Gender-based discrimination and prevention of violent extremism (PVE) in the Sahel
In late 2022, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) launched a two-year project aimed at building gender-sensitive resilience to violent extremism in the Sahel, supported by the generous contribution of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).
In accordance with the objectives set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – more specifically Goal 5 on Gender Equality and Goal 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions – the project aims at:
- Conducting context-specific research on the under-explored topic of the role played by gender discrimination in the recruitment of men and women by violent extremist groups in Mauritania, Mali, and Niger; and
- Building the capacity of key stakeholders in the region to apply a PVE approach that fully considers and addresses the gender dynamics of recruitment and radicalization leading to terrorism in the region.
According to the Institute’s longstanding experience in the Sahel, and the related research conducted in the region, marginalization tends to be one of the main drivers of violent extremism narratives, and women are amongst the most at-risk demographic groups when it comes to violent extremist radicalization. Following the emigration of males towards urban centres, women and girls remain marginalized within their communities thereby often raising children alone, bearing the role of educators, and building a sense of social cohesion with limited access to education or to the labour market. As outlined in the report “Dogmatism or Pragmatism? Violent extremism and gender in the central Sahel” published in 2020 by International Alert in the context of the UNICRI project Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism in the Regions of Sahel and Maghreb, in this region gender roles and related expectations can contribute to individuals’ support to violent extremism and the ‘jihadist governance’ often takes a strongly gendered approach. Indeed, individuals living in a context with fixed and rigid gender roles, as well as widespread gender discrimination and violence, may be more exposed to violent extremist groups propaganda. This is because these groups often target women by attacking their bodies and integrity, or on the contrary, by using false narratives of women’s empowerment
According to UNICRI’s situation analysis, gender roles and related expectations contribute to individuals’ support to violent extremism in the Sahel, and Mauritania, Mali, and Niger specifically present gender context-related vulnerabilities that might be exploited by violent extremist groups. However, a lack of gender-disaggregated data prevents a full understanding of the phenomenon, creating a knowledge gap. Such limited in-depth understanding of the full impact of gender-related social norms and vulnerabilities on recruitment into violent extremist groups prevents national authorities and civil society actors from fully considering these aspects when developing PVE programmes or policies. For this reason, during the first phase of this project, UNICRI will conduct research in Mauritania, Mali, and Niger, which will be consolidated in a report to generate knowledge on the impact of gender-based discrimination on radicalization leading to violent extremism. The research findings will then be used to develop tailor-made training modules for national authorities and civil society organizations from each of the three countries involved, to strengthen their capacity in addressing such issues in their PVE efforts. Context-specific and gender-sensitive research will help parties better understand the reasons behind women and men’s support to violent extremist groups in the target countries.
This project has been designed to respond to the needs of key stakeholders in the region, supporting them to develop comprehensive PVE approaches through capacity-building activities. It is thanks to its previous experience in the Sahel, related recommendations and lessons learned, that UNICRI will shape the project considering a non-homogenized understanding of the phenomenon, presenting the opportunity to challenge gendered assumptions and expectations.
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Photo credits: UN Photo/Ian Steele