only seen goodness in mankind till I went to Sri Lanka, and there I saw the kind of evil that can be perpetrated by human beings on fellow human beings. It also reaffirmed, however, that just as much as there is evil in life, there are also forces of good.

If I was successful as a journalist, I think it is because I always humanized the situation. I personalized the situation in a way that everybody could understand and relate to. And have that sense of rapport, because the grief of a mother who loses a child is the same, whether she is from Indonesia, or Israel, or India, or Pakistan. It's universal. And that is what we have to constantly focus on. Somehow this must add up so that all of us can combine our resources in a way to pressure the policy makers to start at least managing conflicts, if not solving them, so that violence stops and people can gain normal lives.”

Robi Damelin, Parents Circle-Bereaved Family Forum, Israel

“We say so many things in our lives, and we go through personal journeys. And my personal journey is with the man who killed my son. He's serving a sentence. He's actually also set to be freed to bring back Gilad Shalit. I immediately said, ‘Yes, you have to release him, because I think there's nothing more important than the sanctity of human life.’ And I don't believe in revenge, and in any event, there isn't any revenge for a dead child. Who would I kill to bring David back? I also think that political prisoners are part of the journey of trying to find a way to resolve a conflict. If we do not start to release the Palestinian prisoners, then I don't see any way to go even two steps forward.

You must decide whether you allow the situation to affect who you are, or if you will affect the situation. This is the test that we are put to all the time.”

Asma Asfour, Council Member, Sinjel Municipality, Palestine

“I'm a local Council Member for my town, and I'm also an educator. I'm here to explore how I can invest my potential, and how I can network with other women from all around the globe. How can we actually achieve this kind of change, and also these peaceful links, and peaceful thinking? At one end all of us are against extremism, and on the other hand, we also want to live in peace.”

Fahmia al-Fotih’, SAVE Yemen Coordinator, Sana’a, Yemen

“Coming from a tiny village and a normal family that has nothing to do with politics, I was lucky to be awarded an MBI Al Jaber Foundation scholarship to go to London to study International Relations and Politics. It was there in London where I met Dr. Edit and Elisabeth by coincidence in a conference and was introduced to the Women Without Borders organization for the first time. This coincidence has turned into a commitment to work with WWB’s counterterrorism initiative, SAVE.

Earlier in my career, I joined the media, which was a very male-dominated field yet was like a resort to vent all my angry and rebellious feelings against the injustice and rights violations that women were subject to. From there, I have started building my human rights knowledge and thinking how best I could contribute to my country as a woman. Later, working first with the United Nations Development Program and then with USAID has tremendously engaged me more in development and gender issues where women’s participation is considered a backbone for moving forward. I strongly believe that change can be brought about by women.”

May da Silva, Director, Women Into Politics, Belfast, Ireland

“As a feminist, I strive to work for equality for all, irrespective of a person's gender, race or religion. I feel that society should have equality for all or equality for none. This was the motto of one of Northern Ireland's late loyalist politicians, an ex-paramilitary, David Irvine. A terrorist turned politician who advocated that ‘We cannot choose bits and pieces of equality when it suits us.’

My work is not over in Northern Ireland and internationally. I'm very inspired by what I've heard tonight, and to see SAVE now, taking shape with new contributors. I am greatly encouraged to see the potential for this campaign to become global.

I'll finish with a quote of someone who has inspired me, the late Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop. She once said, ‘If you think you're too small to have an impact, then try going to bed with a mosquito.’”

Arshi Saleem Hashmi, Senior Research Analyst and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Islamabad, Pakistan

“My personal view is that Pakistan is the most misunderstood country. Especially these days, when the rest of the world thinks that these people are in some way responsible for whatever is happening in so many other countries. I'm talking about terrorism. But they completely ignore the fact that the minority that is involved in creating this mess outside Pakistan is not really supported by this huge majority, who's experiencing bloodshed, bombing, and terrorism every day.

People are being killed everywhere, not just in the Northwestern Province. It is happening in the capital city as well. When I go out and drop my son at school, I don't know what will happen. There are police checkpoints with 150 cars waiting to pass the checkpoint—Islamabad is like a besieged city now—and I just wonder, a person who is ready to kill himself could even come to this police checkpoint and blow himself up. So every day, when I reach my office, I call my husband and tell him that I have reached the office. When I pick up my son and bring him back home, my husband calls, and we say ‘Ok, we have safely arrived.’ This is a constant fear. We deal with it every day, and I don't know how long it will continue. But in fact the majority is paying the price. Nevertheless, there is a growing civil society which has always been there and we hope that the civil society will continue to play its role against extremism.”

Archana Kapoor, Publisher, Filmmaker, Media House Director, Delhi, India

“We live in such a society that sometimes I wonder what we are doing. I had been living in the same house for the last nine years, and have Vinita Kamte´s mother-in-law as my neighbor. Only a six-inch wall separates our houses. But I have never met her. It was only after 26/11 that I learned that my neighbor for nine years had lost her son. That is the kind of world that we have built around us—where we don't know anybody—we don’t find time to know anyone. We are so ignorant about each other, very ignorant.

