Written by Jan Jaben-Eilon Friday, July 29 2011
|Edit Schlaffer, left, and Shahira Amin,
right, EgyptianTV reporter
Noting that she is often the only woman on panels at security conferences, Edit Schlaffer says she believes that “women are the missing link” in combating extremism and violence around the world.
“As soon as more women enter the security arena, we will be safer,” she says. As founder of an international advocacy, public relations, and lobbying organization called Women Without Borders, Schlaffer keeps coming up with creative ways to bring women into the security spotlight and to garner worldwide publicity for women who are fighting violence and terrorism.
Founded in 2002, Women Without Borders works with women in countries in transition or undergoing reconstruction who seek nonviolent conflict resolution. The Vienna-based group works through local nongovernmental organizations, providing women with training and advice, assisting them as they seek economic security and a larger voice in their communities.
Investing in women is not just an economic issue, but a security issue, Schlaffer says. Studies show, she says, that extremism doesn’t get started where women have some economic power because that also gives them a voice in decision making.
As head of Women Without Borders, Schlaffer brings the women who are doing the work on the ground into programs that garner global attention. For instance, in early June, the first conference of a program called Mothers Opposing Violent Extremism (MOVE) was held in Vienna. That campaign focuses on mothers in Yemen, Pakistan, India, Palestine, Indonesia, and Northern Ireland.
At the conference, participants in the program Sisters Against Violent Extremism, or SAVE, brainstormed to find innovative and effective ways for mothers to combat violent extremism.
Mothers hold as yet untapped potential for challenging extremist ideologies for they are ideally positioned at the nexus of family and community to act as early warning signals should their family members begin moving in violent extremist circles, Schlaffer says.
At the MOVE conference, participants unanimously agreed to implement the “Of One Fabric” campaign in order to join forces in a visual and symbolic program to inspire women, and men, to stand up against violent extremism.
“Of One Fabric” will be a global campaign that uses art as a catalyst to attract attention to the universal threat of violent extremism. Modeled on the successful “Fabric of War” campaign that was implemented in Israel and Palestine, the campaign will take place in 10 countries including Pakistan, India, England, Northern Ireland, Yemen, Spain, Nigeria, Egypt, Israel, and Palestine.
Each country will run a two-day workshop with 15 women, all of whom have either survived acts of violent extremism or who have lost a close relative or friend to terrorism. They will create works of art to symbolize their loss and willingness to move beyond the feelings of victimhood and revenge.
During the workshop, a trained craftsperson will work with the women to create handmade paper. The paper will be used as a canvas for mixed-media collages. Central to the project is the fact that each woman will be asked to contribute one personal item, like a T-shirt, that belonged to the relative they lost. The items will be broken down using nontoxic chemicals and added to the mass used to make the handmade paper.
Each country’s workshop will be filmed. The filmed material will then be combined to produce a film clip to be shown at the exhibition’s global launch and posted on YouTube.
After the local workshops have been completed, the SAVE chapter leaders will send each piece of art, together with a photograph and description of the woman who created the piece, to the SAVE headquarters in Vienna. At the same time, SAVE will ask one leading female artist from each country to donate a piece of her own art to the cause, in order to show solidarity with the women who are challenging violent extremism.
In Vienna, a jury of the international SAVE board members will identify four pieces from each country to be included in an international exhibition. On International Day for Victims of Terrorism, Aug. 19, 2012, SAVE will launch the international exhibition in New York City and, possibly, Atlanta.
Afterward, the exhibition will travel to each of the participating countries, to be showcased for two to four weeks, followed by an auction of the artist donations with the funds going to local SAVE projects.
Schlaffer sees herself as an entrepreneur in the social arena. “This is a kind of business which must be taken seriously. You have to have a business plan, benchmarks, proposals – and funders ask for outcomes and efficiencies,” she explains.
In the case of Women Without Borders, funds often come from various countries. Schlaffer has created Friends of Women Without Borders, as a 501(c) 3 organization that will accept tax-deductible funds from supporters in the United States.
“We are natural partners with female entrepreneurs out there,” she says, “and if we can team together, we will have a truly purposeful female leadership that will change the world.”
Jan Jaben-Eilon was a founding staff writer of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Since then, she has been the international editor of Advertising Age magazine and has written for such publications as The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Journalism Review, and Consumer Reports. She is the author of soon-to-be-published (There is) Life After Cancer. Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.