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Logo SAVE - Sisters against violent extremism

12. November 2009

Creating SAVE Spaces in Yemen

Article Published in Yemen Times on 2. November 2009

To view this article on the Yemen Times website, please click here.

SAVE (Sisters Against Violent Extremism), an initiative for peace, called during the organization's current visit to Yemen upon Yemeni women's NGOs to establish a ‘Network of Sisters’ and to join the global network of women dedicated to ending terrorism and sharing best-practices. ‘We are here because we are concerned about security around the world. The world is in a difficult situation, and we came to create SAVE spaces,’ said Dr. Edit Schlaffer, the founder and chairperson of Women without Borders and SAVE. A sociologist, married with two children - a daughter and a son - Dr. Schaffler is determined that women can bring about positive change. Women Without Borders is an international organization for women around the world, founded nine years ago, by Dr. Schlaffler. SAVE started a year ago in Vienna as an initiative of Women Without Borders which seeks to engage women in combating violence.

A global campaign
In Dr. Schaffler's own words: ‘Extremism pulls countries apart and creates new divisions such as east and west, Muslims and non-Muslims. Terrorism is not about religion, or nationality. It is about human nature which has not been guided properly. We have to reclaim our religion, re-question it, and frame it positively. Terrorists don’t fall out of the sky, they are raised in homes and in religious institutions (churches, temples, mosques). We have to start at the earliest point; we have to start with the children.’

Reaching out to women in Yemen

When asked how the organization plans to reach out to women all over Yemen, Dr. Schlaffler said: ‘We were aware of womens’ groups, professors in universities, women activists and female political leaders in Yemen, and we plan to reach out to the women in Yemen through them.’ The Deputy Director of MWF, Ms. Fakhria, said SAVE got an encouraging response in Yemen, and that women want to work on Sa’ada and South Yemen issues. SAVE plans to make a movie on the women in Sa’ada. Also, since the MWF has links to the Information Faculty in Sanaa University, it will work on reaching an agreement with the university to modify its curriculum to include SAVE concepts.

Peace starts at home

‘We are convinced that women can bring stability. Studies have proven that female participation reduces corruption. We are concerned about the absence of women as key stakeholders in peace talks.

'Uganda announced that it has 50% women political participation, and it has proved to be good,’ says Dr. Schlaffler. ‘Women as mothers, nurturers, and policy shapers, are concerned about the safety of their children, the family. Women get the early signals of change in families, in children. To bring up a child in a different manner, however, the woman needs to be empowered. We want to reach out to mothers and their children, to help them resist violent extremism.’

Walking into the future – creating SAVE spaces in Yemen

‘Women in Yemen are active and courageous. My feeling is that this kind of enthusiasm will make society inclusive. The most important step is to get to know each other, meet on common ground, to create SAVE spaces not through the government, but through civil society,’ says Dr. Schlaffler. ‘This is my first visit to Yemen. In Yemen, I have found women eager to change society.

'These women's groups have been very welcoming. They are doing an admirable job and I am amazed by the lively discussions. There is no denial of problems and we have discussed potential programs to be implemented by the NGOs,’ says Dr. Schlaffler referring to the Media Women Forum (MWF), which hosted her visit to Yemen, and other women's organizations who gave her an enthusiastic response. In response to the question regarding her work in Yemen, Dr. Schlaffler said: ‘At the local level, we have two approaches. In the first approach, we will look at the family unit. Soon after the Network of Sisters is established, we will launch the ‘Mothers say no to Terrorism' (now: Mothers for Change!) campaign, mostly focusing on awareness raising among mothers and children. In the second approach, education will be the instrument for moving forward, and we will work with children in colleges and universities.

'This age group - the teenagers - are searching for identity and guidance. We have to offer them alternatives. In this world, the moderates don’t have a lobby, the shouters have the stage. So we are planning to have programs for children to be lead by peace, not by extreme ideologies, and to teach ways to fight extreme violations,’ said Dr. Schlaffler. ‘On one hand we will work on the high school curriculum, and on the other hand we will highlight female role models, like the ones depicted in the documentary.’

Women are not just by-standers

SAVE, with support from the MWF, organized the screening of the SAVE documentary film: ‘A journey through Darkness - 3 Generations of Women affected by Terrorism.' The film gives a strong portrayal of three female role models - a mother, a grandmother and a sister - and their reactions to the terrorism taking place all around them and their journey towards change.

A mother – Hadiya Masieh, London, UK United States, September 11, 2001. A series of coordinated suicide attacks, by Al-Qaeda, killed 2,993 people. ‘After 9/11 happened, I was deeply disturbed and upset. Never before had I linked the Khalifan State to bloodshed,’ says Hadiya. Born & brought up in Yorkshire, UK, Hadiya was introduced to the Islamist concept of the ‘Khalifan State’ by her husband. The couple was drawn to the thoughts on humanity, mankind, and injustices.

A grandmother - Anne Carr, Belfast, Nothern Ireland, 1996 Belfast has been characterized by a degree of residential and educational segregation between Catholics and Protestants since its foundation in the early seventeenth century. The Good Friday Agreement of Belfast pledges ‘to facilitate and encourage integrated education and mixed housing.' Anne Carr, a Protestant, married to a Catholic, was constantly scared for her children. Her husband was nearly shot for living in a protestant area. Anne Carr established mixed housing and cross community primary schools bringing Protestant and Catholic children together. ‘We have a peace agreement. But the conflict is 30 years old. I am still trying,’ says Anne.

A sister- Beatriz, Madrid, Spain, 2004 On March 11, 2004, a series of coordinated bombings against Cercanias (a commuter train) in Madrid, killed 191 people, directed by an Al-Qaeda–inspired terrorist cell. ‘My brother takes a train to the university every day. So do I. But only on that day, I did not. About 300 meters before entering the station, the train exploded,’ Beatriz explains. ‘People asked for closing down the mosques. My reaction was how can they think of closing the mosques? I have nothing against the Muslims. I hate terrorists! If we talk to 15 children and make 10 think of a non-violent response, it is a step in the right direction,’ says Beatriz. Beatriz stood up and represented a peaceful civil society, despite the loss of her brother.

Women shape History

Women are not just bystanders; they shape history. In Vienna, many such women got together and shared their opinions that if men support women, they can achieve more, as historical examples show. SAVE wants to make women aware that they can drive change. It wants to give the message to all women that our actions against injustice matter. Women must stand up and say that violence may not be carried out in our name, and work together to resist violent extremism. 


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