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Logo SAVE - Sisters against violent extremism

02. August 2011

Indian Women Say No to Violent Extremism! - Project Report

SAVE has successfully completed the pilot phase of its innovative income-generation, empowerment and anti-extremism workshop in Mumbai. The project was such a success that SAVE has immediately enrolled a further 70 women in a continuation of the workshop.

Forty-year-old Swati Salunke was almost beginning to think that violence is a normal part of life.

“Living in police colonies we are used to verbal violence, physical violence and at times domestic violence,” said Swati, wife of a policeman posted in Mumbai.

But since her participation in the SAVE program “Indian Women Say No to Violent Extremism!”, Swati has begun to look at her life afresh. SAVE successfully completed the pilot phase of this innovative income-generation, empowerment and anti-extremism training in Mumbai at the end of June.

The three-month long course trained 100 women in computer skills, English-speaking and accountancy, while simultaneously teaching them the major principles that underpin SAVE’s Mothers MOVE! campaign. Through this approach, SAVE empowers participants economically, providing them with the opportunity to bring income into the home and thus increase their decision-making power, while simultaneously equipping them with the rhetorical tools to promote a culture of peace. In conservative Indian society, the idea of a woman stepping out of the home is often resisted until she starts to earn a salary. Respect for a woman even within traditionally orthodox communities can soar after she takes on a career.

The participants were the wives, sisters, daughters, and mothers of the police officers who were on duty during the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Five active female police constables also joined the course after requesting special permission to attend. The experiences of these women in security-related issues, conflict and trauma can, with the correct training, make them powerful advocates for non-violence and innovators of smart security.

Before the course, it had never occurred to Swati that mothers can intervene to prevent boys from imitating bad behavior seen in elders. Now she realizes the implication of violent tendencies amongst children, and she has learnt techniques for spotting radical activities in youth. “After these sessions, I have started asking myself questions which I never did in all my 40 years,” says Swati who now feels that it is unacceptable for men in the community to indulge in violence, particularly since the boys of the family learn a lot from how their fathers and other male elders of the family behave.

The training, which consisted of eight 1.5-hour sessions, was taught from a manual formulated by SAVE in cooperation with a consultant from India. The manual ensured that all exercises were relevant to Indian cultural traditions, making the messages contained in the training easy for the women to disseminate throughout their communities.

Confidence-building forms a major part of the SAVE training, recognizing that often women lack the confidence to speak up in debates on issues of security or social cohesion. By emphasizing women’s strengths and abilities, the training encouraged women to reflect on their goals in life and consider how they can play a positive role in their own communities.

“My classmates described me as straight forward, multi-skilled and a person with good communication skills,” said 22-year-old Anuja. “Can you imagine I did not know these qualities were embedded in me? I would have never realized this had I not been part of the SAVE workshop.” The daughter of a policeman in the Intelligence Department of the Mumbai police establishment, Anuja has a master’s degree in Political Science. But she had little clue as to what she wanted to do with her life.

That was a few weeks ago. Now she is unable to stop smiling, and her confidence level has increased exponentially. “Women don’t just build homes. They build societies,” says Anuja. She adds that the steps shown to her at the workshop may be small but they are responsible for bringing about a major change in her life.

The training also used storytelling to encourage those who have suffered loss to make an emotional breakthrough, leaving their sense of victimhood behind and moving on to a positive future. Having made this transition, the women were ready to learn presentation, debating and mediation skills that empower them to become ambassadors for the SAVE message.

At the workshop some women were introduced for the first time in their life to the rights provided to them by the state and to the role women can play in their families and communities, including raising their voice against all kinds of violence and extremism.

“I was just starting to learn so much about myself,” the very shy Sunanda smiles, wishing that the training could continue for longer and adding that the workshop has helped her to discover so much about herself and her potential as a woman. Sunanda did not speak a word of any other language except Kannad, her mother tongue, when she first joined the workshop. However, after completing the English language training she offered to fill in the feedback form in English.

The income-generation program allowed the women to sit exams in all three competencies. 94 of the 100 participants passed the exams and at least 50% of the women will take up jobs through the training and employment agency EduGuru India. This opportunity means a great deal to women like 20-year-old Suchita Dhokre, who came to the SAVE income-generating workshop to learn computer skills. Her father is a junior employee in the police department and Suchita is extremely conscious of her father’s modest income that is spent on the family of three children.

With her new computer skills, she hopes to find employment as soon as possible. The young girl feels a tremendous sense of empowerment at the practical training she has received. However it is the confidence-building modules that she remembers as the best part of the workshop. She experienced such a great sense of empowerment at getting to know so much about herself that she convinced her mother to join the workshop as well.

Suchita’s mother went to school for just seven years, but the environment provided by the workshop trainers dispelled all differences in age, class and religion amongst participants.

“Irrespective of age, abilities and skills we were all one. I now have a special relationship with my mother. I have no words to express my gratitude,” says Suchita.

Encouraged by the positive response, SAVE launched a second 3-month program in July with a new group of 70 women from police families. The group is split into four batches and the training will conclude in the fall.

 
 

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