The role of women in violent extremism is largely misunderstood, often it is watered down to traditional gender roles with most people touting love as the biggest motivation for women joining violent extremism organizations. Some literature seems to buttress this stereotype but further research reveals that women are not entirely joining terrorist organizations to guarantee the redemption of their family members or in search of romantic relationships with male recruits. While it may be true that historically, women mostly contributed to terrorist groups within non-violent capacities, it would interest you to know that the first person to ever be tried in a court of law for terrorism offences was a woman, Vera Zasulich in 1878. She attempted to assassinate the Tsar of St. Petersburg, Feodor Trepov. The role of women in terrorist organizations over the years has been diverse including but not limited to: providing logistic and financial support, fundraising, recruitment, being suicide bombers, being informants, making suicide jackets, hijackings, ordnance planting, laying mines, organizing, proselytizing, teaching, translating etc.
In the past, some women have been known to be voluntary suicide bombers and this has in some instances been used to shame some cowardly men into action within some terrorist organisations. Some violent extremist, VE, groups prefer white women because of the strength of their passports and the fact that they are subjected to less scrutiny by authorities while they travel. Burka wearing women are also preferred as the lack of physical checks on women in Muslim countries allows them to perpetrate bombings with relative ease compared to 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 UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2242 was adopted in 2015 and it aimed to increase women’s role in CVE and to mainstream gender in the activities of Security Council counter-terror and CVE bodies. Information on its subsequent implementation is rather scanty and wanting. It is thus imperative to meaningfully acknowledge women’s importance in 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 innately keen and can easily identify behaviour and attitudes that might raise the alarm that individuals are becoming radicalized. Most mothers have a soft spot for their children and often maintain lines of communication with their sons. This could prove useful in uncovering the location of some of these terrorists. 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 subsequent support in the prevention and countering of violent extremism.