Women and countering violent extremism

Originally published


By Iffat Idris with Ayat Abdelaziz


What does existing research tell us about women and countering violent extremism (CVE)? How can this be linked to the women, peace and security agenda? Describe networks and programmes to promote women and CVE, and summarise key lessons from the latter. What policy guidance have international donor organizations issued on women and CVE?


The experience of various women and CVE programmes confirms that women can and do play a significant role in P/CVE – but they need to be supported and empowered to do so. Key lessons emerging from experience to date include the following:

  • Need for gender mainstreaming: It is important to consult women and involve them in programme design and implementation, carry out gender-specific research to inform programming (e.g. are drivers of violent extremism different for men and women? Should the responses be different?), have programmes specifically aimed at women, and ensure gender indicators in programme monitoring and evaluation.

  • No one-size-fits-all solution: Local context, drivers/factors of recruitment and radicalization to violent extremism and the situation of women can vary hugely from one country/area/community to another. Rather than adopting a ‘one size fits all’ approach, programme design should be based on rigorous contextual analysis, including of gender dynamics, and tailored to be specific to that local community/population. However, when a successful programme is identified, even if complete duplication is not possible, it could be feasible to replicate elements of the programme in different contexts.

  • Promote gender equality: Empowering women is a key element of a long-term, sustainable deterrent against radicalization to violent extremism and terrorism. Political, social and economic empowerment of women raises their status within their families and communities. In particular, education for girls and young women should be promoted; education can be used in myriad ways to enhance resilience and reduce radicalization to violent extremism.

  • Governments should develop clearer inter-agency communication and cooperation. Gendered empowerment, economic growth, education, and youth engagement should all be components in a coherent, whole-of-government P/CVE programming approach that incorporates all the relevant agencies.

  • Preventive programming requires sustained resources. This is in keeping with international resolutions, such as the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the SDGs, which see continued investment as important for a sustainable approach to development. The failure to maintain funding can undermine or even reverse any positive impacts of programming.

  • Build the capacity of women and girls to contribute safely and productively to CVE efforts in a manner tailored to local contexts, and ensure the security of women and girls involved in CVE.

  • Prioritize engagement with women and groups at the grassroots level to build on local practices and support local ownership.