Gender and Preventing Violent Extremism: Australia’s Current Practices and Future Developments

Doris Asante


Terrorist incidents in the last decade have declined globally however, the threats that radicalization and extremism pose to national and regional security persist (Mullins 2020). In the Asia-Pacific region, recent incidents of suicide bombings in the Philippines, the rise of right-wing extremist groups in Australia and New Zealand, and ISIS-inspired violence in South Asia have raised regional security concerns (Mullins 2020; Johnston et al. 2020). In response to these threats, states in the region have implemented a multitude of policies, programs, and measures. However, there is little evidence of the integration of gendered perspectives within Counter-Terrorism/Countering Violent Extremism (CT/CVE) responses in the region (True 2016). A lack of gendered perspective contributes to the adoption of interventions that position women as victims and peaceful actors and engages them through their nurturing roles and relationships with “violent” males (Henshaw 2016; Eager 2016). CT/CVE programs and measures further deny women agency by positioning them as conduits of information on radicalised males and assumes that male influence informs decisions to participate in extremist organisations (Asante and Shepherd 2020). However, research shows that women have planned and perpetrated extremist violence, do hold a multitude of roles within extremist organisations, and like men, contribute to extremism for redemption, adventure, a sense of belonging, religious motivations, and as a response to socio-economic disadvantages (Eager 2016; Henshaw 2017).

There is increasing evidence of women’s roles as combatants and non-combatants within extremist organisations in the Asia-Pacific region. Women have engaged in combatant roles as suicide bombers in the Philippines and Indonesia (Mullins 2020) and contributed to the recruitment of both males and females through the development of extremist propaganda (Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict 2017). Since the emergence of Jihadist online forums in 2000, women have become increasingly active on online jihadist forums, accounting for 80 percent of 670,000 searches for extremist-related material in Bangladesh, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia within a two-month period (UN Women 2019). In addition to using online platforms to promote extremist propaganda, women in the region have contributed to extremist efforts and the execution of violence through roles as logistic suppliers, sources of intelligence, and fundraisers for extremist organisations (Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict 2017).

The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2242 (UNSCR 2242) in 2015 in response to the changing dynamics of global security and the increasing evidence of women’s roles within extremist organisations. As the eighth of ten Resolutions1 that collectively form the thematic Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda and one of a few international documents to recognise the gendered implications of terrorism and violent extremism, UNSCR 2242 calls for a greater understanding of women’s roles within extremist organisations. It encourages state governments to engage in research to understand the factors contributing to women’s radicalisation and the impact of CT/CVE measures on women-led civil society organisations (UNSC 2015). In alignment with the participation pillar of the agenda,2 the Resolution calls for the meaningful participation of women’s groups and the leadership of women during efforts to develop and implement CT/CVE measures at all levels of government (UNSC 2015).

In 2021, Australia became one of 38 UN member states to integrate elements of UNSCR 2242 within its WPS National Action Plan (NAP) (Asante and Shepherd 2020), which outlines the measures the Federal Government proposes to address Australia’s WPS obligations. The NAP, which is implemented under the auspices of the Minister for Foreign Affairs with support from various federal departments,3 is “outward-facing”, indicating that the government’s WPS activities – and now, with the integration of UNSCR 2242, its CT/ CVE measures – focus on addressing security concerns primarily outside of Australia, in the Asia-Pacific and elsewhere (Asante et al. 2021). A regional, as opposed to a domestic focus for WPS and CT/CVE intervention is proposed as a necessity to support regional states to improve their legislative and practical responses to gendered violence, terrorism, and extremism and its implications (Australian Government 2021, 8, 10). As these interventions contribute to strengthening Australia’s bilateral relationships, the government proposes developing new bilateral agreements to improve CT/CVE and gender-equality outcomes in the region (Australian Government 2021).

The government has responded to the region’s gendered complexities of terrorism and violent extremism by implementing CT/CVE measures and proposing to strengthen gender- equality outcomes. This has consisted of providing training and technical support to security actors from “Kiribati, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu ... [to aid states in developing] action plans to assist their own police services to better respond to women and girls’ needs to access security and justice and apply gender-analysis to frame [security] responses” (Australian Government 2021, 34). The government is on track to achieve its target of allocating 80 percent of aid investment to address gender issues and proposes to fund initiatives that develop women’s capacity to contribute to CT/CVE activities and support initiatives which promote their engagement in political processes (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2020). This includes allocating resources to make women visible with government agencies, promoting their leadership, and ensuring that their participation is meaningful as opposed to tokenistic. The NAP specifically states that the government will “support capacity building to ensure men and women, including in negotiation and mediation teams, can design gender equality provisions” (Australian Government 2021, 24).

Despite this, as interventions proposed – and those implemented – are not without limitations, greater efforts are required to improve Australia’s response to the gendered implications of terrorism on women. Although the NAP focuses on foreign states, there is little indication of the measures to address the impact of extremist violence on women domestically or respond to emerging issues such as those returning from extremist-held territories. Despite the growing use of online platforms to recruit and engage women within terrorist financing activities, there is a lack of measures proposed in the NAP to intervene. To improve CT/ CVE efforts, there is a need to address gender stereotypes and inequalities that contribute to making women vulnerable to radicalisation and extremism, intervene within spaces (such as online platforms) used to target and recruit women, and fund research to better understand women’s experiences and roles within extremist organisations. It is also necessary to fund and engage diverse women’s groups and civil society organisations as partners within CT/ CVE processes, as these actors’ experiences and knowledge of local contexts can significantly improve the outcomes of CT/CVE initiatives.

 

Doris Asante is a PhD candidate in Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. Her research explores the relationship between CSOs and states in the national implementation of UNSCR 2242.

 

End notes

  1. The Resolutions that form the architect of WPS consists of 1325 (2000); 1820 (2008); 1888 (2009); 1889 (2009); 1960 (2010); 2106 (2013); 2122 (2013); 2242 (2015), 2467 (2019), and 2493 (2019).

  2. WPS Resolutions address four main pillars: women’s participation; conflict prevention; protection; and relief and recovery.

  3. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Department of Defence, Australian Federal Police, Australian Civil– Military Centre and the Attorney General’s Department support the implementation of Australia’s WPS NAP.


 

References

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