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Logo SAVE - Sisters against violent extremism

19. February 2010

Great Accomplishments in Small Steps

Edit Schlaffer about SAVE in "dieStandard" (by Isabella Lechner)

The social scientist Edit Schlaffer was selected as one of the “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” for her counter-terror platform SAVE – Sisters Against Violent Extremism.

“I don’t believe in the good in the world, but I believe that we can tame the bad,” says Edit Schlaffer, the chairwoman of Women without Borders. Women’s eNews, the leading US news agency, has selected the committed social scientist as one of the “21 Leaders for the 21st Century.”


“I am very excited to have been chosen. This recognition of SAVE Global serves to encourage all the women who are involved; I am only the symbolic figurehead,” said the “leading lady” during a discussion with dieStandard.at. Schlaffer is the first Austrian to receive the award. Sheikha Lubna, the UAE Minister for Economics and Planning, and the philanthropist Esther Hewlett have received the award in the past.
Women who advocate for improvements in women’s lives around the world are honored as “Leaders for the 21st Century.” Edit Schlaffer and the SAVE women attempt to achieve this on a daily basis through their personal fight for increased security: “We are trying to fight terrorism where it begins: at its base,” Schlaffer explains. “Women are the architects of a peaceful and equal world; they have good sensors for finding alternatives to violence and for developing a new culture of dialogue and social interaction.”

Against Violent Extremism
SAVE was founded in 2008 and brings together women from around the world who are determined to create a united front against violent extremism. Through innovative pilot projects, the local population is motivated and integrated. “It is a gentle approach that builds trust,” says Schlaffer. “The word ‘dialogue’ is like an old, dusty relict that has been shaped by influential old men at the highest levels. We want to introduce a new dynamic, new content, and new participants, to make the world more stable. Security is not only a question of military might and arms, but primarily of meeting and talking to ‘the other.’


SAVE is active in India, Yemen, Pakistan, Israel, and Palestine, as well as in Spain, Northern Ireland, and the UK, where the increasingly mixed society is creating the potential for conflict. “From our headquarters in Vienna, we first reach out to partners, like women’s groups, journalists, bloggers, and women’s media groups, in each country. At the same time, we seek to speak with officials and those in power,” says Schlaffer. In Yemen, for example, the SAVE team met with the Minister for Religious Endowment and Guidance, who is responsible for the country’s counter-terrorism program. “So far, we have immediately been granted meetings upon request—we have clearly hit a nerve with our initiative.”

Turning Point
SAVE is financed through EU and research projects. The pivotal point that led Edit Schlaffer to form the initiative was a meeting between two women after 9/11: “The mother of one of the terrorists who had been trained to fly into the twin towers apparently apologized to the victims’ loved ones for her son’s actions. The mother of one of the victims then contacted her, with the aim of reconciliation. That was the turning point for me to start an initiative with the goal of empowering women for positive change.”


When working in countries with other cultures, SAVE does not simply attempt to import Western concepts, but rather to work with local resources. In many countries, for example, the role of the mother is celebrated—the SAVE campaign “Mothers for Change!” takes advantage of this potential. “We empower and train women and mothers to sensitize youth and to protect them from the traps of extremist organizations,” Schlaffer explains. “Mothers are especially interested in ensuring safety and security in their immediate surroundings and can act as an early warning system in the fight against terrorism: they can sound the alarm when their children or husbands start to travel down the wrong path. When women have the correct tools to gain authority within the patriarchal familial structure and society, they will be able to exert greater influence on their children’s future.”

Creating Encounters
A further project has the goal of bringing together young people who are susceptible to the allure of extremism with survivors of terror attacks or victims’ family members, to show that terrorism achieves no results other than unspeakable suffering. In Mumbai, for example, SAVE brought together a group of women after the 2008 attacks, where many of them had the opportunity to speak about their experiences for the first time.
The inclusion of women in countries in which women are traditionally marginalized can be dangerous, but there are many brave women who are ready to take this risk to change their societies in the long-term, says Edit Schlaffer. “It is policy comprised of smalls steps, but if we don’t take them today, we will miss out tomorrow.”


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