There is an even wider chasm between on-the-ground realities and global policies, where the fate of women and children is concerned. Programming must help them earn livelihoods, which can prevent them from being pressured into joining or rejoining extremist groups.
Oslo, Norway, Jan 11 —“The number of deaths due to terrorism continues to fall, decreasing by 27 percent from 2016 to 2017, however, disengagement, rehabilitation, and reintegration of men, women, boys and girls associated with violent extremist groups remains a huge challenge. There is an urgent need for coherent national and international policies pertaining to the treatment of those returning from transnational violent extremist and terrorist groups. The absence of coherent, gender-sensitive policies may carry mortal implications, such as in Iraq, where the widows of former Daesh fighters may face the death penalty regardless of their role in the movements.”
These are the findings of the joint United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) report - ‘Invisible Women: Gendered Dimensions of Return, Reintegration, and Rehabilitation’, launched in Oslo, Norway today.
The report underscores the need for consistent policies or laws pertaining to the treatment of returnees associated with terrorist and violent extremist groups—especially in the case of women and children, which most countries lack. There is an even wider chasm between on-the-ground realities and global policies, where the fate of women and children is concerned.
The ratio of women to men returning to their countries of origin varies significantly by country—and in many cases women are not returning because they are unable to attain citizenship status and custody of children born during their time in Syria, Iraq, or elsewhere. The returning women and children have distinct psychosocial, economic and health needs. Many of the women are widows and must fight stigma even as they become breadwinners for the first time. Programming must help them earn livelihoods, which can prevent them from being pressured into joining or rejoining extremist groups.
For years, women and children have been nearly absent from the literature on forging terrorist fighters, and much of the information gathering and scholarship has lacked a gendered analysis. Many violent extremist groups have co-opted the message of women’s empowerment and even provide better socio-economic conditions. They tap into ideology and identity to provide a sense of purpose, meaning and belonging that vulnerable women and girls are missing in their lives. Governments must address the misogyny, injustice and deficit in dignity that women experience in their own societies. Otherwise there is a continued risk of women being drawn to the messages of violent extremist groups.
Local organisations are often the ones, first alerted to these issues and are at the front lines of responding to the complex challenges faced by women and girl returnees. They have pioneered effective, holistic response programmes that tackle psychosocial, economic, and ideological needs—but remain excluded from national and local programming and vulnerable to security risks.
“Women in communities are pioneering the most effective work on preventing violent extremism. We should be heeding their advice and supporting them,” stated Sarah Lister, UNDP’s Director for Oslo Governance Centre. Speakers at the launch event reinforced that the invisibility of women breeds impunity against them, and that independent civil society is an essential pillar of prevention.
Related link: ‘Invisible’ women; when home is not a sanctuary
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