The Soft Power Of Mothers

The Soft Power Of Mothers

On Saturday I had the privilege of hearing Hauwa Ibrahim speak on her work with the Peace Institute. This remarkable woman was born in poverty in Nigeria. She is now an internationally known human rights lawyer, has taught at Harvard University and the University of Rome, and is a visiting scholar at Wellesley College.

She defended women sentenced to death and children sentenced to amputation under Shariah law. In 2005 she was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought.

The Peace Institute, which she founded, is an international initiative to (among other things) educate young people in countries where they are likely to be recruited into terrorist activities as an alternative to unemployment.

Among the programs carried out by the Peace Institute is “Mothers Without Borders.” Hauwa realized the “soft power” of mothers, and it was this that persuaded the young men in the Islamist terror group Boka Haram to release some of the 230 Nigerian school girls they kidnapped in 2014. One of the beliefs of this Islamist terror group is that the education of girls is a sin. Yet Hauwa’s own story shows that education saves all humanity. Promised in marriage at the age of ten, she ran away and, with the help of relatives, was able to enroll in a boarding school, and eventually became the first female Muslim lawyer in her country.

Following her insight into the emotional power of mothers, Hauwa was invited to Jordan to work in that country’s sprawling refugee camps. These huge camps are recruitment hubs for terrorists. Mothers Without Borders works with the mothers of teen boys in these camps to teach them to turn away from violence.

Of course, mere talk has limited effect if the refugee crisis keeps getting worse. A person trapped in poverty and war can feel helpless. Yet because Hauwa herself grew up in an extremely poor village she understands that education is the only way out of hopelessness.

One response of the Peace Institute is to run educational programs in countries prone to ideological violence. These summer-time camps, which teach STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) aim to lift young people from the temptation of joining radicalized groups by providing education that leads to jobs.

In her talk at Wellesley Centers for Women this weekend, Hauwa invited conversation rather than a dogmatic approach. She speaks gently, raising ideas and suggestions about a non-violent approach to seemingly intractable problems. An utterly amazing woman. You can learn about her work here.