The Role of Women in Post-IS Jihadist Transformation and in Countering Extremism


Perešin, Anita. 2019. "The Role of Women in Post-IS Jihadist Transformation and in Countering Extremism." In Militant Jihadism: Today and Tomorrow, edited by Serafetti Pektas and Johan Leman, 101-22. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press.

Author: Anita Perešin


"Many jihadist organisations have recognised the importance of women in jihad and have systematically used them for their activities for decades. Female jihadists can be found in different jihadist organisations – from Afghanistan, Chechnya and Palestine to Syria, Iraq and the African continent – where their role is viewed as being as important as that of their male counterparts. The presence of female jihadists in Western countries is also on the rise.
With the proclamation of the Caliphate of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, the role of women in jihadist organisations received global publicity. By presenting and encouraging women as essential for the establishment of the new Muslim umma and preserving its longevity, IS introduced a new phase in its employment of women for the jihadist cause. The group succeeded in attracting more women from the West, both convert and born Muslims, than any other jihadist group had been able to do in the past. It also introduced a broad spectrum of roles that could be filled by women, not only in the territory where IS had gained control but also in their home countries. By giving the same importance to muhajirat1 and domestic female jihadists, and by promoting both passive and active roles for them in jihad, IS created a new generation of female jihadists and a “network of sisters”, motivated by a sense of empowerment and willing to support the group’s long-term objectives.
Strategically planned female jihadist activities, supported by a continuous promotion of their roles via the Internet, have made it possible for IS to continue to employ women for its global operations, even after the collapse of the Caliphate. The transformation of the group and its loss of “credibility” in governing the so-called Islamic State did not, in fact, diminish or extinguish its attractiveness for women. The group has given women the ability to keep their roles in the post-IS transformation era and has afforded itself the capacity to continue to be a prominent actor on the global jihadist scene. Such global promotion of women in jihad can motivate other jihadist groups to increase the employment of female cadres for their cause or to motivate radicalised women to act as lone wolves.
There are already many examples of women’s engagement in jihadist activities in Western countries. According to the European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (EUROPOL, 2017: 22), one in four people arrested in 2016 for terrorism-related offences were women. The 2017 report of the Dutch Intelligence Service (AIVD) on jihadist women warns that the threat women pose should not be underestimated (AIVD, 2017). A report from The Heritage Foundation in the same year also notes “a marked jump in the involvement of women in terrorist plots in Europe over the previous two years”2 (Barret, 2017: 24). Such dramatic growth of female involvement in jihadist terrorism leads to the “feminisation of jihad” (Brill Olcott and Haqqani, 2004),3 a trend that is expected to rise in the future. But it also offers the opportunity to take advantage of the presence of women in the counter-terrorism field, to more effectively counter jihadist narratives and plans, thanks to the former’s better insight into the mentality and approaches of the female terrorists" (Perešin 2019, 101-2).

Topics: Combatants, Female Combatants, Gender, Women, Religion, Terrorism Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East Countries: Iraq, Syria

Year: 2019

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