‘Violent extremism’ is a complex phenomenon involving both men and women through diverse personal, ideological, structural and context specific drivers. One dimension of this complexity is that there is no agreed definition on violent extremism (nor similarly is there for ‘terrorism’ or ‘radicalisation’), which makes theorising and designing effective interventions to tackle it extremely difficult.
Violent extremism tends to be approached from a gender essentialist perspective, with men assumed to be perpetrators and women as victims, ‘mothers’ and ‘wives’ of recruits or potential recruits. In recent years, the role of women in the prevention of violent extremism and within extremist networks such as Al-Shabaab, the ‘Islamic State’ and the English Defence League has come to the spotlight particularly following the adoption of the United Nations Security Council resolutions following the adoption of 2242 on Women, Peace and Security in 2015.
— photo courtesy of AFP
Yet, research and scholarship in this area remains new and a deeper engagement with gender and the role of norms around masculinities and femininities in violent extremism is still limited in scholarship and policies around terrorism and violent extremism. Hence, our Global Network on Gender and Responding to Violent Extremism (GARVE) is both timely and relevant. Around the globe, there are a number of international networks focused on violent extremism and radicalisation or on gender but there are no international networks that are specifically focused on gender and violent extremism.
This network would enable the debating of ideas around the impact of violent extremism on economic development, education, and sustainable livelihood, access to resources and health from a gender perspective and the role of gender equality and sustainable development in preventing violent extremism. For instance, women are already at the bottom of the economic ladder, engaged in the informal economy and precarious employment. Yet, little is known about the impact of violent extremism on women’s economic wellbeing. Evidence suggests that violent extremism also undermines access to education. Extremist groups commonly target schools and particularly girls’ schools as evidenced by the Taliban attacks on girls’ schools in Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan, Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in the Wajir and Mandera counties in Kenya. Understanding the relationship between education, gender and violent extremism is extremely important for developing effective preventative strategies.1 Violent extremism also undermines access to secure and resilient food systems. Extremist groups very often usurp properties, control land, water and resources and use agricultural lands for drugs production. Although research on the relationship between land, water and resources and violent extremism is emerging, a gender perspective in this area is missing. Violent extremism also has devastating consequences on the right to health including physical and mental health. Mental health also plays an important role in individuals’ vulnerability to radicalisation with several researchers nowadays calling for a mental health approach to the prevention of violent extremism.2 Currently there is a lack of research and evidence on how violent extremism affects women’s physical, reproductive and mental health.