Women and Countering Extremism

By: Asmaa Muhammad Yusuf

  • | Wednesday, 29 March, 2023
Women and Countering Extremism

      March is the "Month of Women", as it witnesses a number of social occasions related to women: the 8th of March marks International Women's Day, the 16th of March is the Egyptian Women's Day, and the 21st of March is the Egyptian Mother’s Day. Many questions are raised as we think about the status of women. Who is primarily supposed to care for children physically, emotionally, and intellectually? Who does bear the prime responsibility for raising new generations? Hence, it is time to highlight a fraction of the efforts exerted by women in strengthening community security. Women have pivotal roles affecting all aspects of life in our contemporary world, particularly in Countering Violent Extremism (CVE).

      In recent years, extremist groups have tried to fabricate a large gap between what religions stand for and what the social reality, in terms of the status of women, is. They keep exerting their efforts to utilize women’s loyalty and high accountability on the ground. Particularly, women are viewed with less suspicion by security forces, as it is believed that extremist attacks are usually carried out by men. Thus, women may be the ultimate weapons of extremist groups in carrying out attacks, recruiting, and preparing new fighters through:

     - Providing healthcare, food, and safe houses to violent extremists and terrorists,

     - Being tools for a fighter’s sexual interest, even if against females’ desires,

    -Raising children according to extremist ideology. For instance, a notable leader of al-Qaeda commended his mother on social media, saying, "She never asked for my return; rather, she prepared and urged me to attack", and

-  Acting out terrorist activities. Female suicide bombers have been seen with Boko Haram, ISIS, etc.

       Regarding CVE, it can be divided into two major formats: hard and soft approaches. The main role of women lies in the soft one. While extremist groups have realized women’s crucial role and so utilizing women in recruiting terrorist fighters, women approve of their ability to set counter narratives to extremist ones. Moreover, women may well set certain dimensions to achieve their goals of protecting new generations from radicalization. This approach has two main aspects: at work, and with new generations.

       Regarding work, it includes, but is not limited to, assisting in drawing effective counter narratives challenging violent extremist propaganda. In light of Al-Azhar international role and social responsibility in building international peace, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar inaugurated Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism (AOCE) in 2015 where a dedicated team of female young researchers work 24/7 monitoring, translating, and analyzing all publications issued by extremist groups. They create counter narratives to drain extremist resources by refuting their allegations to protect the youth from ideological attacks, promote the true teachings of Islam, support human values, and prepare articles, reports, studies, and statistics in this regard. For instance, in general, they analyzed more than 500 extremist publications in different languages and, in 2022, they launched 230 graphic campaigns, 370 awareness videos, 962 reports and articles in 13 languages, in addition to releasing 20 new studies.

Further, women have pivotal roles in countless fields, like education, medicine, science, etc. For instance, in a time when extremists call on their followers to weaponize the coronavirus through saliva-filled spray bottles, many female doctors stand on the frontlines to save lives and stop the spread of that pandemic. This holds particularly true as women account for 67% of the global health and social care workforce.

       Respecting women with new generations, women have vital roles within the family, as they are mainly responsible for forming the character of their children, our next generation, who are the real civilian peace agenda we are looking forward to. Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) said, "Women are guardians and are responsible for their respective husbands’ houses and offsprings" (Sahih al-Bukhari). Women, as mothers, sisters, or educators, can offer alternatives that foster positive youth development and resilience. They are the source of mental peace for children at home; they have regular conversations with their children about every issue they are interested in to keep them from feeling marginalized, discriminated against, or confused about their identity; which are considered push factors for extremism.

      A child who is raised with the concept of chastity, as Allah says, "Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them" (Quran, 24:30). The Prophet said, "Women are the counterparts of men", (Sunan Abi Dawud), would never accept extremist acts that violate women's rights – from verbal abuse to rape. A child who is raised according to what Allah says, “And whoever saves one, it is as if he had saved mankind entirely” (Quran, 5:32) will never join blood-thirsty extremist groups calling. A mother who raises her children according to what Allah says, "O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you" (Quran, 49:13) will offer generations believing in human fraternity for world peace and living together. Women are looking forward to a world where there is no room for extremism or discrimination based on religion, color, race, etc.

       This piece is just a glimpse of how women have vital roles in clearing misconceptions, promoting moderate ideologies, and bonding communities. In addition to combating extremism and promoting human values, we need to reach for real human fraternity around the globe. Hence, it is worthy to wish a long life full of love, peace, and happiness to all inspiring women who dedicate themselves to supporting their families, neighbors, and communities despite whatever challenges they may face.

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