Women and their all-important role in stamping out extremism

The Barcelona conference emphasised the need to promote the integration of women in economic matters as well. [UfM/Flickr]

Tackling radicalism and extremism is a task for society as a whole, but women can perform a crucial role as mediators in their communities, combatting the ignorance that often leads to the horrors of terrorism. EURACTIV Spain reports.

The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) closed its Third High-Level conference yesterday (11 October) in Barcelona with a series of presentations on women, attended by over 200 senior officials, experts and NGO representatives.

Made up of 43 European and Mediterranean countries, the UfM is a forum for interregional dialogue that promotes economic development and peace in the region.

“Women are capable of being the catalyst that prevents extremism. Terrorism aims to rip apart societies from within, so we must create a counter narrative, in which women play an important role,” explained UN Women’s Arab countries regional director Mohammad Naciri.

In order to build this new narrative, researcher Ines Safi, a Frenchwoman of Tunisian origin, has delved into the past and rehabilitated forgotten people like Fatima Fihiri, a 9th century Muslim woman who founded one of the first universities.

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“We can find inspiration in the women that fought against the patriarchy of the Mediterranean,” urged the expert in Islamic studies, who called into question why Christopher Columbus is one of the best known historical figures, despite the atrocities that were committed against the indigenous people he encountered.

Only 10% of international fighters that succumb to religious extremism in Syria, Iraq and Ethiopia are women. Hafida Benchehida, deputy of Algeria’s National Council, said that women are well placed to strike a blow to extremism in their communities, as it is normally rooted in ignorance and lack of education.

In conjunction with helping build this new narrative, it is also fundamental that women be fully integrated into the system of providing regional stability and development.

“Strengthening our common north-south strategies and instruments is essential to finding sustainable and practical solutions to the challenges of development and regional stability and security,” insisted Delphine Borione, deputy secretary-general of social and civil affairs for UfM.

All studies carried out by international organisations show that reducing inequality increases a country’s GDP, but there are concerns in the region that incorporating women more heavily in the labour market will mean fewer jobs for men, revealed Tunisian sociologist Nabila Hamza, who has worked for organisations in Libya, Jordan and his homeland.

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“It’s not true: when a woman gets on the labour market, she spends more on transportation and needs to look for childcare,” said the Tunisian, who has called for a new “cultural revolution” in the Arab nations, in which archaic laws regarding women still prevail. Rules against driving, being in public alone or opening up a bank account without the permission of a male relative are still a reality in some countries.

The meeting was also an opportunity for UfM to announce a project aimed at supporting investments and businesses run by women in the Mediterranean region, backed financially to the tune of €4.5 million.

Scheduled the run for the next two years, the project intends to promote the economic inclusion of female entrepreneurs in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia.

A total of 2,000 women are set to benefit from the programme, creating about 500 projects and nearly 800 jobs.

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