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20 Dec

Women’s Role in Countering Violent Extremism

An estimated 3,000 of the 20,000 foreign fighters who joined Daesh were women. While the focus has primarily been on Western cases, women from the West Asia – North Africa region were also drawn to the cause. A recent study by the WANA Institute analyses how women are affected by violent extremist organisations (VEOs), and what role they can play in preventing or countering violent extremism (P/CVE).

The research argues that women can be an invaluable source of community information, and that mothers in particular are uniquely placed to notice early stages of radicalisation in their children. However, partly as a result of strict gender roles, women often feel disempowered, uninformed, or scared to come forward with such information. Empowering women to speak more freely could help communities track radicalisation early on.

Propaganda Targeting Women

Women face similar socioeconomic frustrations as men, which makes them equally susceptible to radicalisation drivers. It would be misguided to imagine women incapable of using violence to express their beliefs.

Daesh in particular, has become expert at adapting its propaganda as necessary. Initially, the group confined women to roles in the private sphere as wives, mothers, teachers, domestic workers, or sex slaves. In recent years, these roles have expanded significantly and women are increasingly used in militant roles.

While some are pressured or forced, many women join VEOs by choice. Whether they are pushed or pulled, it is clear that they are actively recruited. The WANA Institute study therefore urges P/CVE programming to follow suit.

Women and P/CVE

The crucial question is whether gender equality and women’s empowerment can prevent radicalisation or aid in de-radicalisation and rehabilitation. The study found strong evidence that women’s participation in the security sector and as pillars of their local community, leads to greater effectiveness in violence reduction and conflict prevention.

Work in the WANA region has shown women to have in-depth insights into community dynamics, ideological patterns, and behavioural trends that differ from those available to men. Field work has also clarified that woman preachers are usually the first point of contact for women dealing with radical male relatives.

Within families, mothers are often able to recognise early signs of radicalisation including anger, anxiety, and withdrawal. Mothers of radicalised youth are also strategically placed to assist their children in navigating challenges.

The research concludes that women are keen to exercise their role within CVE. They have a strong interest in preventing their children from becoming radicalised as well as in preventing any direct negative effects radicalisation can have on women and society as a whole. Women should therefore not only be carefully targeted by P/CVE policies, but should be centrally involved in their design and implementation.

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