Most of the times, at my host organization I have to attend the conferences whether in person or webinars on various topics related to international development. Pursuing the same I heard this audio recorded webinar of a panel discussion on “Countering Female Violent Extremism in Kenya – Government and Media Approaches” this discussion was held at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Readers may or may not agree with any part of the blog, because any word written here is not my personal and all the information below is a written version of the original audio recorded webinar, if you have any concerns you can search and hear to the webinar on host website. Pictures in this blog are also from host website and google.
- Fredrick Ogenga – Scholar at Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding
- Kathleen Kuehnast – Senior Gender Advisor at USIP
Women in Terrorism – Kenya’s Vulnerabilities
Sharing his recent research, Fredrick informed that although there are symptoms that women are involved in terrorism in Kenya but there has been no particular research on that, and government is concerned about CVE in general but there is no agenda/policy to deal with women terrorists/facilitators of terrorist organizations in Kenya. In a gender and CVE report of 2012 noted that none of the research up to that period had have the sex aggregated data of the outputs/outcomes so there should be long term research not only a project based and time limited one.
He shared that there are two reasons why Kenya is vulnerable to terrorism, i) because it is bordering with Somalia which is unstable since last 3 decades thus there is refugee unrest which is potential threat to Kenya, ii) As Kenya is a gateway to east and central Africa and there are many multinational companies, UN offices and second large US embassy so all the terrorist groups want to target western interests in Kenya. During last three years, the terrorism and violence extremism has informed that how the gender role can be so instrumental and how sexual violence can be so effective in a society.
Role of Media – Recommendations for Media
The media reported terrorism in two different scenarios, in first it was showed that women are at frontline and there were just two cases reported, while in second is Jihadi Brides and there were 9 cases reported. Government has launched a national counter terrorism program a top down approach and is not gender sensitive, while the media has become reactive by representing women as victims. According to research framework that the relation between media and society is reciprocal so media needs to play a proactive role rather than being reactive while it comes to report issues on women in terrorism.
The speaker proposed an idea named “African Peace Journalism” which contains three peace philosophies. As Africa needs peace to develop so the media should avoid presenting news with extra decorations for selling their news to more audience.
Drivers of Radicalization
The drivers of radicalizations are many but one most important is that Jihadi brides get better life with Al Shabab in Somalia as compared to a cultural woman in Kenya, so they deliberately prefer to join Al Shabab. Generally Jihadi Brides are selected as young, middle class, educated and Muslim women and by considering the institutions that these women represents it shows that these women belong to Al Shabab which brought a political idea which is best from philosophy and religion. A writer while elaborating reasons why women join terrorist organizations mentioned that it’s either a revenge or relationship to a man in a terrorist organization and some cultural reinforced factors which drive them.
Responding to a question he said that the national strategy of CVE in Kenya is not shifting, this strategy informs that the generally Somalis and Muslims are terrorists, while it does not contain a gender aspect. We should organize meetings with mothers of al Shabab and Jihadi Brides to bring their voice out and do some intelligence about what motivates them for joining these groups. The reason for not shifting to the new CVE strategy is corruption in Kenya, just because of that the terrorists are crossing the borders for as little amount as $20 for getting Kenyan ID as well.
Challenges That Policy Makers Face
One of the assumptions that policy makers assume is that the women are inheritably peaceful but this is not truth as there are many examples of women in violence. Women are not inclusive in scope of our research, as we just assume that the acts of extreme violence are only committed by men.
Discussing policy issues in Washington Kathleen mentioned that in February 2015 the White House sponsored the CVE Summit out of which 9 agendas came to work and one addresses youth, religious actors and women; in fact these are the important target audiences to be included in this discussion. USIP – USAID discussed the way to connect CVE with U.S national action plan on Women Peace and Security but still there are policy gaps.
Recommendations – Policy Options
The speaker recommended a few suggestions that include, i) government must work closely with stakeholders to incorporate the aspects of gender in the national counter terrorism strategy ii) the program “Community Policing” should empower those women so that they continue doing the work as they are doing, iii) Work with moderate Muslim to use madrassas as avenue for real Islamic and Quranic literacy so that the women should be discouraged to be the Jihadi Brides.
Suggesting international stakeholders he said “Sisters without Borders” should work with the mothers of Jihadi Brides so that these mothers can be sensitized over this issue to demoralize this act and can be discouraged for future. U.S DoD must work with Africa Union to form a partnership and work with research centers to design more comprehensive gender component of CVE and developing a training curriculum on African Peace Journalism and support its implementation.
Sharing policy options for media he said that, i) local journalism must partner with USIP and other civil society so that there should be a “Community Radio For Peace” this will help women to express their views about peace and terrorism, ii) media should expose cases of women violent extremists specially those cases that are in courts, iii) media specially old school journalists should organize and participate in training workshops on peace and gender literacy so that they know how to report the issues of gender, peace and security in the context of women violence extremism.
Answering to a question, Fredrick said that economic empowerment does help but from our study it is observed that those women from the middle class background and are university graduates as they have the promising future yet they join terrorist groups, so in this scenario economic empowerment does not help to promote CVE. Economic empowerment is materialistic whereas we want the spiritual and ideological empowerment so the counter narratives can be created to understand the politics, individual dynamics, psycho sociological context and other factors which matters like the political desires of terrorist groups.
One commonality about all is that we all are human beings and that is forgotten, the approaches to deal with such violence should be tolerance, love, peace and brotherhood otherwise the rest of materialistic approaches won’t work out. Instead we are busy to close our borders for others that do not provide solutions.
Kathleen while sharing a case study of USIP told that Nigeria is an example which helps us realize about the processes of the change under way which use sexual violence as very significant tool to make changes happen rapidly. An example from the pilot project that was carried out by USIP in Nigeria to learn about women preventing violence extremism, that every city has its own dynamics and situations, as we had the approaches but the issues were so different.
Giving suggestions she mentioned that the political and gender inclusion can bring new ideas but it doesn’t necessarily bring peace, as diversity and inclusion can give us starting point for building relationships. Ignorance is the worst kind of fate, we should educate ourselves to understand our choices, so education and media in the most balanced approach with the inclusion of all, specially girls and women is critical in 21st century.