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18. Oktober 2012

Kapoor, Schlaffer, Hashmi © Frauen ohne Grenzen

Archana Kapoor, Edit Schlaffer, and Arshi Hashmi on stage at the 2012 Women & Power conference at the Omega Institute

2012 Women & Power Conference--Breaking New Ground for India and Pakistan

On-Stage Conversation between Edit Schlaffer, SAVE India Leader Archana Kapoor, and SAVE Pakistan Leader Arshi Hashmi

“When Mumbai was attacked on 26/11, I had two options—either to join the bandwagon and badmouth Pakistan, or to do something more constructive. I wanted to reach out to women in Pakistan, because tragedy transcends borders. We extended an arm of friendship toward some women in Pakistan, especially women who had been victims of terror attacks. It was a hard moment, very tense. But you have to believe in yourself.” 
                                                                                                 -Archana Kapoor

“We were nervous about going to Mumbai and staying at the Taj Hotel, because the media in India narrated a one-sided story of Pakistan after the attacks. So for me, this was not only the opportunity to go and empathize, but also to share our side of the story. People who had witnessed extremism is Mumbai don’t know the other side of Pakistan.” 
                                                                                                 -Arshi Saleem Hashmi

On September 22, 2012, Edit Schlaffer facilitated a conversation between Archana Kapoor, the founder of SMART NGO and the SAVE India chapter leader, and Arshi Saleem Hashmi, an assistant professor at the Defense University of Islamabad and SAVE Pakistan leader, at the 2012 Women & Power conference at the Omega Institute. Women & Power brings together over 500 women from around the world to learn from each other and to explore new forms of female leadership, and to “awaken the best in the human spirit.” This year’s conference was particularly exciting because it coincided with the launch of Omega’s new Women’s Leadership Institute, which will serve as the new central hub for female advancement in the northeastern United States. Edit serves on the Advisory Board of the new Leadership Institute, which will support SAVE’s mission to advance female leadership.

SAVE brought Archana and Arshi to the Women & Power conference to share their experiences building bridges between the countries, particularly in the wake of the devastating 26/11 terrorist attacks. After the attacks, SAVE suggested to Archana that SAVE Global and SAVE India jointly organize a women’s dialogue event between India and Pakistan, to be held at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, one of the central targets of the attack. Although the political and media environment was very tense, Archana shared with the audience why she agreed to invite Pakistanis to India: “I wanted the Pakistanis to experience what we went through, to understand that this could be anybody’s son. I wanted to tap into their emotions. We specifically wanted to also bring a Pakistani mother who had lost her husband, because through SAVE we knew that we were the same, but we needed the platform SAVE provided for these interactions.”

Arshi responded positively to Archana’s request to travel with India with a delegation of Paksitani women, including a mother from the Swat Valley who had lost her husband in a roadside bomb. Arshi shared her initial reaction to the invitation to come to Mumbai: “When I first learned that SAVE and Archana were organizing this trip, although I was personally ready to come, I was concerned about how the trip could possibly materialize when there was so much hostility. And how would I explain the idea to my friends, who I wanted to join me? For me, this was not only the opportunity to go and empathize with the Indian victims, but also to share our side of the story. People who had witnessed extremism in Mumbai don’t know the other side of Pakistan.”

Over the course of the conversation, Archana and Arshi recalled the warm welcome the Pakistani delegation received at the Taj, and how happy the Indians and Pakistanis were to meet and spend time with each other. They also talked about how it was for them to “walk the terror trail”—to visit each of the sites the terrorists targeted as a mixed-Indian/Pakistani group.

Arshi also discussed developments she has documented monitored in the Swat Valley: in the course of carrying out the SAVE research project “Mothers for Change,” it has become increasingly clear that women in Swat are now ready to stand up and challenge violent extremism. Halda, one of Arshi’s interview partners, said, for example, "If Fazlullah [a local Islamist preacher uses FM radio to spread his radical sermons] comes to our area again and the men fail to stop him, then we women will take up the fight against him."

Archana and Arshi reaffirmed their commitment to working together and building bridges between India and Pakistan, to tie women into projects that will allow them to take charge of their own futures and to break down harmful stereotypes on both sides of the border. Archana concluded the on-stage discussion with a poignant and hopeful vision for the future of Indo-Pakistani relations: “Never let it happen again. The Mumbai dialogue gave us the opportunity to have a positive experience, let us move forward from here.”


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