At Str!ve, we recognise that women are the front line against radicalisation.
As mothers, we must educate ourselves about how to spot the signs of radicalisation and protect our children from extremists who target them online and via encrypted messaging apps.
As wives, we must be vigilant if our partners show signs of radicalisation and be informed about what we can do to prevent it happening.
And as friends, or simply as independent women, we must learn to recognise how we are targeted and what we can do to protect ourselves and our friendship groups.
Counter extremism experts are warning that there needs to be a “profound gender shift” in the way policymakers deal with violent extremism. They understand the need to focus more on women. And crucially, to rethink how the role of women in radicalisation is regarded.
Muslim women have, arguably, been viewed as ‘jihadi brides’ – vulnerable and more easily brainwashed, for far too long. Women are often seen as being coerced into extremism, unable to think for ourselves and susceptible to promises of a princess lifestyle with a sugar coating of kids and a man who cares like they do in the movies.
In some cases, this is true. Stories of women at a low ebb, disenfranchised and desperate have been intentionally targeted by terrorists and indoctrinated with ease.
But increasingly, strong minded and independent women are succumbing to radicalisation. They are choosing to pledge allegiance to Daesh – or indeed Boko Haram, or al Qaeda – of their own free will.
United Press International (UPI) recently published an investigation into the role of women in terrorist activity across northern Africa, Europe and the Middle East. In the article, they cite examples of the three women in Paris who were arrested last year after a car loaded with explosives was found near the Notre Dame; three women in Kenya who were shot dead after trying to enter a police station wearing suicide vests; and a Nigerian woman who was killed after failing to stop at a checkpoint while wearing a explosives around her waist.
UPI says that these incidents – and numerous others – ‘highlight a growing trend of young women becoming involved in real, perceived or forced acts of terrorism in various global locations’.
Erin Saltmen, senior counter-extremism researcher at the London-based think tank Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London, sums it up by saying: “Women have been part of every single violent extremist movement since the dawn of time, more or less. What we are seeing with groups like Daesh is a change in focus – different women being recruited, and different roles being carved out for them.”
There are even reports of Islamic insurgencies in Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan placing a higher premium on female recruits.
While no direct link between these women is suggested, the article concludes that, “One of the key things that [unites these women] is they have not been engaged adequately in their communities.”
At Str!ve, we offer workshops to empower Muslim women. We work to enable Muslim women to have a voice in and outside their community, in order to deliver a counter narrative voice to extremist ideology. We aim to inspire Muslim women to contribute and play an active part in wider society, and to be the advocates of change.
We recently wrote a blog highlighting how women are key to defeating extremism.
We work with some amazing female scholars. They act as a connecting voice between the mosque and ordinary Muslims, answering questions in the home or other settings. Their responses are based on deep study of the Quran, hadith and Islamic jurisprudence.
Crucially, they can help Muslim women to realise their full potential in society without compromising their faith.
As women, we must stand united against the continuing and evolving threat of radicalisation.