Women and Countering Violent Extremism

On October 27, 2014, the UAE Mission to the United Nations, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and UN Women hosted a panel discussion on the role of women in countering violent extremism. The discussion was moderated by H.E. Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, Permanent Representative of the UAE to the UN. Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and former U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, and Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Lead Author of the Global Study on the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), provided opening remarks.

The panel discussion was comprised of five experts: Ms. Naureen Chowdhury Fink, Head of Research and Analysis at the Global Center on Cooperative Security; Ms. Suaad Allami, Founder and Director, Sadr City Women’s Center and Legal Clinic, Iraq; Mr. Muhammad Rafiuddin Shah, Officer-in-Charge, UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force; Ms. Joy Onyesoh, President, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Nigeria; and, Ms. Carolin Schleker, Human Rights Officer, New York Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The expert panelists raised a number of pressing issues. First and foremost, there was an emphasis on delinking religion and extremism. The panelists noted that though extremism is often conflated with religion, it is important to recognize that extremism takes many forms, such as nationalist-based extremism, prevalent in the Second World War. Second, it is important to acknowledge the varied roles women play in this arena including as preventers, sympathizers, mobilizers, and as perpetrators. Women are not just victims. It is important that countering violent extremism efforts recognize them as partners in prevention and response frameworks, as well as agents of change. As such, women must be included in the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of strategies to counter violent extremism. Many of the panelists also emphasized that is important to not essentialize women; we must acknowledge that women are not a homogenous group, and our CVE approaches should reflect that. In addition, it is crucial that there are political spaces for the many voices of women to be heard. It is in this space that we may find solutions, within local and culturally specific contexts. Further, it is essential that we do not securitize women’s roles in strategies to counter violent extremism. In doing this, we run the risk of further marginalizing women and women’s organizations. It is important that we take a more holistic approach, and focus on the development indicators that may lead to violent extremism. By addressing these everyday needs, we can help create an environment that allows for women, their families, and communities to fully participate in the prevention of violent extremism in their own societies. Finally, a common sentiment echoed throughout the discussion was a call for increased data collection and reporting on the gendered impact of counter terrorism strategies on women’s lives and women’s varied roles in violent extremism.