Terrorism, women should not be underestimated

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Women get involved in terrorism too. That’s a factor still underestimated that has a strong influence, according to a recent study by the European Parliament. That’s an increasing concern about “foreign fighters” who joined Isil and may return, if they are not already back, to Europe to commit terrorist attacks.

According with data on October 2015, the number of foreign fighters raised from 3922 to 4294. Women represent 17% of the European foreign fighters .  At least 550 Western women are estimated to have been moving to the Isil occupied territories, as written in a recent study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

Women role in terrorism

According to a recent report by OSCE, women’s radicalisation and involvement in violent extremist groups continues to be relatively under-estimated , there is still the thought that the violent extremism exsclusive concern men. Women historically, as demostrated by researches, have been active in violent political organizations around the world, not only with roles of support but as leaders, recruitment and fund-raising and in direct operational roles . The active role of women in terrorism organization grew, especially in kamikaze attacks. The use of internet also made it easier for women to join terrorism organizations that are now accessible virtually and anonymously.

In general identifying a profile of the typical terrorist is quite impossible , according to OSCE studies, the profiles of the women radicalised or who travelled to Isil occupied territories are different between each others. It is no possible to create a broad profile of women or girls at risk of radicalism based on age, location, ethnicity, family relations or religious background. But in general, 97-100% of foreign fighters, men and women, come from urban or built up zones . Usually foreign fighters bring with them their entire family, children and wives, but women and girls travel independently . Mostly young girls have joined Isil but there is a large number of mothers and children as well. Some have had difficulties at school, but there are also women who are highly educated. While many experienced a troubled childhood, some come from families  that had no problems with the authorities, as reported by EU Parliament analysis. Futrhemore, they usually come from moderate muslim families and some of them converted to Islam at a later age.

Why women join ISIL

The reasons that push women to join terrorism organizations are the same of men’s ones : rebelliousness and a desire for action; a drive for power and the promise of adventure; an attraction to politics; and commitment to a particular cause, ideology or understanding of religion. While the Centre on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation notes other reasons of radicalisation such as economic causes, the death of a loved person, uncertain political situation, the desire to realise a radical change of the society. Accordig to OSCE there are further reasons that push women to radicalism : factors such as gender-based inequality and discrimination, violence against women and lack of educational and economic opportunities.

But also the lack of  full civil rights and economic opportunities may lead some women to perceive participating in terrorism as a way of acquiring liberty, emancipation, respect and equality, as reported in the EU Parliament study. Usually human rights violations facilitate the alienation and isolation of a person that becomes more susceptible to radicalisation .  ISIL uses specific communication strategies to convince women to join it, like for example a positive narration of women condition in occupied territory. Women who come from Muslim countries may see ISIL as offering a certain kind of freedom from patriarchal traditions and an escape from restrictive cultural norms. In some cases women are raped or sexual abused so that they become easily manipulable.

Mothers against the radicalisation of their sons

Radicalisation happens often inside home walls, mothers are the first ones to notice changes in a young person behaviour. Mothers have a strong influence in terms of dissuading prospective recruits from further radicalisation. Education, developing media literacy and teaching the use of critical judgement are all considered important counter-radicalisation tools on which families can have a significant impact alongside schools and teachers, experts argue. According to the research “Mothers Against Terror” women play a key role in fighting terrorism , even if they are quite often not mentioned in studies and strategies on terrorism. Indeed, mothers are the ones that can help build resilience in their children’s early years of development and also the ones to notice worrying signs such as anger, anxiety and withdrawal. They can help identify reasons of radicalisation: economic, socio-economic, political reasons and others. There is a key step to do in the fight against terrorism: to empower women, to give them more credibility, because they can play a fundamental role as mothers, according to experts. 


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