Gender Equality

Ensuring Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women in Counter-Terrorism and PVCE

The United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) aims to effectively counter the instrumentalization of gender by violent extremist and terrorist groups, support the elimination of sexual violence as a terrorist tactic, address the gender-related structural factors conducive to radicalization, and empower women to participate meaningfully in prevention and countering of terrorism and violent extremism (CT/PCVE) programming and policy. To that end, the Office strives to implement a human-rights based gender-mainstreaming approach that integrates gender into policy and programming in ways that are context-specific and comprehensive from design to implementation and assessment.

Mainstreaming gender equality and the empowerment of women is indispensable to effective CT/PCVE.  It supports the crafting of initiatives that effectively respond to the context and gender-specific security needs of those affected, and aids in identifying and addressing structural factors that are conducive to radicalization, such as gender inequality, gender-based discrimination, and violent performances of masculinities.

Gender equality is one of the founding principles of the United Nations (UN). It is included among the purposes of the Organization in Article 1 of the UN Charter and is also part of international human rights law and central to milestone documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Gender equality is also fundamental to all contemporary UN efforts, and is an essential part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their effort to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” (SDG 5), and to “significantly reduce all forms of violence” (SDG 16).

Gender-responsive approaches

Gender-responsive approaches require “recognizing the differential impact on the human rights of women and girls of terrorism and violent extremism, including in the context of their health, education, and participation in public life” (S/RES/2242); understanding the “many different roles, including as supporters, facilitators, or perpetrators” that women may assume with regards to terrorist acts as well as the fact that “women are impacted both by violent extremist and terrorist groups as well as the strategies used to counter them, which can result in their being squeezed between terror and anti-terror” (S/2015/716); and addressing the ways terrorist and violent extremist groups “use the promise of marriage and access to sex to incentivize recruitment of men and boys, engage in trafficking and other gendered practices that promote and reinforce violent masculinities, perpetuate sexual and gender-based violence and the persecution of individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and […] continue to demonstrate foundational ideologies and cultures of violent misogyny” (S/2018/900). 

Mainstreaming gender across CT/PCVE also acknowledges the enhanced vulnerability of women and girls in conflict-affected contexts, while also understanding and addressing the ways men and boys of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and performances of masculinities are impacted by and impact violent extremism, terrorism and CT/PCVE.

The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy & Gender

Building on the UN’s mandate on peace and security and inheriting the organization’s concern for gender equality, (UNOCT) was established by the General Assembly through resolution 71/291 in June 2017. The Office was tasked with the purpose to “assist Member States in implementing the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (GCTS)”  (A/RES/71/291), reflecting a clear balance and emphasis across all four pillars of the aforementioned strategy, and through “a ‘whole of society’ approach to countering terrorism and preventing violent extremism, drawing on the expertise of the United Nations in a wide variety of issues, including human rights, gender and development” (A/71/1858).  

With its role directly related to the effective implementation of the GCTS and its subsequent reviews, which include:

  • the call to integrate gender analysis of the drivers of radicalization of women and men to terrorism,
  • consider the impacts of counter-terrorism strategies on women’s human rights and women’s organizations,
  • enhance cooperation to combat terrorism in a gender-responsive manner,
  • enhance cooperation in the development of gender and age-sensitive rehabilitation and reintegration programmes,
  • assist women victims of terrorism taking into account gender sensitivities,
  • provide gender sensitive assistance plans for victims of terrorism and their families
  • seek greater consultations with women and women’s organizations when developing strategies to counter-terrorism and violent extremism conducive to terrorism.

As such, gender mainstreaming is essential for UNOCT to fulfil its mandate.  

UNOCT's Gender Mainstreaming Approach

The Office’s understanding of gender mainstreaming is based on the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) agreed conclusions 1997/2, which refers to the process of assessing the potentially divergent implications for persons of all genders of any planned activity (policy development, data collection and monitoring, programme development, training, etc). Such a process, properly handled, serves to ensure that the specific circumstances, needs and experiences of persons of different genders are fully considered when developing and implementing programmes and policies and in doing so, there is respect for the human rights and contributions of all genders. Further, it is a fundamental part of the initial planning of policy priorities, project design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation so that CT/PCVE programming is most effective, all genders benefit from it, and gendered harms are minimized, with the ultimate goal of achieving gender equality. Mainstreaming gender, therefore, encompasses considerations both in the process as well as in the substance of designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating initiatives. 

Based on this understanding, UNOCT works to integrate gender equality and the empowerment of women within programming and policy processes, such as in the design, consultation, planning, monitoring, delivery, and assessment of interventions. This means

  • ensuring mechanisms and processes mandated to prevent and respond to violent extremism have the necessary gender expertise to fulfil their mandates (S/2015/716);
  • engaging in “consultation and engagement with women’s civil society organizations, peacebuilders and activists”(S/2019/800),
  • ensuring “the participation and leadership of women and women’s organizations in developing strategies to counter-terrorism and violent extremism”(S/RES/2242),
  • investing “in substantive local research on women’s perspectives on and experience with designated terrorist or violent extremist groups” (S/2019/800), and
  • increasing the availability of data disaggregated by sex and age”(S/2019/800).

UNOCT’s Gender Unit was established to coordinate these efforts and ensure their coherence with human-rights frameworks.

USG Mr Voronkov talking to 3 women

UNOCT's Under-Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov pictured at a Commission on the Status of Women event on women engagement. Photo: UNOCT

Establishing a robust Gender Unit within UNOCT

Since 2019, UNOCT has taken important steps to mainstream gender, such as establishing a Gender Unit with a dedicated Gender Advisor and team, integrating gender analysis into projects and programmes, implementing the use of gender markers and a gender-responsive results framework, and setting up a Gender Taskforce with a network of Gender Focal Points across the whole Office. These significant advancements will be further institutionalized and strengthened with the forthcoming adoption of UNOCT’s Gender Policy and Action Plan, as well as the publication of a series of internal knowledge products and toolkits. See video

Counter-terrorism resources