Pluralism in the Age of Extremism: Opening remarks at the Norway/WASL Launch of the Global Solutions Exchange; UNGA Sept 20


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen – We live in the age of extremism. Extreme capitalism is breeding deep inequalities across all our societies – thwarting the aspirations of young people – from the middle classes to the poor.    It has contributed to the rise of identity based extremisms – that use religion and ethno-nationalism to tap people’s grievances and aspirations but sew mistrust, bigotry and violence in our midst.  We also see the extreme militarism – of states spending vast sums on military actions that have fueled even more violence and radicalization.    But I also see the silver lining. It is the age of extreme pluralism – everywhere a diversity– of ethnicities, religions, genders and generations – showing how we can and do live together peacefully but posing a challenge: how to celebrate this diversity while sustaining our social cohesion, acceptance of the other and their differences?    

What’s all this got to do with women?    First: decades before governments took notice, women saw and felt the rise of extremism globally because the fact is every extremist movement regardless of religion or ethnicity, targets women very directly – seeking to control our lives, our bodies, and our role in society.    So it’s not surprising that women-led organizations pushed back. As a result today while the world is still trying to articulate the problem and is stuck on the acronyms CVE or PVE – Countering or Preventing Violent Extremism, on the ground, women’s organizations are working on the solutions.  And long  ago they realized it can’t be focused on what we’re ‘countering’ or against – rather it’s essential to say what we are FOR & offer positive alternatives.    

Second, women have key assets: they know what’s going on and why, they are courageous, they care and because of this they are trusted. And that is critical Like extremist movements, women are locally rooted and globally connected and they have a unified vision that counters that of extremists’. Women’s visions for the futures of their societies are rooted in the principles of equal rights, dignity, pluralism and peace. But unlike the violent movements, women’s movements don’t capture media attention or have endless resources. And at the global level till now – we have paid little more than lip service to them.   

Unfortunately, nowadays in many countries, that lip service is being matched by the muting of civil society – because in the name of countering extremism, governments are shutting down legitimate NGOs – including women’s movements, media outlets and others who provide the moderate space for dissent and constructive engagement.    Let’s be honest. The problems we see – these extremisms– are not random acts of nature – they are man-made & with our current trajectory– they will be the unmaking of all of us. Is this our generation’s legacy to our children?  Not if I can help it.   

ICAN has worked with women-led organizations for years. In spearheading the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership – or WASL –which means connect – our goal was two fold. – to connect women across countries to deepen their impact in addressing extremism and militarism–Because civil society is itself an antidote to radicalization and community work is essential.  – To ensure their presence at the tables where national and international policies are shaped – because civil society alone cannot right the wrongs that come from national and global policies.   Last year with the UK’s support we launched the Inclusive Challenge Fund to channel resources to women-led organizations involved in deradicalizing youth, promoting pluralism and preventing violence.  Today thanks to the Royal Norwegian Government – we are launching the Global Solutions Exchange – a platform to bring governments together with civil society practitioners regularly – to exchange practical solutions–on what we are doing right and wrong – and make the changes needed.   

Ladies and Gentlemen I’ll end on a personal note; 2016 marks 20 years that I’ve worked on conflicts worldwide. I know too much about too many vile forms of violence– and I cannot unknow them. But all this time and everywhere I’ve been, I’ve had the privilege of working with extraordinary people – who’ve shown me that peace always exists– and that is far more innate to most of humanity than violence and hate will ever be. I always believed that if others met my colleagues, they’d be as inspired as I am to do this work. So today I’m delighted that will hear from some of my distinguished colleagues who represent so many others. They are women and men who’ve taught me that peaceful societies, rooted in equal rights, dignity and pluralism are within our grasp, it is simply a matter of having the imagination, along with the political will and tenacity to realize them. Join us and let this vision be our legacy to future generations.    Thank you. (For more information or to get involved with us, please visit or or email

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