Edit made a point when she said that the victims in India are isolated. In India, even to get four people together to talk about the same issues in a way that it takes them beyond themselves is very difficult. When you are impacted, your own misery is so huge, that it is so difficult to see the other person's point of view.
Today I feel very satisfied that I have been working with about five or six schools through SAVE. We've been providing a platform to children to speak out and to understand the fact that we are all under threat, and that solutions are also within us. We need to understand each other; we need to know that the other person also has a point of view. And I think that, in our own little way, we are contributing to making this world a better place, a more peaceful place, and a place where dialogue can take place.”

Seham Ikhlayel, Parents Circle-Bereaved Families Forum, Palestine

“My mother spent a lot of years in jail, because she led peaceful rallies against the occupation. She just said ‘no.’ The only weapon that she had was the word. I became the mother of our family when I was fourteen years old. I had to be a mother for my siblings and take care of my father. No one else helped us, because they were afraid to be associated with a family whose mother was in jail. Soon after my marriage at age 17, my three brothers were arrested by the Israeli army.

My mother really surprised me when she started talking about the peace. I fought her. I wanted to kill her. ‘Why are you talking about peace while you see Yusef (one of my brothers) in the grave and while we are carrying Ali (another brother), unable to use his leg?’ I thought she was crazy. I had promised myself that I would face that one who had killed my brother and I would cut him into pieces. Nothing would stop me. In this kind of life, there is nothing to lose.

Because of the [Israeli] Occupation, I did not go to school, go to the university, live as a normal woman. I just taught myself English this last year to speak about myself. I also joined the Parents Circle. I can teach my son to be a peacemaker, but when he enters a checkpoint and they treat him as an animal, he will come back to me and blame me. We need the change. You can’t imagine the kinds of meetings we hold. How we change a few. A lot of Israeli women took the risk of coming to us—they came and sat and slept. They spent the whole night with us. And we started creating a strange language. This is how we understand each other.”

Hanan Ibrahim, Founder and Director, Somali Family Support Group, London, England

“I'm the mother of three children. I am a founder of Somali Family Support Group (SFSG). After coming to London ten years ago, there was nothing for women from refugee backgrounds. I did a lot of advocacy, empowerment, talking with mothers on issues that were affecting their lives, like domestic violence, housing issues, immigration issues. In response to the backlash against Somalis following the 21/07 attempted bombing, I started Shaah iyo Sheeko (Tea & Chat) Women’s Group, a support group that endeavors to promote women’s rights by empowering African Muslim women and raising their confidence so they can become positive role models and inspiring leaders within their community. In March 2006, I organized the first International Women’s Day Conference which gathered more than 250 women from all walks of life.

Even when faced with racism and hate mail, my response has always been to develop a project which goes to the heart of the problem. For example, the Taaleen Dialogues was a program I developed to educate people on the culture, values and contribution of migrant communities. And for me, the most important thing was building bridges.”

Lily Munir, Director, Center for Pesantren and Democracy Studies, Indonesia

“We have just conducted two youth camps, peace camps, in December. We have given birth to SAVE Indonesia. If you come to Indonesia now, you will meet about a hundred girls and boys around the age of 17 and 18 who will say ‘Yeah, SAVE Indonesia, we support you!’ ‘Salaam Damai!" Salaam means ‘peace’ in Arabic, and Damai is ‘peace’ in Indonesian. ‘Salaam Salaam.’ Peace peace. ‘Damai Salaam. SAVE Indonesia, we support you!’ So we are proud. And today, two months after that meeting, our alumni are organizing a reunion on their own initiative.

Vinita Kamte, Author and Victims Advocate, Pune, India

I was married to an officer who was serving in the Indian police service. And after completing my law studies, I was a homemaker. I moved with him every two, three years. We have two lovely children. My husband was the fourth generation in his family in uniformed service in India. He lost his life in the 26/11 attack in Mumbai. Unfortunately for us, it was the government and his own colleagues who hid the truth of the circumstances of his death from all of us. It was a long struggle for us to get to the truth. And it almost took me a year. I've put it in the form of a book, which was released on the first anniversary. It was catharsis for me. And a tribute to my husband and his colleagues.

Anne Carr, Dialogue Practitioner, Belfast, Northern Ireland

One of the ways that I get people to talk to one another and to think is I actually get people to wear each other’s shoes. And it doesn't matter whether they fit or not. Because it's hard to walk in shoes that don't fit. What I've heard already here today is what will sustain you to do the work you're doing over the weeks and months to come, because that's what it's all about. We bring the children into the world. And what happens to our children when they go out and kill other people? What happens in those intervening years? We have to create societies where it's about prevention and care, rather than always looking for the big cures which have big guns or big bombs. They never work and will never work, and I'm convinced that if we keep creating desperate people, we will continue having our children shot dead, blown up, killed, whatever. And we most particularly do not want our children to get involved in the sorts of organizations which will tell them the only way forward is to kill other people.

 
 

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