By Mehru Jaffer
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
When a group of Indian women start taking computer and English courses in April they will be participating in what organizers describe as a women's anti-terrorism effort that sprang from the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks of 2008.
VIENNA, Austria (WOMENSENEWS)--A group of women in Mumbai, India, are about to get their first lessons in computer skills and English next month.
That might sound like a limited, practical development, but the organizers behind the 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 destabilization 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," Edit Schlaffer, an Austrian social scientist, said in a recent interview in her office here. Schlaffer is a Women's eNews 21 Leader 2010.
"The response and reaction of the Indian workshops will set the ground for a global campaign that is already under preparation for Pakistan, Yemen and Indonesia," Schlaffer said.
In 2002 Schlaffer founded Women Without Borders, a nonprofit international research and advocacy group for global women to share concerns.
Schlaffer said that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks she watched incidents of terrorism increase around the world and wondered what mothers, wives, sisters and daughters were doing as their male family members became angry and more involved with hate and violence.
After the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008, Schlaffer drew from the membership of Women Without Borders to attract 35 women from all parts of the globe--South America, the Balkans, Africa to Asia--to a meeting in Vienna. Participants included community activists, victims of the terrorist attacks in Madrid, Spain, anti-terror strategists and former members of radical networks. They founded Sisters Against Violent Extremism, or SAVE, as an initiative of Women Without Borders to serve as the first women's anti-terror platform.
"At the heart of Sisters Against Violent Extremism is the belief that peace starts at home," Schlaffer said.
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 that city, 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, opened the chapter in Mumbai by reaching out to as many survivors as possible and to those who had lost family members in the attack.
In an e-mail interview, Kapoor--who is also the founder of the New Delhi-based nonprofit Seeking Modern Applications for Real Transformation (SMART), which works with marginalized sections of society, especially women and children--said many of the people she found said that they felt lost and abandoned after the initial media attention. Most were struggling to deal with the trauma and grief on their own.
Some of these grief-stricken women agreed to attend SAVE India's first workshop, which was held at the Mumbai Police Officer's Club in April 2010 help empower the women to sensitize and mobilize against violent extremism. There were about 65 women, including mothers and children, who ranged in age from 9 to 70. It was a chance, Kapoor said, 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.
In March, SAVE brought four professional teachers to Mumbai to prepare for the workshops, which will start in April. They brushed up their skills as confidence-building facilitators and prepared to give English-language and computer lessons during eight workshops that will be held for six months. The workshops are supported by $25,000 from the Austrian Ministry of Social Affairs with ground support from the Mumbai Police.