The article “Perspectives On The Future Of Women, Gender & Violent Extremism”, published in February 2019 aims to emphasize the role played by women around the world in far-right and jihadist groups. Edited by Audrey Alexander and written by a group of researchers from the Program on Extremism at George Washington University (Jacob Davey, Julia Ebner, Vesë Kelmendi, Sara Mahmood and Devorah Margolin), the publication sheds lights on some activities developed by women in those groups that remain somehow overlooked by policy makers and most scholars. According to this study, women not only contribute to extremist groups but are also vital to some of them.
How does the majority of society face the fact that women have engaged with extremist ideologies? How have terrorist groups been taking advantage of gender stereotypes to incite fear and ensure their long-term existence?
According to the article, representations of women in terrorist groups tend to emphasize personal reasons as key motivations to drive them into this direction, whereas, with men, political and religious reasons are often mentioned as main motivators. In this sense, women are often portrayed as individuals who were seeking for a husband and ended up part of a terrorist group.
It is true that some groups, up to now, keep up the structures of distinction between men’s and women’s work. The femininity is associated, for instance, with giving birth to “new fighters”, supporting network, and engaging with non-violent activities. In spite of that, in places like Pakistan and Indonesia, many women are getting space in violent acts, training in combat, helping to spread the ideology, and operating as suicide bombers (functions socially expected to be done by men). But those stereotypes are not limited to ordinary population: many states still misjudge women, often considering them less dangerous than men. Then, security around the world gets in risk because authorities hardly look for terrorist practices planned by female combatants.
Moreover, people tend not to mind about the reality of huge oppressions. In Western Balkans, for instance, women are often abused by their husbands in their own homes. These female citizens, who have already gone through tough economic and social circumstances, have been frequently abused and silenced by their husbands. This oppression seems to have benefited extremist groups, who offer empowering positions to these women. These are some of the reasons why many women from Western Balkans have joined terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.
The appeal used by far-right groups to attract women is not very different. Although white supremacist groups are known for their sexist behavior, women are needed to spread their ideology. Therefore, they have increasingly occupied positions as new recruiters who are responsible for attracting more people to their group. They also use the internet to campaign against feminism and other minorities, as Muslims and immigrants. Once again the role played by women in these groups remains overlooked by authorities. A blind eye that has put on risk responses to terrorism in the west.
In sum, the study turns evident how dangerous stereotyped representations of women in terrorist groups can be insofar they have blinded authorities to their growing participation in these groups. Sexism makes people think about women as pure and fragile roses. They forget the thorns that might exist around them. This forgetfulness may kill more lives in the future as women have been taking more and more leading positions in terrorist groups.
By Laura Rocha (UFRJ / Brazil)