The European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality has published a new report entitled ‘Radicalisation and violent extremism – focus on women: How women become radicalised, and how to empower them to prevent radicalisation’. The report is informed by case studies in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK which include the statistics and profiles of women who are supporters of ISIS/Da’esh, an examination of the role of online radicalisation within these countries, and the programmes these countries have in place to prevent/counter radicalisation and violent extremism.
The full report can be found here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2017/596838/IPOL_STU(2017)596838_EN.pdf
The report has two aims. The first aim is to examine women’s involvement with radicalisation and violent extremism in the EU, and the programmes in place to prevent and counter this involvement. The second is “to identify the potential of women in preventing radicalisation” through examining their current role and also potential gendered approaches which could be adopted.
It describes how violence’s attribution as a stereotypically masculine characteristic has caused women to be considered passive in analyses of radicalisation and violent extremism, despite their role in both its perpetration and prevention. The category of ‘women’ in this area is not homogenous, as different socio-demographics and motivations exist within the group of those who support ISIS/Da’esh. The process of the radicalisation of women also cannot be seen as a single definitive process, as it has multiple influencing factors, and women’s agency must be incorporated into this understanding. This is vital if the process is to be properly prevented and countered.
The report details how women can be motivated to join ISIS/Da’esh because it offers them an alternative form of empowerment and agency than that offered in Western society (which is presented as illusionary and unobtainable by Islamist groups). Women are also presented as crucial to the success of the Caliphate in Islamist propaganda, and there is evidence to suggest that women can have roles outside the domestic sphere in these groups, becoming teachers or doctors, or even participating in operational roles. They are often used as recruiters and propagandists, and their involvement with the group acts as a powerful propaganda tool.
The report finds that online recruitment plays a key role in the recruitment of women to ISIS/Da’esh, and that these groups use a gendered approach to specifically target women, using traditionally feminine images and criticising the Western concept of feminism, as mentioned above. The internet can allow women to come into contact with information they might otherwise not be able to engage with due to limiting gender norms within some communities, and thus is implied to be more effective than other forms of radicalisation. In response to this, online counter-radicalisation initiatives can take either a hard approach or a soft approach; the hard approach involves censorship, while the soft approach involves providing alternative narratives to Islamist propaganda.
The report also details how women’s roles in countering/preventing violent extremism are hindered by gender stereotypes, because their consistent framing as mothers, sisters, and wives within these efforts ignores their capability for other capacities, such as their involvement in shaping policy, education, and activism. Indeed, involving women in these efforts to counter/prevent radicalisation and violent extremism is shown to optimise these efforts as women bring different perspectives to these strategies and their involvement can ensure that the effect of gender norms on these processes are taken into consideration. Women also hold unique roles within communities and therefore may influence the facilitation of schemes within these communities. Existing projects from around the world, which are detailed in the report, give credence to these ideas.
The report’s recommendations to policy-makers wanting to include women in programmes to prevent and counter radicalisation and violent extremism include the facilitation of grassroots initiatives, the avoidance of demonising specific groups by focusing on a range of ethnic groups and running schemes through non-security-affiliated organisations, encouraging women to take part in prevention efforts, and safeguarding the quality of these programmes.
Its recommendations for those programmes which aim to prevent and counter the radicalisation and violent extremism of women themselves include targeting female push and pull factors for these processes, better understanding how these processes relate to women generally, and better understanding the role of the internet in both supporting and preventing these processes.