The role of women in violent extremism is widely overlooked. It often gets relegated to traditional gender norms, with most people contending the desire for love as the primary motivator for women joining violent extremist organizations. Some literature appears to support this notion. However, further study demonstrates that women do not join terrorist organizations only because of the redemption of their family members or for the sake of romantic relationships with male recruits. While it is true that women have historically contributed to terrorist organizations in nonviolent positions, it is interesting to learn that the first person ever tried in a court of law for terrorism offenses was a woman, Vera Zasulich in 1878. She attempted to assassinate St. Petersburg's Tsar, Feodor Trepov.
Women have played a variety of roles in terrorist organisations over the years, including but not limited to logistical and financial support, fundraising, recruitment, suicide bombers, informants, making suicide jackets, hijackings, ordnance planting, laying mines, teaching, feeding and clothing combatants, and so on.
...women have been known to be instrumental in bolstering community resilience and in shaping attitudes and world-views of young people. Women are instinctively observant and may immediately notice behaviour and attitudes that may indicate an individual is becoming radicalized.
The recruitment of women as facilitators, as well as the benefits of their subordination, is a tactic used by extremist groups to gain a strategic advantage. Some violent extremist groups prefer white women since their passports are “stronger” and they are subjected to less scrutiny by law enforcement while travelling. Women who wear burkas also receive preference because the lack of physical inspections on women in Muslim countries enables them to carry out bombings with more ease than their male counterparts. Mariam Farhat a former Palestinian Member of Parliament rode the wave of her son’s (Nidal) fame as a suicide bomber to win the election on the Hamas ticket in 2006. She publicly supported three out of her six sons into martyrdom and has since inspired other women to send out their children into suicide bombing operations as well.
The United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2242 was approved in 2015 with the goal of increasing women's engagement in CVE and mainstreaming gender in the activities of Security Council counter-terror and CVE organizations. This was a significant step towards acknowledging the importance of women's participation in peacebuilding efforts. It is therefore vital to recognize the contribution of women in both violent and non-violent capacities and treat them accordingly. The lack of recognition and disregard of women’s potential to be violent impedes effective security responses to stave off and counter this very real threat. On the flip side, women have been known to be instrumental in bolstering community resilience and in shaping attitudes and world-views of young people. Women are instinctively observant and may immediately notice behaviour and attitudes that may indicate an individual is becoming radicalized. Most mothers have a soft spot for their children and frequently communicate with them. This could prove useful in uncovering the location of terrorists. They are also credible voices and the gatekeepers to their communities.
Women generally are gentle, soft, nurturing and caring but this should not warrant laxity in dealing with them, assessing their contributions to VE correctly, apprehending them and securing their participation in the prevention and countering of violent extremism.