Women are emerging as a powerful force in countering radicalization in Pakistan.
“The alliance of educated Pakistani women against religious extremism is an extraordinary and heartening development in a country where women face stringent restrictions and enjoy minimal freedom of choice,” Malik Siraj Akbar writes for The Huffington Post:
Sameena Imtiaz, a soft-spoken, educated Pakistani social worker, operates in the midst of U.S. drone strikes and Taliban suicide bombings. She regularly travels to remote parts of her country in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, infamously known for the safe Al-Qadea and Taliban sanctuaries, to promote peace education among the radicalized young seminary students. ………….
Textbooks in Pakistan began to indoctrinate school kids with a radical version of Islam during the time of General Zia-ul-Haq, a military dictator with ultraconservative Islamic beliefs who ruled Pakistan from 1977 to 1988. “My goal was to engage the Pakistani youth in counter-extremism dialogue and also to reach out to the rest of the world telling them that everyone in Pakistan was not a terrorist,” she recalls.
“Women are a powerful agent of change. During war and conflict, they open the doors of dialogue and peace,” says Mossarat Qadeem, the national coordinator of anti-extremism coalition Amn-o-Nisa (Women and Peace).
Mossarat, a former instructor at the University of Peshawar, has helped hundreds of extremists, including some potential suicide bombers, reintegrate into the society. She founded and now runs Pakistan’s first center for conflict transformation and peace building which has remarkably helped thousands of women and children in her native KP province and the tribal areas. …………
In April, the Institute for Inclusive Security brought powerful Pakistani change-makers like Sameena and Mossarat to the United States to engage them with American policy-makers and the media to share their work and experiences.
Miki Jacevic, Vice Chair of the Institute for Inclusive Security, says people in the United States barely hear the tales of these Pakistani women who strive for a change in their country by battling extremism in their daily lives.
“In the U.S. mainstream media, Pakistan is normally portrayed as a troublemaker or in negative terms,” he admits, but he emphasizes the significance of the work done by moderate Pakistani women, “engaging 79 men in peace conversation may sound a small number but it simply means averting 79 more suicide bombings.”