When considering the role of women in Preventing & Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) efforts, policy makers have traditionally seized on stereotypes about women as the “gentler sex.”1 According to this stereotype, women are “peacemakers” who can prevent men in their communities from radicalizing, who can be counted upon to alert authorities of at-risk individuals, and who can serve as a counterweight to extremist influence.2 Policy recommendations that flow from these stereotypes often fail to acknowledge women’s own potential for radicalization and willingness to engage in conflict or support others engaged in conflict. Policy makers may also ignore how terrorist organizations can use women in more coercive ways to accomplish their goals, regardless of any presumed nonviolent inclinations. Most importantly, these stereotypes overlook the crucial social, historical, political, and geographic contexts that result in important distinctions among terrorist organizations and their strategies for recruiting women and using gender narratives to their advantage.
These distinctions among terrorist groups reveal the need for gender-related P/CVE efforts that avoid a “one size fits all” approach eschew generalizations about women. This paper develops two case studies to illustrate (1) how seemingly similar terrorist groups, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Boko Haram, incorporate and employ women in completely different ways to accomplish their goals, and (2) how women engage with these groups differently. Drawing on a mix of current news and scholarly articles focusing on these organizations and P/CVE generally, this paper adopts a gender perspective to illuminate limitations in traditional P/CVE policies and offer targeted gender-based options directed at containing the recruitment efforts of ISIL and Boko Haram. More broadly, this paper argues that P/CVE efforts must be contextspecific, especially with respect to how terrorist organizations employ and deploy women and how policy makers can respond.
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