On 1 November 2019, the Counter Terrorism Committee held an open briefing at UN Headquarters on Integrating Gender into Counter-Terrorism and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). Speakers included representatives of UN agencies, researchers and civil society. The meeting was held in the margins of the annual Security Council open debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS).
Since the adoption of Security Council resolution 2242, in 2015, there has been growing awareness of the need to integrate the agendas on WPS and counter-terrorism, and to include gender considerations in counter-terrorism and CVE efforts. During the high-level opening session Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Director of CTED, Michèle Coninsx stated that “CTED is committed to redoubling its efforts to integrate gender into its assessments and dialogue with Member States and to increase the number of recommendations to Member States regarding gender-sensitive counter-terrorism and CVE policies.” Under-Secretary-General Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, highlighted that systematic and structural biases against women continue to be exploited by terrorist groups to advance their agenda.
The first thematic session of the open briefing focused on the drivers of female radicalisation. Leanne Erdberg of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) noted the promises of belonging and status that terror groups can offer women and men who feel isolated or left behind by their society. Yet, these promises of female agency and empowerment remain unfulfilled once the individual joins. Ms. Erdberg stressed the importance of more adaptive international responses to these issues and the need to be not just gender sensitive but gender savvy. “Women aren’t simply ‘jihadi brides,’ explained Aleksandra Dier, Gender Coordinator of CTED. Women join terrorist groups for a variety of reasons, they play different roles in different terrorist groups and they exhibit varying levels of regret or remorse if and when they leave such groups. It is essential to recognise this complexity.
The second thematic session addressed gender-sensitive prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration (PRR). Cordula Droege, Chief Legal Officer of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stated that the primary challenges to gender-sensitive prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration are the absence of case-by-case individualised screening, the de-humanised language used to describe ISIL-associated women, and the low rates of repatriation for third-country nationals in Iraq and Syria. Studies show that women returning from terrorist groups are disproportionately at risk of stigmatization, particularly women who have experienced sexual violence, and this stigmatization undermines rehabilitation and reintegration efforts, said David Wells of CTED. In September, CTED published two Analytical Briefs about the repatriation of ISIL-associated women and ISIL-associated children.
The final session was about the role of women’s civil society organisations in countering terrorism and violent extremism. We must recognize the importance of civil society, especially the leadership of women in this sector who are doing essential work in the prevention of radicalization, said Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. We must also address the human rights issues arising from the overreach of counter-terrorism policy, she stated. Yasmine Ahmed of Rights Watch (UK) stressed that counter-terrorism and CVE strategies are only effective if they have buy-in from impacted communities and warned against the securitization of policies aimed at promoting gender equality and women’s rights.
The Chair of the CTC closed the open briefing by emphasizing that we must strengthen our efforts to involve women in decision-making and in the design and implementation of CVE policies and programmes at all levels, in order to ensure that women are agents and leaders, rather than just subjects, in CVE.