Dear women without borders, dear SAVE sisters, dear friends,
On 7 June, 2011, seven mothers affected by violent extremism shared their inspiring narratives of turning grief into action.
The Mothers MOVE Panel Presentation in the Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna, showcased and celebrated the role of mothers in preventing and combating violent extremism. The women that SAVE brought together are shining examples of mothers’ potential to counteract the allure of violent extremism in their families, bridge divides in polarized communities, and actively engage in the public arena to push for a just, tolerant and secure future for the next generation.
SAVE brought together women from Nigeria, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Yemen and Pakistan who have felt the consequences of violent extremism at first hand. The panel presentation was introduced by Dr. Ursula Plassnik, Special Envoy of the Austrian Foreign Ministry for Women’s Issues. Carla Goldstein, director of Women’s Institute at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, introduced each group of discussants before they engaged in conversation with Edit Schlaffer, Executive Director of Women without Borders / SAVE.
Robi Damelin from Israel and Siham Ikhlayel from Palestine came together to work towards a solution to the conflict after realizing that they are both experiencing the same grief. Robi’s son David was serving in the Israeli Defence Forces when he was shot by a Palestinian sniper. Siham’s mother was a peace activist, and was put in jail when Siham was just 14 years old, leaving her to look after the family herself. Her brother was later killed by an Israeli settler. They now travel the world together spreading their message of reconciliation.
“It is not easy to be a mother when you are 14 years old, and it is not easy to understand what is going on. You just need your mum. Now after I became a mother, I understand. The first challenge in my life was to teach myself English and to change my way of defending my family. Don’t think for one moment it is easy what we are doing. Don’t think it is easy to open your wound every five minutes. But as a Palestinian mother, I have to, as my mum did before. I don’t want my daughter to pass what I pass.” – Siham Ikhlayel
“I started a journey after David was killed. I knew that I wanted to prevent other families from experiencing this pain, both Palestinian and Israeli. I understood very clearly that Palestinian mothers shared the same pain as I had. When they caught the sniper who killed David, that was another milestone in my life, because that’s the real test. I felt, how can I go round the world and talk about peace and reconciliation if I am not willing to go on that path myself. That was the beginning of a personal journey, and that is the giving up of being a victim. And so I wrote a letter to the family of the man who killed David, and that beginning was the beginning of not being a victim. I met a wonderful woman in South Africa who said, forgiving is giving up your just right to revenge.” – Robi Damelin
Women from Yemen, Egypt and Pakistan joined Edit in the second discussion group. Farah’s son was lured into an extremist group in SWAT Valley in Pakistan. As an educated woman, she recognized the signs of radicalization and was able to reclaim him from the group through months of intensive work. She is a perfect example of how mothers can act as an early-warning system to stop radicalization in its tracks, but she insists that more women must be educated to ensure they are also able to guide their children away from dangerous influences. Nadia Al-Sakkaf is the Editor-in-Chief of the Yemen Times, and is at the forefront of bringing taboo issues concerning women into the media spotlight. She has been actively reporting on women’s involvement in the uprisings in Yemen. Shaimaa Abdul Fattah is a teacher from Egypt who creatively weaves leadership training and cross-cultural exchanges into her curricula in order to ensure the next generation grows up valuing democracy, diversity and social inclusion.
“The thing that I want to tell all the mothers is that they really be patient with their teenagers. I believe in being an educated mother. I was the first woman in my family who got an education. We give full liberty to our kids, but there should be a check, especially with teenagers. You never know on which track they could be going.” - Farah
“There is a stereotyping of Yemeni society, but suddenly there is this revolution, with so many women in leading roles talking about peaceful demonstrations, and a peaceful transfer of power. In this revolution, the strength of women got to the surface. I keep saying it is like an earthquake that shook Yemeni society and got the gems to come to the surface like oil. What we need to do now while fixing the streets after the earthquake is to make sure that we don’t return to the way it was. We need to make sure that the wealth that came out can be used for giving a new structure to our country.” – Nadia Al-Sakkaf
“We were for 30 years desensitized to everything that was wrong. It is only now that we realize how much wrong has to be changed in our society. As a mother and teacher my role in society is very important. One thing I am working on is to empower the young generation regarding their duties even before their rights, so that they are no longer abused by anyone or ruled by someone they do not trust.” – Shaimaa Abdel Fattah
Appearing together on an international stage for the first time were Esther Ibanga and Khadija Hawaja, who come from different sides of the Muslim/Christian divide in Jos City, Nigeria. Esther is the founder of a Christian ministry and Khadija is the Chairperson of the Plateau State Muslim Women Peace Forum. When violence broke out between the communities, the two women did not immediately recognize the need to bridge the divide. They decided to come together in a dialogue for reconciliation only after the killings specifically targeted women and children. Now working in a newly-founded organization called Women without Walls, they lobby youth and community leaders to work toward a solution to the conflict.
“In 2010 the crisis in Jos took a different dimension, and women and children were particularly targeted and killed. A group of friends and Christians like myself felt we had to do something about it, so we did a Christian women’s rally. At that time we felt the Muslims were the enemy and we didn’t want to have anything to do with them. After the rally, I met with Edit in Rwanda, and Edit began to encourage me to reach out to the Muslim community. I said no, they are enemies, they killed us. But I thought about it, and realized, we did our rally and they did theirs but the killings still have not stopped, so what have we really achieved? On my own, I reached out to the Muslim community in the form of Khadija, as a leader of the community. She really gave me a tough time. She was very suspicious of me, but I felt in my heart that we need to stop them turning us against each other and join our hands together in a common voice, to say that the killings must stop. Whether Christian or Muslim, a life is a life. We as mothers are able to tell boys to sheath their swords and enter into a dialogue.” – Esther Ibanga
“The first time Esther called me, I thought it was a slap in my face for her to think of involving me in a discussion. We met in a restaurant. Jos is polarized, so we cannot cross into each other’s areas. She was talking and I was listening, but I wasn’t interested. She was determined. And I would say yes, no problem, but I wasn’t serious. Finally, I started seeing sense in what she was saying. I wasn’t directly involved in the violence, but I was defending the actions of the Muslims without understanding if we were right or wrong. At a point I said, this madness can stop, but the problem was, how do I stop it? I have become a local celebrity and people look up to me, so how can I wake up one day and say we must talk? I had a crisis within my soul. So at a point I had to let go of that and we sat down and we talked. Before we knew it we were ready to take the step of telling the public that this must stop.” – Khadija Hawaja
This panel presentation was part of the three-day Mothers MOVE conference from June 6-9 2011, which brought women community leaders together to strategize on methods to stabilize our insecure world. The conference concluded with a joint decision to launch a global solidarity movement encouraging women around the world to become active against the threat of violent extremism in their families and communities.
With warm wishes,
Edit Schlaffer and the Women without Borders / SAVE team