Antonia Felix – IWD 2015

Mar 31, 2015 at 07:25 PM

ImageANTONIA FELIX:  Good morning, everyone.  And welcome to the Women in Leadership Key to Defeating Extremism Program in commemoration of International Women’s Day, which is coming up this weekend and cosponsored by the Women’s Freedom Forum. ..

To start out, I want to extend our thanks to the Women’s Freedom Forum Board and the advisory members who work tirelessly to improve the rights of women through events like this and many, many others activities here and in Europe.  These include Paula Corrado, the president of the WFF, Sister Akers of Ohio, Mitra Samani, Zahra Amanpour, Carole Fontaine, Donna Hughes, who’s with us today, Linda Prendergast, Lynn Dykstra, our representative for U.N. issues. We are affiliated with the United Nations.  Soolmaz Abooali, Barbara Forester, and Judy Patascil in California.  Thank you for those refresher notes.

Alright.  And for the Congress people who have always supported these efforts and all of our events and helping us get our message out, these include Loretta Sanchez, who you just met, Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, Representative Judy Chu, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, Representative Brenda Lawrence, who is new to the Congress, and Representative Debbie Dingell, also a new Congresswoman.  We appreciate their support, ongoing support so much.

So this year, International Women’s Day comes at a time of increasing human trafficking, human rights abuse, and violent extremism.  From Iran where a regime that has always targeted as a way of ruling through fear and atrocities like acid attacks and executions, to North Dakota, right here in the U.S., where the Bakken oil boom has created a wild west of sex trafficking and a dramatic increase in crime up to 30% in some aspects of crime.  In all of this, women are in trouble.  And because of this, women’s families, communities, and nations are in trouble, too.  It is hard to envision any society moving forward when half of its population is left voiceless, oppressed, and largely powerless.

Countering violent extremism has been the topic of many conferences, research projects, policy strategies, all over the world for the past several years.  But only recently has the role of women been taking a more prominent place in these discussions, considerations, and efforts.  At the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism last week, National Security Advisor Susan Rice highlighted one reason that turning to women to break this cycle just makes sense.  She said, “Who is better than a mother to spot unusual behavior in her child and intervene?”

While many countries and organizations have worked out unique programs to involve women encountering violent extremism, a few common key approaches can be found in most of them.  Many have discovered, for example, that finding ways to give women access to information and to each other by supporting and creating grassroots women’s groups in which they can share concerns and testimonies about, for instance, terrorist recruiters that are getting to their children, those have empowered women.  That is one of the key concepts that keeps coming up over and over again in these discussions and policy meetings.

Another popular approach is helping women wipe out the impact of violent extremist messages by creating their own counter narratives.  Counter narratives that in some cases can demystify the life of a terrorist as a young person who is not empowered to do something aggressive and full of hate to make a change in the world, but instead someone who is isolated from his family, from his community, and in constant fear and anxiety of being killed himself.  Women can paint a very different picture than what the young people are hearing.

And another issue, many are convinced that engaging women in local government and the military in some cases as Loretta mentioned, including bringing them into the police ranks or other security positions will make the women of those communities more likely to go to the authorities perhaps with their concerns about terrorist groups trying to recruit their children.

In addition to these strategies that focus on a woman’s influence on her children, the empowerment women achieve when they work together, and the impact of counter narratives and women working in security, the point on which everyone agrees is that gender equality is critical for peacemaking at every level.  Stable societies begin with equal rights and equal respect for men and women.  The National Council of Resistance of Iran, led by President-elect Maryam Rajavi, considers gender equality the number one priority, the most critical foundation of the secular, democratic, human rights oriented, human rights focused Iran that this group envisions.  The Iranian women who risk their lives to protest the violent extremism they face every day from the regime and it’s brutal enforcement of its ideology are no doubt among the bravest, if not the most courageous women in the world.  And we will learn more about them today.

Women may be in trouble, but they’re also part of the solution.  Fifteen years ago the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 declared that women must be part of the peace process and in security work if peace and security are actually to become a reality in this world.  That resolution here lead to the Women Peace and Security Act which is now in the Senate—it’s in committee right now—and the U.S. National Plan, National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, as well as many other initiatives around the world.  So in the past 15 years, you see the domino effect of very great initiatives stemming from that U.N. resolution.  So that is good news and it is also good news that the role of women in peace security and countering violent extremism matters to you and matters enough that it brought you here today.  So thank you for being here….

That was remarkable.  Thank you all the panelists for your perspectives.  We’ve heard many different perspectives on the role of women in fighting extremism, the role of women in the world of Islamic fundamentalist extremism, and the role of women who are working every day to try to counter all of this and allow women to have more of a voice in every part of the world.  Progress is being made as we’ve heard from some of our speakers, but of course there are still great obstacles to overcome.  From Iran where, as we have heard today, it is codified into law that women are subjugated and do not have the full status as human beings as men do.  And new laws that not only do that, but also actually turn women into public enemy number one.  And then in our own culture as Kyndra just mentioned, we have judges who are ready to promote an attitude of women’s subjugation just for traditional, to keep the peace with some sort of traditional mindset rather than do the right thing, which another judge happily did.

So we certainly have barriers in this culture as well, but the main point that we are making in addition to all of these very insightful and powerful remarks today is that women, we are with you in Iran.  We are with you in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Myanmar, in all of these areas of the world where you have still to become the equal citizens and treated with dignity and respect rather than having laws inhibit not only your rights but your very lives.  We’re with you, we’re doing everything we can in each, our own specific special way to make sure that you are not voiceless, but that more people are becoming acutely aware of your plight and what everyone can do to change everything around.

So finally, I appreciate this opportunity to work with these panelists.  We are with you, women, and as Helena so beautifully sang for us today, we’re standing till the end.

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