Where do you go when you feel hurt, lost, or discriminated against? You might think to turn to groups that offer you comfort and support. Community organizations, family, and religious groups are common sources of comfort in times of need. In places like India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan unfortunately these groups sometimes encourage the use of dangerous measures to improve their situation. Women often face discrimination in South Asia, particularly Pakistan and Afghanistan, simply due to their society’s tradition and culture against female involvement in the public sphere. This, coupled with the fact that this region has been in a constant state of warfare, create a dangerous and traumatic living situation for women there and, as a result, make them vulnerable targets for extremist groups.
The majority of women living in South Asia are uneducated and rely almost entirely on religious organizations and religious meetings for support. Inevitably this becomes their main source of contact with what is going on in the outside world. Islamic militants have recognized this as an opportunity to recruit more individuals to their cause. According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, a number of Islamic organizations that specifically target women in these societies have sprouted up because illiterate women who are dependent on their male relatives are widely considered to be easy recruits. In addition, generally speaking women are not expected to take part in violence and this makes them a valuable resource for groups who seek to carry out surprise violent attacks. Extremist groups see women as a key to developing the next generation of militants, and extremist groups seek to use their influence to transmit ideas of radicalism and militancy.
Barakat sees a different role for women. As transmitters of cultural ideas and practices, they have the biggest impact on the next generation and are able to pass down the importance of education rather than norms of violence and radicalism to their sons and daughters. Because of the influential role women possess in their societies, communities should empower them to promote peace and economic development to ensure a hopeful future. This is how the development of South Asia will occur; when education is the message passed down so that future generations will progress with peace building, not violence.
Barakat enables women and children to further their own lives and the lives of future generations. Our schools in these volatile regions are vital now more than ever because they educate women and children, making them less of a target for extremist propaganda. Educated, empowered women are able to make decisions based on what is best for their family rather than being forced into a life of militancy because they feel that they have no alternative. Education and literacy provide a sense of hope and empower women to affect their own destinies. A recent article by the Grameen Bank concluded that improving a woman’s economic standing in society increases her sense of self worth and decreases the likelihood that she will fall prey to ideas of extremism and terrorism. According to a recent Newsweek article, empowered entrepreneurial mothers instill a sense of imagination in their children and provide them with a sense of possibility and hope. This is what we at Barakat want to see as a result of our programs! Through education, Barakat encourages women with the tools to advance their economic standing, provide for their families and open doors that women would not have access to otherwise.