Fierce Women Who Stood up to Terrorism in the 21st Century

28 years ago, on 21 May 1991, India was rocked to silence. Our Prime Minister, beloved at the time, Shri Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in a public terrorist suicide bombing by the LTTE. Since then, India has been commemorating 21 May as National Anti-Terrorism Day.

With regions of India, including Kashmir, North-east and east-central areas, stooped in prolonged conflict and prone to terror attacks, we must understand why terrorism and human rights are closely intertwined.

Source: LiveMint

Terrorism and Human Rights 

The full spectrum of human rights involves respect for, and protection and fulfilment of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, as well as the right to development. Human rights are universal—in other words, they belong to all human beings—and are interdependent and indivisible.

Terrorism directly affects lives, livelihoods, and property of people. It affects administrative governance in local bodies, weakens the social communities, causes forced displacement, harms the environment and is a grave threat to international peace, security and stability. Not to mention the effects and individual cost including enjoyment of the right to life, liberty and physical integrity of the victims. 

In the aftermath of an attack, most damage is suffered by infrastructure, in addition to human lives. Post-Taliban images of Afghanistan show us a dire situation without schools, clinics or basic road and rail structures, thereby leading to lack of access to education, healthcare, and opportunities.  

Terrorism and Women

Women also occupy a role in terror mongering. Increasingly women are also playing an active role in jihadism. Lest we forget, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was carried out by Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, a female follower of the LTTE. Gender issues and roles have long been used as a recruitment tool and mechanism to maintain control.

Although all people – civilians and security forces alike – are affected by terrorism and violent extremism, women and girls experience specific forms of violence on the basis of their gender.

The increased use of rape, other forms of sexual violence and abduction from schools as tactics of systematic terror attacks on civilian populations is a demonstration that terrorism and extremism target and affect women, men, girls and boys in different ways

Bience Gawanas -UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser on Africa

Terror groups that carry out political opposition for long periods, like Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIL all have one thing in common: the subjugation of women. They restrict and regulate women’s physical appearance, social conduct, and use religion to supress women. Women of all ages are prime targets of extremist violence and terrorist acts. This includes the use of sexual violence and sexual slavery to terrorize, suppress and demoralize entire communities and earn some money.

Source: Strait Times

Women Who Stood Up Against Terrorism in the 21st Century

Nadia Murad

She managed to escape the ISIS who had captured, enslaved and tortured her for several months. After her escape, she has dedicated her life to gain support for the Yazidi survivors. She also defends the rights of survivors of human trafficking, and of marginalized ethnic and religious minorities. She was co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.

Malala Yousafzai

She was stopped, called out by name and then shot in the head at point blank range by the Taliban. This, for revolting against their instruction for girls to stop attending school. A young girl in pursuit of her education, she has dedicated her life to speaking out against atrocities committed by extremist groups. She is passionate about women’s rights and often travels to meet girls fighting poverty, wars, child marriages and gender discrimination. She is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (2014).

Neerja Bhanot

She stood up against hijackers on the Pan Am 747 flight from Mumbai to New York via Frankfurt. The flight was grounded in Karachi where Neerja successfully passed the ‘hijack’ code to the pilots so that the plane would remain grounded. She hid the passports of American passengers on board, she opened the emergency exit for passengers to escape, and died shielding three children when the hijackers started open firing. She was awarded the Ashok Chakra Bravery Award posthumously. 

Formin Akter

Born in a Rohingya Muslim family in Rakhine, Formin escaped deadly violence and oppression in Myanmar. The Military led terror campaign against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, in what has been termed as ‘ethnic cleansing’, happened through arson, rape and killings. This has been occurring since 2012, and has been one of the worst atrocities against humans in our day. She ran from her village, literally, when the ARSA waged an attack on Aug 25, 2017, without her family or belongings. Formin wants to study law and continue her efforts to raise awareness about the plight of Rohingya’s who are left behind.

Tawakkol Karman 

Tawakkol is a recognized human and women’s rights activist who received the Nobel Peace Prize on 2011. She is the founder of the Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC), an organization which advocates for civil and political rights, as well as freedoms of women. She has also actively campaigned against the corrupt dictatorial regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh and been arrested on several occasions. She isn’t afraid to express dissent in the face of international terror threats within Yemen, including from the Houthi rebellion forces or the Arab Coalition who are vying to control the country in pieces. She has brought attention to the dire situation in Yemen, with over 20 million people acknowledged by the UN, to be in need humanitarian aid. 

Indira Gandhi

She was the Prime Minister of India at the time the Khalistan secessionist movement gained momentum in the Punjab. In two years, there were more than 1200 violent incidents in which 410 people died and 1180 were injured. She signed off on the counter-terrorism plan to enter the holy premises of Golden Temple, where the separatists had taken ‘office’. She did so, to put a firm end to the rising terror in the name of ‘Khalistan’ propogated by Akali Dharam Yudh Morcha. Although she is widely criticized for the action, the response came in after the group expressed its intent to kill all Congress MP’s and MLA’s, and planned to begin mass killings of Hindus in Punjab Villages. In the face of home-grown terrorism, she showed resolution, fearlessness and refused to be manipulated by extremist religious faction in the face of potential harm to the people and peace in the region.

Jacinda Ardern

Dubbed as New Zealand’s mourner-in-chief, Jacinda Ardern has set a global example of dealing with terrorism through empathy, efficiency and eloquence. She mobilized her nation, still reeling from shock and terror, to surrender weapons, help the families of the victims and to move away from ‘war rhetoric’. She has famously said,

He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety. And that is why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless. And, to others, I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.” 

Strong Women stand up for themselves; Fierce Women stand up for others. Let’s try to understand the effects and cost of extremism, extreme violence, and terrorism on human lives with an intersectional approach. In a world of discord, “We need women who are so strong they can be gentle, so educated they can be humble, so fierce that they can be compassionate, so passionate that they can be rational and so disciplined that they can be free”. So many women continue to stand up for the rights of others in their community, fighting oppressors and corrupt systems. We give a shout-out to all those women and may they continue to inspire the next generation.  

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