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July 19, 2021

How gendered assumptions of women in terrorism leads to equally gendered counter terrorism policies

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“In thinking about the role of women in terrorism what comes to mind at first is their status as victims, as individuals to be humiliated for political or religious reasons”  Weinberg & Eubank

Narratives around violence and extremism often revolve around women as victims and not perpetrators. And even in the occasion that they are actually involved as the masterminds, the press and the society at large will find excuses to suggest that they were coerced and could not have initiated such heinous acts.

The gender stereotypes of women as the fairer sex, emotional, easily manipulated, often deranged, certainly not political, or simply unintelligent. The failure to look at women in the same light as their counterparts and to ask questions about women’s roles in extremist and insurgent violence has reinforced gender stereotypes, which has in turn led to disengagement and “deradicalization” programs that ignore or downplay women’s importance in fostering violence.

For example, in 2014 while reporting of women involvement in the Nigerian militia group Boko Haram, the media indicated: “women are always allowed to pass free at security’s check points without undergoing any checks because they believe that they cannot engage in such criminal activities, but the Gombe Incident should be an eye opener to everybody so both male and female should be check thoroughly so that we don’t experience what happened in Gombe”.

Viewing violent extremism through a gendered lens which essentially divides men into violent roles and women into non-violent roles hinders the progression of counter terrorism policies to be able to change with the dynamics. When policies are structured with the said lens, the effectiveness of the initiatives arising becomes lessened if not completely useless.