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'Militant mothers' at frontline of conflict resolution in Indonesia

Mothers from multi-faith backgrounds, including Muslim, Christian and Hindu, in Indonesia are leading the country’s fight against violent extremist groups, earning them the title of ‘militant mothers’. Speaking with The Point Magazine from Indonesia, Dwi Rubiyanti Kholifah of the Asian Muslim Action Network provides an insight into the work her organisation and the role of women in countering violent extremism and building peace.

A shared responsibility 

The Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN) approaches countering violent extremism as a shared responsibility of all communities, and women have a leading role to play, Kholifah said.

AMAN began in 2002 and is a network that brings together individuals, groups and associations of Muslims in Asia subscribing to a progressive and enlightened approach to Islam. The organisation provides a forum for women and young people to share ideas and experiences, and to facilitate follow-up processes to synchronise the actions and programs launched by common interest groups and individuals in Asia. 

What are 'militant mothers'?

One program that has proven successful at strengthening the capacity of women in countering violent extremism and bringing about social change is the ‘Militant Mothers’ program. The program is an interfaith group of women who have a passion for gender equality and social justice issues, including protecting vulnerable young women and promoting social cohesion.

Kholifa said the concept of ‘Militant Mothers’ came about because often it is women who are on the frontlines of conflict resolution.

The group is made up of mothers living in Indonesia, meeting face-to-face regularly to create and deliver projects aimed at strengthening the role of women in public life and supporting other women in their public and private lives.

“They (the participants of the program) are our ‘rumour educators’ in the field so, for example, they clarify when news is spreading against minorities that may not be true. They stand up against intolerance, negative propaganda, and the politicisation of religions during elections, etc. When people are spreading rumours for example about the Ahmadiyah community  they will challenge the person. So, they engage in a lot of dialogue between various communities.” 

“Women also have strong agency to promote peace. She has hidden power to create harmony and engage multi stakeholders to take necessary action. When they (are) involved in the prevention process we often see results.”

– Dwi Rubiyanti Kholifah

Women play a key role in ending extremism

Kholifah said that efforts to build social cohesion and counter violent extremism will not be successful without the full participation of women at all levels.

“When women involve (themselves) they will make (a difference) in process and results. When women (get) involved we will be able take a look at other diverse groups that need to be included in the process. Women provide long term realistic solutions,” she said.

The Indonesian Anti-Terrorism Bill is currently before Parliament for review. Indonesians who join groups like ISIS will potentially face a maximum of 15 years in jail under the proposed changes which are expected to be passed by September.

The crackdown comes as politically motivated violence is increasing in neighbouring Philippines, forcing terrorism experts to call for stricter laws in Indonesia. The Anti-Terrorism Bill is the first attempt to make it against the law in Indonesia to join or support terrorist organisations like ISIS.

Kholifah said women do join violent extremist groups, sometimes becoming recruiters of other women or even suicide bombers. Women also have a strong role to play in countering the narrative and appeal of violent extremist groups. 

'Militant Mothers' group

“Women also have strong agency to promote peace. She has hidden power to create harmony and engage multi stakeholders to take necessary action. When they (are) involved in the prevention process we often see results.”

Social cohesion is key

Kholifah said the role militant mothers play is also a social one.

“Militant’ means the women are pro-active in promoting gender equality and protection of women’s rights in family and community. For example, if there was a case of unwanted pregnancy happening to one of girls in the community, the women take active roles in protecting the girl and shield her from stigmatization. Instead of promoting blaming (the) victim, mothers chose to protect girls and secure her until she gives birth. When women took positive action, men and other people in the community were responding in positive ways.”

The Women’s School of Peace is another program that is strengthening the role of women in tackling issues around social cohesion in Indonesia.

The program aims to strengthen community resilience through the role of women. It includes long term engagement between mothers of different faiths, whereby they engage in activities that help them learn about gender equality, conflict resolution, peace and advocacy skills building.

“The key concept of social cohesion is when different groups in the community are interacting (with) each other in responding (to) challenges. We believe that by strengthening the leadership of women and their organization, the transformation will take place smoothly. When women feel equal, they will be confident to tackle bigger task in the community and make reform.”

Kholifah said women who participate in the program have the capability to take their leadership skills into other areas of their lives.

“When women and youth are actively responding to social issues for example, intolerance, including issues of radicalism then, fathers or men will also start to take a more different approach by always involving representative of women and youth in decision making. Men are likely feeling a move by the progress of women and youth. Many men are feeling helpful with the program because it will help build more confidence in the mother and young person so it will affect more equality in the family and community.” 

The Point

Mothers from multi-faith backgrounds, including Muslim, Christian and Hindu, in Indonesia are leading the country’s fight against violent extremist groups, earning them the title of ‘militant mothers’.

Author Note

Ahmadiyah are a sect of Islam. One belief that sets them apart from Sunni and Shiite Islam is that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believe Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the Promised Messiah and Mahdi.

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