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Women without borders

That might sound like a limited, practical development, but the organisers behind these workshops have something larger in mind: Developing a global female power base to reject the fear of violent extremism and to help people recover from it.

“The global destabilisation of life is one of the biggest challenges of our time and each terror attack makes it obvious that conventional methods can no longer curb terrorism in the long run,” says Edit Schlaffer, an Austrian social scientist. Schlaffer founded ‘Women Without Borders’, a non-profit international research and advocacy group for global women to share concerns. And it is an initiative by this organisation – ‘Sisters Against Violent Extremism’, or SAVE – that spearheads these workshops.

The group’s first major initiative was to open a chapter in Mumbai in November 2008 for the wives, daughters, sisters and mothers of the policemen on duty in the city that fateful night, some of whom lost their lives in the terrorist attack. With the support of the Austrian Ministry of Social Affairs, Archana Kapoor, an Indian filmmaker and head of SAVE India, began the Mumbai chapter by reaching out to as many 26/11 survivors as possible and to those who had lost family members in the attack.

There were about 65 women, including mothers and children, aged from nine to 70 years. It was a chance, Kapoor recalls, for the women to break the silence that frequently follows a tragedy. In talking about how they could move on in life, many expressed interest in improving their language and computer skills.

That is what prompted SAVE to bring four professional teachers to Mumbai this year to design the workshops that began in April. The workshops are supported with financial assistance from the Austrian Ministry of Social Affairs, and ground support from the Mumbai Police.
The workshops are a part of SAVE’s Mothers for Change! campaign which aims to empower the participants economically while training them to become ambassadors for positive change within their families and communities. In total, 100 women are taking part in the training, which provides 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.

These include basic computer, English-speaking and accountancy training. Schlaffer admits that hosting similar workshops in India’s neighbour, Pakistan, is a challenge for SAVE. However, she has found a grassroots partner in Mossarat Qadeem, executive director of PAIMAN Trust, an Islamabad-based organisation working with women and young people in Pakistan’s conflict-ridden region of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. In a few months, Qadeem is expected to launch similar workshops for female survivors of terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

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