A new report from the Women and Foreign Policy program, launched this week, highlights the roles that women play in violent extremism—including as perpetrators, mitigators, and victims—and offers recommendations to better enlist their participation in efforts to combat radicalization.
Extremist groups rely upon women to gain strategic advantage, recruiting them as facilitators and martyrs while also benefiting from their subjugation. Yet U.S. policymakers continue to overlook the ways in which women perpetrate and prevent extremism, putting the United States at a disadvantage in its efforts to prevent terrorism globally and within its borders.
Understanding and addressing women’s paths to radicalization and the roles they play in violent extremism is crucial to disrupting terrorists’ abilities to recruit, deploy, and abuse them. Although women are often ignored in conventional depictions of violent political actors, they have been active participants in 60 percent of armed rebel groups over the past several decades. And the number of women implicated in terrorism-related crimes is growing: In 2017, the Global Extremism Monitor registered 100 distinct suicide attacks conducted by 181 female militants, constituting 11 percent of all incidents that year.
Incorporating women’s distinctive perspectives can lead to better intelligence gathering and more targeted responses to potential security threats. Women-led civil society groups are particularly critical partners in mitigating violence, though counterterrorism efforts too often fail to enlist them.